York, PA - There could only be one Jillian.
W. Jeff Crawford's search for the female lead in his first full-length movie, "Making It Through," started in January.
Crawford, 40, of East Berlin, knew what he wanted.
She had to be in her 20s, preferably a hip, edgy brunette.
She had to be a strong actress -- Jillian's 284 lines were packed with emotion.
He started writing a short film more than a year ago, but ended up with a 134-page script. To cast the movie, he had to translate the vision in his head to the real world.
"You have this set idea of what (characters) look like," he said. "Sometimes, you can craft that person, and sometimes, you can't."
Crawford sent out audition notices through his own production company Transdimensional Films and through PA Films, a network he helped launch to connect filmmakers with actors.
"I want to find people motivated to learn and grow creatively," he said.
Twelve actresses applied.
Crawford secured a room for the Jan. 16 auditions at Trump's Yesteryear Restaurant in East Berlin.
Down a freezing hallway from the dining room, he spread his script file and camera equipment onto a table.
It would be the first time he would hear other people read the lines.
"The words sound so different than the way you hear them in your head," he said.
Cliff Ackman of PA Films and Bob Haag, the lead actor, sat in to help Crawford critique the talent.
Haag and Crawford have collaborated several times on other productions. Crawford said he wrote most of the script with the York Little Theatre veteran in mind to play Alan, a recovering alcoholic.
The chemistry between Alan and his estranged daughter, Jillian, is the heart of "Making It Through.
Crawford sent actresses three scenes to learn, so he could test that chemistry. The audition process involves breaking the ice, he said, but body language would help him predict chemistry almost immediately.
"It either exists or it doesn't," he said.
Haag, 60, of Red Lion, said the audition would determine how well the actress would be able to take direction from Crawford.
"It's a difficult tightrope of what the actor wants and what the director wants," he said. "There has to be a coming together of minds."
Since Jillian struggles with addiction and abandonment, Crawford's ideal candidate would be able to personally relate to those issues.
Whoever landed the role had to resemble Haag, who is 6 feet, 6 inches tall with hazel eyes and fair skin.
She had to be available on weekends, since most of the cast and crew have day jobs.
Conversation dropped off as the three men sat and waited. Their gazes wandered to the door.
At any moment, Jillian might walk through the door.
Some of the actresses traveled from New York and Virginia.
Breanna Geppi, 21, came from Towson, Md.
She was brunette and, thanks to heeled black boots, was much taller than anyone who auditioned so far.
She's acted since she was 8 and is a theater major at York College. She recently attended acting classes at the New York Film Academy. After introductions, Crawford asked her to sign a release, so he could tape the audition.
Then, he asked her about some of the sensitive material in the script.
Was she OK with portraying a drug addict? Was she OK with profanity? Was she OK with one scene that would show her wearing little more than underwear?
Geppi nodded her head.
Then, they talked about the scene she would read with Haag. Jillian had to ask Alan for money.
"It's a little uncomfortable," Crawford said. "There has to be a little darkness to the request."
Geppi turned to the camera, stated her name and the role she was auditioning for, then took a few seconds to get into character.
The smile disappeared from her face. She recited almost all the lines from memory.
Crawford watched her in the camera screen, his chin in his hand. He said he liked what he saw, but asked Geppi to do another read.
"Jillian is caught between being angry and upset," he said. "There is an underlying (issue) that you wanted a normal father."
Twenty minutes later, the audition wrapped.
Haag asked if he could carry Geppi, since in the movie Alan picks up an unconscious Jillian.
He lifted Geppi with ease, and Crawford reminded her that she had to act completely incapacitated.
Geppi giggled nervously as she realized she needed to relax her legs.
After the audition, Geppi said that it was her first time trying out for a film. She preferred performing on stage and was more comfortable with comedy. But something about the intensity of "Making It Through" drew her in.
"I can't relate to the drug problem," she said. "I can relate to the father-daughter relationship."
As Geppi left the restaurant, another actress entered for her audition.
While Geppi waited for news of the role, Crawford met several more candidates during another day of auditions Jan. 30.
Two got a second call back.
Crawford never expected to find two Jillians.
Geppi impressed him and so did Jessy Danner, 19, of Woodbridge, Va.
Haag and Danner had worked with each other before in another movie, and he encouraged her to audition.
She said she was into theater in high school and started auditioning for movies after she graduated. She landed a few student and independent films.
Her first "Making it Through" audition in East Berlin went well, she said.
"I have a lot in common with the character," she said. "It isn't necessarily all acting. I need this part. This is me."
Danner, who joked that she spends most of her life in a car commuting to auditions, had no problem driving back to Pennsylvania when Crawford asked her for a second audition.
He spent the morning with Geppi and the afternoon with Danner. He wanted to see them at a few film locations in York.
Andrew Rodes held a boom mike as Crawford shot footage of Haag and Danner sitting on a bench at Kiwanis Lake.
Warkenda Williams-Casey, who landed the supporting role of Avelyn, added an extra set of eyes.
Danner wore a Batman T-shirt under a black leather jacket. Her eyes were lined with black kohl and her red nails matched the Rutter's coffee cup she clutched.
Crawford cut to give Danner direction. Jillian and Alan were having a nice moment, but she wasn't comfortable with him yet, he said.
Danner didn't complain as the chilly wind blew her brown curly hair in her face but gladly accepted an extra coat Haag offered.
Rodes strapped on steady cam equipment so Crawford could capture Haag and Danner walking down a path.
When he was sure he had what he needed, he invited the group out to grab a warm dinner.
Cast chemistry is just as important on set as it is off set, Crawford said as he packed up his equipment.
He had to watch the audition film to make his final decision.
One was chosen.
By March 16, Crawford picked Danner.
"Both were phenomenal," he said. "It was very difficult."
Geppi had more acting experience. Danner needed some coaching.
Both women were beautiful, Crawford said, but Danner had a grittiness that Jillian needed.
The deciding factor was Danner's background.
Her portrayal of Jillian felt more natural, since she had reference points to pull from, Crawford said.
Once he had his female lead locked in, Crawford was busy planning for the next phase.
He has to coordinate the film's budget and shooting schedule -- two tasks that have the potential to halt production for weeks.
About this series
Making the Movie is an occasional series that will take readers behind the scenes of "Making It Through," the first full-length movie by local filmmaker W. Jeff Crawford. The movie is about a father and daughter, struggling to repair a relationship broken by time and addiction.
Meet one of the players
W. Jeff Crawford, director
Crawford has been behind a camera most of his life.
As a kid, he shot movies with 88-millimeter film and then upgraded to a VHS camcorder.
He's been on the other side of the camera a few times, too, and has enjoyed others' camerawork. He admires director Luc Besson's artistry and Kevin Smith's ability to work with a tight budget.
He started Transdimensional Films more than four years ago. The production company's first project was the short film "Plastik." That movie and another short film, "Compunction," tied for best short drama at the 2010 Prometheus Film Festival.
Crawford, who is earning his master's degree in English at Harrisburg Area Community College, is committed to making movies locally. He helps edit and produce movies with PA Films and other regional production companies.
"There's no reason I have to go to Hollywood to do this," he said. "I've lived here for 21 years. This is what it needs to be."
He helps his wife, Christie, as a stay-at-home father for Caitlin, 15; Brooklyn, 11; William "Liam," 5; and Declan, 3.
Crawford said he's proud to be part of the local community of filmmakers and actors.
He hopes to reach a larger audience with his first full-length movie "Making It Through."
About $5,000 is privately financed mostly by the movie's cast and crew, but Crawford said that he's trying to raise about $2,000 more to cover rental fees at shooting locations and equipment costs. One of his goals is to be able to pay his lead actors, even though most usually work on a movie only for the exposure it gives them.
"I'd love for York to rally around us," he said.
For details about how to contribute to "Making It Through," visit makingitthrough.transdimensionalfilms.com.
The characters in the film "Making It Through" and who is cast:
Alan Kane -- Bob Haag
Jillian -- Jessy Danner
Avelyn -- Warkenda Williams-Casey
Charles --Bill Keller
Rod -- Barry Tangert
Tyrell -- Chidi Onyeador
Cyril Drebbs -- Paul Oakes
Sandra -- Tami Leek
Nico Calabrese -- Michael Belveduto
Dr. Spears -- Steven Boliek Jr.
Jeremy -- Christopher Abney
Travis Rangle -- Aaron Brakefield
Mrs. Killgore -- Bryna Paston
The movie has about 16 other minor parts.
· "Making it Through"
· Transdimensional Films
· PA Films