Casting Nightmares on My First No Budget Feature Film

The casting of my debut feature film “Bandit”, turned out to be a bit more complicated than I expected at first… Initially, when I was writing the first few drafts, although I pictured the main characters quite vividly in my head, I didn’t really have any particular actors in mind for the film. Writing for a specific actor is not the greatest idea when you’re starting out, as if they say no – you’d be forced to make changes. The one exception to this is if you happen to be good friends or know the actor in question very well, and have discussions about your plan for the film well beforehand you start even writing. At the level of a fist-time filmmaker, sometimes knowing good actors helps extremely, and I was actually very lucky to have worked with a few beforehand.

Later on, when the script was about ¾ of the way finished I met a few up-and-coming actors on a shoot of a short film on which I was a DP on. The short film starred Aleksander Aleksiev, who is a phenomenally talented young actor, with whom we clicked immediately. Later in that year he went on to star in the sequel to the popular horror franchise I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2, and had a small part in a big Hollywood action/spy film JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT with Kevin Costner and Chris Pine.

Alek (left) alongside Kenneth Branagh in JACK RYAN

Alek (left) alongside Kenneth Branagh in JACK RYAN

He has also starred in numerous award winning short films such as “The Paraffin Prince” and “Pride” directed by our mutual friend and extremely talented director Pavel G. Vesnakov.

Alek’s girlfriend and fellow actress Yana, with whom I’ve worked with before and actually wanted to initially play the female lead in the film, was pregnant at the time with their first child, and it looked like her term would coincide with our principal photograph scheduled for late November/early December 2013.

Alek called and we spoke at length. We had an option – to keep him attached, but with the clause that he can drop out literally a week before the shoot starts as this was when they’d by told by the doctors the days in which they expect she’d be giving birth. The last thing I wanted was for him to be on set and miss the birth of his first child. No way I could live with myself if that were to happen. He was really cool about it and offered to not drop out until we were absolutely sure. This mean that I needed to have a plan B in place.

Traffic Lights

George Naldzhiev in “Bandit” BMCC Screen grab

Plan B was my good friend and actor George Naldzhiev, who was at the time preparing for the role of the sidekick to our hero, will play the lead if need be. And the worst part was that we wouldn’t know for sure until days before we started shooting. We waited… the waiting was killing me, but I knew that either way we’d have a solid actor to play the lead. So that meant that George won’t know which character he’d be playing for sure until days before the shoot – which meant he had to prepare for both.

Now that is quite a tricky situation for an actor to be in, but he agreed and was actually quote happy to prepare for both as this way he’d have a much better idea of who each of the characters were and develop a deeper understanding of their emotional connection. It was a lot of hard work for George to prepare for both roles and we’d spend endless discussions over Skype of me answering questions he might have and developing the back story for the sidekick character, which at that point I hadn’t really given much thought to.

So with a week left before the shoot start date, I packed my BMCC and other gear in a 1610 Pelicase and a ThinkTank 2.0 Airport carry-on and boarded the plane to fly to Eastern Europe. I remember vividly not being able to sleep the night before, I had this funny queazy feeling in my stomach that it would all fall apart on DAY 1 and that nothing will go according to plan… the fact that my flight was scheduled to take off at 6:00 am didn’t h neither, which meant I had to be at the airport by 4:30am at the latest, and the cab ride was about 40 minutes from where I lived at the time…

I remember riding in that cab in the dead of night passing through the empty streets of London, looking out the window felt like staring into my own soul – full of uncertainty, doubt and everything in between…

City lights at night

Another shot from “Bandit” / Shot on the BMCC 2.5K EF

Five days before the shoot, was then when I got the call from Alek – my first choice actor to play the lead – letting me now he won’t be able to make it as his girlfriend would be giving birth technically on our third day of shooting… I wished him well and I was in a way happy it turned out this way. He would be with his family and I can focus on getting my film made. We knew we’d find a way to do another film (which is something I still want to do with him).

I called my buddy George and told him to prep for the leading role. In a way I sensed he had been doing this all along and I felt the sign of relief on the phone when I told him. Then I contacted another actor – Yordan Krushkov, a talented young theatre actor, who had been booked for a whole season on a theatre out of town – about 200 miles away, but was in town for the Holidays.

Luckily again for me he agreed to do 3 days with us and be a part of the film. Now looking back to those days, I feel it was more luck than ability or anything else that got me through this shoot… And that’s how I dodged a major bullet that might have killed my production, by no one else’s fault by mine.

The key take-away here – is have a solid Plan B. And then Plan C. By some cinematic miracle I was able to pull it off, but deep inside I know, that I was very fortunate to be able to find actors to fill in the slots and reshuffle the whole script so quickly…

Me and Alek are still working on doing something together and he currently is making big strides in TV series and other features. We’re still good friends and one day would be telling our kids, this story and what could have been…

Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about some of the gear we used for our projects GET OUR SPECIAL FREE REPORT HERE.

Claim your copy of DAVINCI RESOLVE 12.5 - SIMPLIFIED COURSE with 50% off! Limited Time Offer!

600x311 4KShooters banner