I asked Meredith Garlick, producer of the up and coming film 'The Little White Horse', casting in the UK, Austrailia, and in New Zealand, some questions about the job of the producer..
How much input does a producer have on the casting of a child?
A lot. Most film projects are collaborative, with the director and producer – hopefully – reaching consensus on their casting selections. Depending on the individuals involved in specific projects, the producer might leave most of the decision-making up to the director and simply wait to approve his/her choices. Or she might be more closely involved. Generally, though, in the casting process a parent’s sole communication will be with the casting director, or the child’s agent. Most likely, a parent would only get to meet the producer and/or the director if their child was close to being selected for the role.
What exactly does a producer do?
Ah… the $64,000 question! What don’t they do is the better question. Producer has overall responsibility for getting the project made and released. That’s it in a nutshell – much much more complicated in actuality. In a way a producer is like a project manager, that is, someone who is responsible for every piece of the puzzle from the creative aspects through to the financing parts. That is why it is the producer who goes up to accept the Best Picture award at the Oscars.
Does a producer find projects or does a director come to us?
Both, or either or. Each project starts out differently, being generated by a writer, a director, a writer-director, or a producer. Usually, a project won’t go very far unless a producer is involved (there are VERY few directors in the world with the clout to get their own projects up without a producer) – besides, why would you want to? There’s too much work for one person to do it all! In Hollywood, particularly, most projects start with a producer – unless you’re Steven Speilberg or Ron Howard!
How does it work with several producers? How does more than one producer get involved in a project?
Outside of Hollywood (and I’m including American ‘indie’ projects here) most films are pulled together as some sort of co-production, either within one country or from several countries. This is the result of the complexities and expense of filmmaking today. That’s why you get lots of producer credits on a film. Producers will look to form the most strategic partnerships for each individual project. Once there is an agreement in place, the producers will generally agree on a division of responsibilities. Even in this scenario, there is generally an originating producer for each project, who would usually have the creative control over who might be cast in any of the roles.
Does the producer come into contact with children during the audition process, or on set?
It varies, depending on the choice of involvement a producer might have in a project. The producer might prefer to leave most such matters to their production manager or might be very hands on. Many producers will, at the very least, view the audition tapes of the short-listed actors. They might also sit in during the auditions – and why not, it’s a very fun part of the process of making a film!
How does a producer cast from more than one country?
We have separate casting agents in each country and would give each of them the same brief. They would also have extensive and continuing discussions with us and the director at all stages of the casting search. In this case, we would expect our casting agent to narrow the list down to give us a ‘short list ’ (which may be 5 or it may be 35), and then we would review that list. Initially the review of short-listed actors would be in person (in the country we happened to be in) or via video-taped audition pieces sent to us by the casting director. At a further stage of the process, we (and the director) would want to see the children auditioning live so we would either fly to them in their country or they would fly to us. If the choice finally came down to two or three actors, there may be the need for seeing them all together in which case we might have to fly them to another country to audition.
What are we looking for when we’re casting children?
This of course depends on the actual film we are casting, so it really does vary from project to project. Generally we are looking for a number of things – a certain type that would match physical characteristics that you have in mind, talent in terms of the child’s ability to act and level of comfort on a set and in front of a camera, but also a certain level of maturity. You want someone who can handle the long hours, being away from home and the pressure of being in the industry. Now, that is said with the producer’s hat on of course!
The casting director sees a child first …. When do we get involved?
Normally at the short list stage.
Who gets the final say in who gets cast?
Well, it should be a mutual decision between the director and the producer. If they couldn’t agree…. the director. But… if the producer felt strongly about it…… the producer. Depends on the contract between producer and director and the producer’s desire to keep the director happy early on in the process of making the film.
Once casting is complete, what do we do next? Is there any further interaction with the child/parents then?
Yes, loads! The job really only starts once the casting is complete. There are contracts to be worked out, rehearsals and possible specialist training (eg, does the child need to have a special skill – riding, singing, swimming, etc. – or accent?) to be attended to during pre-production, plus wardrobe fittings, make-up tests, general planning, arrangements made for schooling while also shooting the film, etc. etc. Then begins the really intense commitment to the shooting of the actual film. That could take anywhere from one month to six months depending on the scale of the film. Then, during post-production, there might be re-shoots, publicity calls, ADR voice work, etc. Then, the child – and parents – need to wait… and wait… and one day the film will be released and there will be al big splash when that happens. Throughout all of this, the producers and the production team, will be having regular, if not daily, contact with the child and parents.
What sort of parents do you like to see? Which ones might put you off hiring… or even sacking a child, if it came to that?
The best parents are the ones who understand, accept and 100% support the task the child is taking on. This is a huge commitment the child makes, and because s/he is a child, that means the whole family makes it too. Making the film might mean the child will have to move somewhere for the duration of the shoot. Parents then need to work with the producers to come up with the best solution for looking after that child and also not disrupting the family too much. Does one parent leave the family to travel with the child? If not, we provide a chaperone at all times, but obviously we would also want the child’s mental, emotional and spiritual well-being to be fully looked after. Supporting you child through this commitment also means trusting the production team to look after your child and to let them get on with the work at hand. Do we need a parent to go through lines with their child? No! Do we need a parent to keep the child up with their homework? No. Do we need a parent to chaperone the child? Not necessarily. Do we need a parent to encourage the child to understand the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this is and what responsibilities also go with that? Yes, please!
When it comes down to the final choices, yes, of course we are, to some extent ‘auditioning’ the family as well. So their attitude might go a long way in determining our final choice. There are many laws protecting children who work on films and we do, of course, follow all of them. But, the work is hard, and it is tedious, and it is demanding. And it is all of that long before it is ‘glamourous’. We would hope for parents who understood this.
How can parents and children help us in our job as producers?
Listen. To what the casting director tells you. To what direction the director gives. To what the producers might need from the child and the parents.
Producer, Forgan-Smith Entertainment
Many, many thanks to Meredith, and Forgan-Smith Entertainment, for taking time out of their very busy schedule to talk to us, and we wish them every success with The Little White Horse..with many more productions to follow!!