EXTRAS CASTING, AUSTRALIA
MATRIX: Where did you come from to get into Casting?
TIM: By a circuitous route. I did law originally, hated it, and wanted to get out of it, so I went overseas. I went to London and was able to go, “Well, I’m somebody new now. I can do whatever I like,” so I left law behind and worked for an agent in London for a couple of years. Then I came back to Australia and did Casting, and have been Casting ever since.
I freelance for Extras Casting work, and other work has been usually under the auspices of a Casting agency firm. So I travel wherever the work is. I’ve spent the last couple of years in Melbourne working on a television show down there, and returned for another television show here, so it has been great to get back to film.
MATRIX: From a Casting point of view, what are the differences between television and film?
TIM: I was casting guest roles and acting speaking roles for television, so I wasn’t so concerned with the extras side of it. The difference from a Casting point of view is very minimal, really, in terms of actors. There is such a thing as screen presence, or big screen presence, so there are some actors who just don’t feel big enough or interesting enough on a big screen, but who are perfect and intimate and just right for television. There are some translation problems, but not enough to not check first, or not audition first.
MATRIX: What does casting extras entail?
TIM: Basically, supplying all the background atmospheric people, particular stand-ins for the main cast, and doubles for the main cast if we need doubles as well.
MATRIX: As an Extras Caster, do you cast people solely for non-speaking parts?
TIM: Yes, I do solely non-speaking parts, although occasionally someone will get upgraded. For instance, on the first film we had a number of S.W.A.T./police guys who were running around, and it turned out that an actor hadn’t yet been cast for one line. In fact, it was the guy who said, “They’re in the walls!” We lined up all the extras for that day and had an impromptu audition for the S.W.A.T. team, where they all had a go at the line. Whoever was the best ended up saying it on the day. Occasionally it happens like that.
MATRIX: Who gives you the direction on the type of person that is needed?
TIM: At the beginning of the film, during pre-production, I’ll have a meeting with the Brothers [Larry and Andy Wachowski, Writers/Directors] where we go through each of the big extra scenes. I ask them what sort of a look it is that they’re after, and I’ll get a brief as to what they need from the Extras Department. The Costume Department gets a similar brief, and I tend to work very closely with the Costume Department because we’re a team effort in terms of providing that atmosphere. We’ll work together from a Casting point of view in terms of looks being right. We tend to swap information from bits we’ve heard from the Brothers. The Brothers tend to keep their direction down to a minimum, so it’s only a word or two that you tend to get, which is enough.
The brief we get is based on the supporting cast. For instance, the opening scene in the second film, where all the captains and the first mates have gathered to confront the problem and Niobe is addressing them all, we had about twelve or fourteen speaking cast, and we needed to make up the balance from extras. In that instance, we took our direction from the look of the speaking cast. We used them as our brief to know that similar types were needed: strong soldier types.
MATRIX: Do you have much contact with the speaking Casting people?
TIM: No. Although it just happened that I was working with the Casting Director on the first film, in terms of all the speaking roles, which was fun. I got to read opposite Hugo Weaving in his audition and play Neo!
THE ORIGINAL FILM
MATRIX: You were involved with the first film; for that, which scenes did you provide extras for?
TIM: We had some interesting scenes on the first film. We had what was called the “Construct” which was not like the Matrix, but was supposed to be this second rate version of the Matrix that the humans had invented. We had to have lots of twins and triplets, because they weren’t quite good enough to duplicate the Matrix completely, but could fake it by doubling up a number of times. That was fun; I think every twin and triplet in Sydney managed to come onto that shoot in the city.
The Brothers had a very specific look for the Matrix: everyone needed to have strong, dark hair colors, or strong blonde, or strong red, and everyone needed to be pale, which was difficult because we were shooting at the height of summer when everyone had a tan.
The nightclub scene involved going through the fetish community, which was fun as well.
MATRIX: How did you get the word out in the community that you wanted to speak to twins?
TIM: There are twin associations that exist for twins, keeping them up to date on what is happening with twins – there are lots of twin research projects done. We accessed those associations and they provided us with thirty sets of twins and triplets. And we also sent out a brief to agents, so there were a lot of people on the lookout for twins and triplets at that time.
MATRIX: Most of those twins would never have acted before; how do you deal with people who have never been on a film set?
TIM: It’s sometimes preferable if you’ve got people who’ve never been on a film set, because they’re often fans who are very keen to see how it goes on. We brief them so they know what to expect, and don’t arrive completely cold. They’re often just as enthusiastic, or more enthusiastic, than someone who does extra work constantly and are very professional and know the drill. Some of that wide-eyed enthusiasm is really useful sometimes.
MATRIX: What was your main challenge on the first film?
TIM: That Construct scene with the Woman in Red. We had to find lots of similar looks; even those who weren’t twins, we had to sort of match up. We would get people who weren’t the same, but try to make them look basically the same, which was a bit fiddly.
MATRIX: At that time, was THE MATRIX one of the biggest films that had been to Sydney?
TIM: At that point it was. It came in straight after Babe: Pig in the City, which was the first film shot at Fox Studios. We’re very calm and au fait and passé about it now, but at the time it was a big deal.
MATRIX: Did the club scene in the original film prepare you for the Hel Club in REVOLUTIONS?
TIM: This time around the brief was, “We want it like the first film, but high class.” So there were a number of people that we wouldn’t have gone with this time, who we did go with the first time around. They were a grungier lot last time, and this was theoretically supposed to be a little bit more classy, with shiny PVC, and shiny latex, etc; less belt buckles and studs. But because the Costume Department couldn’t supply all those costumes, and because it was prohibitively expensive, we needed to access people who had that gear.
There’s a very large S&M and fetish community here in Sydney, so we flyered the community and held the casting in a pub late at night. We had a DJ, so it was just a big party, and we snapped photos of everyone. They all wore their gear, so we were basically casting by costume really; if they had the right costume they were in.
MATRIX: On the sequels what was one of the first problems you had to solve?
TIM: Our biggest problem is with continuity extras. On the first film, nearly every big day was shot in one day; so they were needed for one day, and we managed to get the scene done, and we never needed to see them again.
On the sequels, the first big setup was the Le Vrai Restaurant scene, which required “model” types, so we went through model agencies. The brief was: the good-looking, the bold and the beautiful, the rich and the powerful. We started with them, but as dates moved on we started losing people who were no longer available. These were models who had other two and a half thousand dollar a day jobs they could take, so they did.
So we ended up running around on weekends, trying to double extras, which was a challenge, and they had to fit the frock and look vaguely like the person, even if they were just blurs in the background. That’s one challenge that seems to have hit every scene, because of the way film works and the fact that shoot dates move, we inevitably find that we lose people along the way just because of availability.
MATRIX: How did you go about finding dozens of “Agent Smiths”?
TIM: Originally we were told that we need a hundred and fifty, so I was very pleased when the numbers started to come down. We basically put ads throughout the city, and held a public casting call where we asked for any men between six foot and six foot two (Hugo Weaving [Agent Smith] is six foot two and we thought we’d fudge it from six foot up). That resulted in about two thousand people showing up to a theater in Newtown, stretching round the block for about seven blocks. We would get them in and put them up against a full-size cardboard cut-out of Hugo so we could figure out if their shoulders were at the right spot, if their head was at the right spot, and if they stood on their toes, if they’d still fit.
From that casting we really only ended up with possibly one hundred who were the right measurements. Then the Costume Department looked at the individuals and said things like, “The shoulders are wrong. One slopes down too much, one doesn’t slope at all.” So we whittled it and whittled it until we held a final day where we needed to find out whether people would fit a mask. When we found out that many didn’t fit the masks, we lost a few more that way.
Ultimately we ended up with sixty who fitted masks, and twenty whose heads we shaved and stuck a wig on to be Smith doubles.
MATRIX: When you called for people between between six foot and six foot two, did they know which film they were lining up for?
TIM: We made the decision that it was necessary to actually name the film. There were a number of films shooting at the time, and we wanted to pull in on the cache of the film. We took a risk that that was going to give away some element of the plot, but it was the best way we could ensure we had the largest pool possible. And as it turned out, we needed that large pool of two thousand, because from two thousand we only ended up with about one hundred and fifty to two hundred people.
So they knew which film, but they didn’t know which character they were coming in for until they’d signed confidentiality agreements, which was before they were even allowed up the stairs. We needed to take their photo next to a full-size cutout of Hugo Weaving, so it was pretty obvious to them then who it was we were looking for.
MATRIX: What sort of outline did you give to the extras wearing the masks?
TIM: Firstly, we had to check that no one was claustrophobic – often you don’t know until they put a mask on and have a panic attack. We had to check whether anyone was suffering from asthma or epilepsy, because the lighting effects in that scene were quite strobey and flickery and could have brought on an epileptic attack.
We held a day using six guys (who were troopers) who sat on set freezing in the pouring rain, and from that we learnt a lot as to what people could stand and what people couldn’t stand. A decision was made after that, that everyone would have to wear a wetsuit. It was also decided that mask wearers would need to have hand signals – having done tests with the masks, we couldn’t hear what they were saying. So they all had scuba diver hand signals to let us know when they weren’t feeling well, or when they needed to step off set. Safety was a big issue. There’s a nurse on set to watch them, and we drilled them and drilled them to let us know if something is wrong.
MATRIX: Did you have to do tests for other sets like the “sitting in freezing pouring rain” test?
TIM: No. The degree of preparation that needed to be done for this particular scene was impressive. There were so many camera tests, tests with some extras, tests with other extras standing there, and tests with just one guy who stood there for eight hours getting rained on constantly. He was fantastic. He was in a mask to determine what he could stand, what he could see, and what he couldn’t see, all of which helped us to know what we needed to change in terms of the sixty who were coming in.
MATRIX: Besides the safety issues, what else did the “Smiths” need to learn?
TIM: They had to practice on their dummies, learning how to make the heads turn [each “human” had to operate two mannequin “Smiths”]. There was a bit of military style drilling down at the set until they got those moves just right. It was a very freaky thing to watch all those “Hugos” suddenly turn around and look at you, and their heads follow you down the set. After that they were tested in their masks to see what differences that made, because the mask is a little limited in terms of vision, particularly once they’ve got sunglasses on, it’s raining, and the water is pouring through their eyeholes.
MATRIX: What is your take on the sequels?
TIM: I think you ain’t seen nothing yet. If you thought the first film was mind blowing, it gets a thousand times better. Follow it very closely. It took me a long time to figure out the first film – a number of readings – this one is similar. The stunts are huge and much better, and the special effects are much better. It’s bigger in every way, and it rocks along at a really fast pace too… just like the first one but better.
MATRIX: Thanks Tim.
Interview by REDPILL