Casting Nonexperts

Sometimes, you're not looking for experts but for real people willing to give you access to lives and situations that embody themes and ideas you've set out to explore. Some examples:

• For their film Troublesome Creek, Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher decided against casting or interviewing any experts, and instead focused on Jordan's family members, especially her parents. "We absolutely did not want any expert testimony about anything having to do with farming or economics that would make it seem like this was a subject being studied as opposed to a subject that was being lived," Ascher says.

• The producers of Hoop Dreams were fortunate in their discovery of the two young basketball players featured in their film, Arthur Agee and William Gates. According to their press material, filmmakers Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert initially planned to make a half-hour documentary on street basketball in Chicago. In 1986, they approached producer Gordon Quinn of Kartemquin Films, and Quinn, in turn, approached KTCA, the PBS station in St. Paul. By this time, the filmmakers had found Agee and Williams, both freshmen in high school. The plan now shifted, and they followed the players over a period of years to see where their basketball dreams would take them. Each player, on his own, would have been interesting, but their two stories interwoven provide a far more insightful look at the various ways in which opportunity, family, skill, and luck can affect an athletic career.

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