I have not written in a while because I’m not sure what to say. I have been lucky in that I stayed busy in January, February and March but come April…
As a matter of fact, I cast the same amount of jobs this March as last. The big difference is budgets. Production budgets are getting smaller and smaller and I have to hope for volume to reach my overhead dollars and hold on to my amazing staff. I will not cut corners on quality regardless of the budget. If the work comes in, my staff is willing to work as hard as they possibly can to keep our reputation and keep the doors open.
Owning your own business, being responsible for a staff, rent, and overhead can be a blessing and a curse. Since I don’t have to rent studios or always hire freelancers I am in a better position to cut rates. That fact sometimes makes the difference in me getting the calls versus someone else (not a good reason to hire not hire a casting director but it has become our reality. I’m asked on almost every job for a discount, but I am not sure that they always need it or are trying to hold money for other parts of the production.
Everyone wants and expects HD posting of casting tapes but do not want to pay for it. I pay for the equipment to allow us to provide it; it’s not free for me. Actually nothing is free for me. I do not pay less rent when I have a slow month. My rent is not adjusted based on my billing that month and I do not ask my employees to take a pay cut because I am discounting jobs.
Casting used to be a large part of production. We created our own rates because creatives understood that without actors or people there was nothing to shoot. Not all commercials need people but most do. Years ago it was all about the casting and therefore it was the last place that got cut. Also, production companies and ad agencies never settled for a less than great cast because of money. Now in the digital age, social media, streaming, and services like Netflix, the value of great creative advertising has changed. When people only had the option to watch network TV, and then even cable, networks knew how many viewers were watching and ad agencies worked hard to produce incredible ads.
Commercials have their version of the Oscars and it was everyone’s goal to win a Clio. Now it is a divided business, not unlike film. You have your Oscar-worthy movies that rarely make a ton of money and then you have blockbusters that make a ton. Commercials that can win a Clio usually cost a fortune to make and then you can shoot a small commercial for a .com company that will only run on social media and sell a product better than an award-winning commercial. Those big budget commercials with great SAG actors are few and far between.
In a business that never settled, it seems settling is very common. When it comes to casting, there is more non-union work than union. The casting rates are lower, even though it’s actually harder to prep and cast. It is taking time for people that have been in the business a long time to change their way of thinking and have huge, if not sometimes unrealistic, expectations. If nobody can prove that running a commercial on social media is actually seen more than a commercial that runs on network television, then budgets are going to get smaller and actors are going to make less and less.
I have jobs that the pay for the actors is so low and the rights and usage they want for what they are paying is crazy. I think sometimes they are of the mindset that non-union actors are happy to work and will work for close to nothing. Actors, union or non-union, need to pay their bills like everyone else. It is not the same as doing an independent film that will help their careers. Because non-union rates can be so low, many actors have to take day jobs to pay their bills. You can only imagine how hard it is to set up casting sessions when so many actors need to supplement their incomes. That goes for SAG actors as well. The work used to be more consistent and actors could consider it their day job. Now even SAG actors cannot rely on that as a way to pay their bills and they have had to find other ways as well. This has made a casting directors job very difficult. I go to work every day hoping and waiting for the phone to ring. Actors cannot wait. I hope and pray every day that work will get busy and I’ll be able to employ actors like I used to.
Work was the slowest I have seen it in years in April. I think actors, more SAG than non-union have started to give up. When that happens, they no longer check in with their agents and the prepping process becomes a disaster. I put out a breakdown to the agents, get submissions and then schedule the actors that I would like to see. More than one third of the actors I have scheduled have not updated their schedules and; therefore, I have to prep and prep and prep again until I can set up a casting session with actors that I think are right for the job. I will never just throw people in to hit numbers. Setting up a quality casting session is getting harder and harder. I guess the expectations from non-union actors is less but not as far as I’m concerned. The non-union actor that is diligent and responsible goes a long way in my office and will constantly be scheduled. Being good at what you do and handling yourself professionally goes a long way. If you had a job at a bank and it didn’t seem busy that week would you just take off and not tell your boss?
I honestly do not have the answers and I get scared like the next person but we need to hope that this business figures itself out. Part of that is making it worth it to cast in New York. If we cannot produce great casting sessions, then why bother casting on both coasts? Why bother writing performance-driven commercials? Why bother writing commercials with people in them at all?
I think we all need to stay in one place for a while and make a commitment to be professional. Give ad agencies a reason to cast and shoot here. Eventually the union non-union thing will figure itself out, but on both sides, everyone should take the process seriously and allow casting directors to do their jobs well.
I believe that if we have a great product to offer, then there will be a demand for it.
In the last two weeks, work has picked up and I have had some great SAG jobs as well as a bunch of non-union work. I had an agent yell at me and tell me that I should tell my clients to cast SAG. Casting Directors have no say in how a job is cast. That is a decision made way before we are involved. And like I have said, casting SAG is no longer easier. I do not blame anyone. So much technology has changed many lives and not always for the better. One million hits on YouTube makes you more interesting and worth more than a talented actor?
I do know that without commercials how will I know which toilet to pick? This is what I do and I have done it for a long time. I change with the times but I stick with it and hope. It would be great if all actors would give it a chance.
Now, here’s that famous list of insane excuses:
I thought I would have had my baby by now.
I have a flight.
I missed my flight.
My flight got cancelled.
I forgot I have a flight (I’m actually regretting not owning any stock in the airlines. Last I checked, flying was expensive).
I forgot I’m getting married that weekend.
I forgot I’m moving to LA tomorrow.
I have decided to move to Florida.
I have decided not to be an actor any more.
Oh sorry, I scheduled a whole day of doctor’s appointments.
I have to go to the dentist
I don’t have anyone to watch my dog.
This is when I begin to believe that this has become more of a hobby for people.
It is a job for me.
2 thoughts on “The Business Has Become a Catch-22”
Let me first say that I am one of those actors who did consider doing commercials was my day job. I supported my family & was able to develop a TV& Film career .
I owe so much to people like Beth,for what I have today.
Last week I went to the annual SAG meeting. I sat there for 2 hours & listened to leadership praise the positive things they feel they are doing. There was No Mention of the current commercial situation until the question came from the floor.
The first answer we received was that “we think a lot of it is going to LA”. Which in doing some research, through a very prominent LA commercial casting director, formally a prominent NY CD , that’s not happening, her answer was that 75% of spots now casting in LA are now Non Union.
Please let me add , I don’t blame
The Union for what has happened,but I do find them at fault for not addressing the elephant in the room. If a young mother/ actress hadn’t got up & stated that she will not make her insurance & pension credit this year, nothing would have been mentioned about the state of commercial work in NY by our leadership. We were told that they are attacking the problem by reaching out to young people coming out of Drama School telling them not to do Non Union work . Great that’s one way .
Maybe finding a way for them to join our union upon graduation from these Drama programs is one thing to look at. If someone spends 4 years studying to be an actor, spending the money that it costs to go to college these days, then it’s not a “hobby”.
The reason I feel so passionate about this , is because I have a son who saw the career I had & followed in my footsteps & now I find myself apologizing to him because I encouraged him.
I closing I want to Thank
Beth Melsky for all she’s done for me & my son throughout the years & continues to do .
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Thank you Teddy . The whole situation not only breaks my heart but makes me angry and I fear it’s to late . Sag is in denial . No CD wants it this way. There is no union out there for us.