In the fall of 2000, filmmaker Barry Hershey set out to cast actresses for an independent, dramatic, period film (MOVING STILL) which he had co-written and intended to direct, about a combat photographer returning to New York after a harrowing experience in World War II. Casting directors in five cities searched for actresses to play the three leading female roles, while the part of the photographer was slated for an established actor who would be chosen later.
The original plan was to incorporate parts of the casting
footage from these auditions into the fiction film MOVING STILL.
The idea of filming casting arose from Hershey's first experience with
casting while at film school more than twenty years earlier:
When casting for my first film at USC School of Cinema, with my fellow student and collaborator, Jay Roach (who went on to direct the Austin Powers films, among others), I had my first experience casting -- in this case, for the female lead in a modern story based on the Medea myth. We placed an ad in Dramalogue and, given the number of young actresses in Los Angeles, we received hundreds of replies in the form of photographs and resumes. We selected about 75 actresses and scheduled them for one-on-one auditions.
It was a remarkable experience, spending 10 - 20 minutes with each woman, one after another, for two long days. We interviewed each person and did scene work with many of them as we tried to select the best actress for the part.
It was a unique interpersonal experience. First, the distinct roles of the filmmaker and the actresses were clearly defined. Second, there was the experience of becoming quickly acquainted with each person as an individual, while at the same time observing the contrast to those who had come before. Third, each actress had to both interact with the filmmakers and then assume a different persona for the film character she portrayed. Witnessing these transformations 4 to 5 times an hour for a couple of days had a powerful impact on a young, aspiring director.
When the two days of auditions were completed, I said
to Jay that it would be interesting to make a film based on this
experience so that those who are never in a position to cast could
have some sense of this fascinating experience. This idea,
which percolated in the back of my mind for over two decades, eventually
led to CASTING ABOUT.
After reviewing the more than 70 hours of casting tapes, from 350 individual auditions, Hershey and producer Lewis Wheeler were inspired to shape this rich material into a film of its own, and CASTING ABOUT was born. Hershey worked for two years with editor Marc Grossman to distill the final 86-minute film.
The film vividly conveys the heart and soul that drives an actress to put herself on the line in an audition. Rather than following a strict narrative or plot, the film invites the viewer into the casting room, offering a unique perspective on the dynamic between actor and filmmaker. From the point of view of a filmmaker, the viewer witnesses interviews with actresses, performances of monologues, and scene work from the fiction film - all of which are intertwined to create an impressionistic collage of the casting experience.
Most auditions today are videotaped in order to aid in the selection process. As a result, the common practice is for the taping to be of rough quality, with the tapes often discarded after the casting process is complete. For CASTING ABOUT, the auditions were taped on high-quality digital video (16:9 DVCAM) by documentary camerawoman Allie Humenuk, who also used wireless microphones to achieve an intimate sound quality to accompany the vivid images. The completed video version was ultimately transferred to 35mm film for screening in theatres.
The final film includes footage of 184 actresses from Europe and America, all of whom had to be contacted several years after the original auditions to obtain permission for their appearance in the documentary project. The filmmakers coordinated with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in the effort to secure these releases.
In addition to performing scenes from the fiction script, the actors
present monologues of their choosing from the work of renowned contemporary
playwrights such as:
- Edward Allan Baker (Up, Down, Strange, Charmed, Beauty, and Truth
- Eric Bogosian (SubUrbia)
- David Hare (The Secret Rapture)
- Debbie Isitt (The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband)
- Richard LaGravenese (Demigod )
- Adam Langer (Coaster)
- Susan Miller (Nasty Rumors and Final Remarks)
- Keith Reddin (The Innocents' Crusade)
- Nina Shengold (Lives of the Great Waitresses)
- Alfred Uhry (The Last Night of Ballyhoo)
CASTING ABOUT studies the casting process while celebrating the craft of acting and these creative women. The film explores the boundaries between fiction and reality --- when is someone 'acting' -- or just being herself? The fine line between voyeurism and intimacy is examined, as the viewer gets to know these women and yet is a spectator, watching from the safety of the camera's privileged perspective into this world.