Casting director Lisa Pantone joined us for our March 2017 seminar, where she shared a lot of great information with us. Let’s review some of the things she had to say.
1. Be Present During Auditions
One of the biggest mistakes actors make is rushing through an audition. They fly through the copy, just trying to get through it and get out of the room. You were called in for a reason. Be present. Be connected to the material. Experience the reality of the scene and allow yourself to be in the moment.
Ghost in the Shell
Despite being caught up in another Hollywood whitewashing controversy, Ghost in the Shell—which is based on the comic by Shirow Masamune—is actually a pretty entertaining action film. Scarlett Johansson—the source of the controversy, as the character she plays was originally Japanese—does an excellent job as Major, the world’s first 100% cyber soldier. The film drags at times, but the futuristic production design is excellent, and there are some genuine twists throughout. You might be better off waiting for video, but Ghost in the Shell is worth checking out eventually.
The movie begins with Major (Scarlett Johansson) lying on a surgery table. She can barely move. It turns out, or so she’s told, that she was in a terrible accident and that while her mind survived, her body did not. In this futuristic world, cyber enhancement is a general way of life, as body parts are routinely replaced with technology. Major (formerly a young woman named Mira Killian), however, is the first person who is entirely made up of cyber-enhanced technology. We cut to a year later, and Major is now a super-soldier working for the Hanka Robotics to help rid the world of criminals.
Working closely with her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk), Major thrives in her new role, but she cannot shake the feeling that all is not what it seems. She hallucinates memories that occurred before her accident, and she eventually comes to find out from her once-trusted doctor Ouelet (played by Juliette Binoche) that although Major is the first successful attempt at fully connecting a human mind to a completely robotic body, she is not the first. In fact, there have been many before her. With Dr. Ouelet’s help, Major escapes and discovers even more secrets about her former identity. With Hanka Robotics on her tail, she must learn the whole truth in order to save herself and find out how Mira Killian ended up a test subject of the powerful organization.
Scarlett Johansson does a fine job as Major, aside from the controversy surrounding her casting. Critics say that Johansson’s portrayal of an originally Asian character furthers entrenches Hollywood in the whitewashing of characters of color. Others might say that a big-budget movie like Ghost in the Shell needs an A-lister like Johansson in order for the film to have enough of an audience to make its money back. While whitewashing is certainly an issue in the entertainment industry—and thankfully one that has been garnering a lot of attention in the recent years—one could also make the argument that the mere fact that this movie now exists will encourage fans to go back and read the original comic book and see the animated film from 1995. Either way, Johansson is terrific in the role, in both the emotional moments as well as the action-packed scenes that fill most of the film’s 107-minute runtime.
The production design, done by veteran Production Designer Jan Roelfs, and the beautifully futuristic landscape shots of Japan make the film visually stunning. There is certainly some digital enhancement throughout, as the buildings in the background look like something out of The Jetsons or The Fifth Element, but the end result is really something to behold. This, along with Johansson’s performance, almost make up for the fact that the story is fairly convoluted and the secondary characters are extremely one-dimensional. Are the visuals and leading performance enough to make this movie a top-notch action film? No, but they do make it mostly entertaining.
Ghost in the Shell is an engaging, albeit somewhat cliché and shallow, attempt to cash in on a successful comic franchise. Scarlett Johansson does action better than just about anybody, and despite the legitimate concern of Hollywood whitewashing, it is hard to imagine this role being played by anybody else. The production design is great, the story is acceptable, and the pace is fast enough to keep your attention. See this one when it comes out on video, and in the meantime, check out the original comic, as well as the 1995 animated film of the same name.
Casting director Katie Taylor joined us for our February 2017 seminar, where she shared a lot of great information with us. Let’s see some of the things she had to say.
1. If You’re Getting Avails, You’re Doing It Right
Success can be hard to measure when you’re an actor, especially if you don’t seem to be booking anything. Getting avail after avail without getting that coveted booking can be frustrating as an actor, but just remember that if you are getting an avails, you are succeeding! It may not seem like it after getting released from your 3rd avail in a row, but if you are getting to that point, it means you are doing something right. So just keep doing what you’re doing, and those bookings will not be far behind.
Get Out is one of the eeriest, funniest, and most socially relevant horror film to come out in decades. The film, which is the directorial debut from Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele fame), tackles racism—specifically racism from rich, liberal-leaning white people—in a fresh and powerful way. Daniel Kaluuya is excellent as Chris, a black man going home to his white girlfriend’s house to meet her parents for the first time. The rest of the cast is pitch-perfect, with Allison Williams as Chris’ girlfriend Rose, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener as her parents, and Lil Rel Howery providing much of the comic relief throughout the film as Chris’ friend Rod. If you enjoy horror films that make you think, then Get Out is for you.
The film begins as a young black man (played by Lakeith Stanfield from TV’s Atlanta) walks through an affluent neighborhood while talking on his cell phone. After he hangs up, a creepy car slowly drives by, playing a foreboding 1930’s tune “Run Rabbit Run.” Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the song chosen for the scene is an appropriate one. After this opening, we meet Chris (played by the previously mentioned Kaluuya, who is probably best known for playing Bing in a terrific Season 1 episode of Black Mirror), a talented photographer living a comfortable existence in a nice loft apartment in the city. Soon, his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams, best known for her work on HBO’s Girls) shows up, and they pack for a weekend getaway to Rose’s parents’ house. Chris is getting progressively more worried about their trip, however, especially when Rose reveals that she has not let her parents know that Chris is black. She reassures him by letting him know that her father “would have voted for Obama for a third term if he could have.”
I Am Not Your Negro
I Am Not Your Negro is one of the most important films of the decade thus far. Based on author and social critic James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House, and directed by filmmaker Raoul Peck, the documentary discusses what it means to be black in America, from slavery to the Civil Rights Era to present day. Samuel L. Jackson gives an impassioned narration, bringing life to Baldwin’s words in only the way Samuel L. Jackson could. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature, this powerful film is a must-see.
Baldwin’s book Remember This House, which he was still working on when he died, makes up much of the film. The book is written from the perspective of three black Civil Rights leaders, all of whom were close friends of James Baldwin, and all of whom were murdered in the 1960s. These men are Medgar Evers, who was killed in June of 1963; Malcolm X, who was killed in February of 1965; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was killed in April of 1968. Throughout the film, Baldwin’s words are used to help us reach a better understanding of who these men were, beyond the characterizations that modern society has come to know. For example, we know that Malcolm X and Dr. King had competing philosophies throughout their lives, but when each of them died, they both saw and understood the world rather similarly.
Casting director Mel O’Neil of Mel and Liz Casting joined us for our January 2017 seminar, where she gave us lots of helpful hints and useful information. Let’s check out some of her wisdom below!
1. Getting an Audition Is Like Winning the Lottery
Sometimes, actors tend to be nonchalant about having an audition. But the fact of the matter is that of the potentially thousands of talent that were submitted to a given role, if you are one of the lucky few to get an audition, you have essentially won the lottery. Don’t take that for granted! Show up ready to go, and be grateful for the opportunity!
“We have plenty of matches in our house.
We keep them on hand always.
Currently our favorite brand is Ohio Blue Tip,
though we used to prefer Diamond Brand.
That was before we discovered Ohio Blue Tip matches.”
So begins Paterson, Jim Jarmusch’s newest film about a bus driver/poet named Paterson living in Paterson, NJ. Adam Driver (Girls, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) plays the titular character, with a superbly nuanced performance that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. The poems used throughout the film, all written by real-life poet Ron Padgett, are elegant, understated, and almost dreamlike. Paterson is a beautifully told, intimate story that contemplates the poetry that exists in everyday life.
The film opens on Monday morning, as Paterson wakes up next to his sleeping girlfriend. We watch as he goes through the course of his day, which includes writing poetry, driving a bus for the city, spending time with his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), unenthusiastically walking his girlfriend’s dog Marvin (Paterson does not like Marvin), and having a drink at his local watering hole. After Monday concludes, the movie continues to take us through a week in the life of Paterson, the ups and downs, the victories and defeats, the poems.
The wonderful casting directors Maya Adrabi and Lindsay Bronson joined us for our November seminar to share some of their wisdom and experience with us. Let’s see what they had to say.
1. Make sure all of the dates work for you.
If you have an audition, then a callback, then an avail, and then you get booked for the job, and then you tell your agent that you have a trip to Europe that week, you’re doing things backwards. When you get an audition, make sure you check all of the dates and make sure that they work for your schedule. If the dates don’t work, tell your agent (or if you submitted yourself, tell casting) and things might still work out for you. But things will certainly not work out for you and your professional relationships if you hold that information until you get booked for a job.
Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan’s first film in five years might be his best to date. Manchester by the Sea is a subtle masterpiece about grief, family, and reconnecting with buried emotions. Casey Affleck is terrific and deserving of the early Oscar buzz that his performance is generating, and Lucas Hedges is fantastic, as well. A film that is both tragic and uplifting, Manchester by the Sea is not one to miss.
The film opens with a flashback. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is on his family’s fishing boat with his nephew Patrick (the young version, played by Ben O’Brien) and his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), with Lee and Patrick bonding over shark mythology. Later, we see Lee in his new environment—the somewhat catatonic janitor of an apartment complex in Quincey, MA. Soon he gets a phone call, and we know the news is not good. His brother Joe has passed away due to congestive heart failure, a condition that we learn he has been suffering from for some time now. With this news, Lee winds up in Manchester-by-the-Sea, his hometown, and a place he has not been in a while due to tragic circumstances that unfold in flashback throughout the film.
American Pastoral, written by John Romano and based on the book by Philip Roth, is a fascinating but uneven look at a family in 1960s America. There are some good performances throughout the film, and the cinematography by Martin Ruhe is excellent. Even though the film never quite takes off, its examination of the American dream in one of the most turbulent times in our nation’s history is definitely worth a look.
The film begins like a hazy dream as Nathan Zuckerman (played by David Strathairn) makes his way to his high school reunion. Zuckerman reminisces fondly about a local legend, Seymour “Swede” Levov (Ewan McGregor, who also makes his directorial debut with the film) a sports hero and a man destined to be great. Soon, Nathan runs into his old friend and Swede’s brother Jerry, who gives him the bad news that Swede has passed away. It turns out that Swede, despite being primed to live a life of happiness and privilege, wound up being surrounded by tragedy heartache. Jerry tells Nathan the whole story, which encompasses the main plot of the movie.
Soon after graduating high school, Swede marries his high school sweetheart Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), and they have a daughter Merry (played by Dakota Fanning, in the best performance of the film). Merry has a stuttering problem, which her therapist believes can be attributed to a desire to live up to her parents’ expectations. Merry’s relationship with her mother is cold and distant, while her relationship with her father has issues of its own. Most of the action in the film takes place in 1968, a politically and culturally chaotic time (and quite apropos for the film to come out this year, with all that is going on in the country), and Merry becomes involved with a radical political organization in the city. When a local business owner is murdered by a bomb, the police show up at the Levov residence looking for Merry. Did she have something to do with it? This question is at the center of the remainder of the film.
American Pastoral has interesting moments throughout, but it never quite gels. The performances are pretty good across the board, although neither McGregor or Connelly are fairly wooden in their portrayals of Seymour and Dawn. Fanning is excellent as Merry, as are Ocean James and Hannah Nordberg (who play Merry at ages 8 and 12, respectively). The character of Merry is at the heart of the film, and Fanning must go through an incredible transformation—from innocence, to disillusionment, to a soul that is lost and gone forever. This is quite a task for the young actress, but she pulls it off beautifully. If for no other reason, the movie is worth seeing for her nuanced and tragic performance.
The movie plays out like a book, which makes sense because it is based on the 1997 Philip Ross novel of the same name. This weakens the film at times, however, as we feel like passive observers watching the action unfold. Part of this is due to the historical nature of the film, with the narration making us feel a step removed. While it may work well in novel form, bookending the film from Nathan Zuckerman’s perspective, a character that we never meet in the 1960s world of the story, gives the audience a sense of disconnect. A great example of bookending a film in the current time period, while flashing back to another era, is A League of Their Own. But that works incredibly well because we see the entire film, including the beginning and ending, through the protagonist’s eyes. In American Pastoral, on the other hand, a side character takes us into and out of the main arch of the film, so we are left feeling somewhat empty when all is said and done.
While this is not a great film, it is still a good one, and there are enough elements at play that make it worth watching. The setting of 1960s America and the search for an American dream that may not even exist is extremely relevant in 2016 America, and Dakota Fanning is terrific as the tragic Merry Levov. You do not need to see this one on the big screen, but it would be worth a rental at some point down the line.