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Thursday, 23 September 2010

Actor Director Friendships - DO YOU HAVE A ROLE FOR ME?

I have friends who are actors. I have actors who I've used in numerous short films. These actors, naturally, not only want to be my friend but also want to be in my films.

And that's fine, it's a privilege to have friends who like my work and think it could help their career in some way. But sometimes, I come across an attitude of expectancy, or even that they've 'earned the right' to an acting role, and it's most bizarre to me.

When I made a zero budget short film when I was seventeen, it was an opportunity for me to grow as a filmmaker. It was also an opportunity for a young actor to get a much needed on screen appearance. We both collaborated, we did a job. But sometimes there are actors who think this entitles them to a role in an upcoming film, because they were 'there from the beginning.'

The sad truth is-- directors always have roles for actors, but actors never have roles for directors (unless you're the biggest actor in Hollywood and hand pick your directors). So the emphasis is always on "is there a part for me?" and the burden is always on the director to say yes or no. And no translates often as a personal insult.

Casting is such a delicate and tricky process. Often I am casting for the same 'type' as one of my actor friends. When they see the film, they feel pissed that they didn't get the role. And even feel it's 'because we're friends' that they didn't get the role. Again, there is a certain burden that falls on the director being pushed to have to explain themselves when, really, there needn't be an explanation. A movie is being cast, it's someone's art; and choosing the right person, even between thirty identical-ish actors of a same 'type' is a tough thing. And to privilege a friend, when choosing a role, is a silly thing to do.

I have had friends ask me straight out, "why didn't you cast me in your last two films?" -- it's a weird thing to be asked. Sometimes the answer is "Youre not right for the role," "you're not funny enough," "you're not energetic enough," "I wanted to go with more experience," etc -- but for a friend, it's difficult to answer these questions. But perhaps the question shouldn't be asked at all.

Sometimes I use actors for three films in a row. Sometimes I use someone once, think they're amazing and never use them again. Other actors I think are incredible but I've never had the right role for them. It's just how it is. But sadly, often, an actor friend will take it personally.

Should actors and directors be friends? Definitely. Are actors more likely to get roles if they're friends with a director? Possibly. I like to have actors who feel human and real, and that's easier to get when I know the actor personally. But even so, it's entirely possible there will never ever be a role for the friend. To expect more is, I think, not friendship, but instead; ruthless climbing. Attaching yourself to someone who can provide you with roles. I think this is fine if you state your intentions, "I really want to be in your films and that's why I want to know you," but such honesty is rarely the case.

My last two short film projects, for example, had five actors in total. One is a guy I've used three times. Another was an actress who auditioned for me and never got a role. Another is a close friend with no previous acting experience. The fourth was a guy I found suddenly the day before the shoot who fit an unusual casting description, and the final one was a girl who wowed me in a short film I saw a few months ago. It's a big bag of random, as you can see --- but it's how films get made and cast.

I would love to cast my actor friends all the time but unfortunately: some of them never seem to quite fit my characters, some don't grasp my style of dialogue, some don't perservere enough with their craft, some constantly expect roles that it becomes pressurizing and offputting, some I am very excited about for future projects that I have in mind. The closest of my friends understand this implicitly, and our collaborations are wonderful. In fact two of my closest friends who are actors I am in constant collaboration with-- I film their audition tapes, edit their showreels, they read my scripts and make tea on my sets. Sometimes they pop up on screen in my films but mostly they don't. Luckily, they get it, they understand casting and they understand friendship -- and it makes everything a bright beautiful breeze.

Note: Written at 3am on a phone without a spellchecker. I hope this made sense!

Care to share?


  1. Have people ever heard of conflict of interest? As a journo, I NEVER volunteer to interview my friends OR follow-up on leads given to me by my friends, purely because a) it would seem like I'm promoting my friends and b) my friend would think that because I work for a newspaper, they can use my presence to make a point.
    I guess it can be applied in your case as well... unless I'm way off the mark...

  2. Good post and well worth the read. Thanks for stopping by and commenting it was a pleasure to see you on the blog.

    Good luck.