Cannes 2019 – Hollywood Reporter

The casting team for the movie directed by Danielle Lessovitz and produced by Martin Scorsese, shares their process.

Casting directors looking for new, diverse talent increasingly turn to social media. And what counts online is conveying who you are in real life. That was the message at the We Audition event in Cannes, devoted to the future of casting.

Rather than looking for actors who can play any role, casting directors want people who fit the character in real life. To cut costs, some also prefer to hire nonprofessionals with a niche skill (stunts, legal, etc.) instead of training talent pre-shoot.

The importance of social media and the rise of street casting coincides with a greater demand for diversity, and authenticity, onscreen. Port Authority, which premiered in Un Certain Regard, is a case in point: Danielle Lessovitz wanted to find actual trans dancers for her New York interracial love story between a small-town troubled young man and a Harlem-based African-American trans ballroom beauty.

Lessovitz’s mission was hard, at least until Damian Bao and Kate Antognini came on board. He comes from commercial casting, but his credits include the indie movies American Honey (2016 Cannes Jury Prize) by Andrea Arnold and Goldie (2019 Berlin Film Festival) by Sam de Jong.

Bao, an approachable Asian American, whose website describes him as “raised by refugee parents in an ethnically diverse trailer park community in New Orleans,” has a passion for finding diverse, often marginalized talent. Bao was inspired by the LGBTQ theme of Lessovitz’s film, and wanted to be part of a movie helmed by a woman director.

Casting for Port Authority took Bao, co-casting director Kate Antognini and their team 12 months — four times as long as he normally takes. “We needed to be very careful,” Bao tells The Hollywood Reporter. “A lot of trans support groups are private. Many trans people come out online but not in real life. It is sometimes dangerous, so we needed to respect everyone’s boundaries. We looked for videos on YouTube of trans dancers voguing. People in the community sent us screen shots and we shared them with the contacts in the ballroom community, who helped us identify and contact the dancers. We also used hashtags and looked at Instagram and Facebook accounts. We scouted bars and went to late-night ballroom events. And we messaged LGBTQ community centers and groups across the country.”

For Paul, the male love interest, Bao and Antognini considered professional actors and did an open call, but they also drove across 13 states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Alabama, visiting small-town high schools and talking to drama teachers. “The film is partly about white masculinity, and it was hard, because in many places we visited dancing isn’t seen as masculine,” Bao says.

In the end, the street-casting approach didn’t yield strong talent. “Men have a hard time being vulnerable in front of the camera, so this was hard for nonprofessionals,” Bao says. “And we were going to very conservative places, so we couldn’t announce that we were casting a movie about a trans woman.” They found Paul instead through a traditional channel: the British actor Fionn Whitehead (of Dunkirk) sent in a self-tape.

But the most crucial find was trans actress Leyna Bloom, who plays Wye. Bao knew that this part of the search would be a challenge, because so few trans actresses have agents. “We looked at hundreds of photos first. I knew Leyna from fashion for years, but didn’t realize she was involved in the ballroom scene,” Bao says. “She actually has a number of titles and is known as the ‘Polynesian Princess.’” So it was ultimately Bloom’s real connection to the voguing scene as well as her charisma that helped to seal the deal.

Some of Bao’s street casting is more guerrilla-style: He says he will chase people down the street, if he thinks they look distinct. “I grew up in mother’s black nail salon, in an Asian and black community, so when I was growing up it was really disappointing not to see people of color represented in the movies,” he recalls.” Now I really believe this is changing. We are bored of seeing the same aesthetic.”

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5 Reasons You Should Attend Film Festivals without a film in it… and 5 Myths debunked.


Are you an actor or a filmmaker that says “I don’t want to go to a Film Festival until I have my film screening there…”?

Here at, we hear that a lot, from our members and other people we meet.  Both our co-founders are actors & producers, and attend multiple festivals around the world, including Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, Comic-Con and more.

If you only want to attend a festival when you’re actually officially part of it, you might be missing the point… not to mention some amazing opportunities that will actually HELP you get a film there.

Here are our top 5 reasons why you should be attending festivals, and 5 myths about festivals, debunked.


5 reasons to attend a film festival (even if your film’s not in it.)

1. To celebrate other filmmakers & support your industry.

You know that saying about karma?  Well, it rings true.  If you’re in the film industry in any capacity, you’ll understand it’s a team sport.  Great projects are not achieved alone, and to succeed you need to be both interesting AND interested.  You need to have a passion for the industry, your fellow creatives, and the work.  There’s no better way to be involved and supportive than celebrating your filmmaker and actor peers’ work at a festival.  You’ll learn new things, be inspired, and those screening their films will appreciate it more than you know.  Film festivals are a competitive place, each production vying for eyeballs and support.  Show up, be present, lend a hand and you will ultimately benefit yourself too.

There are lots of ways to support your industry at a film festival – simply attend and buy tickets to screenings, or watch panels / Q&As and share the key info on social media.  You could volunteer officially for the festival, or offer your help to a filmmaker on their promotional team.  Or try our favorite method – run some events or resources during the festival period.  It’s a great way to give value, make friends and be remembered.  Our theory is this: if you want to attend fancy events & screenings, make sure you throw one occasionally & contribute too.  Back to our karma saying…. 😉


2. It’s your industry trade show.

If you’re a plumber, you probably would go to the Annual Plumbing Show.  If you make car parts, you’ll be at the auto-show.  A fashion-designer heads to fashion week, and travel agents attend travel exhibitions.  Call yourself a Professional Actor or Filmmaker?  Then you should be attending YOUR trade shows… film festivals!  It’s where you pick up new ideas and techniques, see what’s happening in the industry, celebrate the best work, and meet & mingle with others doing what you do.  But here’s the best bit…. unlike the examples above, film-festivals are some of the most glamorous, fun, exclusive and desired events on the world’s social calendar.  You’re part of that industry, that so many people would die to be a part of!  And you don’t take advantage of it…?  Umm, what’s the definition of crazy again?


3. You’ll make valuable connections.

So, you don’t want to attend a film-festival unless you have a film in it.  Aside from being an incredibly selfish attitude (read: I only want to contribute when I am celebrated) perhaps you WILL have a film in a future festival by attending one!  Let me expound…  A film festival tends to be a potent, fertile ground of people with similar interests and one common goal: Film.  Remember, it’s a team sport.  This is where investors & financiers, producers & directors, cinematographers, actors, publicists and casting directors all hang out.  And talk.  And mingle.  And network.  Or whatever you like to call it.  It’s a captive audience where everyone is connected by a common theme… and it’s so much fun to boot!  Put it this way….  if you were trying to get drunk, would you quickly shoot back shots of tequila, or have a sip of wine every few days?  A film festival is the tequila option – dedicated, potent, effective.  Now, don’t get impatient… these connections may not manifest overnight, but over time they will.  Back in 2013, I made an award-winning short film (now available on Amazon) which starred an actress I met at Sundance in 2009, and my trailer was cut by an award-winning editor, now an award-winning director too, whom I met in Cannes back in 2005…  you never know.  Be interesting, and interested.


4. You will be inspired & excited.

There’s no better catalyst to want to make a film or project that could be in a festival, than by returning from a festival excited and inspired.  When you see the red carpets & paparazzi, the standing ovations, the press reviews and awards, the champagne parties, and the pure collective energy and appreciation, you will be kickstarted into working on that project that’s been collecting dust on your desk, or recutting your reel, changing your agent, or whatever necessary to put yourself one step closer to that dream.  It’s a great kick up the….


5. You’ll know exactly what to do, when you DO return with a film.

But this… this is possibly the best reason to attend.  If you aren’t convinced by all the other reasons above, about supporting others and making valuable relationships (are you a robot?) then here’s a great, purely-selfish reason for you.

You wouldn’t get in a car for the first time on the morning of your driving test.  You wouldn’t go for your first jog, the day before a marathon…  so why would you wait until you have a project in a festival, to attend the festival for the first time?!  That’s the definition of unprepared madness, and a sure-fire way to completely waste the precious short moments of your glory.   When you finally have a project in a festival, you don’t want to go blind.   You’ll want to know what people wear (Sundance is very different to Cannes is very different to Comic-Con).  You’ll want to know when to go and where to stay (weekend 2 in Salt Lake City is not a great way to Sundance, weekend 1 in Park City’s Main St is everything.)  You’ll want to know your way around and the public transport system (walking the Cannes Croisette instead of a taxi might get you to your premiere on time).  You’ll want to make solid friends and relationships (you think a festival badge or film gets you into the hottest A-list parties? Think again – relationships do).  You’ll want to understand the idiosyncrasies of the festival (getting into the Short Film Corner is NOT  Official Selection into Cannes)… you get the gist.  Do a test run.  Then soak up the celebration that you rightly deserve and contributed to when it’s your time.  We all like people more, with less ego.

Enjoy your time!


5 film-festival myths debunked.

1. It’s too expensive.

It doesn’t have to be.  Planning ahead helps.  There are also many groups on Facebook and other platforms like The Jetters for shared housing and connections for travel.  Also industry festivals like Cannes offer free accreditation badges for film industry professionals like you.  Yes, you need to have some budget for expenses like food and drink too, but grazing appetizers at parties can stave off hunger.  Ultimately though, you’ll find its a good investment worth saving for.


2. I don’t have / can’t get a badge.

You don’t always need one.  Many festivals can be enjoyed without a badge – you can just buy tickets for individual films.  Others like Cannes offer a free accreditation to those legitimately in the film industry just by applying.  However, especially at the big festivals like Sundance, SXSW and Cannes, there are so many amazing, yet unofficial events that take place – you just need good research and networking / relationship skills.  Support, and you’ll be supported.


3. I won’t know anyone there.

Yes you will.  I guarantee it.  You might not think you know anyone going, but if you’ve worked in any capacity in the film industry, it would be near impossible not to bump into people you know.  Put a message on your Facebook.  See who’s going.  Connect in social groups or on platforms like LinkedIn or WeAudition ahead of time.  Plus don’t forget, everyone is there for the same reason, so it’s super easy to just walk up to someone, start a conversation and make a new friend.


4. I’m not invited to anything! What will I do?

See point number 3 above.  Trust in the process and you will be.  Make friends.  Be nice.  Be interesting and interested.  Film festivals are dynamic environments and evolve quickly.  At breakfast you may have an empty calendar that’s then full by lunch.  If you get a plus-1, share it with someone you meet.  Scour sites like Facebook and Eventbrite for happenings.  It will work itself out.


5. There’s no point if I don’t have a film playing.

Scroll up to the top of this page and read again.  Properly this time!


See you at the next festival!


Darren Darnborough

Actor, Producer & Co-Founder / CEO of

Blog coming soon

Sides download instead of opening in the browser window

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LA Oscar-weekend Brunch with Equity UK

WeRehearse sponsors the annual Equity UK Oscar Brunch in LA, welcoming actors and members to celebrate awards season in Hollywood with the UK Union.

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Episodic Season Party

WeRehearse co-hosted an Episodic Season party in Los Angeles, welcoming members, actors and celebrities.

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WeRehearse launched in Hollywood, CA in April 2015 with a Sunset Blvd party attended by professional actors and celebrities.