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While fundraising efforts continued after the Dishonorable Vendetta screening, my team and I started to look into locations and assembling the crew. Kalen would be the main producer in charge of finding locations because of the success he had in locking down a private airport for his short student film. Most of what we looked into was between Staten Island and New Jersey including a boxing club for a sparring scene with the agents, the Art Factory in Patterson for a big action sequence, and Ultimate Collision in Staten Island for the opening sequence.
The biggest challenge was to secure a casino location for the majority of the second half of the script. Proximity and traveling distance for the cast and crew was a factor in putting our attention on Atlantic City. With business in A.C. doing from okay to not so well, it seemed like the town was our best chance. The closest to saying yes to us was Mohegan Sun because they were willing to utilize the film for publicity and to let their employees assist us as much as possible. Of course they wanted compensation for three days of shooting which we factored into our budget. Just when it looked feasible to film there, however, someone in upper management decided that the film was “not aligning with company’s core values” and therefore turned us down.
As Kalen continued to contact other casinos in A.C., my dad and I attended a casino night fundraiser at Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier’s restaurant in Manhattan. I got to meet Clyde as well as play poker with one of my all-time NY Knicks heroes, John Starks. The night gave me inspiration because of the way all the card and crap tables were set up in the dimly lit main hall. I kept it in the back of my mind to go the alternative route of a casino night setup should I have to downsize for budgetary reasons.
On the crew front, I started to assemble my audio mixer, gaffer for lighting, and etc. One of the guys I brought on board was Matt Stallworth, an aspiring art director. We met on a TV One promo shoot as production assistants five years ago and kept in contact ever since. He even helped out for a few days on my short film Night Stream. I knew he was very hands on in designing props and felt his strengths would work best for my film. Plus it was a big title to have on his resume for the future.
The complicated part of the crew hiring was having to settle on a DP. It’s the most crucial position to have on set because he communicating the director’s vision through the lens. As much as I wanted Clint from the first film to return, I knew his work schedule was going to be an issue and we agreed to set him up as the editor. Through Kalen and another producer I had at the time, I had received referrals for two talented DPs to interview. One of them was Rey Ortega, Kalen’s friend who shot the student film in the airport. I admired his work, but I had a specific look in mind and we agreed to keep him in mind for operating a second camera on dates when we would do complicated action scenes.
The other DP I met had a strong working knowledge of operating high-end cameras like the Sony FS7 and the Canon C300. What had sold me on him initially was that in his reel, he had a clip from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Bud Light commercial from the Super Bowl and I assumed he had shot that. Then I came to find out he was one of several camera operators on that shoot. I still wanted to give him a chance. So he asked me to do a shot list of the entire script from start to finish. That would take me a week to complete. But once I sent it out to him, I did not get a response for over another week. I was starting to get annoyed. So when he finally got back to me, he asked me to go back through it and decide which scenes could be done in one continuous shot. Nobody was impressed with his reel full of time lapses and steadycam shots. I also conflicted with this DP over the camera of choice because of lengthy setup times and limitations. The DP I wanted to work with had to be spontaneous, quick to respond, and not so defensive over stylistic choices. There was no time to flaky bullshit. The search had to go on.
We started casting for the supporting roles by March. Kalen, Rose, and I sorted through dozens of submissions from mandy.com and Backstage for each character. Most of the roles got narrowed down from five to six actors per character. What was important to me once the audition space had been booked was that I wanted J.R., Kalen, and Rose to be present. I had one too many auditions that I had held on my own in the past where I hired actors who were perfect in performance, but frustrating to deal with on set. I needed these guys there to read past the audition and seek out any signs of trouble down the road.
Two actors stood out on the first day. The first was Bryan Williams for the villainous role of “Annex”. Bryan had worked with Laneya Wiles, one of my actresses from Priceless, on an action film where he played a kingpin. We crossed paths during the Night Stream auditions when he read for my character’s co-host and I had remembered him from that movie. As I was rewriting the Vendetta Games script, his image came to mind as I wrote the Annex role. So I asked him to come in and read the part. Besides his imposing nature, there was something about Bryan that reminded me of a young Lawrence Fishburne around the Boyz in the Hood and Deep Cover era. Plus he was already putting in the work to prepare for the action scenes. So he was already a lock in my book.
The second actor was Alyssa Schroeter for J.R.’s character’s ex-wife in the film. The majority of the actresses I had brought in to read were all in the 40s and had various degrees of acting styles. Alyssa, who also attended Playhouse West, was personally asked by J.R. to come in and read. She came across the most real out of all the actresses and brought in the necessary layers in her scene so there was nothing one-dimensional in her delivery of the dialogue. My only concern was that she was a lot younger than the actresses we had come in. So we discussed wardrobe and makeup options to give her a more mature look to make it believable that she and J.R.’s characters were once married.
We would have to find the other parts on a second day. During the audition period, I spoke with another actor who will remain nameless here. All I can say is that he was an up and coming character actor with notable credits and had heard about my film through a producer friend of his. He loved the premise and wanted to be part of the film. The whole situation felt weird to me. He was a union actor who was part of a group that allowed him to do non-union work. Then he wanted to get my script to a known director without signing an non-disclosure agreement. His main goal was to get a part in the film that had the most weight. But there was nothing like that here. At least nothing where he would appear believable when put next to the other actors. My fear with any union actors since my first film was having to deal with their egos because they think they can be the selling point of the marketing. I know I will have to encounter that again one day. For now, I’m all about highlighting undiscovered talent in my films.