I've worked with Frank many times, and he's always a delight to have on set. What made him instrumental to the success of this particular shoot is his experience as a wrestler. Frank coached Robert King (who plays Abe Lincoln) on a wide variety of authentic wrestling moves which helped us bring more believability to the characters and more viewer entertainment to the screen.
Robert King is an experienced stage actor who knows how to move thanks to a lot of formal training in dance. Qualifications aside, what I liked most about Robert for this role was his natural poise and dignity which is simply a part of who he is as a person. This was a role where the pendulum had to swing widely, and Robert delivered. As a reserved President Lincoln he exudes a highly commanding presence, but when Abe gets his "fight club" on the viewer is taken by total surprise at Lincoln's more aggressive side. Extreme contrasts in this version of Lincoln are what make him a character you can't stop watching. Kudos to Robert for pulling it off so well and making both sides of Abe so believable.
Charlie is one of the nicest people I've had the fortune of meeting in this business. He's also an accomplished director and cinematographer. I've known Charlie for years and have worked with him on many occasions. This time, I approached Charlie to be an actor! Much like Tommy Farmer, I've also had Charlie's face in my mind for years. He has an amazing look for this kind of piece – and boy did he come alive as Hunger's 'Handler'. Those steel blue eyes and that intimating demeanor, you'd never guess what a kind and approachable person he is.
For years I've had Tommy's face in my mind. He has such a classic look that really lends itself well to period pieces such as this. The coolest part is that Tommy has spent his career on the other side of the camera as a highly respected Key Grip working on hundreds of commercials and films over the years. And if you think about it, that's why he took so quickly to performing as an actor on this project. He's a fast thinker and problem solver, and he just has a way about him that enables him to connect with people. Any direction I gave him was processed immediately and came out in his character beautifully. As a director, I take tremendous pride in my casts, and Tommy is a perfect example of why that is – because the right individual for the right role makes real magic happen on the screen.
David plays the 1800s brewmaster who transforms into a modern day version of himself. Directing David was such a great experience. He's a thoughtful actor who is able to say so much without ever saying a single word in this role.
After I'd written lyrics and developed the film concept for "These Days" I knew I needed an extremely talented composer to both help me bring the song to life with music and to help me create an eclectic group of musicians who could play the piece and perform in the film itself. Tim is an amazing talent himself. What a treat it was to have him on set representing the music he created for the film.
Working with Tim Fowler to cast real musicians for our fictitious band, I knew I wanted a voice that would help make "These Days" a song, not an advertising jingle. Kevin was just the singer I was looking for. I come from the advertising world where many professional "jingle singers" tend to have an overly polished style that sounds a bit too jingly (for lack of a better description). I didn't want a jingle, I wanted a song with a soul. Kevin is an accomplished musician and composer in his own right, but he's not from the advertising world. And that's why he was perfect for this. I wanted a singer who's carved out a life singing in thousands of bars and pubs up and down the East coast. Someone authentic. Someone real. Someone with the kind of soul and musicianship that can't be manufactured, only earned.
Peggy was not only gracious enough to find and secure the majority of background actors needed for the film, she agreed to play the role of the homeless woman in the park. A highly accomplished actor with many films to her credit, Peggy was instrumental in pulling this film off, giving generously of her time and talent.
Zach filled one of the most atypical roles you can have on set. He ran sound for an entire 15-hour shoot day knowing we would likely never use any of it in the final film (we used ADR for the entire film).
Sounds crazy, but we needed a guide track for the edit. Zach also wanted to make sure he captured plenty of ambience in case it proved useful during the film's sound design. On day 3, there Zach was again capturing fountain noise, city sounds, anything that could prove useful in post production. On the studio side Zach worked on ADR and other technical aspects that brought the film's soundscape to life.
"Near" features an original score written by Tim Fowler, an award-winning composer and sound engineer. What's more, the film's entire dialogue/performances were captured using ADR (audio dialogue replacement) which is almost unheard of.
Most films use ADR as needed. In the case of "Near" it was used as its own special effect, giving the film the highest quality sound achievable. For those unfamiliar with ADR, this is a process in which the film's actors come into the recording studio and re-record the lines they did on set. That means EVERY line you hear in "Near" was actually recorded at Sound Asylum AFTER the shoot. This was insanely tedious and required a lot of skill on behalf of the actors. It also demanded tremendous patience from sound engineers Tim and Zach in order to match the on-camera lip sync perfectly.
And the film's sound design? Sound Asylum is responsible for that too, creating a continuously engaging sound scape for the film's various environments.
Dan is one of those rare actors who can turn 3 words into an entire scene. He's just that good. This was my first time ever working with him. I had seen his reel – and was so moved by it – that I wrote the part specifically for him. Thank goodness he agreed to do it. Otherwise I would have had to change the character.
The character of Henry needed somebody special ... somebody who could bring Elena out of her shell and create an on-screen relationship that felt, above all, believable.
That's when I realized the film needed Chris Schmidt. His comedic abilities created a perfect counterpoint to Elena. Yet Chris brought so much more to "Near" than levity. Chris literally transformed INTO Henry, an individual overcoming his own obstacles. It was an amazing thing to watch.
When I began writing "Near", Mercedes immediately came to mind for the role. In fact, I wrote the first two drafts before approaching her. Fortunately for me, she was interested in the project. Once she agreed I wrote two more drafts incorporating Mercedes' bilingual abilities, and even incorporating her previous training as a modern dancer into the script.
Can you imagine what Elena's sketchbook would have looked like with stick figures? Thanks to Dennis Garcia you'll never have to. Dennis illustrated all the sketches of Henry you see in the film and is also responsible for the film's final color correction/visual effects. Remember the beautiful night sky filled with gorgeous stars and a crescent moon? That was Dennis infusing a bit of movie magic.
Christian and I worked closely together from the very start of this film project. We location scouted together ... ran through blocking together ... planned endlessly together. We were joined at the hip because we had to be. Not only was Christian the DP, he was also the film's editor – and that meant he needed to be dialed into every facet of the story, top to bottom.
We've probably shot over 100 TV spots together, but this project gave us new territory to explore. After all, planning every scene and transition for a 16- minute dramatic short film is a slightly different animal from shooting a :15 commercial. I focused primarily on directing the talent and blocking the scenes, making occasional adjustments to the design of certain shots. Christian oversaw all things camera, owning every camera angle, lens size & dolly move.
What impresses me most about Christian is his unflappable zen-like personality that keeps him relaxed and focused for such long stretches of time. Day 1 was 15 hours long, and he was just as enjoyable to be around in hour 14 as he was getting ready for the day's first shots.