Spork, the beginning: An old friend, Chad Allen (the actor from Our House, St Elsewhere, & Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman) contacted me about this low budget indie film he was producing and he wanted to talk to me about casting it. He gets me the script and I sit down to read it. I look at the title, "Spork". "Hmmm...interesting," I thought. I read it the first time and wasn't quite sure what to make of it. It was laugh out loud funny, deeply poignant, full of amazing characters and seemed almost alter-reality like....and it was also really, well, offensive. So I had to read it again. The second read through showed me so many more layers to the film. I also had a second glimpse at what I first thought was offensive. I suppose, in some regards, that people will be offended. This film does comment on every race, religion, culture, color, sexual orientation & identity, etc....but it comments equally across the board. And, truth be told, it's not so much offensive as it is eye-opening and commentary. The film makers are all gay: the executive producers, producers, writer/director, casting director (me), and others in the crew. We also span different races, cultures and religions. Every bit of what could be offensive was carefully planned out and talked about with appropriate third parties.
Okay, back to the story. I loved the script and I wanted to cast it. But....my schedule was really full. I was working on the Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz film, "Knight & Day" and had very little free time to work on another project. Sadly, after talking with Chad, it just wasn't going to work. They were ready to start casting immediately. I was sad. I wanted the chance to work on this film and with a friend. Those are the projects we long for. But there was nothing I could do.
Then, one day sometime after we finished "Knight & Day," I was talking with Chad and I inquired how Spork went. His response, "Oh, we put that on hold to raise more money so we haven't started yet. Are you free now?" UMMMMMM, HELLLLOOO!!! Yes, I'm free and I want IN! So I met with the team: JB Ghuman, writer/director, Honey Labrador, producer, and Chris Racster, producer along with Chad Allen, producer. It was a love fest from moment one. The interview was more like a bunch of friends sitting around and shooting the breeze. I was hired! I was stoked! I knew this film was not just going to be another low budget film that nobody noticed. This film was going to mean something and it was going to be the highlight of my casting career to date.
Alas, there were going to be some challenges. It fell under the SAG Ultra Low Budget film, which means a max budget of $200,000. That's difficult just to shoot a film for that little money, but a massive challenge to get any celebrity actors on board at that budget. The bigger agencies that rep these actors will rarely even take a pitch to read a script if there isn't a bankroll payday involved. But we all put our contacts together, figured out what actors we wanted and we went for it...no holding back, no apologies. And we struck gold! Yes, of course we heard some NO's along the way but I'm not gonna lengthen my blog by talking about the negative. It was an intense and wonderful casting process.
For the adult roles, we got some incredible actors, all well known, who loved the script and wanted to be involved. And for that, I have to thank some amazing agents: Bobby Mosses at Stone Manners (for giving us Richard Riehle and Keith David) , Julia Buchwald and Tracey Christian at Buchwald (for Beth Grant), David Rose at Innovative (for Elaine Hendrix), Tyler Grasham at APA (for Yeardley Smith & Rachel Fox). The support we got from agents and talent across the board was outstanding.....and that's all due to JB Ghuman's phenomenal script.
Okay, now onto the casting of the kids. And here's where I will have to work hard to keep this blog shorter. The kids make this film. We HAD to get the casting exactly right for each kid or it wasn't going to work. And JB did NOT make this an easy task.
1 - 'Spork' - a 13 year old hermaphrodite - not being able to find an actual hermaphrodite, we needed to cast a girl or a boy that could walk that fine line, who wasn't too pretty or handsome but wasn't too odd looking and who could carry the entire film as the lead role. I was sweating this the entire time. I was reading mostly girls for this role and wasn't having much luck. My agent friends at Coast to Coast (Dana Edrick and Meredith Fine) kept pushing this one girl, Savannah Stehlin, on me. But I thought she was too pretty. She'd never pull it off. They said, "Just meet her and have her read. Trust us. You have nothing to lose." So I did. And I fell in love. Savannah nailed the audition with such depth and understanding for a girl her age, I was blown away. She WAS Spork. Done!
2 - 'Tootsie Roll' - a 13 year old African-American girl who had the outward, showy appearance of a girl from the ghetto with an inwardly old soul feel...who could DANCE. And I don't just mean move around the floor. JB wanted her to know how krump and klown, a tall order. Years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Sydney Park, at the time a 9 year old actress. I met her at a kids stand up comedy night. At 9 years old she wrote and performed her own stand up routine. Now, I am NOT a fan of stand up. It's usually not funny. But here comes Sydney, this little 9 year old girl with the attitude of a 20 year old. And she just walks out on stage, grabs the mic and took over the room. She spewed jokes about her mom, the industry, and life that would make your head spin...all from the mouth of a 9 year old! There were some jokes she made that even made ME take a few steps back and I'm pretty open minded. But, DAYM, she was a gold mine. After the show I ran up to Syd and her mom, Kelly Park, and handed them my card begging them to stay in touch with me, telling them how much I loved Sydney and how she is destined to be a huge success. And they did keep in touch. And over the years, as Sydney and her attitude grew, we became friends. We meshed...they are like family to me and I'd do anything for them. So when the role of 'Tootsie Roll' came around, she was it. THIS was the project I had been waiting on to cast Sydney. And her audition will go down in the history books. Sydney is a very well put together and well spoken child...so much so it's scary. But she came into the room in her ghetto character and I don't think she broke that character until somebody yelled, "And that's a picture wrap" months later. PERFECTION. GOLD MINE. Don't believe me? Wait until you see Spork.
3- 'Betsy Byotch' & 'Loosie Goosie' - We were very lucky to have Rachel Fox, Felicity Huffman's little devil child from Desperate Housewives, wanting this role. We met with her, first actually. She was our first meeting and first actor cast. She is nothing like her role on D.H. and she was another gold mine for us. She came in all sweet and lovely and turned into Betsy Byotch...and by the role name alone, you can imagine what we needed. Then she broke out her guitar and played us a song she WROTE, which I believe ended up in the movie somewhere. Next we had to find her best friend and cohort, Loosie Goosie. The casting gods were blessing us on this film. Oona Gregory, who could easily be mistaken for Kristin Chenoweth's daughter, voice and all, came in and knocked our socks off. She had these subtle facial expressions which the character so desperately needed. Done!
4 - 'Charlie' & 'Chunk' - ugh...two roles that really stressed me out. Charlie was the "gay" kid in the film. And we needed a little boy who, gay or not, naturally seemed stereotypically gay in his affect. And he also needed to be comfortable playing a potentially gay character and making fun of himself....and we needed his parents to be on board with that. Daunting, to say the least. JB remembered seeing a little boy at a showcase in the recent past so we called him in. Michael Arnold walked into the room BORN to play Charlie in all the wonderfully, positive ways. Not only did he put a perfect spin on the role and words in the script but he randomly broke into song in the middle of his scene singing, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow". Talk about being "dialed in". Straight to wardrobe, thank you Michael. Then there was Chunk. OMG. We needed an overweight Asian kid who would make the audience wonder, "Is that a boy or a girl?" And he also needed to be okay making fun of himself for being this way. Oh, and did I mention this character is a lesbian?
We rounded out the rest of our cast with the amazing help from Tommy The Clown, the genius who helped start the krumping and klowning revolution. If you haven't seen his documentary, RIZE (directed by David LaChapelle), go rent it right now. It's incredible. He's incredible. And he gave us unprecedented access to his dancers and into his world. In the dance scenes in our film, we used all real dancers from Tommy and it makes all the difference. Tootsie Roll's crew was rounded out with his dancers, who are NOT actors.....well, they weren't actors but they sure are now. They had to be amazing dancers to make it believable but we did need girls who could pull off the acting. And they sure did.
We all head to NYC next week for the Tribeca Film Festival, where I truly believe SPORK will being to become the next talked about indie breakout film. So keep your eyes and ears open and check out SPORK online when the festival begins. We're bringing back the SPORK, in more ways than one.
PS - for the record this blog is about 500 words LESS than the others. xoxo
Much love and happiness,
Jeremy Gordon, CSA