Rick Pagano is one of Hollywood’s top casting directors for his work on major projects such as Hotel Rwanda, X-Men, and the series 24. His debut feature Noir film TEN TRICKS, which stars Lea Thompson, has received wonderful reviews. Here is my q&a with the very talented Rick Pagano.
Hello Rick, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me. A big congrats on your film Noir Ten Tricks. What inspired you to make this movie?
Thematically, I was at a point in my life and career where I wanted to make some serious changes, to feel that I was moving toward something more fulfilling than what was in my life at that time. And so I created the roles of Grace and the Magician, my two main characters, who each want to make a big change in his/her life.
How was it working with Lea Thompson?
She was just terrific; she gave me everything I could have asked for. She’s a true professional in more ways than I have time to detail here; she also challenged me on a few occasions, which ended up improving the film significantly.
What do you think the film industry lacks in today’s world?
Certainly, in the U.S., we’ve gotten away from the film as an art form and made it subservient to commerce, as seen in the proliferation of action franchises. In the indie world, there’s too much of a tendency to lean on political, social, or cultural messaging, which doesn’t always translate to good filmmaking and can become redundant after awhile.
What is different for you creatively as a casting director and a director?
Huge. The casting director generally finishes his/her job just as the fun begins for the director–the actual filming. It’s like setting the placemats vs. preparing, cooking, and eating the banquet, with the wide variety of decisions and creative moments that actual directing entails. And then, all the work that’s involved in post-production, the editing, music, sound mixing, etc. It’s the difference between painting with one color vs. using the whole spectrum.
What have you learned about yourself as a director?
The biggest lesson is that directing is like being the “dad” in a family; I have the power to set the tone in the relationship, either good or bad. My job is to keep things upbeat and positive and motivate everyone on the set, from the actors to the crew, to do their best work and even enjoy it. Also, I’ve learned to talk less with the actors, especially once I see that they “get it” and just want to do the next take rather than listen to me rattle on.
Who are some people that inspire you to get into the entertainment industry?
Robert Wise, the director of “West Side Story” and “The Haunting,” was very kind to me. So was Paula Wagner when she was an agent at CAA; Dick Donner also encouraged and helped me. Ben Shaktman, who gave me my first job in the theater, has also been inspirational. And then, of course, the classics, like most of Hitchcock, Truffaut, the screwball comedies of Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, and George Cukor. And Orson Welles too. “And then, of course, it was my producer, Randy Miller, who inspired me to take another look at the film, as it stood, and help me realize that we needed to give it a totally different look and feel–hence the black and white version with “silent-movie” cards, etc.”
What frustrates you the most as a casting director?
Two things, clearly:
1. the casting process has become geographically isolated. We used to have producers, directors, actors, and us all in the same room, and that face-to-face process just doesn’t happen anymore. Between self-taped auditions and distant locations, we don’t get to have any personal connections with one another; and
2. with all our experience watching actors day-to-day, the decision makers aren’t very interested in the opinions of casting directors. I’ve stopped counting how many times I’ve tried to push for someone, only to be ignored (or worse, fired on one occasion), and then watched that actor go on to win an Oscar.
What advice do you have for people looking to make it in the entertainment industry?
Don’t wait for the phone to ring. Get out there and make your own content; the technology and distribution channels have become democratized, so it’s easier to create your own work. And don’t be afraid to make cold calls to agents, managers, producers, or whoever you need to contact to move your career forward. You’d be surprised by how often it can lead to something; it certainly worked for me.
When you reflect on your life, what would you have done differently?
Occasionally, I ask myself that question. But then I wouldn’t have ended up meeting my wife, having my son (now ten years old), and having the wonderful experiences I’m now having. So ultimately, what would I have done differently? Nada.
What would you like your legacy to be?
How to answer this without the clichés? I’ve written ten plays that I’ve directed, “Ten Tricks” being one of them. I’d like to direct at least two more films and screenplay adaptations of my plays. Most of all, I have the job of maintaining a stable, loving family that will probably be the most lasting part of my legacy.
Thank you for your time. Any words of wisdom to all the readers?
Sure! Go watch “Ten Tricks,” streaming on Fandor and Amazon Prime (and many other platforms soon after) on September 27th! I hope you enjoy watching the film as much as we enjoyed making it.
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