‘The Last Stop in Yuma County’ Casting Director Talks Assembling Film’s ‘Dream Cast’ and Why He Enjoys Working With First-Time Directors

David Guglielmo doesn’t have an acting background, but he has an empathy and understanding for actors that serves him – and others – as a casting director. It might come from his background as a writer/director, which he notes is a form of performance in many ways. “When you’re writing, you’re every character. You’re feeling those emotions and traveling with them,” he notes. “And when you direct, you have to speak the langue of actors, to understand where they’re coming from and what they need.” He adds that nothing compares to a great performance. “Even if you watch a movie that’s a little rough around the edges, if the acting is there, it’s going to pull you in. And it can be one of the most powerful experiences you can have in art.”

Guglielmo studied directing at New York City’s School of Visual Arts before moving to Los Angeles in 2012, where he shot his first feature, “No Way to Live” – which he refers to as his “real film school.” He worked on that microbudget indie with casting director Matthew Lessal, who invited him on to be his casting assistant when the movie wrapped. Guglielmo, who was working at a juice bar at the time, ended up making about 20 movies with Lessal. “I realized I loved it and wanted to make it my career.”

In a short amount of time, Guglielmo racked up over 50 credits as CD, including being an in-house casting director for Fangoria. He also continued to make his own films; he co-wrote and co-directed the claustrophobic 2018 thriller “Hospitality” and directed the upcoming “Love Bomb,” about a mysterious (and potentially dangerous) dating app. He’s also able to bring his skillset to producing movies, helping with financing and packaging in addition to casting.

That includes the recent indie sensation “The Last Stop in Yuma County,” now in theaters and On Demand. Francis Galluppi makes his feature debut with the taut suspense thriller starring a dream cast of indie all-stars like Jim Cummings, Jocelin Donahue and Richard Brake as individuals trapped in a roadside diner with nefarious characters.

Did you come to “Yuma County” as a casting director or producer, or was it in tandem?

Francis called me four years ago and knew exactly how he wanted to make it – he had all the shots laid out and everything. He had a strong vision and this amazing script, but he didn’t really know anything about the industry. So, I was helping him finance through casting – we were exploring a debt finance model, which consists of packaging a movie with valuable actors to go out and sell it. So, I was making offers to people like Nicolas Cage or whatever.

But from the beginning, he had said, “I really would love to make this with Jocelin Donahue and Jim Cummings.” And we agreed it was the dream. So another producer, James Claeys, said, “I love that version so much, I’m going to sell my house and let’s just cast it the way we want.” So, we were able to really get our dream cast in every single role.

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Is it fair to say you specialize in genre or thriller films?

I think so. I definitely don’t get a lot of comedies or romance movies sent my way – though I would love that. I think my love of the genre probably attracts people with similar sensibilities. But I also have an awareness of the market – all these movies are going because of the cast. So, all the elements have to be correct. You need the right actor and the right type of project with the right director and then I can help figure out how much we’re going to make this movie for. I can develop them and assist in the financing.

This is an odd question, but for actors auditioning for a horror or thriller, do you have a way to select material to showcase how they’ll have to look scared or in peril? Or is that not a factor?
I’m just looking for people who really embody the character, who feel present and nuanced and intense the way people do in these situations. So, I always like them to have the full script. I don’t believe in actors reading things out of context. I will always push for that. Sometime actors come in and I’ll say, “Did you read the script?” and they’ll say, “You know, I kind of skimmed it.” I really expect you to know what’s happening.

You’re not going to send a scene where someone has to be chased down a hall or something?
I actually cross out the action. You don’t need to do it; you don’t even need to pantomime it. You can, if that’s what makes you comfortable, but it’s up to you.

Broad question, but what else do you like to see in auditions?
I prefer people to be standing, even if it says in the script that they’re sitting. There’s just a different energy when you’re standing. I would avoid props; I would avoid anything that is unnecessary, like a specific costume. Just understand the material and embody the character as much as possible. It’s about trying to be as comfortable as possible.

Obviously, self-tapes have changed things, but when we were in the room, I always wanted to give everyone enough time. I don’t like to pack the waiting room. So, I want people to know they have time to get comfortable, and the first couple can be throw-away reads to just get the dust off it. When I’m reading with them, I would always be off book, I’d memorize the lines of the other character so they’re not acting with a brick wall. That sometimes surprises people, but if I’m going to ask for this kind of commitment from them, I also want to be committed. I never want anyone to feel rushed out of the room.

When it comes to self-tapes, I try to watch every single tape or at least parts of it. I have hundreds and I might know early on if someone isn’t right, but I will always press play on every single one. I feel there’s a promise made if an actor takes the time to make a tape, that I can watch it.

What’s one of your favorite casting discovery stories?
I met Isabel May when she was 17. She came in and read for “Run Hide Fight,” which took a long time to make because it was about a sensitive subject: a school shooting. She was one of the first people to audition and had this presence I really sparked to. But as a casting director, I had to do my due diligence and see everyone. We spent years trying to get the movie made and saw hundreds – if not thousands – of people for the role. In the end, she got it, and it was her first movie. It was like seeing Jennifer Lawrence for the first time. And she’s since gone on to star in “1883” and “1923” and just continues to amaze.

You also seem to be drawn to first-time directors.
It’s a big passion of mine. I was very inspired by Roger Corman, who just passed away. I want to create environments where directors can make their movie and have the freedom to pick their choice of cast and get final cut because they made it at the right price. That’s what Francis was able to do with “Yuma County.”

This industry has a way of pushing directors to the side and letting suits make the decisions. And I don’t want someone as talented as Francis to be discouraged and not make movies. I’ve seen that happen and I want to put a bubble around those people and make them feel creatively supported in every way.

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