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The Big Picture - An inside look into Indie Film Auditioning with CD Harley Kaplan

Written by: Kelly Calabrese

Can you imagine...

Being 3 words into your monologue... in front of a big time casting director... when the CD's phone rings - AND she answers it!!!

It sounds like a nightmare but it actually happens, which is why it is "so important to think about everyone as your audience," shares casting director Harley Kaplan.

"Your audience is always going to be a mixed bag no matter what you do. You will have kids crying or people nodding off. You never know what will happen but they are still your audience. So think 'how nice of you guys to show up' in your head and then have the time of your life."

For much of Harley Kaplan's life, he has worked in entertainment. Harley moved from Scotland to the United States as a child, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, moved to New York City and studied acting extensively.

"I studied, studied, studied acting and got a great agent in the mid 90s," says Harley. "I auditioned for a movie called Office Killer with Molly Ringwald, Jeanne Tripplehorn and a young Ben Affleck - and I booked it. I took all the exclamation points out of the script and did it the exact opposite. My instinct was to whisper it where there was a scream and they laughed."

Then, "they had me come in and be a reader for Gwyneth Paltrow who was doing Shakespeare in Love." And from being a reader, Harley Kaplan got asked to help with casting.

"The whole office was going to Paris," says Harley, "including Mark Bennett who did Hurt Locker, Jennifer McNamara (now at NBC), Camille Hickman (currently casting at Lincoln Center). They wanted me to hold down the fort and I didn't know anything about casting. In the first minute, Mary Harron calls from Toronto and asks, 'where is my list for American Psycho?' I didn't even know what a list was."

"I found this book on how to make a movie and chapter 9 was on casting," laughs Harley. He learned that "a list means the actors for a specific role."

From that first role in casting, Harley Kaplan got hired as an assistant and today he works for both the newly formed Powers/Kaplan Casting and PalmStar Entertainment.

Having an acting background, Harley Kaplan really enjoys the artistic side of finding the right person for a role.

"Next to acting it is probably the most creative part of a film," says Harley. "I love working with the actors, working with their eyes. And they are appreciative."

In the big picture of an audition...

Harley believes that a casting director's involvement does make a difference.

"Some casting directors don't give anything and it is not helpful to the actor," shares Harley. "It is like tennis. You can't play against a lump. You've got to hit that ball back and raise the ante. You don't want to bring actors down, you want to bring them up. My actors go back to their agents saying 'I had the best audition ever.'"

"For that five minutes, it is the actor's world. There is no before or after . You have to enjoy the hell out of it."

Actors should enjoy every audition because...

"You never know what will happen later. They could cut the role. You might not match up with someone else. Or, there might be a diversity clause. There are a million factors so you have to love the audition as much as if you had the role - because you are doing the role."

Each audition should be treated as a performance and "actors should never kick themselves."

"I remember not getting a part and it was the third call back for a movie," shares Harley. "I got a vibe that it was not going to happen even though I was off book for the whole script and worked really hard on it. I felt horrible afterwards. I blamed myself even though I found out later that it had nothing to do with me. They cast somebody from a different country and there was never a chance. They were just having the auditions because it was in their contract. I was getting all down faces and people looking at their watches because they felt bad - but I was taking it out on myself and that was the wrong thing."

"Sometimes an actor senses the nerves of the director, producer or writer and that is them being nervous about something, it is not the actor."

Who books a role depends on so many factors!

"An inexperienced director or producer will have a prototype in mind," says Harley Kaplan. Or they will want someone on IMDB "in the thousands range because of the star meter. But they don't understand that Anna Nicole Smith was number 1 when she died. There are factors that go into it. Someone could be number 842 because they got into a car accident."

"They think it's paint by numbers, when it's not. There are lots of little ying-yangs everywhere and a balance you are going for."

Some of the balancing act has to do with budgets and schedules.

"You have to keep in mind the budget of the film and availabilities," says Harley. "For example, right now it is pilot season and a lot of talent are out in LA because they want to work and it is a big deal for them."

For a project that Harley is currently casting, "they can't change their shooting schedule and so are going to go with New York locals because of pilot season and the budget."

Since time is money in the film biz...

"After an audition do not ask a lot of questions, just be thankful," says Harley."And, actors should never come in and apologize, ever. Never say you were late or have a cold. If you were in a play you wouldn't get up there and make excuses. Life is life and things happen."

Though, "if you are going to be really late it is nice to call or send an email because you never know when the session will end. Or, if you are not going to show up call because we have had to wait around and pay extra money for space."

Actors need to take pride in their own career and not focus on having a manager.

"A lot of actors don't realize that sometimes it can be better to be on your own then to be with a bad manager or agent; an annoying pushy agent who submits you for the wrong things and will call fifty times a week. "

To help actors without agents, Harley Kaplan makes it a "point to not be agent submission only."

"I go through every headshot that comes in the mail, every post card, every email and online submission. I give those people a shot and mix it up."

Harley sees about 30-50 people just for a day player. Sometimes "actors are hired after one audition. It is always different."

For Gun Hill Road, which was just got picked up at Sundance, it took years of casting. "The central character in that film is a teenage boy that is transitioning into a girl and Rashaad Ernesto Green wanted a real transitioning person. We ended up going to a lot of transvestite poetry clubs and all sorts of places looking for the real thing," shares Harley. "He finally found one named Harmony who had never acted before," but ended up being brilliant according to those who saw the movie.

After all, when it comes to the big picture of movie auditioning - what really matters is what you bring in that is unique and different.

"I look for someone who isn't a type, " shares Harley Kaplan, "someone who is unique in themselves and very comfortable because in the world everyone is different."

"I think there are more types on a soap opera or network television but independent films gives the odd man out a voice."

"My favorite things are character driven small films like Winters Bone, Drift and Blue Valentine; movies with human beings, things that could happen in everyone's life," shares Harley

"I love stories and figuring out what makes people tick. 90% of what I look for in actors who audition is not the dialogue but how they listen, what is going on behind their eyes and in their mind. It gives the audience in a theatre so much. It is fascinating. It gives them an idea about you and its like psychology in so many ways."

"It is one thing what you say but so much more what you don't say - that is beautiful, I love to capture that. It is a beautiful, collaborative process."

As a part of a film, beyond the audition room...

"Everyone is a family for a brief moment," shares Harley Kaplan. "You have this memento, this photo album to keep forever that everyone is a part of it. And it's not just what is on the cover of the book, but what is inside."

Inside every actor lies a dream and hopefully this inside look into auditioning for indie films can help NYCastings actors get the big picture, to see the many controllable and uncontrollable facets!

Thanks to Harley Kaplan for his time and for continuing to champion actors!!

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