By Christopher Smith
Standing in line for long hours, mostly outside in freezing weather, makes you do crazy things so you won’t go crazy, said Logan Alexander Smith.
Smith, a graduate of Murray County High School, said to cope with standing in the cold in downtown Nashville, Tenn., he, his father Alex and several strangers broke out into a long rendition of Queen’s 1975 hit “Bohemian Rhapsody” as they waited to vie for a part in “Star Wars: Episode VII.”
“We just had a singing circle,” he said, “just so we wouldn’t go crazy.”
The casting call was held at the Sheraton Hotel in the heart of Music City last Sunday as part of a worldwide talent search for a young female and male lead for the next “Star Wars” trilogy. The first part of the saga is set for release on Dec. 18, 2015, under direction of sci-fi buff J.J. Abrams.
Smith was among thousands of people who lined the chilly streets outside the hotel lobby. When he got inside at around 5 p.m., he said he was told by casting directors to go home because they couldn’t see anyone else.
“I got there an hour early (doors opened at noon) and the line was already really far,” he said. “It’s my understanding they had a lot more people than they thought they would.”
Smith said casting directors told him to submit an audition video online (at www.opencastingcall2013.com, by Tuesday) if he still wanted to be considered for a part.
“It was frustrating, but it was difficult for me to be mad at them,” Smith said. “It was my decision to stand in line.”
Keegan Westra, a freshmen political science major at Dalton State College, said he was also turned away at the last minute after waiting in line for five hours with his friend Stephanie Schwan, also a Dalton State student.
“It was very frustrating,” he said. “This lady came out (into the hotel lobby) and talked to all of us and said she realized we all waited a long time to get there, so she gave us the website where we could upload an audition video.
“They said if we waited they could take our headshot and resume, but we’d have to audition online. My friend who was with me, Stephanie, had to get back to church. We decided there wasn’t any point in sticking around. It was a very frustrating drive home. It was so cold outside and we used a lot of gas to get up there.”
Westra said he was at least able to make a few new friends waiting in line.
“When you’re in a group for that long, you get to know the people you’re with,” he said. “We would hold each others’ spot in line if we had to run to our cars. Most people were really nice. We talked about what part of the country we were from — this one guy, Alex, was from Virginia and flew down for auditions. Most of us were obviously college-aged, so we talked about majors. There was a nice lady in front of us we got to know. All kinds of people were there.”
Making new friends helped stave off restlessness for Derek Yates, a 30-year-old Chattanoogan who will be featured in the Dalton-based indie horror movie “The Locksmith.” The film, directed by Dalton High School graduate Ryan Miningham, was shot locally in August and is set for release on Jan. 4, 2014, according to Internet Movie Database, an online aggregator of all things film.
“We were all freezing,” Yates, who works as a bartender at Big River Grille in downtown Chattanooga, said. “So you make buddies just so you don’t go crazy.”
Yates said he was also turned away by casting directors late in the day.
“Yeah, it was a little frustrating,” he said. “You get your hopes up. You get into (the hotel) and you want that possible callback. But no one was getting callbacks after 5 p.m. We really could have just stayed home.”
That’s just part of “taking the risk,” Yates, who wants acting to be a full-time job and is familiar with casting calls, said. He is trying to create an online presence to launch his acting career at www.facebook.com/derekyates.
“You know it is very possible to go home empty-handed,” he said. “I went in with that idea. I made sure my friends who were with me understood we could be turned away. It doesn’t make it any less frustrating though.”
One thing that surprised Yates was the lack of aliens, robots, bounty hunters and Jedi Knights in line.
“I saw the one stormtrooper,” he said. “I expected there to be more ‘Star Wars’ characters.”
Still, the large turnout of thousands is a sign of how important “Star Wars” is to American culture, Smith said.
“I’m a huge ‘Star Wars’ fan,” he said. “Ever since I was a kid. Me and my dad used to watch it when I was little. It was a big part of my childhood. I think we tend to like movies that have happy endings; that make us feel good.
“In ‘Star Wars,’ everything works out. It all ends well. But more than that, I feel like science fiction is just a big part of American movies and American literature. ... I think that’s a big reason. It is almost a genre we invented ourselves and ‘Star Wars’ is the pinnacle.”
Smith said he is glad he tried to audition even if only for the experience as an actor. He is currently playing a narrator in “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story” at the Dalton Little Theatre. The show is set to continue today with a 2 p.m. matinee and on Friday, Dec. 6, and Saturday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. For more information on the show, visit daltonlittletheatre.com or call (706) 226-6618.
Westra, who said he acts in community theaters in Walker and Catoosa counties, said he’s hopeful for another chance to break into a big movie.
“There’s always the next ‘Star Wars,’” he said, “because they’re obviously not stopping them any time soon.”