Article from a talented filmmaker from across the pond: Louis Chan… -JO

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Pastiche posterCasting Local Actors: Finding interesting people who can hold the camera’s interest

Having recently graduated and with little experience in the industry, it was always going to be difficult to find professional actors for the roles in my work. Knowing this, I wrote a short called “Pastiche” with certain local characters in mind that I knew from the area in which the story is to take place, Kensal Rise (North West London). The main antagonist, Yardie Mason, could easily come off as a clichéd over-the-top gangster, so it was essential to find the right non-actor who could give the character the depth I imagined.

Prior to beginning the script, I was at a friend’s birthday party having a conversation with a guy called TK, when a bloke called Mark walked into the room demanding to know who had stolen his joint. Mark is in his early fifties, about six-foot-three, with an imposing frame and long dreadlocks. I was immediately reminded of a greying Predator. Straight away, I knew I had someone who had the externals. Everyone looked sheepishly around; especially TK. Mark snatched the joint out of TK’s hand and started berating him for being a ‘slag’ and a ‘teef’ (thief) in yardie. TK responded with equally funny put-downs about Mark’s clothes and the whole scene just began to get increasingly more hilarious. At the time, I was completely unaware that they were good friends and had been acting like this with each other since they were children. I remember thinking: if ever I could get those two in a room together and film them without their knowing, I would have possibly one of the funniest sketch shows going.

About six months later, I managed to get in contact with Mark and have a sit down with him and TK. Although neither had ever acted, they were familiar with the context of the film and even know people whom the characters I had written reminded them of. Naturally, Mark and TK were initially skeptical they would be able to learn the lines and deliver them credibly. What I tried to explain was that these were characters that most probably had an upbringing quite similar to their own — a different choice here or there could have resulted in their going the other way. One of the biggest themes of “Pastiche” is of hybridity in London and how cultures are increasingly overlapping. This was something that interested Mark and allowed us to create a character that — whilst having a thick cockney accent — would often drift into Patois/Yardie dialect without noticing. This is something we built on during rehearsals and when shooting his scene. It was crucial to the delivery that we had a project that the actor not only enjoyed but also believed in.

The performances of my local non-actors totally exceeded my expectations. Now, I can’t imagine having done the film any other way. All in all, if you are looking to make a no-budget film, I highly recommend you look for people who are local to the area and can personally relate to what your film is about. “Pastiche” is about social change in a particular area and this is something that locals who have lived there for years, are always going to feel quite passionately about. When you combine that with someone who has the physical presence and a natural ability for comedy, you’ve definitely got something cinematic to work with.

4241_178424795230_1814728_nLouis Chan is a 23-year-old London-born filmmaker who recently completed his first short film “Pastiche”. (Watch it on YouTube.) He has just completed work on his second short film “Maestra” and is in the process of setting up his own production company, FreshLook Films. You can find out more about Louis and his films on Twitter and YouTube.