Interview with the filmmakers behind short film Burn the Tapes (part 2) // Finding cast and crew

Last time, we talked about turning what was a short story into a script, and how three friends decided who would do what jobs.

The next step is a big one: finding collaborators to turn words on a page into something alive on a screen.

Oh, and BIG NEWS: Burn the Tapes premieres at the Canadian Film Festival (March 25 to 28 at The Royal Cinema in Toronto). The actual screening happens on March 26, at 9.30 p.m. at the Royal Theater on College Street.

Burn the Tapes is the story of a young woman whose new life is threatened when a stack of cassette tapes reveals a haunting truth about her husband.

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Jillian Gora, Brit Kewin and Nick Kewin

Above: Jillian Gora, Brit Kewin and Nick Kewin

James McNally: Is it true you actually Googled to find crew members?

Jillian Gora (producer): Sure is! I mean, we didn’t find all of our crew members on Google. It ended up that a lot of our very talented friends were more than happy to be part of the project.

But, when we got going, our first step was to learn anything and everything we could about making a short film, so with absolutely no experience in filmmaking, our research obviously started on Google.

We literally typed in our questions: “How to make a short film,” “What equipment do I need to make a film?,” “How to cast people in a film,” “How to find a DOP”… That last one was the ticket to finding the most crucial member of our team.

I clicked on the first result in the list that came up and it happened to be the website for (what seemed to be) a pretty established DOP. I decided to send him an email. I introduced myself and told him our story: a brother/sister team had written a great script and we were on a mission to make our first ever short film.

I asked him if he knew of any good resources for finding crew members or if he had any connections to some young, hungry DOPs who might be interested in helping us out for free (that last part was crucial, of course!).

To my surprise and delight he wrote back and told me that he would be happy to help us out … for free!

He had been looking to add some independent short work to his reel so he saw this as a win-win. His one condition was that he wanted to make sure we were really committed to the project – he needed us to take charge.

Even though the three of us had been pretty skeptical about the project up to that point, we of course jumped at the opportunity to work with a real professional. We knew he’d be the guy to take our project to the next level, and his condition was the pressure we needed to get it off the ground.

Most importantly, having this experienced stranger on board made everything feel real. We had committed to someone outside of our comfortable little friend circle and that meant we had to follow through.

JM: To me, casting might be the most mysterious part of filmmaking. Did you Google for cast as well or did you have an idea of who you wanted to play the roles? The two lead roles are pretty important to convey the mood of the film, and I’m curious how the casting process went.

Did you have pairs of actors read together or anything like that? Were you looking for people with lots of experience or was it more a certain look or chemistry with each other?

JG: Casting was definitely mysterious to me too, at first.

Personally I had no idea where to start. Luckily Brit knew about so I posted our casting call and the applications came pouring in. We were blown away by the response. We couldn’t believe how many wonderful, beautiful actors were interested in auditioning for the film.

We definitely had a look in mind as we went through the applications but we were open to meeting with people who seemed like they might be a good fit, even if they weren’t what we had in mind physically. We made sure to choose an equal number of men and women because we wanted to have them read in pairs at the audition.

It was actually a really tough process to go through for Brit, Nick and I. We had no experience with any of this and, since actors send head shots with their applications, we were hyper-aware of the human factor. When someone made it into the ‘no’ pile, we weren’t just rejecting a faceless entity – it was so clear that we were rejecting a real person.

We made sure to send an email to each and every person who sent us an application, whether they were being called back for an audition or not, to explain our decision and to thank them for their interest. That might not always be possible depending on the volume of applicants but that was really important to us.

One of my favourite parts of the entire filmmaking process was auditions.

We rented this small one-room building for the afternoon and had our actors come by, two at a time. My job was to sit outside, chat with the actors waiting to go in, and have them sign our waiver form (we were filming the auditions and we didn’t want them to be weirded out by that).

It was nice to get to know the people who were auditioning and it helped us get a sense of their personality and whether they’d be able to survive a whole weekend at a small cabin with a bunch of people they didn’t know.

JM: How did you know when you’d found the right people?

Brit Kewin/Nick Kewin (writers/directors): It took some back and forth between us, as there were a number of great people who auditioned. We narrowed it down to a list of a few men and a few women, then within that we looked at which pairs might believably be a couple. We also wanted to try and choose people who seemed like they’d get along with our existing team, and not be weird about going to a cabin for a whole weekend with us.

In the end it was a bit of intuition, a bit of planning and a bit of guessing. It turns out that we made the right decision but it was hard to know that until we were actually in it, like most things in life!

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Next time: Finding locations (and funding!)

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