Commercials vs. Film

I would like to switch gears a bit and talk about some of the films I have cast and the biggest difference between casting commercials and film. First off, I love casting commercials. Not only do we get to start careers, but we also work at an amazing pace. I have a large staff and amazingly talented casting directors that work as hard and as fast as I do.

I have my own office with studios and that allows me to make fast scheduling decisions and never have to say no. We have a joke in my life, “I would have been a great air traffic controller.” Honestly, I don’t know exactly what they do but I can schedule six casting sessions per day if it’s busy, giving each one equal attention based on each of their needs.

I prep everything myself, along with great backup. For non-union, I rely heavily on Ashley, who is insanely diligent. We care about a great result on everything equally and even a job that seems easy is a challenge to me. Positive feedback is what we thrive on.

I find that as I am casting many, many commercials a year, I like to do one film a year. I also love doing independent films. I have a great with relationship with the director Tony Kaye. The last film I cast for him, “Detachment,” took three months of Tony being in my office everyday and needing a hands-on staff. In order to do those films I have to keep doing commercials at the same time to support the other in more than one way, not only financially, but also with the knowledge of a massive talent pool that I would not know without all my commercial work. My commercial work enables me to do those kinds of feature films as more of a hobby.

There is no instant gratification in casting films. From beginning to end, it is a long process, but major gratification comes when you finally get your cast. Commercials can be in and out in three days. There’s a shoot date already scheduled and I really have more than a week to ten days from beginning to end. Sometimes I have two days. There is no schedule that scares my office. We just get it done well with an incredible amount of care and get it right, regardless of any and all challenges. SAG, non-SAG, great money, no money, the end result (booking actors) never gets old.

It is never just about the money. It is great to be compensated for our hard work and quality in which we direct the actual sessions, and then how we present it to the clients at the end of each day. We use a posting/uploading system called “Casting Frontier.” There are other very good ones. Casting directors now have to not only be great directors, but also be very tech savvy. We are hired to be perfect from A to Z. That not only means great casting, but great presentation and being on call all the time for changes. We never say no. We fix anything and everything, without complaints.

Films do not have the same expectations. They do not expect all sessions to be taped and uploaded. They do not expect studio availability. They just expect casting. Having all the other things to offer is a bonus. We have managed to do low budget films while offering all services. Many directors that I have done commercials for have hired me to cast films, or short films. I am always thrilled and happy to be able to offer my services, for free sometimes, because I take it as a compliment.

I am very lucky that I am trusted in both areas and have cast many independent features and shorts. Not all casting directors can do both. In features, you have time to make it work. In commercials, you work fast and have no time to get it wrong. Casting commercials the way we do, knowing “all” rules, is not easy but very important.

There is not a lot of forgiveness in commercials and Beth Melsky Casting likes to be perfect. I chose to stay in New York and do primarily commercials. The film work is just something I have been lucky to do as well. Most films (studio) are cast out of LA or LA is where the casting is headed up. Technology has allowed those casting directors to reach out to New York and get actors to self submit or agents arrange for taped auditions. Therefore, it seems to me, that less big pictures are cast in New York. I am just happy to be working and I will continue to change with the times.

I had the pleasure of working with Billy Hopkins recently. We both had different things to bring to the table. It was a great collaboration. I was able to do quality casting because of the project and the pace it needed to be done. Billy’s expertise in actors and some different connections were a great asset. The LA casting director on this project is also great in both areas (film and commercial) and that has been an incredible benefit.

It is unusual for two casting directors in one city working well together on a project. Egos have to be put aside. It is not a competition; it is a collaboration. I think this was a rare situation. I am not sure if it will come up again, but I feel confident that if it did, we would be comfortable working this way again.

Casting is a very competitive business (commercial, theatrical, or legit). I do not think you could hire two competitive New York casting directors to do the same project and ask us to work together. It would always be a race to who books the job.

New York commercial casting is a very small community, but I am not looking to make enemies. I think I have respect for everyone and I hope they have the same for me. My greatest hope is that there is enough work to keep us all busy. That would be a great outcome for this business.

I love seeing actors that I have worked with and booked very often for commercials now on TV and in film. Tony Hale, Nick Kroll, Kristen Schall, J.K. Simmons, Amanda Peet, Michael Kelly – all amazing to see. Commercials, as I always say, are a great stepping-stone.

My last thought is to actors. Just like casting being a divided business, agent representation is very divided. If you want to audition for commercials you need a commercial agent. If you want to audition for TV, film, and theater, you need another agent. Commercial agents are easier to get because there are so many more auditions with tons more actors that need to be seen. Theatrical (legit) agents only get to submit and push for a few appointments so they have very few actors, pick carefully, and invest a lot of time and energy trying to get them seen.

I find young actors that want to do film, smaller roles on episodic, and theater have to do their own due diligence, pound the pavement, and get seen. Hopefully it will lead to the agents’ interest. I have a nephew that just graduated from the Actors Studio. He has a commercial agent who is great and believes in him…very lucky. On the other side, since he graduated two weeks ago, he has booked two plays. He has not sat on his ass waiting. He gets up everyday looking for auditions and goes to everything he can get into. He is lucky in having me. It gets a foot in the door, but he has to prove himself. He is a great example of making it happen.

Commercials vs. Film

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