Monday, August 22, 2005

"... it actually begins to look like a movie ..."

"I guess now it's real. Up until now, you know, we've been looking at a lot of stuff that's being built, we've been looking at a lot of locations, we've been listening to a lot of music. But once you start casting all the other roles and once the actors show up to start rehearsing and putting my words in their mouths, it actually begins to look like a movie instead of being this hypothetical thing on a page. So it's a strange day that's kind of tinged with about half excitement and half anxiety."
--Craig Brewer at the casting call for "Black Snake Moan" today.

Just after 11 a.m. today there were more than 350 hot hopefuls in a queue that doubled and tripled back under the awning on the south side of The Pyramid. The daylong casting call for Craig Brewer's "Black Snake Moan" was well underway.

They would be admitted to The Pyramid in groups of twenty, the first ones having arrived much earlier. Actress Arnita Williams was No. 22 and had been there since 8:30 a.m. "I've got ice, makeup, tons of clothes, my head shot and resume," she reported in full effervescence. Something paid off since she got a callback for Tuesday to read for one of the 27 speaking roles being cast locally. In fact, a hefty number of those who showed up were given a schedule and a side for callbacks. Many actors had already read for parts last week. Agents have been dealing with the casting office and thespians with representation got first crack at it last week. But the monster casting call -- cattle call if you prefer -- gives everyone an opportunity to look a casting director in the eye and make that impression.

First, though, you have to make it through security. It was no problem if you were abiding by the rules, but God help you if you ran afoul of Paul Hardy. He's the head of security for The Pyramid and a step ahead of everyone, especially the gent who tried to squeeze in among the first group. "We've had this conversation before," Hardy told him while deftly hustling him back outside. "But I've directed ..." mumbled the man, protesting with a slur. "I don't care if you directed 'Hustle and Flow,' " Hardy said. "There's that smell of alcohol." And the man was quickly out and efficiently gone. Hardy turned to two beefy Memphis police officers on the scene and said, "If you see him again, would you ...?" And the two cops just smiled and nodded.

Meanwhile, Memphis and Shelby County Film and Television Commissioner Linn Sitler was all about rounding up and distributing water and ice to the hundreds waiting in the sun.

And then: "OK, relaxation is over, it's work time now." That was casting assistant Nicole Stoll giving instructions to attendees on where to go and what to do.

The routine, as hundreds would find out, was to pass by a table to get your release form stapled to your picture. Then you marched into a room outfitted, as Don Meyers noted, in fine funeral home style. Actors sat in rows of chairs facing a long table where the interviews took place. At one end was Winsome Sinclair whose Winsome Sinclair & Associates was handling local casting. At the other end was Kim Hardin, the principal casting agent for the movie. In between was U of M student Erik Morrison managing the stacks of paper -- sides, appointment slips, headshots and resumes. Hopefuls sat before one of the casting bosses and turned in their paperwork and chatted a bit. If the look and the resume called for it, they would be asked to return sometime this week for a reading. Hardin said, "If you're not right for the speaking part, then you'll be considered for extras casting." She said she expected that, among many possibilities, there would be a scene in a juke joint and one at a high school football stadium that would use extras.

Lots of talent was on hand, enough to shush any Hollywood-centric snoot who thinks the only talent pools are on the ocean coasts. Among the locals: actor-writer-director Moses Peace, a stage vet whose also been in the movies "Making the Grade" and "The Delta"; J. W. Williams of "Rookie Bookie" and "Walk the Line"; Carole F. Rowland of "Dog Me: Potluck" and "Slow Down ... You're Dating Too Fast"; the amazing Jeannette Comans of "Shutter"; Ritchie Longoria of "Someone to Call My Clone"; plus Tiffany Pemberton, Lauren Shepard, Scarlett Williams, Lee Mauney, Michael McLendon, Abby Amsden and Marcus Seaberry. And loads of other talent.

And while there's no sure way to guarantee a part, you can increase your chances by being savvy. "It's just like going for a job," said Hardin, so be as confident and competent as you can. Sinclair offered these tips: "Always be professional. Come with your picture and resume. Know the tools of auditioning. You have five minutes to make a good first impression. Be prepared. Preparation and opportunity are the formula for success."

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