• A Brighter Lens

AMEY RENÉ & Marvelous and the Black Hole

Happy (virtual) Sundance Film Festival! We’re warching films from our living rooms all week and bringing you interviews with Sundance filmmakers. We chatted with a favorite past guest, Amey René, casting director of MARVELOUS AND THE BLACK HOLE, directed by Kate Tsang. She tells us about the casting process for the film and what special skills she brought to the table for this project!

MARVELOUS AND THE BLACK HOLE synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Sammy is struggling to cope with the death of her mother. After she is caught vandalizing one of her school’s restrooms, her father, fed up with her wild behavior, enrolls her in a summer course—if she fails, she’ll be sent to a boot camp for delinquent youth. After storming out of her first class, Sammy meets Margot, a surly magician. Margot forces Sammy to be her assistant for a performance, and although Sammy seems uninterested, she seeks Margot out after the show and asks to become Margot’s pupil. Margot agrees, and as their unlikely friendship grows, we learn that she and Sammy understand each other more than they expected.

Click here to listen to our interview with Amey René on Apple Podcasts.

Episode transcription below.

AMEY RENÉ & Marvelous and the Black Hole

Larkin: We just thought it'd be fun to check in with you again. Um, especially since you have a film at Sundance that we are going to watch virtually this weekend. We haven't watched it yet, but, uh, we will see the premiere, so we're excited

Amey: I haven't seen it yet, so I will be seeing the premiere on Sunday as well.

Larkin: Oh gosh, that's so exciting. That was one of my questions, actually. I was wondering if you had seen it or like how that works, especially with, um, Sundance stuff. So that's cool. Oh, wow. Fun.

Amey: Yeah, I never get to see the movies beforehand, to be honest with you. Um, number one, I don't ever want to be a part of the notes process because I just I'm looking at it from, I've tried for other people's movies and I'm looking at it from such a casting perspective or I don't know music, I don't know, editing. So like, I feel like my notes are never very helpful, Um, so I would rather see it when it's done, but I, I never really get like an advanced copy or anything. It's usually like, either premiere or like, if it's a Hulu movie, I watch it on Hulu the day it premieres, so.

Larkin: Gosh, that's wild. How did you get involved in this project to start with and how did you meet Kate Tsang, just kind of what's that process like?

Jennifer: The project is Marvelous and the Black Hole is the name of the film directed by Kate.

Amey: This project came to me through a mutual director that I love and respect and have worked with many times Michael Mohan, who did Everything Sucks. And the upcoming Amazon movie that I cast, um, he referred me to Carolyn who's the producer.

She called me, emailed me and I read the script and then we met and then I got kind of the backstory on it. It was actually fostered by Tribeca. But because of COVID, we didn't get to premiere at Tribeca last year. So we are premiering at Sundance, which win-win all around. But it was heavily, I don't want to say the word foster and again, but I will say that it was, it was a grant called Untold Stories, focusing on, um, filmmakers, uh, female, uh, diverse, et cetera, filmmakers who get this million dollar grant to make their first movie and Kate won.

So that's how I kind of got brought in. She would always through a referral and then meeting with them and reading it and fell in love with it. And then I watched Kate's short, which is adorable. Um, and I was like sold. Okay, how do we do this? And that's how it all started.

Jennifer: That's so fun. Can you speak a little bit to the casting process for this film?

Was there anything that stuck out to you and looking back on it or anything that like, yeah, when you're reading the script, you were struck like this person needs to come in for this role. Any, any fun stories like that?

Amey: I love that because I actually have those stories for this one. First of all, the lead character in this movie is a, a young Chinese American girl.

You know, reading that from just like not having any, any experience of doing a large casting call for that age range and that specificity, I would normally be like, okay, well, that's going to be a big challenge, but I had just seen, Always Be My Maybe and Miya Cech is the, she plays the younger version in that.

And as I literally went into made meeting with Kate and I'm like, so I already know who's playing Sammy. And, you know, of course they don't believe you when you say that. So we did have an audition process. And when Mia came in, it was like the no-brainer and I was, it was like one of my moments where I was like, I told you so good that they were very open to the idea of it.

They agreed she was perfect for it. And we had a lot of other wonderful actors that read for it, but it was one of those moments where it's like, yes, obviously, And then also to, to the opposite of that, reading the script, the other kind of lead character is Margo and she's a woman, uh, sixties plus, um, and my casting director brain, not that one comes in.

It's like, okay, who are we going to get to do this for scale, a woman of that age range with a name. That is going to see the potential in this as being, uh, an indie darling, if you will. And so that is always also my casting director, Brian Grant. Okay. I'm going to start thinking of those. Um, we, we are so lucky with the cast that we got--Rhea, Perlman plays, Margo, and she's amazing.

And such a, just a, a wonderful gem to even like consider it. And then she was, she, you know, she learned magic for this movie. Um, which is another funny thing about the script is that for some reason I work with magicians a lot. I don't know why I've gone to Magic Castle more than anyone. I know I've worked on commercials with magicians.

This is like the third project I've had to cast a magician. I don't know why guys. Um, but script, I was like, well, that's my wheelhouse. How weird is that? Um, so like, you know, Rhea learned magic tricks for it. Um, which is like, you know, it's just above and beyond and you, you feel so lucky when you find the right person for the right part that's actually passionate about it and gets it. And she's one of those people.

Larkin: Oh, that's so fun. It like makes me think of like, like special skills on actors resumes. Like if you had special skills on your resume, it would be like, "anything magician wise, like magic stuff." I got it.

Amey: But then they called on that.

So like my funniest, magician stories, this one guy he's kind of famous as a magician, but he came in and he does like the bird thing where he like pulls the bird. and the bird pooped on the floor. And I was like, who's cleaning that up?

Larkin: That sounds like a very fun, fun film, especially with those little tidbits. Uh, and I guess, you know, we're a year into this pandemic. Um, Just generally, like, how has casting been for you during this time? What do you think the future of casting might hold? Just like what's this year been like for you? Business wise?

Amey: It's been definitely a roller coaster. You know, I tend to, to be lucky enough to get to work on these, um, lower budget, art, art, house movies. So, um, we're definitely competing at the moment with all of the pushbacks of all the bigger budget, TV shows and movies that have been holding or push because of COVID. So just honestly, just getting availabilities is one of my biggest challenge because people just don't know. And also, you know, are they going to want to do a movie a year from now?

That's a low budget indie. So getting that kind of commitment. Those are really my biggest uphill battles that I feel are directly related to COVID. I mean, it's always a challenge to find the right people to work on stuff that, that has been specifically hard. Um, and. And also just, you know, it's just, it's really hard to shoot during this time. I had two things go at the last end, of last year and one was fine and one crew member tested positive. So we're shut down and, you know, we've pushed to spring. Um, and fingers crossed, we'll be able to, to go then, but it's um, you know, there's just so many unknowns with it that it's really, um, very frustrating and scary, um, from my perspective of like, okay, how long until we cast this?

Um, but. On that, on this, the, the zoom world of it all I have to say that, you know, I've always been a big self-tape person. We talked about that last time. So in that regards, doing the, you know, contact free auditioning has been fine. It was just when we were doing chemistry reads on one project, that it was a real challenge because you have your director, you have me, you have your reader, or you have your two actors and they're trying to connect through a computer screen.

So sometimes, you know, wifis are laggy or they have allowed a truck that goes by their window because it's summer and your windows are open. Um, just a lot of different variables there. So I feel for actors when it comes to that, and that's one conversation I've definitely been underlining when we have those sessions with my producers and directors, like, look, you guys got to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Jennifer: That's interesting, yeah. Do you see any parts of casting kind of permanently changing from, from this pandemic time? Or do you think it will kind of go back to normal quote unquote like once we can?

Amey: Well, I definitely think nothing's gonna replace the in-person casting experience. Um, but I also think that, you know, remote casting is going to a lot more acceptable. Just that people won't necessarily have to be in the city that they're auditioning in. I think that will be more acceptable. Um, and I think that will benefit casting to be able to find the gems and find discoveries of, uh, actors, because they're able to kind of catch them wherever they're at.

Jennifer: One last question. Um, I don't know. I was intrigued you, you spoke to us a lot last time about just casting and how it's not always as recognized as like it could be, or it should be. And recently you had posted something on your Instagram about a director was talking about casting and, and he, or she, I'm not sure, or they, didn't, didn't say who the casting director was and you know, how integral the casting director is to, you know, casting.

And I just wondered, yeah. If you. Had any other thoughts? I just think that's so fascinating that that is happening. And then that conversation took place. And, um, you know, who knows, I don't know who the director was, but, um, yeah, if you could speak to that a little bit.

Amey: I think going to start being my, um, social platform is like getting casting directors recognized for their work.

I was just, you know, it was a movie I'm S I'm not naming the name of the movie, cause I don't, it's not important. It's happened so many times. It doesn't matter that it's that movie. But the movie is very specific. There's some characters in it that they had to have done a pretty thorough search to be able to fit the, um, requirements and specifics of the character. And so the question was, how did you get this great character? And the director said, you know, casting is the most important part of the movie. And then went on to talk about that this actor had all the actors in the movie and never once mentioned that there was a, a casting director involved and be like, maybe even just name dropping them for a second.

So it just really like, you know, I just feel like it's just so it's so the norm, and I don't know what that is. And I, you know, I know directors, their heads are like full of things when they're getting interviewed. And it's really hard to remember and stuff, but like, the question is how did you get this great cast or what a great cast... You know, it's like the editing was fantastic in this. Normally a director will be like, Oh, well we have this great editor or the cinematography is amazing in this. And they will usually say, Oh, well, our cinematographer/DP is this person. So it's just strange to me that there's that like brain fog when it comes to casting. Um, but that's just me.

Larkin: Yeah. No, it's, it's, it's more than strange, but I'm glad, yeah, that you're bringing attention to it and that we get to have this podcast out there about it. Um, yeah.

Jennifer: Well, we end usually with our three, two, one action lightning round, but we already asked you those questions. So we won't ask you again, but we have two bonus questions for you, cause we're curious. Um, what's the last thing that you watched or you're currently watching right now that you've been enjoying?

Amey: I, um, I feel like whenever I talked to friends, I'm only like, what are you watching? Here's what I'm watching. And we compare notes and, uh, a friend, dear friend who I completely respect their opinion was like Ted Lasso. And this person is not a sports person or anything. And I didn't know anything about Ted Lasso, other than the, it was like a interstitual for like sports, NBC sports or something like that, so I was like, I don't get how they made this a show. Right. Hello. It's amazing. So that's the last thing I'd binged. I just loved every character in it. It's so perfectly cast and perfectly acted and sweet and uplifting and kind, and all the things that I miss feeling these days. So I highly encourage everyone to watch that.

It's so good. I wish I could do it again for the first time. That's how I feel about it. It's like Fleabag. It's like you, when you tell somebody to watch something you're like jealous, they get to see it for the first time.

Larkin: Wow. All right. I'm excited to go watch that. Um, and what was, uh, the best film that you watched in 2020?

Amey: That's a good question. I actually watch a lot of docs to be honest with you. Um, but the last film I watched that really resonated with me was The Sound of Metal, um, because my husband lost his hearing because of listening to loud music in his thirties. So he wears hearing aids and, um, You know, I, I, I work with a lot of projects that deal with the deaf community.

So I just thought it was such a wonderful, original story to be told and in such a tasteful way. Um, and Riz Ahmed is amazing. So if you haven't seen The Sound of Metal.

Larkin: Awesome.

Jennifer: Thanks for those recommendations.

Larkin: Well, thank you so much for coming on the pod again and chatting with us.

Amey: Thank you for having me. And uh, yeah. Happy viewing guys!