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Casting is always tricky. Especially when you are looking for a couple - two people, strangers really, who will have an unexplainable, but palpable chemistry. A chemistry that will convey (and in the short film world, very quickly) that their love is deep, their bond eternal.
Plus they need to look good together (and separately), they need to be talented actors, they need to be available and interested, they need to show up to the audition ;) and in this case they need to be comfortable, convincingly, with loving someone of the same sex.
A natural direction would be to find lesbian actresses, and wipe away any potential for awkwardness. But that diminishes your pool of talent. So I did a standard release through the breakdown services and scheduled up my auditions based on resume and appearance alone.
I saw about 40 girls for Renee, that first day. There was some talent, but no one jumped out. Then I saw about 25 girls for Kerime and again, nothing. So I went back to the drawing board and called a new round for both roles. The next day, as I was working in the office, Traci Dinwiddie showed up. On the wrong day. For the role of Kerime. I had called her in out of desperation, I didn't think she looked ethnic enough, but I was running out of options. But there she was in her ethnic garb, telling me she was Syrian and perfect for the role. Be that as it may, I couldn't see it in person any more than I saw it in her picture. I told her to come back and read for Renee on my next round. And man, was I glad. She floored me.
Meanwhile, in that next round, Necar's submission popped up, and when she walked in and opened her mouth, my instincts were telling me she was it. And the crazy thing is she didn't even know who I was when I called to set up the audition. Her friend in San Francisco had seen the breakdown and submitted for her. It was a complete fluke that she was even there.
Finally, I did a round of callbacks with my top five girls in each role. This is where I pair them together to see the chemistry. As the day wore on I was beginning to get discouraged. Until Traci and Necar came together.
I called action. Cathy DeBuono was my associate producer and was running camera. The girls started acting and from the first moment I was mesmerized. So much so, that when it came time to yell cut - before the girls kiss - I forgot. I just stared. And left without the cut, Traci grabbed Necar and planted a humongous kiss on her. And Necar didn't hesitate. She went for it.
In my brain I was thinking "wow," then "hey wait a minute they are not supposed to be kissing," and then finally in delayed reaction, "cut" emerged from my mouth.
Needless to say, I could have sent the rest of the actors home at that point. And one look at Cathy's face and I confirmed that thought. These girls were IT!
And I've never looked back, and in fact moving forward I brought them both in on "Elena Undone," the feature I produced last winter. Thankfully they were game to reunite.
Necar will be working with me again in December when I shoot my first feature.
I look forward to another film where I can bring Traci back in as well.
Renee Vivien - Lost in History
I discovered Renee Vivien in a round-a-bout way. I have a feature film script, set in the 1930's, a beautiful sweeping lesbian romance. I was offered a chance to compete in a short film contest and I thought I would use the opportunity to make a little film that could show how gorgeous, sexy and romantic my feature film could be. The criteria was that it had to be made under $15,000 (That was the amount of money the winner would get to do the film.) It had to be lgbt and it had to be under 5 minutes.
I thought it would be interesting to use a real love story as a basis for the script, so I googled Lesbian Women of History. And found Renee. I was immediately taken by her poetry - poignant, powerful, personal and at times so tragic. Her erotic imagery was vivid. Her allusions to the difficulty of being an out lesbian in early 1900 was really sad and painful to read and unfortunately not that different than the bullying that goes on with younger lgbt kids these days.
Then I discovered Kerime. WOW. A married Turkish woman of Islamic faith (that some reports say was a member of a harem) who reached out of her own accord and asked for intimacy with another woman. There was so little data on her it was frustrating and the only book of her letters I could find was published in Turkish. Unfortunately, and I am sure you will be startled by this fact, I don't read Turkish :)) So I had only my imagination to rely on for their relationship.
Going back through her poetry, that imagination took flight. Her poem, The Touch, was so evocative and sensual, I could imagine this moment between lovers, unrequited. And the story took shape.
In the end I didn't get the award. The committee didn't believe I could make it for under $15000. But I was already in love with the story. So I raised the money (and spent my own money) to do it. And the short film, "The Touch," was born.