Online Test: Casting Assumptions

Jane Wyman in 1947
Jane Wyman in 1947

 This is an online test. Answer each question with the first thought or image that comes into your head.

Situation: Congratulations! Through hard work and tireless networking, your career as a TV producer has finally taken off. A billionaire is starting a new women’s network, Wyman Television. Our eccentric founder named the network after an obsession with actress Jane Wyman. Women are hot, in more ways than one, says our hands-on founder. To hell with the Oxygen Network and Lifetime Television. It is time to crack that demographic wide open.

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Wyman Television is new, so it has to broadcast lots of reruns. It airs a daily Jane Wyman film, as well as rebroadcasts of “Falcon Crest.” The founder also allows other programs on the schedule, such as “Law & Order.” Over the past few months, the billionaire has discovered viewers love “ripped from the headlines” television.

That is where you come in, because it is your job to develop ideas the founder has given you. You have a stack of real life situations. Not only do you have to develop these stories into TV movies, you also need to provide an idea about who might play the roles. At Wyman Television, this process will happen before a script is written.

The billionaire is depending on you. It is important to get “eyeballs on the screen.” Writing for your friends or college roommates will make you look like an amateur. If this opportunity is a success, you will move up in your career. The billionaire might even fund your personal pet projects. Failure will sink the network and your reputation. You will have to go back to the world of day jobs, YouTube video productions and dead-end screenplays.

The situations:

1) A husband and wife work at a government office in New York City. The couple needs someone to help them maintain their household. The wife takes the lead and hires a maid from another country. The worker believes she will get paid fairly. After all, the visa paperwork stipulates an amount above U.S. minimum wage. Once she arrives, however, she is forced to work for $3.31 an hour, with no vacation or sick pay. One night, the worker escapes the house and runs to the police for help. This story is a courtroom drama.

Questions: Close your eyes and picture the three characters. What does the couple look like? What race or ethnicity are they? What nationality is the worker? How does this story end?

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2) A hip hop artist/actor/fashion designer with an active sex life has taken great pains to document each tryst through photos and videos. He stores them on his PC. One day, his hard drive crashes so he brings it to the computer repair shop. Soon, sex photos and videos are splattered on celebrity websites. The public recognizes some of these celebrities in compromising positions.

Questions: What race or ethnicity is the hip hop artist? What is the gender identity and sexual orientation of the people involved? Does the scandal help or hurt the musician’s career?

3) A single mother arrives in New York City with her five-year old daughter. Separated from everything she loves, the daughter must learn to adapt to a new world. She takes dance lessons and soon discovers her talent as a performer. Her work on stage leads to Hollywood. Alas, being a young woman in Hollywood is difficult. She struggles to be taken seriously as an actor. During a film shoot, an intense and distracting relationship with a fellow actor threatens her career. The film wraps, and she attempts suicide. A life-changing event forces her to view herself differently.

Questions:  Describe this young woman and her lover. Why does she struggle to be taken seriously as an actor? Is she conventionally beautiful? What does her body look like? Where was she born?

4) During a break from work, a young beautician uses her Twitter account to voice her concern about the Russian-Ukrainian political situation. She types, “If barraco barner is our president why is he getting involved with Russia, scary.” Alas, the 20-year old soon finds out it is Barack Obama and not Barraco Barner. She has several hundred followers who correct her, laugh at her mistake and retweet her original message. She watches helplessly as her tweet crosses the globe and becomes the topic of conversation in places as India, Belgium and Australia. Along with her new-found fame, she also has her share of haters. Strangers call her an “oxygen thief,” “stupid cow,” “silly girl,” and “idiot.”

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Question: Again, what is the race or ethnicity of the beautician? What does she physically look like? How does she overcome this situation?

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5) A high schooler moves out of her parents’ house. She alleges they are abusive. The parents say the young teen is out of control. She moves in with her best friend. Then she decides to sue her parents for support. People are outraged. They take to the Internet to find the teen on Facebook. Instead, they discover another teen’s Facebook page. She has the same name and is running for Homecoming Queen. The two teens don’t look alike, but that doesn’t matter. Strangers bombard the page with profanity and misogynistic comments.

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Question: What is the race or ethnicity of these characters?

One More Thing: You have decided the casting breakdown, but the head of the network rejects the movie outline. It needs more drama. What situations would you add to this premise? Would the complications change based on the race or ethnicity of the characters?

6) A young fashion writer leads a glamorous life in Los Angeles. She has a full social calendar, which includes visits to clubs, restaurants and parties. One day, she sees a contest to be a fashion model and decides to enter it. The young writer has longed to be in front of the camera. Alas, people discourage her because she doesn’t have “the right look.” Overcoming self-doubt, she wins the contest and becomes one of the new faces for an international fashion brand.

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Question: What does she look like? Why is everyone discouraging her?

Score: What was your first impression of these situations? Did you rely on stereotypes to cast your TV movies?

Conclusion: As it turns out, your instinct about staying true to real life characters and situations paid off. The founder of Wyman Network loves your ideas and appreciates how you stick to your values.

Now you need to start hiring writers, directors and crew. Whom do you hire? Your friends, of course! But do your professional contacts look like you?

And the extra credit question: Did you assume the billionaire founder of Wyman Network was a white man?