Entry 24: How the Cast of My Second Feature was Built

My last post was in May, a lot has happened since. Most significantly production on Bridge and Tunnel has wrapped. A project that began brewing in my mind in the Summer of 2010, and finally came to completion in the Summer of 2013. By far the most personal endeavor I’ve taken on in my creative career, and the project part of my life that I’m most proud of thus far.

When I completed The Newest Pledge in 2010 I was proud of what I had just accomplished, but I had no idea what would happen next. I was 23 and just completed my first feature film. I was confident that the movie would go somewhere, but the two years that followed were a crash course in the highs and lows of independent filmmaking and prepared me for almost everything that I encountered during the production of Bridge and Tunnel.

One thing I learned while making The Newest Pledge was to never underestimate how important a talented cast is towards creating the best film possible.

Overall I’m very happy with the cast that I got to work with on Bridge and Tunnel. I was privileged to pick a few actors from movies and television shows that I enjoyed, tell my producers I wanted to try and get them in the film, and actually get them to agree to sign on. This is something that Bob Burton, Bryson Pintard, and I didn’t even think about when we were casting The Newest Pledge. At that point in time we didn’t know you could call an agent and they’d listen to you if they thought the project was worthwhile and most importantly paid right. Eventually our Producer Renee Mignosa brought that philosophy to the team when she got Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers) and Kevin Nash (WWF Champion) to sign on.

My first attempt at targeting a cast member came a little over a year ago when I sat down to watch Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress. Instantly I was drawn to the fraternity character Frank. He made me laugh out loud. I hit pause on the DVD, signed on to IMDb pro, and looked up his contact information. I was pleased to find out that the actor who played him, Ryan Metcalf, was a New York local hire. I contacted his manager and sent the script over. He agreed to a meeting at Gregory’s Coffee in Midtown, and we ended our meeting with Ryan agreeing to play the role of Sal Lodato.

Ryan’s “signing on” to Bridge and Tunnel lead to the signing of Natalie Knepp, another local actress who had appeared on many television shows and recently landed a role in the Anna Kendrick film The Next 5 Years, and with the addition of Natalie we were connected to Arjun Gupta, who played the role of Sam on the TV series Nurse Jackie.

At this point in my life I’ve seen close to a thousand different people read in auditions. I was never more impressed with someone’s read than Arjun’s. That’s not to slam anyone else who has ever read for me, but Arjun came into the room and I immediately knew that he had the sort of talent to take the project to the next level. I guess the only comparison I could draw is when Joseph Booton auditioned for The Newest Pledge in LA. Joseph had auditioned for a role that eventually got cut from the script but ended up leaving that role with an offer to play Rico, the main antagonist in the film.

Part of what made Bridge and Tunnel an ambitious film to take on was that it was going to be shot over the course of a year. The script demanded that the seasons change. We set out to shoot a third of the film in December, we developed chemistry, and moved on to a long winter hiatus.

During the hiatus I received my first lessons in crowd-sourced fund raising when we successfully bugged and begged our loved ones and acquaintances to donate $10,000 to us. Granted we offered cool incentives, but the generosity of our peers gave us enough momentum to shoot in the spring.

During the spring shoot I was pleased to reunite with Mary Kate Wiles. I remember in 2007 when Mary Kate auditioned for the role of “Brenda” in my senior thesis Ridiculously Emo. I thought she was a solid, dedicated, professional actress back then, and we worked together again on The Newest Pledge. Unfortunately all but a shot of her role in TNP ended up on the cutting room floor by no fault but my own, and I never liked that. Fortunately, I wrote a role specifically for her in Bridge and Tunnel, a role that she agreed to take, and a role that she did very well in. For those of you who might not know Mary Kate, google her! She’s got an online presence that sets the standard for the internet age!

A “dream come true” moment came for me in May when Kenneth Kimmins, who played the role of “Athletic Director Howard Burleigh” in the TV series Coach agreed to play the role of “Dr. Pullman” in Bridge and Tunnel. Ken is a legend who has been in the industry for over forty years. He was in Network, he was on Dallas, he was in Lois and Clark, save me the time and just IMDb him. It was a pleasure to work with Ken, who was the most delightful person to be around. He requested that I bring my Minnesota State Screaming Eagles Starter jacket to set (I got it off of eBay a few years ago), and he got a kick out of it. I really enjoyed talking Coach with him in between takes.

The spring shoot really went as smoothly as it could have. It was during this shoot that we really found our groove as a unit. Trevor Wineman, who was the cinematographer on The Newest Pledge is the hardest working person who I’ve ever worked with. He really does the jobs of seven or eight different people.

As we prepared for our summer shoot we began to wrap up the cast. We added Annet Mahendru from the FX Show The Americans in a role I wrote specifically for her. Like Mary Kate, she was flawless in performance, and a professional on set. It’s great to see young, up and coming, talented actresses with credits to their name behave so selflessly on a set that was far from the most professional set they’ve ever been on. But they both took initiate, befriended the crew, and immersed themselves in the project. You can really tell when you watch the film that they’re having fun. Stuff like that is what makes directing a little less stressful.

Also added to the summer shoot was Wass Stevens as Uncle Sean. Wass’ resume includes roles in The Wrestler, World Trade Center, and Brooklyn‘s Finest, three films that I own on DVD, as well as a recurring spot on Ugly Betty, my guilty pleasure; but Wass caught my eye for his role as union boss Paul Capra in the Netflix original series House of Cards. Like with Ryan Metcalf back in October of 2012, I hopped on IMDb, searched for Wass, and was pleased to find out he was a New York local. We made an offer, Wass looked over the part, and next thing you know he was signed on. Working with him was great, and I can honestly say it’s a better movie because he’s in it. I knew that would be the case the second I saw him on House of Cards.

Another cool moment came when Joe Murphy, who plays Nate, ran into former WWE superstar Virgil in Grand Central Station. Joe and I had read an article on the internet that Virgil wasn’t doing so well and we joked about casting him. Well, less than a month later Joe ran into Virgil while coming home for his grandmother’s wake. Joe pitched the film to Virgil, Virgril agreed, and for the second straight feature film I have a WWE superstar from the 1990’s in a contributing role. On set Virgil (Mike Jones) was a delight to be around. He would stop to talk to everyone and made everyone around him smile. I’ve read some negative things about Mike on the internet, but I saw none of that in person and have no clue where it comes from. Some people on the internet can be mean spirited and bitter, two qualities I didn’t see in Mike. At all.

We wrapped production for Bridge and Tunnel in August. The last scene was a scene between Ryan Metcalf and another actress, Brianne Berkson, who played his wife Meghan. The scene was shot in Long Beach, NY in a place that had changed so much since we began shooting. Another cast member, Chris Viemeister, who I had been grooming for this project for about a year, stopped by to be a part of the wrap. It was a cool moment.

I’ll probably write a few more posts about this film, but I figured the first one I’d write after I wrapped would be about casting. I had some good producers in Doug Torres and Adam Lawrence who played a great part in communicating with agents, managers, actors, and the screen actors guild. They did the unsung work, I just made the suggestions for the most part.

It was a fun casting process, I learned a lot, and I look forward to casting my next project with a lot of these same names.

Jason Michael Brescia

September 1, 2013 10:00 PM EST


About jasonmichaelbrescia

Filmmaker. Writer, director. Comedy.
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