Monday, January 6, 2014

Inside Casting of FRUITVALE STATION - Ode to Director Ryan Coogler

Inside Casting of "FRUITVALE STATION"

At FIG Premiere USC 
We Started here with "FIG"..I met the Brilliant Directing Student of USC over Coffee & His Brilliant Short Film.

Cut to a phone conversation:
RYAN: Hey Twink..I'm doing this Independent Film called Fruitvale and I need your help.

TWINKIE: Ok..I got you, What do you need?

TWINKIE: Copy That. Email me Everything and I'll look it over.

Thats the start of  FRUITVALE STATION. A Phone call, an Email, Inspiring Script, then the Actor discussion.

Firstly let me say..I work with some AMAZING and TALENTED People, RYAN COOGLER is one of them.

Ryan knows WHO he wants and WHY. It's Great to work with a Director who has a strong vocabulary of Actor Performances. He is clear on Tone, POV and Intention. While in discussion, the script gave me one impression however Ryan's description infused further detail and dimension.

When it came to the role of Oscar Grant, Michael B Jordan was on the List of Actors to be Discussed. Ryan and I looked at his work to date such as The Wire, ParentHood and Feature Film "Chronicle".

The role of Oscar provided some unique Challenges.

Oscar was a Young Black Male, Gang banger/Drug Dealing Father of a beautiful Daughter with an On again Off again Relationship. Whew!! Then after rethinking his life, working towards a plan and ready to implement, he is Killed by the Police on New Years Day.

All of the things that we, the audience choose to Judge in our Film characters then Dismiss and Distance ourselves from. We couldn't possibly have Anything in Common with Oscar..right?? WRONG!!  Ryan was quite aware of our human shortcomings so along with Michael B Jordan, he takes the viewer on a ride of Empathy, Discovery & Redemption. We see Oscar as a Complex Human Being with Feelings, Inner Struggles and Conflict. We now see Ourselves in Oscar. His love for Tatiana, Mom and Girlfriend. His care for a stray dog who was hit by a car in the street, now we Are Oscar.

Michael has special qualities in his Actor Arsenal, inner work, depth, emotional availability, honesty. That is no easy task for a Young Male Actor. Vulnerability, Fear & Disappointment can be beautiful emotions to explore and film. That's where the juice is. Michael read the script met Ryan for Coffee. Obviously it went well. He Was IN!!
With Lead Actor Michael B. Jordan

*Note: A Director who knows what he/she needs from the Actor is very important. 

Next up, the Mom Role. Thankfully we had Oscars Mom on Video via YouTube to give us clues into her personality. A Few Strong Actresses came in, Michael read opposite them. My assistant filmed it, Ryan gave direction and I watched in AWE! Michael had an Amazing Grasp of the Material. It was a Moving Experience. Per further discussion and input from Forest Whitaker (Producer/Oscar Winner) we decided to surround Michael with Star Power.. Octavia Spencers name came up, we were in Agreement. I made the phone call to her Agent, emailed the Script and we heard back in Great Timing! Octavia had a Discussion with Ryan and she was IN!!

*Note 2: A Casting Director who has Strong Relationships with Agents, can be Very Positive for an Independent Film.

Onto Sophina, the On again Off again Girlfriend, who Oscars loves and grows to respect. Time to Cast Her. I brought in a Few of the Top Latina Actresses in the age range, in LA. There were Awesome Actresses! However there was something amiss... Ryan asked me about an Actress out of New York (always thinking outside of the Box) I was aware of her..He was ready to Travel to NY for a feeling was have her read the script then discuss..She Loved the script and story. Once again..Director with Vision for Talent. She was In!

*Note 3: Knowing what you DONT want can be just as important as knowing what you Do want.

I put out a Breakdown for the very Special role of "Tatiana", the daughter who inspires Everything! My assistant showed me photos of Little Girls who were submitted. I picked those who looked closest to our Vision. We pulled audition sides and had girls put themselves on tape. We submitted those tapes to Ryan for Interest and Approval. During that time we found a little girl on line who was Awesome. She had the Perfect amount of Innocence, Professionalism and a  Lovability Factor. Ariana and Ryan hit it off on Skype right away!! Being Canadian, however, there was a Work Visa situation. Our  Wonderful Production Company knew how to handle the paperwork and moved on it right away.

*Note 4: A Strong Support System of Producers with an "I CAN" attitude, can make what seems Impossible, Possible!

With Director Ryan Coogler
We had a Strong Support System with Significant Films and Producers Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang along with My Local Casting Counterpart Nina Henninger in Northern California. Nina took the Supporting roles and filled out our cast Beautifully with Actors such as Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray and Ahna O'Reilly while Ryan added Friends, Family & Local Actors to Create a very REAL sense of Time and Location. Michael also embodied Oscars Northern California Accent with the Support of our Director, Ryan Coogler.

Writing this Blog has helped me relive the Gifts in the Casting Moments of "Fruitvale Station." Thank you, Film Independent, for this opportunity

Here's to Independent Spirit Awards for "Fruitvale Station" All Around!!

1 comment:

Indigo said...

"Ryan knows WHO he wants and WHY." solidified my theories on the casting of this film. I cried multiple times in the theater because the performances were so real. I went to high-school in Northern California. With relatives and friends all peppered in from Richmond, The town, The city, all the way over to Yuba City and down to Stockton. The authenticity of the actors revealed a due diligence on the part of the director and casting director(s) as a team. I love finding the art in everything, and nothing makes art easier to spot than homework. Thank you for the product of collaborating with such an astute team!