The Insider: Daniel Lench on being an Indie Actor
Hey all you horror and sci-fi film buffs. My name is Daniel Lench, and I’m going to talk a little bit about independent movie magic and my involvement in it. To put things in perspective, probably best to tell you a little bit about myself and how I was fortunate enough to land starring roles in 2015’s Circle and 2016’s Patient Seven, and The Lurking Man, due out sometime in 2017.
I was born a poor black child… oh, no wait that was Steve Martin in The Jerk. I was actually born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California (yup, that’s right, a Valley Boy), where I spent most of my childhood. I believe I was always fated to be an actor, and from middle school on began performing on stage. I studied acting throughout high school and at California State University at Northridge (CSUN). I did not graduate from CSUN for a number of reasons, and at the age of 22, while waiting tables (like so many of us aspiring actors do, which I’m sure you’re aware of), I met an agent who asked if I was represented and when I said “nope,” then he asked if I would go to a commercial audition and say I was repped by him. After my shift, I did, and I booked the National commercial (Mattel’s M-Network for their Intellivision gaming system) which ran during the SuperBowl – I then got “Taft-Hartleyed” into the Screen Actors Guild [SAG] and now I was really and truly hooked. Since then, I have appeared in many National and Regional commercials, several smaller roles in TV shows and films. But always had great day jobs to support my “acting habit.” And, believe me, if you want to be an actor and you’re in it for the money, boy are you in the wrong biz. 🙂 As a side note, I have always been very fortunate in playing major roles on stage, including such incredible roles as Salieri in Amadeus, Lt. Col. Jessep in A Few Good Men, and Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, just to name a few of my faves.
OK, so now that you have some sense of me, here’s a little bit about how I landed a cool lead role in Circle. A few years ago, a mutual theater friend recommended me to writers/directors Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione for a guest starring role in the series finale of their award winning web series called The Vault (and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking it out on You Tube – it’s pretty awesome). Here’s a link
Aaron offered me the role and, after reading the wonderful script and watching several of the webisodes, I jumped at the chance. We shot my scenes in Aaron’s back yard in Valencia, CA. Aaron, Mario and I hit it off immediately, and simply had a blast shooting this evil corporate fiend. After we were done, Aaron mentioned that he and Mario had written a full-length feature film, called Circle, which was going into production in a few months, and that they thought I would be perfect for the role of the Rich Man. I told him I was very interested, but he advised me that this was being professionally cast through Casting Director Lindsay Chag. This blew my mind a bit, as I had just recently been cast by Lindsay in a feature film for the Lifetime channel, called The Hunt for the Labyrinth Killer (spoiler alert – there were four “Daedelus Killers” and I was one of em). I immediately called my agent and told her to reach out to Lindsay and tell her the writers/directors were interested in me for the role, which she did.
So, my agent calls Lindsay and tells her Aaron and Mario really like Daniel for the role of Rich Man, can you bring him in for that? Lindsay says sure. Now, Aaron had already sent me the entire script, which was amazing, and I fell immediately in love with the role, so I started working on the sides big-time – ready to “kill it!”
Thanks to my agent and Lindsay, I was the first one to audition for the role — Aaron was there and gave me some lovely direction, we put it on tape and in a few weeks Aaron told me that not only had I landed the role, but that all of the producers, and both he and Mario had agreed that no one else even came close to my audition performance. Always nice to hear that you knocked it out of the park, and I was super-stoked to get started.
As is often the case with many small independent feature films, the entire film was shot in a very short time frame [ten-day shoot for this one]. Circle is a one-room film which was shot in a small converted industrial dry-cleaning building turned into a studio near the center of Downtown Los Angeles. The film is about 50 people who wake up in a strange room and quickly learn that they are going to start being killed off, seemingly randomly, one by one. We started with 50 actors on the first day, and rapidly began killing them off…. By the end of the 1st day’s shoot we were down five, and five down the next day, and then exponentially more and more each day. It was a very strange feeling, and led to some most interesting conversations, such as: “Hey, you dead today?” “No, I get offed tomorrow, how bout you” “Oh, I’m still here for two more days, then toast.” And so on, and so forth. This atmosphere created an extremely tight cadre of actors, many of whom remain good friends to this day. For those of us who knew we were going to survive another day there was an overwhelming feeling of loss, as actors we had come to love and respect, would be gone soon. And the brilliance of Aaron and Mario’s script and the manner in which they shot this movie, created a great ensemble feeling. All of the actors involved in this project had done their homework, knew their text completely, which allowed Aaron and Mario to shot large segments of the film in sequence, which created a fabulous sense of continuity.
The set was a single black painted room, with 50 painted Red Circles in two concentric circles, one for each cast member to stand on. In the center of the room was the “killing machine,” a shiny black plastic dome from which emanated the deadly killing blast. The art department had located this marvelous center piece which was removable so the camera could be set in the center to shoot us from that POV. Lighting was simply brilliant, the crew had created a ring of light with multiple light sources which could be raised and lowered at will. If you look carefully you can see it reflected in the killer dome.
Now, for those of us who were around for a while, we had to spend many, many long hours standing in place in our designated circles, the premise being that if we step out of our circle we died. Aaron and Mario were fantastic, and given this was their first feature film did truly outstanding work both behind the camera capturing our performances, and working with the actors to hone those performances. Our Director of Photography [DP] Zoran Popovich did an amazing job in shooting the film, given the challenges of the 360⁰ set. Complex diagrams were needed, along with each of us knowing where we were supposed to stand in relation to each other. This became more and more complicated as characters disappeared, and we were constantly rotating our positions (“okay, now everyone move exactly 10 spaces to their right, okay, now two back”) in order for the cameramen to capture various scenes and reactions. We shot with two camera teams, and an outstanding group of talented crew kept us on our toes.
In the end, our hard work paid off and I believe we produced an original, creative, psychological sci-fi flick that reflects how we as a society judge others and how, when placed in a pressure cooker, how quickly we humans can turn ugly. The film is available on many VOD platforms as well as streaming on Netflix, in case you want to check it out.