One of the original flyers for the Student Seven auditions.
As September 20th, 2009 rolled around, Student Seven pre-production was in full swing. The creative team was assembled and many meetings had been had to figure out fighting styles for characters, and each fight was organized by location and characters. Auditions were happening and everything was about to really start moving.
Much thought had been given to these fight scenes. You see, I was concerned that it would be somewhat boring, after a while, to see so many fight scenes in the same classroom. I wanted the fights to really be standout and interesting, so I decided that certain fights, from then on called “Honor Bouts”, would have a transition and take place elsewhere, so that the fight could be much prettier than it would were it in the classroom. I had an idea that was partially influenced by my childhood love of video games, in particular some of the Final Fantasy games, and decided that when one of these “Honor Bouts” was about to happen, some sort of transition would occur, and the screen would warp and twist and suddenly we would be in this other location, where the fight would be an official fight and perhaps also represent how the characters were thinking.
Thus, the fights were split into “Honor Bouts” (Fights after an honor insult that take place elsewhere), or “Brawls” (Fights that just happen, no Final Fantasy style transition). This helped us to differentiate where fights would take place, and overall helped us to organize and finalize a shooting schedule.
And then, it happened.
The big day.
This was the point of no return. Once we had a cast, there was no backing up. We’d been planning already for roughly two months, but it could always be called off. However we now were getting actors involved. I was nervous. This was like having children, in my mind. To have actors meant that the group was now doubling, if not tripling in size, and now we had to stay on task, because if we didn’t then what reason would our actors have for caring? Having actors meant that we now had to perform flawlessly.
We also had to find good actors. Chelsey and I had hung up flyers all over campus. We littered the Telecom building with flyers, flittered them around the Theatre Building’s casting call bulletin board, and even put some up in the Gym at the HPER, hoping it might be noticed by some of the real martial artists. There would be two nights of auditions, the 20th and the 23rd, and the hope was that between the two nights we’d be able to sort out a cast. To be honest, I can’t remember if we had any kind of callbacks. I only had one actor in mind for one role, so I was hoping that the auditions would bring in some knockouts.
That one actor was Doug Burbank, who I’d worked with on the Pope Friction series “Tycoons”, by my friend Kaleb Havens. I remember thinking that he had the look of what I imagined for the wild dog character, and if I could get him to be crazy and fluid enough, he would be perfect for it. I didn’t know if he would even be interested in doing another web series. Thus, one night I went to the bar that he was tending at the time and pitched the whole project to him. Something about it must have intrigued him. I hoped that he would be able to do it, and went forward into auditions.
So auditions came. We decided that the best way to hold auditions would be in two phases. We would gather everyone in a huge lecture hall, TV251. From there they signed in, and after enough people had arrived we spoke to them about the audition and the demands of the different roles and of the series as a whole. Chelsey and I had decided that we would try to shoot the first half of the series during the fall semester, and the second half of the series in the spring, so we needed actors who would be willing to commit an entire year to a project. No one that I knew of at that time had attempted such an ambitious time frame, so I wanted people I could trust.
A note here, up until now the only member of Gamer’s Brigade that we thought of as female was Cymric. Chelsey suggested that some other characters could possibly be female as well, and so we opened up the characters of Script and Kentucky to possibly being female. This was one of many great things to come out of the auditions.
Back to auditions, after being introduced to the show and the characters, we split the crowd into two halves. One half would go with Adam Noble and Adam Rector to learn some basic fighting moves and the Adams would grade each candidate on their movement ability. The other half went with Chelsey and Sarah and I, with a video camera, and we had them read scenes straight from the scripts. I had each candidate trying out different roles, seeing what worked best for them. I had the candidates reading actual episode scripts, and I would just pick different people to play different parts, and if I liked someone or a role I had them read for that part a lot. We had a lot of candidates, and a LOT of different interpretations of the characters, but for the most part I quickly knew who I liked for what roles.
Before the auditions started, Chelsey told Adam Rector that he should audition for the show. He seemed hesitant, but agreed to give it a shot. I was curious how he would be, and then he read as Shane. And wasn’t bad. And then I had him read as Shane in a different episode. And he was pretty good. Then he read again as Shane, and I was sold. It was him.
A young kid with glasses came in at one point. I’d met him before, as he’d come to a couple of GameZombie meetings and mentioned that he wanted to act in some things. I didn’t know him very well, but I asked him to read as Kyle. He exploded into excitement, exactly as I had wanted. I’d found Kyle.
At one point, midway through one of the audition nights, a few martial artists came in late. One had facial hair and kind of a pissed off look on his face, or maybe it was a bored look, and my initial thought was “He looks just like what I imagined for Ryan”. Honestly, that is the thought that went through my mind as he walked in the door. Luckily, he was good. Dylan Cashbaugh became Ryan.
Another of the martial artists that came in that night was an intense, huge, buff guy. I was terrified, but once I started talking to him I realized he was a nerd like me and pretty cool. I had him read a few different roles, and then I had him read for the character “Dick”, of “Chad and Dick” fame from the first episode. He was awesome at playing a bro/fratboy/dick, so I decided then Breitegan Paules would be our Dick.
Farrell Paules also auditioned. With the possibility of Script and Kentucky being female, I wasn’t yet sure what my vision for those characters was. When Farrell auditioned as Script, she brought a sophisticated and pompous arrogance to the character. I realized that this was exactly what was needed, and thus we had our Script.
Another auditioner had been roped into coming by Chelsey, as they had a class together at the time. I remember Chelsey telling me that the girl’s name was awesome and was spelled great. Her name was Jowi (pronounced like Joey). Chelsey saw her as Cym, the shy girl. She read as the character and brought so much fear to the role, it was perfect.
Kentucky was another character who I wasn’t sure what my vision for was. When Kristy Brannon auditioned as Kentucky, she had a smugness that wasn’t arrogance to the role. It was more of a “I know I’m good so just tell me what to do and it’ll get done.” And so Kristy became Kentucky.
The final main character to cast was that of the wild dog. The first night of auditions went through and I saw a lot of people play wild dog. I saw a street thug version of the character. I saw many awkward versions of him. I saw some angry wild dogs that really weren’t bad. I saw some interesting sarcastic versions of him. Many of these were fine performances, but I knew that what it needed was a cackle. I didn’t want the character to be angry (entirely), I needed him to be kind of crazy. At least on the surface. I needed a character who was drunk but brilliant, but also thought that everything was a joke that needed to be laughed at. Every challenge to the wild dog was just laugh worthy. On night two, Doug showed up. He did quite well at his movement test, and then nailed the role of the wild dog. He was mad but found it funny that he was mad. He cackled at such a suddenly high pitch that it was perfect. We were set.
A ton of other people auditioned that night. Almost everyone you see as an extra throughout the entire series auditioned for the main roles. Keep in mind though, that those extras were just as important. There are a few crowd scenes, a couple of brawls, and a huge tournament episode. Had these people not stuck it out and continued to help us out, we never could have gotten what we did. I’m certain that I haven’t thanked each and every one of them as much as they deserve. If you are reading this and were an extra, please know how grateful I am. We knew that we would need a lot of extras for many episodes, so we made sure everyone knew that if they didn’t get a main part, they would still be featured in chunks of the series. We devised what we called “the fighters chorus”, or the chorus of extras who are always there fighting when extras were called for. We would need some “candidates” for when Gamer’s Brigade was looking for more members. There were lots of extra parts to be had.
As for the main characters, I wasn’t looking for actors who could read the lines well. The lines were important, yes, but I wanted to make sure to get actors who could emote in ways other than just simple vocal intonation. I knew what characteristics I was looking for in almost every character. As with the wild dog character I knew for each of them what I had imagined when writing the scripts, or writing background info. I wanted to find actors who’s natural inclinations for these characters would be along the lines of what I wanted. That way, I could allow them to have fun and be creative with the characters and it would still flow with what I had in my mind as working. When I noticed that Adam Rector played Shane in a way that on some primal level reminded me of the Ninja Turtle Leonardo, I realized that he was right for the role. When Ryan Black was trying to act as though he were in awe of someone, and he acted like someone who had just seen the face of god himself, I knew he was right for the role. Line reading can be improved on, but finding an actor who can emote well without words is for me the most important part of casting, because if they just can’t get into it then it’ll never work.
The night after the second round of auditions Chelsey and I took the tapes and browsed through them. Many characters we already knew, but some needed a bit more refreshing. That night we picked Dave Klein for Chad. Dave had had one of the better auditions for the wild dog character, so I wanted to keep him for something, and thus “Chad” was born. We also picked the members of the “Board of Student Group Affairs”. Originally there were around 5 or 6 members of the group, but as ideas changed and different people became available, we went a very different route, but that’s a story for another day. Actually, no one cast as a board member at the time of auditions ended up being a board member. Like I’ve said before, ideas change a lot over time.
Now with a cast there was no turning back. In the week following the auditions we sorted out rehearsal schedules, table reads, and I opted to meet with each of the main seven actors/actresses one-on-one to develop the characters more with each actor, and start working on nuances that could be thrown in. Remember, I wanted this to be as professional as possible. Nearly all student productions I’d seen, even the more well-made films, had suffered from acting. Production students don’t usually consider acting an important part of the process, besides being able to read the lines well. I wanted to go all the way with Student Seven. I’d picked the best actors I could find, and I wanted to give them enough control over their characters that they cared about them. This way they’d be more reliable, but also they’d give much better performances. I wanted them to be able to have fun and be creative. I sat down with each of them and talked about their characters’ background, I asked them to brainstorm more about their characters’ and make up a backstory if it didn’t already exist, or to expand upon it, and I asked them to think about any physical motions that might come from their characters. I wasn’t gonna just throw them in front of a camera after looking at a script for the first time, I wanted them to know what the episode would look like, so they would be more aware of the process, and therefore hopefully more forgiving when I was slow.
Actors in place, we needed a crew. We also needed a camera. We also needed to start prepping for the first shoot and schedule it. So much had now been done, but so much still remained to do. At this point I’d say we were maybe 3% done with Student Seven, and chugging away down our track. To those of you who came to the auditions, thank you. You made it what it is, and what it hopefully will be.
Next week I’ll talk about events that transpire post-auditions, including the crew callout meeting and early rehearsals. Until then, stay classy.
-Sam Sher, Director