CASTING COMMENCES                               2/10/00

There has been a long silence here on the EvenHand front, which doesn't mean that nothing's been going on.  As planned, casting has indeed commenced.  After consulting extensively with our Casting Director, Ellen Parks, the script went out on Monday to our two top choices for the characters of Francis and Morning.

Right off the bat, I'll tell you that I'm not going to say who those actors are, because that just isn't done.  Casting is a very political process, and almost anything you do can wind up getting an agent's knickers in a twist.

I'll give you an example from my own experience:  when we were casting Cherry, we took an interest in a very talented young actress for the lead role of Leila.   Ellen contacted her agent to say we were interested.  The agent's response was "She's offer only."  "Offer only" means that you can't get them to engage on any level in the project, from reading the script to actually meeting with a director, until you have made a formal binding cash offer.

While she is indisputably talented, the actress in question is hardly a household name.  Most savvy film people we knew had never even heard of her.  In our judgment, for her to be offer only was patently ridiculous.  We would never consider hiring her without at least talking to her first -- nor would any other director with any brains; she didn't have the résumé or the box office to back up the lofty "offer only" status.  And on the flip side of the coin, what actress would not want to meet with first-time directors before considering a role?

Thus began an excruciating dance with the agent.  We refused to make an offer and he refused to say if she was indeed interested or not.  Finally, we were allowed an opportunity for Jon to meet with her in LA, but not before the agent insisted we engage in a lengthy negotiation to draft a fully detailed deal memo -- which would only get signed if we actually did end up offering her the role.

So, when the negotiation was completed, Jon flew out to LA, met with her and decided that after all that meaningless negotiating she was in fact not appropriate for the role after all.  As if that wasn't enough, the agent then flew into a rage when we told him we were moving on and actually threatened to black-ball us -- essentially for making a creative choice that he didn't like.

Besides the obvious horror of having an agent at a major LA agency threatening our careers, what made the experience so frustrating was our inability to simply call the actress up, meet her for a beer, and talk about the film.   It's an extraordinary thing that actors on her level can be that distanced from the process.  And it's not about them being assholes or prima donnas, it's about a system that insulates them from any real or meaningful contact with the creative voices in the independent film world.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to casting EvenHand.  Really!

- Joseph Pierson



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