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An intimate, elegant screening room fittingly served as the locale for our second reading of “Inside-Out, Outside-In”, unconsciously expressing the ethos and hopes of the project. At first scheduled for the more grand space on the 5th floor, I decided to relocate our reading downstairs so my WeWork colleague Kristin Nedopak could more easily access the 5th floor screening room to celebrate the release of her webseries, “Skyrim Parodies.” At first obstinate over a change requiring more emails and a slightly smaller room, I relented. After all, the number four is the number of spiritual wholeness and maybe a bit of good luck might follow a bit of a good deed. Turns out, the fifteen actors and three invited guests fit perfectly into an imperfect circle of chairs of differing sizes, styles and fabrics.

Like all readings, despite my best efforts, we started late. Still, as director, I felt is was my responsibility to properly frame the evening and send us in the right direction. So I somewhat awkwardly told our group that the script was intensely personal to me, hoping that such a revelation would increase the chances that they would also bring an intensely personal approach to the night. Building on that notion, I asked the actors to let go any sense of a “professional veneer.” Lately, I find the acting in studio films so boring because a sense of the actors’ professionalism prevents me from relating to them no_egoas human beings.  They almost know the beats too well – it’s like watching an emotionally resonant cuckoo clock. Even at an early stage, I didn’t want to see that happen to my actors. So I suggested they see the reading as a “practice round” and encouraged them to just be a human being in a situation, not a professional actor at a reading.

Just before we dove in, television’s Rex Lee once again blurted out a quote of the night, “Is that buzzing, like, going to go on for infinity?” Apparently, a smoke alarm needed more acknowledgement than a roomful of actors and went off with annoying regularly throughout the reading. But something amazing about a good story and good acting – once we got past page 10, I didn’t hear the buzzing anymore and not because of a decrease of its decibel level.

I’d made a number of changes in the cast of the reading – about half the people were new. Sometimes, it was a result of a desire to try a new angle with the character, sometimes a scheduling conflict forced a change. Also, my friend Zsa Zsa Gershick, an accomplished playwright and director, previously implored me to see different people in many of the parts before settling on someone, as part of the process of understanding the character as deeply as possible. Indeed, the fragility of casting and character development pervades my thinking at the moment – add a few years to this character’s age and another character needs to be younger. If we go with a more quirky sensibility for one character, it requires a different character to step up as an authority, changing the requirements for the actor playing him.

An interesting addition to the evening was Jerod Meagher, an unrepresented actor just starting out at Ivana Chubbuck’s studio, where so many of us have trained. He stopped by the office a few days before the reading in hyper-ripped jeans to get some direction on the Jerod Meagher, actorcharacter. I immediately liked that he took notes with a pen and crudely folded piece of paper rather than an iPhone or some other secondary device. It’s a good thing if notes are fragile enough to be lost. He apparently made a good impression on at least four female attendees whose comments after the reading ranged from, “He’s got something” to “He’s sincere” to perhaps the most powerful – “I don’t know, I just like Jerod.” The ever-quirky and entertaining Tracey Verhoeven went a step further and said, “He’s just like a little angel. I mean, not like one of those fat cherub angels but like a good-looking one.” Also new this time were talented veterans Whitney Anderson, Luke Massy, Ethan Rains whitney aand Charles Hoyes. Whitney, who recently forwarded my acting reel to a director for a mind-bending fright flick for the role of a juicy psycho guy, is one of the most helpful people to know in terms of making recommendations. She’s savvy about seeing when colleagues might be a good fit and has no problem connecting them, a refreshing attitude in this town.

Afterwards, the approval of the adjustments I made to the script were heartening and the discussion turned more to “which way to go” with certain characters and practical concerns for the shooting rather than folks suggesting major overhauls. I even got one, “It was fuckin’ awesome” from a guest. That felt good. I am still worried about the climactic scene being too talk-y and Ann Russo echoed that concern. But we both felt the visual element of the choreography in that section might compensate for a dialogue-heavy stretch. Ms. Russo easily could’ve been a colleague of mine as a story analyst. She consistently airs notes that my foggy unconscious hasn’t yet articulated, so I was especially grateful for her feedback throughout the night on characters, plot and pre-production. There’s always a chance people are holding back their doubts out of respect or fear, but I now feel confident enough with the script to go ahead and create a shooting script to schedule the film and start getting more detailed with the budget.

Speaking of budget, the one startling bit of feedback came from high fashion designer Sphetim Zero, who passionately declared that he would need $50,000 to properly costume the feature. I appreciated his ambition, but warned him that was impossible with our current budget constraints. He encouraged me to open myself up to receiving more from the Universe. I agreed to be more vigilant about hoping for the best, but warned him to think of a back-up plan. We both agreed that he would help me clothe people from their closets for the industry read in February and take it from there.

Once again, a core group ended up at Bossa Nova for late night steak. This time, Dumbass Filmmakers! producer Jason Fracaro joined myself and aspiring social media guru Richard Scharfenberg (more on this effort in a future post). Jason, back from a 10-week basic training for the Army and his inclusion in the National Guard, has a reputation as one of the best guys to know (and one of the worst gaydars – ask me privately) and he gamely filled our quota for at least one “straight guy” at the dinner. Rex arrived late and this time, we were able to order his “ribeye steak cooked ‘medium rare plus’ with plantains, extra pico de gallo, extra salsa” before he arrived. But, just like last time, he paid for all of us with the quick move of a credit card and a declaration that, “I don’t believe in splitting checks.” He’s one of those guys that picks up the check when it’s kinda expensive or a big group and lets you return the favor at a hamburger joint. Ah, friends.

Correction: Ah, friends…and filmmaking.

Cast of the 2nd reading of “Inside-Out, Outside-In” (in alphabetical order): Whitney Anderson, Camille Carida, Marilyn Chase, Jason Fracaro, James Lee Hernandez, Charles Hoyes, Hunter Lee Hughes, Marcus Kaye, Rex Lee, Luke Massy, Jerod Meagher, Ashley Osler, Ethan Rains, Ann Russo, Tracey Verhoeven. Invited guests included Mr. Richard Scharfenberg, Mr. Jay Walters and Mr. Sphetim Zero.

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).