In Association with Wellington Films
MATT PALMER ON CASTING AND LOCATION: WHEN IS MEANT TO BE REALLY MEANT TO BE?
When I was casting my second short film, ‘Island’, I began considering Scandinavian actors for the lead and came up with the idea of approaching a Swedish actor who’d been brilliant in an art-house movie I’d loved a few years before.
In theory this seemed like a great idea – an English speaking role could be appealing to a foreign actor and the calibre of the actor in question would allow my short to punch well above its weight. In practice, however, this was far from simple. The actor lived miles away, in a different country, and these were pre-Skype times, meaning that any kind of face-to-face meeting was completely out of the question. I’d probably need to make a decision based on, at most, a phone call, which was far from ideal but very tempting.
A couple of days later my producer on the project called with some exciting, totally unexpected and outrageously fortuitous news. The actor was in Edinburgh (where I live) over from Scandinavia shooting a big budget epic. He’d read the script and was interested in meeting for dinner tomorrow night. Wowzers!
The dinner took place at a restaurant just a stone’s throw away from the Cameo Cinema, where I’ve worked for several years. And it went amazingly well. The actor loved the script and by the end of the evening he’d verbally and very enthusiastically committed to the project. Best of all, the evening had the feeling of meeting an old friend. We’d struck up an immediate rapport, agreed on everything about the project and had a fun time.
At home later I drank wine, celebrating my incredible good fortune and basking in the synchronous cosmic karma of it all. I mean what were the odds?; My first choice actor was in Edinburgh, at precisely the right time, he loved the project and we got on like a house on fire. This was and was always absolutely meant to be.
It was about a week later that I started getting a really sick feeling in my stomach. The actor’s agent wasn’t getting back to confirm his involvement and the days just kept passing by. I started doubting my memory – maybe the meeting wasn’t as great as I had thought or perhaps I had inadvertently and mortally offended him without noticing?
A couple of days later my worst fears were confirmed. The actor’s agent had talked the actor out of taking the role, arguing that he was accepting too much work and spreading himself far too thin. I was gutted and all positive momentum seemed to be sucked into reverse, like a jet engine after landing. The whole episode had been a dirty cosmic trick, the great magnet in the sky taunting my utter powerlessness in the face of its all-controlling and totally fickle whim. No doubt about it – my project had DOOMED written all over it.
After a period of rather embarrassing self-pity I regrouped. We cast a different Scandinavian actor, he was fantastic and now it’s impossible for me to imagine anyone else in the role. But I think the desperate and depressing days following the first actor dropping out of the project taught me an important lesson; you don’t really know exactly what’s meant to be until the camera rolls, and perhaps not even until the final film is up there in front of the audience. And you have to learn to enjoy a process that is fraught with uncertainty, twists and turns.
So many factors in the pre-production of a short – actors, location, DoP, weather – all need to fall into place at the same time in order to make it happen. Christ knows what it must be like on a feature. The casting nightmare onIsland taught me how disarmingly unpredictable the entire process of making a film can be. If something that seemed so meant to be could turn out to be not meant to be at allthen what could a control freak like me actually rely on? The answer is pretty much nothing and that you simply have to do your best in learning to enjoy the chaos and to relish the process itself, which will always involve extreme lows as well as extreme highs but is guaranteed to be a unique and exhilarating journey.
A couple of weeks ago, after a fruitless and intense full month of location hunting for the suburban house we needed for my Collabor8te short The Gas Man, I rolled into the town of Dumfries. Down the first road that I scouted, at the first house I stopped my car at, I came across a very pleasant man, working hard in his garden, in front what looked like a stunning location for my short. In the space of a few amazing minutes the man had shown me around the house which, despite the highly unusual physical architecture that I’d inadvertently written into my script, turned out to be an almost perfect fit for what we needed. There are now just a handful of formalities to be dealt with but we should have the house signed up as our official location within a week. Something could go wrong of course, but I doubt it will. This one feels like it’s meant to be.
A filmmaker from Edinburgh. His first two short films Daylight Hole & Island (which was produced as part of the Cinema Extreme scheme) were accepted into numerous international film festivals including Slamdance, Worldwide Shorts, Edinburgh & São Paulo International Film Festival.
He currently has a thriller feature – Calibre – in development with Wellington Films which has received development funding from Creative England. Matt also curates cult and horror film festivals including All Night Horror Madness & Psychotronic Cinema.