Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


The casting session part two: Can't anyone throw a basketball?

Blake Browning Burns is holding a casting session for a television commercial at the studio of Rodney Jay Films. On arriving, Paul, the agency copywriter, has driven his sports car through the cyclorama wall at one end of the studio. He and Rodney Jay, the producer/director, are trading insults while they wait for the extras to arrive. The person to be cast will have to pretend to be a basketball player and throw a goal.

PAUL: By the way, is there going to be any casting done today or are we going to just trash talk each other until it's time to go home? Because if we are, I'd rather be doing it over lunch. Being insulted makes me hungry for some reason.

RODNEY (LOOKS AT HIS WATCH): Katja's got some tall extras coming in for the basketball scene. If we get one who can do it and looks half OK we might even be able to slip away for lunch ....

PAUL: Tall? Was that all? I said he had to be able to shoot a goal.

RODNEY: Well, we'll see ...

Half an hour later. Some models, extras and bit-part actors from a casting agency are milling about in the reception area waiting to audition. Paul and Rodney are waiting in a corner of the studio where a makeshift basketball ring has been rigged up.

KATJA (PRODUCTION ASSISTANT): Ready? I'll send them in one by one.

The first extra enters. He is a tall gangly hipster type with a red beard.

RODNEY (THROWS A BASKETBALL TO HIM): OK, you know what you have to do. Show us your stuff, dude. Like, work that ball, man!

PAUL: He probably speaks English, Rodney. Just because he has to play basketball in the ad doesn't mean you have to talk to him like a deranged homeboy.

The hipster tries to throw the basketball. He looks like an arthritic grandmother lobbing a dirty tea towel into a linen basket.

RODNEY: Great! Next. (ASIDE - TO PAUL) What is the advertising industry's current obsession with dopey-looking red-bearded blokes? I briefed the casting agency specifically to send no stereotypes, and the first one to walk on set is the hipster from central casting.

PAUL: Literally.

Another half hour passes. No-one has been able to do anything with the ball that looks remotely convincing despite Rodney's coaching.

PAUL: Is it that fucking hard? These bit-part actors are all the same. They're OK in a crowd of sixty thousand but they can't act to save themselves, let alone do something like throw a ball with any degree of conviction.

RODNEY: There's one more.

PAUL: I'll brief this one, Rodney. You're too soft. Call yourself a director? You pussyfoot around too much. They need proper direction.

The last extra enters.

PAUL (HOLDS THE BALL UP, SPEAKS TO THE ACTOR): See this? Know what it is? It's a basketball. Big tall men play a game with it. What I want you to do today is take this basketball and throw it ... just like this ...

He demonstrates, throwing the ball against the wall so that it will rebound. Except it doesn't; it deflects on a corner and flies off a a crazy angle.

PAUL: Well, not exactly like that. But you know what I mean.

He fetches the ball and hands it to the actor.

Do you think you can manage that? Because if you can't ...

He lets the question hang in the air like a threat. The actor reaches out for the ball and Paul pulls it away from him, teasing.

... you don't get the gig!

Now he hands it over. The actor just glares, then he takes the ball; quietly, slowly. Then he stands off to the left a little way, maybe five paces, and raises the ball slowly, still glaring at Paul.

He holds the ball in the air with two hands. Then his supporting hand disappears and the ball stays in the air. It is resting on one finger. It is not even spinning. Then nothing seems to happen and the ball is spinning. Nobody saw him spin it. Then he stops spinning it and suddenly he leaps sideways and the ball disappears somewhere near his legs, bounces unseen, staccato on the floor, and reappears somewhere around his head. The ball darts around like it's on a string, around the actor's body and against the wall. He dribbles it to the far end of the studio and with one flick of the wrist curls the ball thirty metres towards the basketball ring, into which it drops. The extra catches the ball directly on the rebound and finishes by slamming the ball at Paul. It hits him square on the chest. His script clipboard flies out of his hands, and he flies backwards and lands on the floor. Somehow, the ball magically ends up back in the actor's hands without seeming to have left them. He tosses the ball lightly to Rodney Jay, turns on his heels, and walks off set.

Katja enters.

KATJA: Hi guys, how did the audition go? By the way, that last guy wasn't just a bit-part actor. He's an American basketballer travelling in Australia in the off-season and trying out for local acting roles. And what's up with you, Paul?

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