We are officially just two weeks from production. Making a movie is akin to controlling chaos; I’ve said that more than once since pre-production has begun. It is best to prepare as much as you possibly can, but also be prepared to throw everything away at a moment’s notice if the circumstances are altered. Once you determine what the scene is about, this knowledge will guide you through these unforeseen obstacles and allow you to say the same thing, just framed, lit or colored a slightly different way. The ability to improvise is lost if one is only prepared to communicate the idea through only one approach.
My director’s binder has already been completed—I’ve broken the entire script down into beats, distilled the subtext and storyboarded every frame that I plan to shoot.
As we approach production, the script meets reality: and reality can be a drag sometimes! Your dream locations are available, and free of charge to shoot at, but the city permit is a whopping $4500.
There goes that free location we were counting on. However, since I already know what I want to convey in that scene and how I want to shoot it, it’s easy for me to cheat the scene elsewhere (once we secure wherever that elsewhere is!). I want to stress the importance of pre-visualizing and storyboarding your film in your imagination, i.e., before you lock locations. I’ve heard others mention that they do not like to storyboard until they’ve found their locations, but I think that’s misguided. The idea is the most important thing. It’s the most powerful thing. Bend your locations to the idea, don’t bend your ideas to the location. Even if the location doesn’t turn out the way you imagined, the fact that you imagined the scene in the first place, will guide you toward making the right decisions with respect to how to shoot the scene.
As I mentioned in my last update, much of my time has been spent casting (rightfully so, of course). This is yet another reason why you should finish your directing prep early: You NEED to focus on casting! Remember what Elia Kazan said. I am thrilled to announce that our teenage lead characters have all been cast! It has been a lengthy process, but an extremely exciting one—I have been thoroughly invigorated by the overwhelming raw talent of the young actors cast in “No Alternative.” If you’ve read the novel, or been following the campaign for the film, you know how important the role of Bridget “Bri Da B” Harrison is—she is the heart, the soul and the anchor of this film. Therefore, the audience needs to buy into her heart and soul 100%. We auditioned actors on both coasts—the fact that countless neighbors likely overheard a plethora of actors rehearsing the rap to “Pimptooth” through the walls of their apartments gives me immense satisfaction. With respect to auditions, I encourage you to spend five to ten minutes with the actor. Run through the scene, or scenes, at least twice. That way you will have an opportunity to make suggestions and see how it affects his or her performance the second time around. Even if actors give you a performance that you like in their first attempt, it is worth throwing a random adjustment at them to see how they adapt to it. If you can communicate easily with an actor, and they in turn can translate your direction into behavior that advances the story you’re trying to tell, you’re in tremendous shape. If actors are unavailable in person and self-taping the auditions, do not hesitate to give them a detailed note (just one, though) and have them self-tape again—actors will be happy to adjust and give it another shot; feedback is important and always welcomed.
We saw a lot of young people, and while many of their acting choices were solid, there was only one choice for me. And that choice is Michaela Cavazos. Michaela had auditioned for me a year ago for the proof-of-concept video and had come very close to getting the role. Over the past year, we kept in touch and when it came time to audition for the feature film, I asked her to self-tape. To put it bluntly—her tapes knocked me out. She was Bridget. There is no doubt in my mind that this film is just the beginning for Michaela—she is going places and going places fast. Playing opposite Michaela, as her brother, Thomas, is Conor Proft, another young actor who blew me away during the audition process. While, of course, it’s thrilling to be dealing with the veteran actors who are in the running for the parts of their parents, there is something intangibly exhilarating about getting in on the ground floor with young, and relatively new, talent. The connection is raw, it’s real, and kind’a punk rock, and it’s wholly my privilege to be working with them.
Rounding out our terrific young cast are Chloe Levine in the role of Jackie O’Brien, Matthew Van Oss in the role of Jeremy Brewer, Eli Bridges in the role of Connor Russell, Aria Shahghasemi in the role of Elias Santoro and Logan Georges in the role of Stewart Boyle. I just hope I can keep up with them!
We are currently circling some terrific talent for the parents and hope to have exciting news on that front very soon. This movie, ultimately, is about a family, and the dynamics between mother, father, daughter and son are critical.
In the meantime, remember, in addition to your own directing prep, make sure to ask your actors these two questions in your very first conversations with them: 1. What is your process? 2. What do you look for in a director? Until I know what the actor’s process is, I cannot determine how best to approach that person when giving them directions. You must respect the process of the actor and, in a sense, tailor your process to them. It is important to establish that trust from the get-go: assure them that you’ll be there for them every step of the way and that you will not let them fail—that you’ll catch them if they fall.
William Dickerson received his Master of Fine Arts in Directing from The American Film Institute. He is a writer and director whose debut feature film, Detour, was hailed as an “Underground Hit” by The Village Voice, an “emotional and psychological roller-coaster ride” by The Examiner, and nothing short of “authentic” by The New York Times. He self-released his metafictional satire, The Mirror, which opened YoFi Fest’s inaugural film festival in 2013. He recently completed his third feature, Don’t Look Back. His award-winning work has been recognized by film festivals across the country. His first book, No Alternative, was declared, “a sympathetic coming-of-age story deeply embedded in ‘90s music” by Kirkus Reviews. His latest book, DETOUR: Hollywood: How To Direct a Microbudget Film (or any film, for that matter), is available now. He currently serves on AFI’s Alumni Executive Board and is a Faculty Member at the New York Film Academy.