This is not meant for all agents, assistants, but across the board, problems are greater than fewer, so I started writing this blog because every job I was casting was becoming more and more frustrating. I have been doing this for over 30 years and have been very lucky in staying relevant in a field that seems to have gotten very watered down.
I learned my craft very well; I hire people that care about doing the job 100% while staying updated. The only thing I haven’t changed and won’t change is putting out a casting breakdown using an online system. I don’t want somebody else or someone I don’t even know on the other end working on my jobs. There’s nothing rewarding about casting if we just hope to get lucky. We still use paper and pencil and we still talk directly to the agents, union or non-union, to explain what my client is looking for. We are not fans of wasting hundreds of actors’ time in hopes of finding it through quantity. Don’t get me wrong, there are times that I am asked for things that are out of the scope of what I get from our top agents (circus performers, musicians, etc.).
I have been so lucky in being able to continue to work with top directors in the field. I think this is because I still talk to them about each job I get from them. I try not to waste their time with wrong choices and I do my best to make their lives’ easier by following the spec, thinking outside the box a bit, and making sure every session is directed the way they want to see it. It makes it easier to pick callbacks. I have no problem continuing to prep my jobs this way. I think it is the most effective way and agents and actors understand that auditions at Beth Melsky Casting are meaningful.
I recently had a client tell me it was so nice getting a casting tape of quality. It showed we knew how to do our job. This is, once again, where technology and less work have affected the process that I have worked so hard to continue. I want people to understand from first call to last call, I am involved and everything matters. I give an actor an audition and I will always know if they can’t make it, don’t make it, or can’t follow through on it. My staff tells me everything and I want to know everything. What I continue to struggle with is the lack of understanding by agents and their assistants. Not every loss is easily replaceable. I am the one who selects the actors for auditions. They are not a dime a dozen and should respect each audition they get.
I find that actors love to e-mail their responses about an audition. If they can’t make it, need a time change, or have a problem with their availability on e-mail creates of chain of five e-mails. Do you realize how much faster things would get done if you just picked up the phone? This is how I believe the process should be handled:
- I schedule an actor.
- My office picks up the phone and calls the agent or agent’s assistant and gives the appointment along with the callback and shoot information.
- We give enough information to the agent that we have to ask why the actor is unavailable if it’s not just a confirmed appointment. Many a time, the answer is, “I don’t know, they didn’t say why in the e-mail.” Next, the agent or agent’s assistant has to call the actor to find out what the issue is. Sometimes, by the time they get them on the phone, it’s too late. If the agent or agent’s assistant simply had a conversation with the actor, they would have been able to receive the information immediately without waiting for an e-mail response. If more agents did this, instead of e-mail, I would be able to evaluate my losses, run a smoother and better casting session, and, ultimately, do my job more efficiently.
I could go on forever with situations about how e-mail has delayed the process of prepping casting sessions. You would be surprised by how much faster things would get done if simple conversations like this could be handled via phone.
Ten years ago, there were way more auditions for actors and getting a session confirmed up was so much easier because the agents’ assistants communicated verbally with the actors. Now, an agent receives an e-mail with very little information and the assistants leave it as okay and lose the appointment. Agents need to book actors in order to make money and so little effort is made to get actors to auditions. Half the time, the actor doesn’t even know the name of the assistant they are talking to or hearing from and; therefore, see no need in explaining why they are unavailable.
Quite a few times, I get on the phone with the agent (who knows nothing about the situation) and, with my begging, they call the actor and, in many cases, can work it out.
My office and our work techniques are not broken but we are struggling with what is happening on the other end of the phone. We follow up on every e-mail from an agent or assistant. If I had my way, it would all be a phone call first, then it can be followed up with e-mail confirmations.
How can you possibly form relationships over e-mail? The assistants had no introduction to the actors (or casting directors for that matter) that they are trying to get to an audition. The actors have no idea who they are talking to and the assistants don’t have much of an idea who they are talking to either. As an assistant, if I didn’t know the actor, I would feel awkward in insisting on them making an audition. Agents should check on every appointment for each casting director or company. They should know how many people they lost, why, and pick up the phone themselves.
I really feel that if we could get the casting session process back on track then actors would understand that, even though the volume of auditions is not what it used to be, every audition matters. It’s like anything else – when you’re treated as a number and not a person it affects an actor’s actions and behavior. My top agents should be able to have more information on the actors they have taken the time to represent and make them feel as though they matter.
Maybe every agent’s assistant should spend a day at BMC’s office to see how it works from out side and how important a great casting session is. If they could see the whole picture, maybe they would understand things that they can’t really understand now from their end. This is an offer. My casting assistants would love it so that way when we’re busy, we wouldn’t all want to be ripping the hair out of our heads by noon. Respect earns respect. It’s very hard to do a great job when you don’t really understand the job.
If the agents and their assistants knew how to deal with actors then maybe the actors would understand why it is so important to be accountable for every audition. When I set up a session, I take a step back and say, “yeah this is going to be a great session if I can get half of these actors to show.” BMC takes casting very seriously. We do not want to cast for five days on one character. Yeah, I make more money on five days of casting but I’d rather nail it in one day, show how much we care, and get repeat business.
I truly feel this is the answer to straightening out a very frustrated casting company. It doesn’t start with the actors; it starts with the agents, then to their well-trained assistants, then to the actors. Think about it.
3 thoughts on “A Casting Direction Part II”
Thank You for email . I suffer from a stroke on 2009 , I lost my speech for 2 years. I got up brush myself , I going back the business .
Very insightful, thank you.
This is great! It’s true, the human factor has been lost in many ways, not only due to advanced technology, but also due to the fast-paced atmosphere of NYC! Everyone is so busy rushing to get things done quickly, and so quick to balk at anyone who moves slower or takes their time, that they are missing the point. When you rush, when you go to get things done quickly, when you use technology, send emails, and only pay half attention to everything you are doing, you may come to find that you are actually slowing yourself down and losing in the end. Because this type of attitude causes mistakes to happen, which in the end only lengthen the time you take to get something done because now you have to go back and fix a mistake, instead of just taking the time or effort to do it correctly the first time through rather than rushing or half-a$$ing it. This circles back to what you are talking about in this blog – making the effort to pick up the phone and call, to take preemptive measures of learning actors’ schedules and current looks, may seem like it is taking extra time and effort out of your day, but according to this, will actually save you time and effort in the long run. So do it now, before you are stuck doing 3 times more later! Great read, thank you for the insight!