A Casting Direction

My blog is going to be for actors, agents, casting directors, and the frustration of the casting business.

First week back after everyone was out for two weeks. Work is busy, which always make me very happy. For some reason, a few years ago the talent agents decided to close for a full two weeks. That makes it impossible to do any casting. I open the office for the few days before Christmas and the few days before the New Year; I see it as a good time to catch up on paperwork, straighten up the studios, and make sure everything is working properly. I’m not sure why agents close for those two weeks; I can see giving everyone a few days off for Christmas and New Year’s or the week in between, but it seems that it’s time that could be used to re-organize and evaluate the problems and policies from the year before that were causing issues.

I personally only take one week off a year – between Christmas and New Year’s because there is never any casting with the agents being closed. I work 51 weeks a year. I run the company, prepare the jobs, and oversee everything. I have a great, diligent staff with incredible casting directors that direct casting sessions with great talent. I don’t prep my jobs through a computer system. I still believe that an agent can’t understand what I’m looking for by reading words. It requires communication and it has proven to be very effective. As a company, “we don’t dial it in.” It’s not only the preparing of jobs (choosing actors for the audition, setting up appointment times, contacting the agents to let them know their clients’ call time, etc.), which takes time and talent, it’s also the actual sessions, in which the actors are put on tape for the director and agency to see.

Agents have assistants. The assistants are mostly overworked, underpaid, and not thoroughly taught their job. Their job requires intense training on how to deal with casting directors, actors, and SAG rules. Assistants rarely stay in this environment because there are less people being promoted to full-on talent agents. Established agents sometimes stay at their jobs for 30 years. Union work is becoming less and less frequent, so there is no need to increase the amount of “full agent” positions. Talent agents that work on SAG jobs need to be individually franchised. This is not easy and they have to be sponsored. I guess you can’t expect people to work hard at a job that doesn’t pay well and there is no room to grow. This is not an excuse for agents not to teach their assistants properly. That leaves my employees that are in a job with potential growth, nonetheless, to school the assistants. All my employees start in a place willing to learn the biz of casting from the ground up.

This is trickling down to the actors, as well. The assistants are not aware of how this business works, only because they weren’t thoroughly educated and trained on it; therefore, actors don’t know procedures and protocol of this business. Every 6 months to a year there is a new assistant. The actors rarely speak to the agent, so the actor is talking to someone he/she doesn’t actually know.

A lot of the time, the assistants don’t give out information properly; sometimes they’re not given it properly. The actors have no problem saying no to the assistants when they’re called in for an audition. The actors don’t feel the need to give reason as to why they can’t make it in or they ask for time changes on auditions, giving crazy excuses and the assistants are not in a position to work it out. By the time this information gets back to me, I have to get on the phone with the agent, explain to them what the assistant did or didn’t do, and then they have to contact the actor again and try to work the whole thing out. All in all, it’s an exhausting process and an absolute waste of time for all.

Because of the commercial world being split between union and non-union, the volume of auditions for actors is much less. This has caused many actors to go out and get jobs. That makes acting either a second job or a part-time job. Agents are no longer informed of their clients’ schedules or whereabouts. 50% of the time, the actor cannot make a next day audition (and, FYI, it’s always the next day) or they need a time change. Can you imagine what it’s like having scheduled 100 actors – sometimes paired up or put in a group with 2 or 3 others, and half of them want time changes!? We take the scheduling of our sessions very seriously; it’s not first come first serve. We don’t do cattle calls. We are very respectful of actors’ time and we hope to get the same in return. I have to prep again and again until I have a session that I am happy with. I have a reputation for being tough and strict but I’m not mean or egotistical; I just want to do my job right and run a great casting company.

The commercial biz has changed drastically over the past 25 years and we have adapted; however, the agent-actor relationship is broken. E-mail has given everyone a vehicle to hide behind. It’s easier to give bad news via e-mail than to have a conversation. Sometimes the conversation might help to work things out but I find that the agents take no as no and, because it is coming through e-mail, can’t ask for an explanation or justification. E-mail also allows agents’ assistants to say, “I got an e-mail and the actor said he wasn’t available.” I ask, “why” and their answer is “I don’t know. Do you want me to call him?” REALLY? These people are your clients and you’re trying to get them booked on jobs; shouldn’t you want to know why they can’t make it in for an audition?

Union (SAG) work versus non-union work is almost like two different businesses. You need to know the whole SAG contract on behalf of your signatory clients and you don’t need to know much to do non-union. Established companies like Beth Melsky Casting have helped set the non-union rules and, as there is more and more of it, the rates are driven up. I spend hours everyday giving production companies non-union rates for their bids to help them get the job. This is a service that I don’t get paid for. The non-union agents trust that Beth Melsky Casting will help get the actors for a fair rate. The whole world is ambiguous and I don’t know if the fact that there is more non-union than union work will eventually break the union (SAG). Casting directors are not affiliated with SAG but we must know the rules to know our jobs well. My union-affiliated clients can trust me and my company to strictly follow the rules and not put them in a position of breaking rules and, ultimately, costing them money.

30 years in the business has given me a huge amount of knowledge and I think it helps give a sense of trust to my clients but we cast union and non-union jobs and treat everything with the same diligence.

TO BE CONTINUED…

A Casting Direction

4 thoughts on “A Casting Direction

  1. I’ve worked with BETH MELSKY CASTING for 28 years and yes she’s tough BUT she gets it done right. As an agent I respect what she says about agents not taking the time to train their assistants. I agree that if a talent can’t make an audition or needs a change if time, I AM going to find out why before I go back to casting.

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