10 Things I Want In A Filmmaker:
My Soul Mate Director
By Brette Goldstein
Brette Goldstein is a NYC-based casting director for indie film and commercials. She’s cast more than 40 films. Brette loves actors, bromance comedies, and carbs.
I was single around the time The Secret came out. My other single friends and I used to list the criteria of our ideal soul mate. We believed that if we wrote it all down, putting it out into the universe, we’d manifest our visions (like WEIRD SCIENCE.) Ridiculous or not, we dorked out hard on that Secret stuff…and I must admit that it did work out for me; I married a smart, funny, talented man who looks like Seth Rogen.
With that success in mind, I’m writing down my Secret list of what I want in a filmmaker – my Soul Mate Director (SMD). If you make movies and want to have a great long-term relationship with a casting director, you might want to tack this list to your fridge.
1. SMD’s got their shit (and script) together.
The script is SMD’s baby and she/he cares about that baby. No careless mistakes, typos, misplaced apostrophes, spelling or grammatical errors. Sloppy is unprofessional, and SMD ain’t sloppy.
SMD’s hired a great producer who knows that I need a SAG-AFTRA production number in order to release a breakdown. This means paperwork has to be filed.
SMD knows how to write a breakdown and understands that agents can be ADD. Gender, age, prototypes (“the masculinity, sex appeal and leading man looks/command of Jon Hamm with the subtle, dry humor of Jason Bateman”) and physical look lead each character description, followed by the energy and “feel” of the character. SMD knows that a breakdown is not the place to go into lengthy descriptions of plot points and character arc.
It goes without saying that my SMD takes care to return phone calls, emails and texts in a timely manner, and answers questions thoroughly and as decisively as possible. Casting is often a quick and dirty process. If I’m emailing managers at 2am on a Saturday, fighting for our dream cast and staying on the phone with LA reps until 11pm EST after a 9-hour session, I want to know that we’re all in this together..
2. SMD is connected and/or is very realistic.
SMD plays poker every Tuesday with Bobby Cannavale and Sam Rockwell and has no qualms about asking either to be in her/his film. SMD went to college with So-n-So and gets high on Thursday nights with Such-n-Such. It’s almost always an uphill battle with agents when dealing with a low budget film and a filmmaker with less street cred than Jason Reitman. Good thing SMD drinks beer with the buddies she/he wants to make movies with.
Or…she/he’s a real mensch and gets it that big names get big offers (and little ones) a lot. SMD does not expect that Jennifer Lawrence will jump at the chance to attach her name to his/her project, thereby attracting millions of investment dollars and a distro deal. SMD is realistic according to the time parameters for production and knows that I can only make one offer at a time. We’re on the same page about offer deadlines. SMD rolls with the punches and travels down the road with my team as we fight the good fight.
3. SMD is funny.
Levity is a good thing. SMD thinks that life is shitty enough as it is and not all indie films need to be so dang dark. SMD knows how to bring the funny – even simple, small moments of humor.
SMD also doesn’t expect actors to take a shell of a script and turn it into a comedic gem. This filmmaker loves Curb Your Enthusiasm and Waiting For Guffman, but also knows that – for now – she/he is neither Larry David nor Christopher Guest. SMD knows that - for now - it would be in her/his best interest to provide a great script to the great actors we bring into the room or make direct offers to. (Their reps will appreciate this, too.)
4. SMD is hooked up with at least enough money or money potential for me to do a dog and pony show.
There are a lot of projects out there that simply never get where they need to be in terms of financing and simply don’t get green lit. Many of these projects have names attached.
When it comes to investment dollars, my consummate client Will Get His/Hers, by hook or by crook. (Well, hopefully by more hook, less crook.) SMD has already lined up most of what she/he needs financially to make the movie happen by the time my team gets hired. If the production company is only part of the way to their financial goal, at least there’s solid communication with potential investors. For example, I can go to Agent A at WME with a solid offer for Actor B, knowing that Investor C will throw a quarter million into the project if Actor B (or three other names, should she/he pass) attaches. It’s certainly an easier call to make on my part and vet on the agency’s part.
5. SMD is good to actors. And maybe gives an adjustment or two.
I love a director that puts out at callbacks. None of this, “Um, thanks, yeah, man, good job” janky hipster crap. This guy/gal knows that it wouldn’t kill her/him to give a note, as actors, by nature of being human and all, aren’t psychic and cannot read minds. I get it…”ya know when ya know” and we want the actor that just “is” the role…but actors are trained to make choices. My SMD will work with actors in the room using action words in adjustments (“She’s trying to get him to really hear her” as opposed to “She is sad because he’s kind of ignoring her”), which are playable for actors. Heck, actors are smart, why send ‘em away so quickly??
SMD lets actors read the script in advance of their auditions. SMD makes actors feel comfortable. SMD wants to work with good actors that are easy to work with.
6. SMD protects her/his creative process by letting his producer produce.
SMD can’t say enough about the brilliance of his production and creative team. SMD gets it that micro-managing isn’t the best choice. There’s an amazing line producer and 1st AD aboard. Budgets are clear, I know my offer range for each actor and it’s easy to piece the casting puzzle together, including answers to questions such as which roles are being cast locally, in NY, LA, etc.; and deal memo items, such as billing, on or abouts for shoot/hold dates and back end points.
My ideal director runs (or is at least on board) a tight ship. SMD knows how to delegate and make strong choices.
7. SMD’s not allergic to cats.
If SMD writes, she/he’s read books like Save the Cat!... or at some point actually learned how to write a good screenplay. SMD doesn’t shun formula and “all that Hollywood bullshit.” She/he’s got a pretty cool log line and keeps a typo-free feature script to less than 120 pages.
SMD knows how to tell a good story well.
8. SMD gets that Rooney Mara probably gets a shit-ton of offers. Daily.
SMD questions if stars and their deal memos will be worth it in the end. There are so few actors who can “guarantee distribution” or “open a film”. SMD wants to make a good movie, period.
There was a time when it was easier to get a script read by name actors, their reps and covering agents at big agencies. There was a time when it was easier to get letters of intent from talent. Nowadays, I drop scripts off at stage doors and Fed Ex them to houses. I’ll engage in a whole bunch of gorilla-shit because I don’t trust that a script will get to talent. I can understand why an agent or manager would not want their client to do some random filmmaker’s $200,000 film when they’re getting studio offers…it’s both a bottom line and a career trajectory issue.
Names are attractive. That said, it’s hard to get something for nothing… and SMD understands that even if their script is mind-blowing, an agent’s first question will most likely be “Is the project fully financed?” Agents will often ask for money in escrow to secure an offer. I’ll protect my SMD from making a pay-or-play offer that may put him or her in the hole if the film does not get green lit.
9. She/he has respect for the story she/he’s telling (and knows that these investor dollars could go elsewhere…).
I mean, we’re not curing cancer here, right? And think about how far $1.5M could go towards curing cancer. There are lots of films being made. SMD knows that if she/he’s gonna spend big money (and face it, even an ultra-low budget is big money when you really think about it) she/he should make something amazing…or at least really frickin’ entertaining.
10. SMD is just freakin’ good at what she/he does.
And SMD’ll be psyched when Ms. Mara comes sidling up at his/her big Sundance premiere party