An Interview with Bjorn Munson, Founder of Stongehenge
Q: What is Stonehenge and when did it start?
A: Stonehenge is a one-day casting event held several times throughout the year in various cities. Actors will perform a 90-second monologue for participating production companies. The first Stonehenge was in Washington, D.C., in April 2005 and has since grown exponentially in terms of participation by and popularity with actors, production companies and casting agents. Stonehenge III was held on April 2006, prior to the 48 Hour Film Project. Over 100 actors auditioned and over 20 production companies attended — about 45 filmmakers total.
Q: Do only DC-based actors and production companies attend?
A: Actually, no. We’ve had Richmond- and Baltimore-based production companies and actors. That’s one of the nice things about this “mid-Atlantic” area: if you’re willing to travel a bit, there’s a lot more acting opportunities.
Q: How does Stonehenge differ from other mass auditions?
A: Stonehenge is not a substitute for the Lottery, the Leagues, or any other mass audition in this area. I hope it’s a valuable supplement to other auditions and a good way for filmmakers to get the ball rolling on that essential preproduction task of casting. For actors, it’s another opportunity to audition. The one main difference from the other mass auditions is that, at Stonehenge, we’re looking for monologues performed in a TV or film style. It’s a distinct style, as different as Shakespeare is from Neil Simon. The actors that have really wowed the auditors in the past delivered a small, subtle performance told mainly with their eyes. We have some other tips, including do’s and don’ts, on the website.
Q: Did actors get work from participating in previous Stonehenge auditions, and what kinds of work did they get?
A: One Stonehenge survey showed that 87% of the actors got calls and/or other auditions. That is phenomenal! 100%, yes 100%, of the companies responded that they have used or planned to use actors they saw at Stonehenge. Not only that, since we started, Stonehenge has helped to cast over 30 projects and something around 90 or more roles — and that’s just the projects I’ve been told about!
Odds are that, unless an actor has super phenomenal metamorphic capabilities, that actor will not going to be used for everything a company does. If Jane the actor tells Joe’s Production Company that Stonehenge offers them the chance to see over 100 actors perform, Joe will probably remember Jane all the more for future gigs. Karma works.
At the same time, I’m willing to bet most actors didn’t become actors longing to make a training film about lab safety. As much as I want to make sure actors get paying gigs, at market rates, union or nonunion, I never want aspiring filmmakers and/or student filmmakers to feel unwelcome. The industry recognizes aspiring filmmakers with various SAG low budget agreements. I know Noel Coward’s quote about an actor’s motivation being his pay packet, but rewarding work isn’t simply a matter of money.
Q: What should actors know about registering and auditioning at Stonehenge?
A: For the actors, read the site, follow the directions, and realize this is a mass audition: we’re moving a lot of people in and out in short order. The plane boards every fifteen minutes and everyone needs to be at the boarding gate on time. If you’re not at the registration desk fifteen minutes before your scheduled audition time when we call your name, we need to put someone else in your slot. It may seem like a merciless schedule, but it’s the mass audition beast. It’ll also help prepare you for the oftentimes more hectic world of film sets. We’ll do what we can to make things run smoothly, but you need to help us help you.
Also, understand that this is a job interview and the interview starts with the first email. Everyone you deal with from the check-in on is Team Jabberwocky and/or involved in filmmaking. In the past, a few actors were high maintenance or treated the staff poorly. This tells me, as a director, that you’re not worth casting, regardless of talent. It’s not just about being nice to those people sitting in the audience, because the people sitting in the audience have called me and asked about this actor or that actor. People do remember, so be considerate to everyone. Remember that karma thing?
Q: What prompted you to start the Stonehenge mass audition?
A: I grew up in Arlington, Virginia, seeing performances at Arena Stage, the Folger, and elsewhere. When I came back after college, I worked as a technician at Shakespeare, Studio, Signature, and others. I really got a good sense of how vibrant and self-supporting the theatre community is here. In 2003, I got involved more into film and video, which I had done in the 1990s. I learned that a lot of the filmmakers didn’t know as many actors as they needed. I was amazed because I knew that hundreds of actors are out there to support all these theatres. Many people don’t know about DC theatre nationally because we’re in the shadow of New York. At the same time, we’re also the third largest market for film and video because of Discovery, National Geographic, and others. We’re tiny compared to Los Angeles and small compared to New York, but we are a presence.
I started Stonehenge because I really want to help in the growth of the film community here. We’ve got this established film/video community and we have this established theatre community here with lots of very good actors. Let’s get these groups together. I can’t tell you how many filmmakers come up to me at the end of Stonehenge and tell me they had no idea that there were so many actors around. I tell them there were 300 more that wanted to attend but there were no more slots. Every Stonehenge, I see at least 20 actors that are so good I wish I had a script just to cast them. That leads me to believe that what I write in the future will either consciously or subconsciously be inspired by these actors. Seeing good actors helps filmmakers know they can write the stories they’ve wanted to for years: there are actors to perform them and to perform them well.
Stonehenge is about helping to build the independent film community. Right now we’re an archipelago of unconnected filmmakers instead of a more unified island and we need to work more to be an island and not worry about being a continent. In building our independent film community, we need to play to our strengths: we have a very good theatre community, many actors with excellent training who can provide good character driven stories. We also have a lot of technical expertise in that we are the third largest film and video industry in the United States. Naturally, a lot of that is not narrative-based, they are not doing fictional work, but I suspect if you asked people at production houses why they got interested in film, they will say it wasn’t necessarily because of a desire to produce industrial videos. Many of these people would like to do, would love to do, something completely creative.
Q: What do you want to see happen with the film community here and how does Stonehenge fit in?
A: The DC area is a great place for indies because of the demographics of the region, which is, on the whole, fairly well to do, well educated, and older. We don’t need to worry about producing the next Michael Bay, but if we go for a rattling good story, our possibilities are limitless. I’d like for Stonehenge to help contribute to the creation of these types of films, more ambitious shorts and eventually indie feature films. Since Stonehenge is meant to be a broad mass audition, it will never be all things to all people. However, if you’re going to go into production in the next six months it’s a great way to see who’s out there.
Bjorn is an actor, writer, and filmmaker who grew up in Arlington, Virginia. He studied theatre at Beloit College and the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. He is the team lead of his production company, Team Jabberwocky, LLC; founder of the Stonehenge mass auditions; and works with the DC Film Alliance.
For information on Stonehenge mass auditions visit http://www.teamjabberwocky.com/stonehenge.html