Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Diversity Problem in Casting

 This is something I think about pretty much every day.  I think about it when I'm on set, which is most days, or watching something.  I notice if something is diverse or truthful to how the world really is, or not. It's important as all hell because how we see ourselves in art has a famously strong connection to how we see ourselves in life.

So when I made my first feature film, Inside You, I was especially concerned about diversity in casting, and at the end of the day, while we did alright and I have some fucking awesome actors of color in this movie, I feel my cast is absolutely not as diverse as I hoped.  Here's what I learned about this from the process of casting and making my feature:
- I tried to cast actors of color many times and sometimes DID and then had them drop out last minute (actors of all colors need to drop out sometimes, especially when you are paying them low rates) and I sometimes ended up replacing them with someone white
- I couldn't find enough actors of color that I thought were good enough and experienced enough to act in the movie

- I didn't know about them.  Of course they exist!  I just didn't FIND THEM.

- Actors of color get less work, and therefore are less visible and discoverable.

Since there's less roles for people of color, they are seen less, there's less on their reels, there's less ways for me to know about them.  Casting also involves very specific needs - the actor must be right for that character so you need a wide talent pool to find the right fit.

And yes, I'm also a white person and by cultural circumstance I know more white people - but it's not that simple.

I see this as a bigger problem for low budget productions. 
- I couldn't afford a casting director to find this talent - which takes a lot of work and time but is possible.
- Holding open auditions is a nightmare (at least in NYC and LA) - it's hard to pull in capable talent without a casting director or agent sourcing them for you, the time and cost are prohibitive and when you're making a film you have very limited time
- I also didn't want to take a risk on someone without enough experience
- For many of the actors of color out there who are known - they are in demand and getting all the work, and I can't afford them.

Big budget productions don't have this issue.  They have the means to discover new talent, and the budgets to afford known talent.  The talent pool even for big budget films is smaller because again there's less famous POC so there's less who can bring in the bank.  The studios would have to decide to take the risk on an actor who doesn't have a proven box office draw.

Up and coming performers need a chance to be seen by taking on roles in independent films.  These independent films need to be able to find and discover these actors.

If there was a resource to showcase performers of color that would be amazing.  It's not simple, that's why casting agencies and casting directors exist - it's a TON of work to discover people - there's thousands of hungry performers out there but it's very hard to sort through the ones who are actually good and know their craft and are good to work with and right for the roles you are casting.

If someone can figure out how to better showcase this talent - it would be great  - especially online (reels etc) - because low budget indie filmmakers don't have the time to be going out to live stage showcases and either way stage actor doesn't necessarily equal good film actor.

A curated online database, and agency initiatives for low budget films to have access to actors of color is what I think solves part of the problem. Also if more storytellers: writers, producers, and directors of color emerge and have their films financed- I believe just looking at the examples of Ava Duvernay and Ryan Coogler- you will also see more roles for people of color. And even those examples exclude Asian, Indian, and Latino success stories - so you know- there's a ton of room for growth!

Here's an example of a success story: The film "Attack the Block" was made for 8 million pounds and was an indie film (sounds like a lot but it's actually low budget for a sci fi feature!).  They wanted to discover local talent and held auditions.  John Boyega, a young actor from a local theatre, came to audition and landed the lead role.  Today he is featured as the first Black Stormtrooper in Star Wars.  He's one of my favorite young actors (though I felt his part was underwritten in that film).  I believe he's the second coming of Denzel! 

He would never be in Star Wars if it wasn't for the film "Attack the Block" discovering and taking a chance on him. 

There's a lot of things I feel great about with my upcoming feature film.  I love the cast, there's great performances.  I wish I lived in a world where more performers of color had more roles and exposure so I can find them next time. I'm sorry if that sounds shitty. I did try. I was trying a lot difficult things with hardly any money or support- this kind of change requires a concerted effort from the entertainment community as a whole.   Here's to that being the case for my next feature.  Here's to - quite simply - more roles for people of color.  And ya know, not just like, the maid, or crack addict number 2.

Friday, January 01, 2016


At 34, this has been the best year of my life so far for 2 reasons:
- personal career fulfillment
- being single and without kids (yet, if ever)


When, in my life, I did not feel connected to the ability to achieve my dreams, I was extremely depressed.  This year, among other things I loved, I shot my 1st feature film.  This was something I NEEDED to do.  At one point I told myself that even if I do this and fail, I'll always know I took the risk - rather than wonder "what if."  But at this point I can't in good faith say I failed, and I haven't even finished the movie yet.  (We shot it in June and it's in post production.  Should be finished in March.)  No matter what happens with this movie, I feel great about it already, and energized and connected to what comes next. I feel enabled to take those next steps.  In many ways I feel I've laid the foundation for doing what I want to do with my life, exactly as I'd always hoped and dreamed it would be.  I've had great many failures and difficulties in my way. I've overcome them, and guess what ... you guessed it: it made me stronger!  And better!  That's really a thing.

So sure I may get married and have babies some day - but I haven't yet, and this has turned out to be a very good thing for me in my life thusfar.  There were times in my life that I judged myself and felt very bad and sad about being single, being dumped, being rejected (AKA my 20s AKA everyone's dumb 20s), and felt bad and pressured for not using tinder like a good girl - and I'm extremely happy that I dodged those bullets of fear to make it this far in life on my own.

I had a very bad ex boyfriend define much of my romantic life: past 8 plus years on and off.  And I would keep seeing him, even when the bastard had a new girlfriend, like a damn addiction - because it was fun, because it was wrong, because he made me feel everything on the spectrum of human emotion and .. you know, like, in my down-theres.

It was hard for me to see what was wrong with it since I wasn't hurting anyone else. I still met and dated other guys over those 8 years, still lived my life.  I've had people tell me he was getting in the way.  At first I thought that meant it was getting in the way of me meeting someone new - but that wasn't it.  It was getting in the way of meeting ME.

This is the year that I learned to not just be cool with it - but to be deeply happy and fulfilled in being alone.  To be able to have happiness that comes from myself.  To be able to know what I want.  To be able to know who I am.  To be able to know who I want to be.  Though I have done therapy in past years, and yoga from time to time - don't misinterpret this as high minded hippy dippy speak.  These feelings happened organically - not easily.  Nothing about getting here was easy at all.

After years of confusion, drama, and odd circumstance - I found myself here, eyes open, accepting so many things about myself that I never did before.

And also, feeling beautiful.

Fears of aging and losing my looks have proven to be foolish.  Even though my body and face has more flaws, I've come to notice that I have a much more powerful affect on others than I ever have.  Right now, on a regular basis, people seem more attracted to me than ever.  More attracted to me than when I was in my 20s, skinnier, with shinier hair, softer skin, higher heels, and with glorious youth.  Even just this New Years eve some girls in their twenties were repeatedly chiming "Oh my god I can't believe you're in your 30s oh my god!" and a guy I wanted in my 20s but couldn't get, seemed to very much want to get me.  This sort of thing has been happening all year.

And I shit you not I think these people are seeing my inner glow.  They are smelling the confidence and peace that comes with shedding desperation.  Sure - I really do take care of myself: exercise more now than before, fancy face creams, etc.  But why now? Why this year such a big response more than ever?  Why this year did so many exboyfriends even aside from the one I mentioned reach out? 

Why did drowning out the noise of a tindering world pay off so well?

I know the answer is that I've learned to be alone.  I know that I can continue to be alone and be happy and that spending time taking my solo journey is a precious gift.  I'm sitting here on fucking Walden Pond - but I'M THE POND dudes!

I don't need someone else to make me happy
(note this doesnt mean I don't need people, I need people - friends, family, collaborators, etc, sure, It's just that I'm not getting my self worth, meaning in life, and value from them)

This is the best year of my life not because I achieved everything I ever wanted, nor do I have it all.

I have a concrete foundation upon which the things I actually want - can all be built.
AKA I'm at the start of the party, more harder better quality partying is imminent!

To those of you who've had a bad year - I've had those too.  Those bad years were essential stepping stones to this very very good year.

As Thales said, "All things are water."
Happy New Year!

A photo posted by Heather Fink (@leatherfink) on