Friday, August 10, 2007

"Rocket Science" Casting Crisis

Jeffrey Blitz had found his star: After watching hundreds of audition tapes and testing dozens of teenage actors, Blitz -- the Oscar-nominated director of the spelling bee doc Spellbound -- had landed the leading kid for Rocket Science, his fiction feature debut. Carter Jenkins, a California-based teen thespian, nailed the role of Hal Hefner, a New Jersey highschooler with a serious stutter, who tries out for the debate team.

And then, two weeks to go before Rocket Science was ready to rock, NBC -- which had contractual say over what Jenkins could or could not do -- said nah.

"They didn’t want to let him spend his hiatus working on the movie, they thought it was too risky," says Blitz, who had collared Jenkins just after the young actor had shot the pilot for Fathom (aka Surface), the network's deep-sea sci-fi series. "We flew him from Los Angeles out to Baltimore, we were about to turn our schedule upside down and start to shoot, without enough prep time in order to get this kid because I thought he was amazing, and then NBC said `No.' They said it while he was in the air, so when he landed we essentially said you can spend the night, we’ll go out to dinner, but then we’re going to put you back on a plane and send you back home because NBC won’t let you do this.

"So then the movie nearly fell apart.... The whole crew is hired, so it’s very expensive, and [producers] HBO said we’ll give you another two weeks to find a kid, we’ll float you for two weeks, and if you find him and we agree, then you can make the movie, and if you find him but we don’t agree, or you don’t find him, then the movie goes into turnaround. So it was really sheer luck that we found Reece Thompson. We had looked for months already, six months looking for the kid, and I had found one kid out of the hundreds that we had auditioned, and now we were told that we had two weeks and that’s that."

So how did he find Thompson (who, by the way, is great in this great absurdist coming-of-ager)? "His agent had sent in a tape, unsolicited… and somebody from production was ready to throw all those tapes out, unwatched, because no one ever looks at unsolicited tapes. But it was because we were so desperate that I said, `Wait a minute, I’m going to spend my afternoon looking at these tapes,' and Reece was in that batch. Otherwise, I don’t think the movie ever would have been made -- at all."

Rocket Science opens at the Ritz Five and Showcase at the Ritz Center/NY on August 17.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff -- the vicissitudes of fate and all that.
Cool blog, dude! -- Larry B.

11:20 AM  

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