Ava Lalezarzadeh received 192 applications for eight open roles in her first film.
Lalezarzadeh, a second-year theater student, and her casting director Emily Abbott, a third-year English student, turned away more than 150 people during their casting auditions for Lalezarzadeh’s original film “Pool Man.” The short film follows the story of a pool cleaner named John whose 5-year-old son is kidnapped, causing John to turn to religion. Lalezarzadeh and Abbott held auditions to cast John and the other characters Nov. 18 at CAZT, an audition venue in Hollywood, and hope to finish the film in February.
Although the film is student made, Lalezarzadeh said the directors did not audition UCLA students because they were looking for actors to play older roles. Lalezarzadeh recruited actors on Facebook and in her circle of theater friends. But the majority of 192 applications came through backstage.com, a casting website for filmmakers and actors. On the site, Lalezarzadeh and Abbott analyzed actors’ resumes, headshots and reels to narrow their search down by only accepting actors who provided clips of their past work.
Abbott said she focused primarily on finding actors who she believed would be easy to work with, favoring actors who were not rude and who responded on time. For example, one actress Abbott dealt with did not pay attention to the details included in an email sent out by Lalezarzadeh, such as the time of the audition and the part of the script that had to be read, which disqualified her from the search.
“They don’t even have to have a ton of experience,” Abbott said. “They just need to be someone that can do a good job acting the role.”
Joe Layton, who will play John, contacted Lalezarzadeh after reading a synopsis of “Pool Man” the day of auditions. Despite his unfamiliarity with the script, Layton’s performance felt real and brought the character to life, Abbott said. He understood the meaning behind Lalezarzadeh’s script. Additionally, his cooperation with the filmmakers during the audition worked in his favor.
“He took direction really well and was flexible during the audition which really made him stand out,” Abbott said.
John, the film’s protagonist, is a pool cleaner, a profession that suits his mellow and calm personality, Lalezarzadeh said. By using a character with a mundane and modest profession, Lalezarzadeh said she hopes to bring attention to the people like pool cleaners and gardeners who may not necessarily seem significant in everyday life, but may still be going through issues of their own.
In one scene, John, grieving, tells his priest he has left his wife. In reality, his grief stems from the loss of his son, the underlying intention of his visit. Lalezarzadeh said Layton’s performance of the scene stood out because of his emphasis on different parts of his delivery that showed the subtext of his emotional toil.
Tanya Raisa, who has played the role of a wife before, said she will have to think about John’s lines, gauge his emotions and respond to them when playing Joanne, John’s wife. Joanne realizes that despite having family, she is alone because her husband is so detached from her, something Lalezarzadeh said she believes Raisa will be able to illustrate.
In the audition room, Lalezarzadeh asked Raisa to read a scene where Joanne approaches John with fragility and delicacy, which Lalezarzadeh said Raisa portrayed in an authentic way.
Lalezarzadeh said they picked Layton and Raisa because the two actors showed a stronger connection to their characters than other actors who auditioned and were also more responsive to feedback from the directors.
Abbott, whose job as casting director is now complete, said she hopes the actors will resonate with Lalezarzadeh’s directing style going forward – a style that Lalezarzadeh said she hopes will make the characters seem real and representative of living people.
“I really want the center of the story to come from good character development,” Lalezarzadeh said. “I want the cinematography to compel that to bounce off of that, to really highlight the whole performance.”