Hi! I’m Darek Kowal, creator of the comedy/horror web series ANYTOWN, USA! My show tells the story of an every-day, All-American, modern family … of cannibals, living in suburbia and dealing with rude neighbors the best way they can … by eating them. Our first 10 episode season is available at www.anytownusaseries.com1 and season 2 is currently filming! Besides Anytown, I’ve been a professional writer for over 10 years, received a B.A. from Columbia College Chicago, and have written feature scripts for several independent production companies, including the producers of ABC’s Castle.
I’ll be doing a regular posting here at Stareable, in hopes of sharing my experiences with the filming of season 2 & any other thoughts and observations I can make about media and the creative process.
Today we’re talking about casting issues, and how far a creator should go to accommodate an actor. Let’s get started!
When I talk about actors, I use terms like ‘brave’ and ‘fearless’ a lot. I’m referring to their willingness to take on roles/material that many would find ‘challenging’ or ‘risqué’.
Case in point: Finding an actor to play a character who shoots paint out of his butt. Not an easy task! But, low and behold, Brock Ward emerged and gave the world the character ‘Poocasso’ (Season 1 Episode 4).
But, if I’m being honest, Brock wasn’t originally cast as Poocasso. I’d offered the role to another actor who was, at first, “very excited” to join the show.
Then, he read the script.
It’s funny how quickly “very excited” can change into “unfortunately passing” due to the polite but obviously fake excuse of “scheduling conflicts”.
The issue came up again for our eighth episode ‘Part One’. This time, the problem was a moral conundrum. The episode points out the inherent fascism of trigger warnings, and the guest actor for the episode disagreed with the stance. Of course, they didn’t say that was the reason. They again used “scheduling conflicts” as an excuse, only to later comment on the video and let their true feelings out.
In both cases, I had run into actors intimidated by challenging material and, in both cases, persisted until I found brave actors who nailed the roles in ways the others never could.
And here we are again.
I’ve had another actor turn down a role because of the material.
But here’s the twist:
The actor e-mailed me and asked if I would change the script, using their ideas to “tell the story in a different way”.
And here’s where I almost lost my mind.
For the sake of masochism, I read through the laundry list of suggestions he’d written down, each one removing another fang until the scenes were utterly toothless.
And the more I read, the more I fumed. I’ve written all 10 episodes of Anytown. I’ve directed/produced all 10 episodes of Anytown. I’ve spent the last 3 years thinking about my stories, the characters, the themes, and the trajectory of the series.
And a stranger was telling me how to run my show to better suit THEIR sensibilities.
Quick alert for any actors reading this: THIS IS AN EXCELLENT WAY TO MAKE SURE YOU NEVER GET CAST IN ANYTHING!
But more importantly, I’ve chosen this topic because this is a creator community, filled with people using any and all resources available to tell stories that are important to them, and I wanted to ask a question:
Would any of you change your material at an actor’s request?
Spoiler Alert on my position: No. Chance. In. Hell.
I took a moment, gathered my thoughts, and calmly responded to the actor as follows:
Thanks [name redacted], I would never do that to accommodate any actor, it’s basically letting someone hold my show hostage.
And I truly believe that. The greatest benefit to YouTube is that I’m my own boss. I don’t answer to anybody when it comes to the stories I want to tell. I’d never let anyone take that away, and I’d never compromise a story or a message I believe in to cast a certain actor.
And neither should anyone else.
As young creators, we don’t have the credentials that more established names carry. We don’t have their success or their clout. Therefore, we will be challenged. We will be questioned. We will not be given the benefit of the doubt or just the respect an established writer/director and their material would receive. It comes with the territory of a saturated market of ‘artists’.
Here’s my plea. Don’t compromise because you’re desperate to cast someone. Stick to your convictions! Tell the story you want to tell! No matter how perfect an actor may seem, there is always another option.
(That’s two articles in a row where I’ve discussed/championed the ‘replacability’ ((not a word)) of actors, so I’ll take this opportunity to acknowledge how much I love my cast! )
(I just had an actor quit on my … oh, come on!)