24 November 2014: Sunset, Heckfield, Hampshire. Went to this beautiful place to paint a sunset and wasn’t disappointed. A low mist descended, which made everything feel so romantic. The downside was that it got really cold - so I was pleased to get back to my car and turn the heater on full! I altered the tree a bit when I got back to the studio - making it more impressionistic to fit in with the rest of the painting.
Zoe is probably more independent - I don’t think she cares as much what other people think of her in the immediate sense - so what if you think it’s weird that she wears a yellow backpack and has a scary knack for popping up out of nowhere, that’s just how she does things. Zoe feels things very immediately and swims in those feelings, she doesn’t keep things bottled up very often. She’s fueled by a lot of rage-fire. Zoe’s also a vlogger, which is an element that went away in the series adaptation.
Ella is probably more insecure - I think she’s more likely to bury her feelings, if something seems emotionally complicated, you can bet she’s going to shovel that shit into a bottomless pit and run in the opposite direction. She has a lot of walls up but you wouldn’t know that right away, because she really wants you to like her. The exception is in her music - Ella has a post-grad entry level office job that she’s been doing for a while now, and she knows she isn’t happy there but it’s scary to do the things she wants to do full-time. So her feelings and frustrations work themselves into her music, with songs like Even Superman Has a Dayjob and Here Lies My Love Life.
Ella has also known Tim longer than Zoe’s known Charlie - Ella went to college with Tim, she had a crush on him back when he was just a Shakespeare-reading dork. They work in the same office (Tim probably got her this job after they graduated), and they live in the same apartment. Tim and Ella’s lives are a lot more tangled up in each other’s from the start.
I think Zoe is also more motivated by her break up during the events of the short film - Peter Hackett is the main reasonthat Zoe signs up for the Battle of the Bands, Horcruxes is a break up song about getting over their shitty relationship, to prove that she can still be awesome without him (and she is), so when Peter wins the BotB, it’s an extra blow to her ego - she staked a lot of “winning the break up” on this. Also they used to perform together, and when they broke up, Peter basically found Zoe 2.0, another redhead who could sing and replace her seamlessly as the Ginny to his Harry. How could he do that, were you that replaceable?
On the flip side, while Chris Hackett is a bit of extra incentive for Ella to kick it into high gear, I think she was already considering signing up for the Battle of the Bands before she saw his name on the list. Chris played a large part in making Ella insecure and unsure of pursuing music for herself, he never took her songwriting / singing seriously enough to perform publicly with her. He also moved on with someone who’s like, your worst nightmare version of an ex’s new girlfriend - talented, gorgeous, great shiny blonde hair, the opposite of how you see yourself. Is that what he wanted the whole time he was with you?
So yeah. They’re very different characters despite having similar sparks of origin stories - Zoe and Ella approach the world differently, they manage their relationships differently, their insecurities manifest themselves differently.
I remember at lunch during one of our later shooting days, once we realized how different Ella and Zoe were becoming, @rachelkiley and I tried to imagine what these two characters would be like in a room together. Would they like each other? What would they talk about? They had a lot in common, but they were also totally different people. It was a trippy mental exercise.
Hello! I'm such a fan of what we've seen of I Ship It, and I also love your other works-specifically the behinds the scenes peaks you give (they've been very inspirational/motivational to me). I was wondering what you can tell us now about the making of the show? Specifically, how did you go about casting your characters?
For our principle characters - Ella and Tim - we had a very lengthy casting process, the most involved I’ve ever done for one of my projects. We were asked to submit three actor/actress options for each role by the network (the CW).
We saw probably over 200 actors over the course of a couple days (there are so many talented people in Los Angeles) - they each sang a song and performed two audition sides (scenes).
The list of Tim/Ella actors was then narrowed down to about 20 to return for callbacks. The top callback videos for each role were then sent to the CW, who then gave their input on things they wanted to see from certain actors advancing to chemistry reads. I remember they asked specifically for Helen Highfield (who naturally has gorgeous curly hair) to get a blowout and show her “fun and fiery” side for her chemistry read.
We then had those actors come in for chemistry readswith each other, in every combination of Ella’s and Tim’s. These reads were all sent in for review/approval by the CW, and then we had our cast! Here is Helen and Riley’s chemistry read below:
Aww. They were so young. ^The laughter in the background is our casting director, Heidi. (I’m terrible in audition rooms, I barely react even when it’s good.)
I like to add a step to my process after we’ve found our actors, where I take them out for drinks and ask them a whole bunch of probing personal questions - I talk about that a bit in this post:
“What’s the story of your first kiss? What was your first heartbreak? What’s your most recent disappointment? When’s the last time you cried? What do you look for in a romantic partner? Why hasn’t it worked out in the past?” Their answers to these questions don’t really affect the way we approach the story or the character, but they do show me what my actors look like when they’re excited, embarrassed, animated, reflective, and sad. It also gives me an overall feeling for their particular voice and vibe. I think it’s my actors’ job to bring their characters to life in a way that’s truthful to them, and I consider it part of my job to bring out my actors’ personal spark of magic via the writing/directing of the character. It helps to get to know the person behind the character first.
It’s also nice for actor bonding when it’s a project that hinges so much on a relationship between two people.
Casting was definitely less involved for supporting roles - we had some that were offers to people I’d been wanting to work with for a while and knew would fit the role, other roles went to people we really liked who had auditioned for Ella/Tim/Sasha/Denver but ultimately hadn’t gone with.
Being an actor in Los Angeles is one of the hardest things you can do, I have incredible respect for people who go through this whole process without becoming jaded and cynical over it. We saw so many wonderfully talented actors who I wish every chance of success in the future. When actors aren’t cast in roles, they often wonder what they could have done to change the outcome. And the truth is - probably not a lot. You can prepare and prepare for a role and it may come down to a decision that has nothing to do with the choices you made but everything to do with circumstances outside your control - your look, your height, your scene partner’s chemistry with someone else.
I will say that I am 10000% thrilled with the actors who were cast in our series - we really lucked out and found the magic spark that happens when the right actors meet the right material. I just wish the process to find them were a little less soul crushing for everyone involved? And even that comes down to chance in the end - Helen told me she had actually stolen a friend’s audition slot, who had gotten the character breakdown and said “This isn’t me, but my friend Helen is perfect for this, can she come in instead?” And Riley was the literal last guy to walk in the door to audition for Tim, we had almost finished the day when someone said, “Hey, there’s one more guy waiting out there, should we send him in?”
It’s terrifying how much of filmmaking is just sheer luck, actually. I would advise doing literally anything else with your life if you can find the inclination. But if you’ve been cursed with a spark of creativity and ambition, you’re probably doomed. In a good way!