You're going to be a star!
CASTING. Let's start talking about it.
If you're the director/producer, and especially if it's your script, that's going to be your job. And it definitely is an art. One that is part gut feeling, part learning experience. You'll make mistakes. But learn from them. And listen to your instincts. During a play audition, I once narrowed it down to two actresses. One of them read the sides for me slightly better. But my instinct told me the other actress was a better, more stable professional. So I went with her. And sure enough, the other actress, the one that I turned down, turned out to be a humongous diva. Go with your gut.
But here are some practical tips based on my various casting experiences. First, go on recommendations and personal choice as much as you can, before you hold an open audition. For me, I know several people whose opinion I trust when it comes to actor recommendations, and I always arrange one-on-one auditions with those people before moving on to open calls. And I always consider actors I know first. You have the benefit of being familiar with who they are as performers, what kind of people they are to work with, and you have the luxury of taking time to think about them in various roles.
Lost Creek was a bit more tricky, since all but two of the principal characters are children. As it happens, my mother is a teacher who runs a drama program, and I've worked with her a lot, and knew the kids in the program very well. So I basically used the plays she put on as an extended audition. I think my “go with recommendations” edict applies doubly to working with children. Kids are great, but a double-edged sword...if that makes any sense. In other words, you can work with professional kids, but they might be more expensive, come with pushy parents, be too difficult to book. You can go with amateur kids, who might be difficult to handle, not know the kind of discipline that goes into shooting a movie, etc.
My feeling is: if you've never worked with kids in any capacity, find someone you know who has. Use them as a consultant, constantly. I was lucky that I've worked with kids all my life. My advice is, never ever talk down to kids. Treat them seriously...even if they're talking about ridiculous things, you can tell them it's ridiculous, but never condescend. They take their world seriously, and so should you.
So, through that drama program, I found several kids who were that perfect combination: intelligent, hardworking and responsible, yet also very talented natural actors. Some of the scenes I was asking them to do in Lost Creek could be a little more challenging than things they were used to, but I knew with a little careful coaching, they could get there.
But it's a delicate thing, casting kids. Talk to the parents immediately. They will be making the ultimate decision, and they will be heavily involved no matter what. It's important that they're comfortable with the project too. For me, the first person I found and cast was the actress playing Maggie. She is a very talented young actress, and I knew she'd be great. I took her and her mother out for dinner, so that I could speak to them both at the same time, make sure I answered any questions either of them would have. Because not only do I want the parents to be comfortable, I want the kids themselves to have fun and enjoy it! Yes, there will be some hard work involved. But we are attempting to recreate the magical, strange, exciting world of childhood. If the kids are miserable, not only will that be no fun and terrible, but I think it will damage our ability to present that childhood world in all of its exuberance.
I'm in the process of casting the other two kids, and as part of that, I'm actually going to meet with the actors and work on some of the more challenging scenes with them. It gives me a chance to see how they handle the material, and it gives them the chance to see how it feels to work on something like this, and ask me any questions they want. This includes the scary parts.
If you're working on a film that could be scary to kids, I think it's important to make sure it's not scary at all for them. For the good parts, boost the magic, make it wonderful. Immerse them in the world you're creating. For the scary parts, kill the magic, at least for the kids. Kill it dead. Explain that it's not real, it's only a story. Make it very technical, and show them how all of the effects work. If you can, don't even explain the whole story to them, find safer analogies to help them get there emotionally. You need them to look scared. Good actors can get there with careful coaching. Find parallels to help them be that scared, direct them to look the way you want. But don't leave them having nightmares day after day.
For example, the actress playing Maggie is fairly able to handle things. But the actor I have in mind for Peter is fairly sensitive, with a VERY overactive imagination. That's why I'm interested in casting him, that's perfect for Peter. But, there are some sad scenes, and scary ones. Rather than help them feel scared and sad about what's ACTUALLY happening in the scene (which might be a bit too old for them), I'll find parallels from THEIR world, that they can handle. I probably wouldn't let them SEE this film, after all. So I have to be careful having them IN it.
So, working on casting the kids, several of the adult roles are cast already, but I've still got at least one to fill. How do I fill it? Open Calls.