Indie film’s marketplace has never been noisier. With equipment costs down, picture quality and production value are givens (even with microbudgets). Talent, on the other hand, is anything but. Finding the right actor to play a part is a step that audiences don’t see but one that can make or break a movie.
“No matter the size of your film, it’s always best to represent both yourself and your project as a professional, competent, and worthwhile opportunity that they can’t pass up,” says Darrien Michele Gipson, national director of SAGIndie. “If you have a great script and a smart plan for execution, people will be interested.”
I got a crash course in this during preproduction on my first feature, “The Little Tin Man.” My team had just raised more than $100,000 on Kickstarter and was ready to rock. I needed to cast three principal actors, and from everything I’d heard, signing on a respectable casting director was the first step. But everyone was too swamped for my small project.
Armed with an IMDbPro account, I began cold calling agents and managers to “check avails.” Some were cordial, while others ignored me. One graciously responded, “With your budget, you’d better have the best fucking cast in the world to make this work!” But I persisted and started thinking outside the box. I really wanted “A-list talent,” so how could I find the next big thing?
Having a background in comedy, I looked to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the launching pad for many great performers. This tireless search led me to a “30 Rock” writer named Kay Cannon.
Cannon considered herself “a performer first, who just happens to write.” While she only had a few supporting roles in films, I saw something in her that was perfect for our female lead. I contacted her manager and sent over a formal offer. As fate would have it, she loved the script and had an opening in her schedule before leaving to become a writer-producer on “New Girl.” We set up a call, and she asked me if I was open to improvisation during filming. Since she has won WGA and Peabody awards and been nominated for Emmys, I agreed, and she signed on.
Cannon’s instincts as a writer enhanced her performance tremendously. We left a lot of room for improv in each scene, and she was constantly adding layers to her character and making the overall story better. My risk paid off. But you want to know a secret? I never considered it a risk. I knew Cannon had the chops from the moment I saw her. Later that fall, my instincts were confirmed again when “Pitch Perfect” became a box office hit and pop culture sensation. Largely credited to whom? Screenwriter Kay Cannon.
So what’s the moral of this story? Talent is what you grade it. Always go with your gut.
Matthew Perkins is a filmmaker living in New York City. His first feature, “The Little Tin Man,” is on the film festival circuit and seeking distribution. Follow on Twitter @_MatthewPerkins and @TheLittleTinMan.