After a rigorous, wearying few months of writing, the screenplay is finally finished and yet, for the filmmaker, the work has only just begun. Now comes the casting process; an operation as exciting as it is unnerving, because the wrong actor in the wrong role could easily turn out the wrong movie.
Billy Wilder said, “90% of directing is casting and script, and the rest is knowing when to get out of the way when you've achieved these things.” For the filmmaker, it might feel like a shame to surrender control of these characters with whom you share such a deep connection, but it’s really important that a space be created in which these characters are allowed to grow and evolve, which will come as a direct result of respecting and collaborating with your cast.
For me, one of the most exciting moments leading up to the production is the first Table Read, in which your cast will read through the screenplay from start to finish, giving your characters a voice for the first time and allowing you to hear how their words sound, because how the words sound is just as important as what they mean.
The table read provides an excellent opportunity for you to open up the floor to your cast and uncover any ideas they might have around crafting a language for your character. Not all filmmakers and actors respond to improvisation, which is fine, but it remains critical that an actor feel as though the character’s voice is their own. Their intent must be fully understood, otherwise, the direction of the performance becomes muddled.
By the time you get to the rehearsal, the intention must be transparently clear. The actor should then be given the freedom to discover ways in which they can express their character. This can be verbal (e.g. a stammer or unusual pronunciation) or physical (e.g. a tic or way of walking). It’s important, at this stage, for the filmmaker to remain open-minded. Allow yourself to be surprised or challenged, and be willing to go back to the screenplay and re-write should you be swept up by a new idea. This could be something as simple as an alternative line of dialogue, or the addition of a brand new scene.
At the best of times, collaborating with your cast will bring so much creativity and excitement to your project; the characters feel revitalised, story images start to reveal themselves, and new ideas start to form. The most important thing to be certain of is that you and the actors are telling the same story. This will result in a strong, creative collaboration between everyone and a resulting story that feels cohesive.
When collaborating, remember that even the finest directors don’t create the performance. They inspire the actor.