GUIDING LIGHTS: EMILY GREENWOOD ON CASTING CHILDREN
20 October 2015
Throughout our seventh Guiding Lights film mentoring programme, which runs for nine months in 2015-16, we will publish a series of articles giving insight into the participants’ journeys and experiences.
In this, our second article, director Emily Greenwood tells us about her experience with casting children for her forthcoming horror film, Scream Room.
Emily Greenwood: Casting has kicked off for my horror film, Scream Room. It’s only a small cast, a family of four, a doctor and some other minor roles. Finding the right actors to play the key roles of 6-year-old Jack and 10-year-old Tommy posed the biggest challenge, so we decided to start with them first.
I began my research on a local Mums’ Facebook page, from which I received an incredible response. I have since been in touch with five local, young actor, groups and have attended two workshops, with more lined up this month.
My mentor (to be announced later this month) was really helpful in describing what he looks for when casting a child. Having recently directed a 10-year-old in a very emotionally challenging role, his advice was invaluable. He highlighted the importance of a ‘natural’ and understated performance, which I’m finding is quite rare in children, who tend to over act and get easily distracted. On the other hand, he said he also likes to see them lose control a bit, shouting and screaming, to gauge their energy level. Seeing how well they respond to different direction is essential.
Taking this advice on board, I asked the boys to prepare two emotionally contrasting scenes from the script. To see how they responded to direction, I asked each boy to play the scenes as he liked. Then I gave him a secret direction, and asked the rest of the group to guess what direction I had given. This also worked well to open up discussion about the scene. It’s been interesting to discover how the boys understand a scene, and also surprising that five-year-olds had managed to learn an entire scene!
During the last workshop, it became clear that there is a remarkable difference in the level of understanding between a child aged 5-6 and one aged 9-10. After reading through the scenes, we set up a quick improvisation of what ‘could’ happen after the scene they had just read. The younger boys had absolutely no idea and couldn’t make up their own lines, whilst the older boys could. The younger boys did respond to direction, but they didn’t have the same understanding of emotion as the older boys. Nor did they share their inventiveness. We are still looking for a younger boy to play Jack, and are now open to the idea of making Jack older, if it would mean ensuring a richer performance.
Casting the other roles was greatly helped after a chance meeting with a leading UK agent during the Guiding Lights trip to Galway Film Fleadh. I told them about my project and they kindly offered to approach two actors’ agents on my behalf. On my return, I followed up with them. They got back to me immediately and asked for the script. Having a high-profile casting agent on board is a huge bonus, and who knows, having their name associated with the project may help to pull in some bigger names, too.
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