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Casting Advice

#ICastIt: Mark O’Shea On Why Showing Your Connection to a Character Gives Actors An Edge

#ICastIt: Mark O’Shea On Why Showing Your Connection to a Character Gives Actors An Edge
Photo Source: Ben Christopher

Mark O’Shea drew from personal experience to direct his first film for his final year at University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, U.K. The film, “How to Tie My Shoe Laces,” about a young boy who is given an ultimatum to choose between staying in foster care or moving back in with his mother, is inspired by O’Shea’s personal experience. O’Shea, who grew up in foster care, says the film is inspired by a specific event. “I had to tell my mum I wanted to stay living with my foster parents rather than move back in with her (she was fighting a court case to overturn my care order at the time).” O’Shea wanted to share what he went through since he feels it’s not something most people could relate to. He wanted to explore what might go through someone’s head in this scenario and how it feels to make a choice that will affect your entire life at such a young age. The film shows the two possible paths the character can take and each timeline explores how he would react to similar scenarios depending on if he’s living with his mother, Helen, or his foster mom, Stephanie. Both timelines have separate friends and families, so there were a large number of roles that needed to be cast.

“There is a sizable cast considering the nature of my film, each who play a key part in bringing the story to life,” says O’Shea. Which meant he had to find a lot of actors, but he says he’s learned not to stress too much: “if you look hard enough you will find an actor/actress perfect for the character.” He encourages other directors, “Don't give up if you're struggling to cast, eventually you will find someone who is perfect.”

Narrowing down the submissions was the first step. O’Shea used the headshots first as he was going for a specific “look” and also checked their reels to get a sense of their screen presence and style.  “The reels are what would really sell an actor/actress to me and is in fact one of the reasons I cast my actress; her reel made me feel she was perfect for the role.” After pre-screening, he held Skype auditions since he didn’t have much time or a large budget, but O’Shea says it was still an effective way to get to know the actors and gave him confidence in their ability. “My production successfully casted a fantastic actress who I know will bring our film to new heights, which, without Backstage, we might not have achieved,” O’Shea says.

O’Shea notes how important it is for actors to read the casting notice. “I think a personalized message as to why you feel you're right for the role is helpful, too; it shows you've done your reading and have something to bring to the project,” he says. For the protagonist’s real mother, O’Shea says “I needed someone who could bring raw emotion to a character experiencing a very unique set of circumstances. I found an amazing actress whose Backstage profile and reel caught my eye—along with the personal message she included highlighting ways she could relate to the character in a way that I don't feel many actresses could.” The fact that Hannah Dean included a note about why the project and role appealed to her brought her resume immediately to O’Shea’s attention. He notes that he’s found with a lot of casting services, many actors don’t read the notice and don’t realize they don’t fit the criteria. “This wastes a lot of time, especially when there are a lot of roles to cast,” he says. But “with Backstage I could tailor specific criteria when putting out a casting call and when looking through the applications, making the whole process so much quicker.” 

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