Last night I attended a SAG Foundation event with Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd, who cast Fruitvale Station, and John Jackson, who casts Alexander Payne’s movies, including Nebraska. Nebraska was a ten year process. Novels, films, plays… they are often difficult things to get right, difficult to complete, to fund, to get out in front of an audience. Even, maybe especially, the casting process, like much of the rest, is full of intangibles. Who can say why one actor comes through on film or is right for a role? They both mentioned a spiritual component to casting. And an intuitive one.
When he was asked about his day-to-day work casting, Mr. Jackson said he continually asks, “What does the film need?” It sounds simple, but I find myself returning to it. It’s a great question for anyone in a creative endeavor: for the writer – what does the book or story need? for the improviser – what does the scene need? for everyone on a film – what does the film need? It helps take the ego out of the process and puts the focus on to the final product, where it belongs. It is a question of service and as such, one of love. Love for your fellow artists, for the audience, for the process, and for the work itself. You can watch their interview along with dozens of others at the SAG Foundation website for free!
What does your work need? It is a question that will return you to your passion when it fades, to your purpose when you lose sight, to the story when you wander off. It is worth revisiting every day. Asking “what does it need?” will keep you honest.
Something else to ponder is this from Emma Thompson. As with Mr. Jackson, I keep coming back to what she says: