PRODUCTION DIARY: Pre-Production (2 of 3)

Read it from the beginning in EPISODE I: The Script

Once I had made the decision to follow through with the project, or at least attempt to follow through with it, I had to make sure I had the talent to support it. By talent of course I mean actors. Since the first draft I had always intended on playing the lead character, Brian. This decision came about out of necessity more than anything. There was simply no way to guarantee that another person would be 100% available for every minute of every day of filming. Since the character is in just about every scene I figured it would be easier to pull double duty than work around someone else’s schedule. I was there, I knew the part, I knew the character and I was reliable. I refuse to use the word star because I feel that in terms of the cast, despite the story being centered around Brian, that it is very much an ensemble piece, as the title suggests.

The first person I officially contacted for the cast was Steven Bendler in the role of Cliff, Brian’s best friend and co-worker. I had first approached Steven about playing the role in 2004 after working with him on a couple of short films. Although I hadn’t spoken to Steven in a few years I re-offered him the part and thankfully he was available and willing. From our first meeting at a diner, which lasted 4 hours, his enthusiasm helped bring this project to fruition. Over the years since our first meeting Steven had kept busy, as you can read in his bio on the cast page.

Steven & Peter
discussing Cliff on the set.

Photo by L. Lynch
When I first met him in 2004, he and I hit it off and became fast friends, sharing many common interests and outlooks. He seemed like the best friend I never had growing up. This made him the natural choice for Cliff. Even if I wound up not playing Brian, Steven was always my first and only choice for Cliff. He has many natural qualities that I always saw being a part of the character. I needed someone who could be light and funny, but also sincere and serious. Sometimes its difficult for people to find that kind of balance, especially when they’re playing an original character. As the script was being revised throughout the years I began to see Steven in the character more and more. When we finally began preparing for the film he asked me questions about the character and it was difficult to not give him answers about himself. For example, he asked what Cliff’s favorite movie was and without hesitation I said Back To The Future (1985), which is Steven’s favorite movie. After doing a full read through of the script, with just the two of us, he and I talked at length about the character and I gave him some models of inspiration that included Two-Bit from The Outsiders (1983), Chris Chambers from Stand By Me (1986) and Steven Hyde from That 70’s Show (1998).

With the part of Cliff cast I set out to find the female lead – Veronica. This particular role has always been one of the things that held up the production. Finding the right girl to embody all of the qualities of the character was a major challenge, especially considering the scale of our production. At one point the part was even personally offered to an Academy award-winning actress. The role of Veronica required more than just a pretty face and the ability to recite lines. There had to be some kind of connection with the material. Some level of understanding not only of the role, but also the effects on the other characters.

We held auditions to which a handful of the most promising applicants were invited. Steven was good enough to come down and read with the girls. If they had prepared a monologue they were allowed to perform it. If not we moved on with the audition. I gave each girl a scene from the script and had her read through the material once to get familiar with it and then read through it again with Steven. This showed me how they interpreted the character and if they could make any connections based simply on the dialogue. After that I had them perform an improv scene with Steven so I could gauge how well they took and understood direction. In the end, of the girls who showed up there was only one who hit every ball out of the park and possessed all of the character’s attributes mentally, physically and emotionally – Ms. Carly Ballister.

Cliff, Brian & Veronica
Photo by L. Lynch
With Brian’s main confidant (Cliff) and love interest (Veronica) secure I set out to find his motivation, the catalyst for the story…Alison. For the longest time I felt that I could slip any girl in the role and have it be just as effective. As the revision process went on I came to understand the characters and the dynamics of their relationship better. Alison had to be strong, yet mysterious. I have known Priscilla Wilson for a long time, but only recently found out that she had an interest and experience in acting. Out of the blue I sent her and email and she agreed to meet and discuss the part. I knew that she would be able to handle the part with no problem. After talking for about an hour she was on board. Keeping in mind that I had actually worked with Steven and made Carly audition, Priscilla was given this part blindly. We had rehearsed our few scenes together only a couple of times, during which she investigated the character thoroughly. When the camera rolled on her first day of filming (the fourth of filming) we were all stunned by her performance.

Steven Bendler, Shawn Stephens, Konrad Mann
Carly Ballister, Peter O'Brien, Priscilla Wilson

(Left to right - top & bottom)
Photo by L. Lynch
The rest of the cast was comprised of friends who were willing to make the commitment and sacrifice to be a part of the project. No one sacrificed more than Konrad Mann, who not only volunteered his apartment as a key location for the film, but also played the role of Brian’s friend – Wayne. His character is more or less paired with Brian’s other friend, Les, played by Mr. Shawn Stephens. They are both friends whom I felt fit the description of the characters and could bring something new to them as well. Together they rounded out the principle cast of Misery Loves Company. Although neither of them have any formal training they still managed to hold their own among the rest of the cast and give genuine performances, even while being slapped around repeatedly, but more on that later.

The remaining characters, sprinkled throughout the film like a fine seasoning, were more or less gathered at the last minute, sometimes quite literally. Carlo Sitaro, who plays Ennio, the theater employee, was the storyboard artist on the film and agreed to help me out. Jim O’Brien, my older brother, came through at the last minute to play Mark, the theater manager and boss to Cliff and Brian. Joe Miggins answered the call and came down to the set to play the irritated café employee. Richard Jackson agreed the night of filming to play Tommy, the bartender and Colin Hanahoe made two trips to the set for his one line role as Brad (Veronica’s boyfriend).  Finally, appearing as themselves in the film are Long Island based punk rockers – Trouble Bound!

I really had a lot of good fortune when it came to the cast. The people I wanted were willing and able, the people I needed I found with ease, and the people that I couldn’t find turned up and did a smashing job. The interesting is that not one person I had originally associated with the character was involved in the cast. The actors present in the film are all unique to these characters and their performances – genuine.

The saga will continue in EPISODE III:  The Locations
Read it from the beginning in EPISODE I: The Script

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