This weekend we finally managed to get the core team together for Imazawa’s screen test! I initially cast Imazawa because of his distinctive and expressive look; I just had a hunch he might be perfect for the part. That and the fact that he’d been an enthusiastic fan of End Zone when it played at the Shimokitazawa Film Festival, so I knew he had the right kind of warped sensibilities. But knowing that he had never done any acting before made me a little bit apprehensive that maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t be up to the task. It’s not the world’s easiest acting gig, either. He’s playing opposite a robot dog who doesn’t actually exist at all when the footage is shot. This means that technical issues like eyeline and timing need to be dealt with, but also that a pretty high degree of imagination is necessary on the part of the actor to make it seem like he’s actually interacting with a CG character.
Well, the good news is that by my own judgment and that of everybody else who was present, Imazawa seems to have what it takes. I haven’t yet experimented with any editing or compositing of the footage we took, and we took only a small amount of footage with a couple of different situations/emotions to express. But Imazawa seems to be a natural in front of the camera, and he seemed, at least at first blush, to have an uncanny connection to the non-existent robot dog. He didn’t overact, he responded well to my direction, and he just generally oozed character. I don’t want to overstate things here. I think there are a lot of challenges ahead, in terms of getting the performances I need. But it’s nice to feel reasonably confident that I’ve got the best person I can for the lead role.
To prepare for the screen test, and just for my general education, I’ve been reading (among other things) Directing Actors by Judith Weston. This is kind of the bible on the topic, and it really is good. Although a lot of what’s in here seems like common sense when you look at it written down, I can say from first hand experience that most of the suggestions are things that inexperienced directors instinctively get totally wrong. I’m a bit less than half way through, but so far the book has dealt very helpfully with giving playable direction and knowing how much and what kind of freedoms to allow your actors. I used a lot of the advice directly from the book at Imazawa’s screen test and I think it helped me get the kind of performance I was hoping for.
There’s only about a paragraph in the whole book on dealing with non-professional actors and children—there are five different parts for children in Electric Town—and nothing about working with animals—there are three dogs—and of course nothing at all whatsoever about throwing fully CG characters into the mix. So I’m woefully unprepared for all of that.
Should be fun!