#ICastIt Alex Oshmyansky On Virtually Casting New Mockumentary

The mockumentary on mafia recruiting, “Career Opportunities in Organized Crime” may be Alex Oshmyansky’s first film, but when the medical professional decided to make a virtual reality film he jumped in with both feet, going straight for making the first full-length virtual reality film. Having always loved film, Oshmyansky applied to both medical school and the USC film school and got into both. He hasn’t regretted his ultimate decision to go the medicine route, but, he says “part of me has always wanted to travel the path not traveled and hearing about virtual reality filmmaking about a year ago [I] just fell in love with the idea and wanted to give it a shot.”

While writing the script, in which a branch of the Russian mafia commissions a documentary for recruiting Americans, he always had in mind that he would be shooting it in 360° virtual reality. He did some test shoots to get familiar with all the technology and then dove in. Shooting in 360° affected production design and the positioning of characters, so it was important to be aware of during the writing process. “You’re no longer directing the audience’s eye with the camera,” he explains. So “you have to plan ahead for that and have enough going on in the scene to keep people interested, but not too much that they’re distracted from the story.”

Because there weren’t really close-ups, the camera wasn’t capturing the fine nuances of the actors’ faces as they conveyed emotion as a traditional film would. So he directed actors to project their emotions more than they normally would for film. Oshmyansky needed actors to be “more restrained than theater, but more projective than film.”

“I like the sheer breadth of talent we were able to get from Backstage,” says Oshmyansky, who posted a notice in addition to bringing in a casting director. The number of actors to review and observe, and the different aspects they could bring to the whole, was also more challenging than Oshmyansky had expected and made him realize the importance of the casting director’s role. Prior to working with Melanie Forchetti of Mike Lemon Casting, he says he had never fully understood the casting director’s role. “Filmmaking is a collaborative art,” he says, and this experience taught him how much creative vision a casting director can bring to a film. In the future, he says, “I would have more input from the casting director from the start.”

While he held in-person auditions for many of the roles, he cast a couple of the main roles from Skype auditions, including the lead Malcolm (Alex) Mills who plays Nicholas Novak. “Alex had this great sense of being simultaneously reserved and yet you could tell there were things going on underneath there ready to break out. [And that’s something] the lead character needed.” He also cast Michael Barra who plays Lonya, the mafia’s muscle man, from tape. Oshmyansky says he knew Barra was the guy when he Skyped with him because “[he’s] a fantastic character actor and embodied the part. He was the go-to guy.”

With six cameras going at once, Oshmyansky notes that it was a little like a stage performance for actors since actors had to do all of their scene in one take without any cuts in between, making being completely off-book a necessity as opposed to a traditional film where you can easily recapture one line multiple times in a short time frame. Oshmyansky’s advice to actors interested in virtual reality projects is to be completely off-book and prepared to do the whole scene nonstop. He also suggests actors “be willing to project a little bit more with your with the acting than you might otherwise in a conventional film.” The benefit of the long takes was that actors had less time waiting around while the scene is reset.

“Career Opportunities in Organized Crime” is available beginning Aug. 31 at Reelhouse.org.

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