A CHANGE IN BUSINESS, BUT WE HAVE TO KEEP MOVING FORWARD…

First, I would like to say thank you to all those agents and actors that have continued to read my blog and help restore some order to the casting process. The responsibility of actors being more diligent about their schedules so that agents can submit them knowing they are around and available for the job has increased quite a bit. It has helped casting directors prep their jobs without assuming we are going to lose and replace half the appointments. Agents would much rather know that the actors are not available than submit and find out they are not available. Casting directors also appreciate the work being done up front, that way we can do a solid prep without scrambling. Agents and casting directors appreciate the information more than you can imagine. There is one agent in particular that has a very large client list and when they lose so many people because actors haven’t booked out it’s possible that they will lose those appointments and have less of a chance of booking the job. It matters for so many reasons and casting directors will always remember that you did the right thing and will not hesitate for the next audition. Actors that have a history of not booking out consistently will find that casting directors will not only remember, but start to avoid them the next time. It’s far from perfect, but I have noticed a difference. There are a few agents that are trying hard, although still struggling. They need to figure out a way to reach out instead of waiting on the actors. That seems to be what’s helping in the union world. Union actors seem to be stepping up more and trying to be better about giving their agents their schedules, so thank you. I think they have started to realize how important it is to be responsible to the people that are trying to help get them out there. The more responsible you are with your agent the more comfortable they are submitting you. Non-union actors are not being nearly as diligent and therefore the prepping process for the casting director is very time-consuming and one job generally needs to be prepped multiple times. Just because you are non-union doesn’t make you or the process any less important and I think actors staying on top of it, even if they have multiple agents, would make things go smoother for everyone and become more professional.

It’s a split business, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. We don’t want to say, “it’s non-union so don’t expect it to be professional”. Let’s just keep at it and hope that commercials for any medium will continue to be produced. Casting directors cannot control whether a commercial is going to be union or non-union. There is nothing we can say to change anyone’s mind. It’s all budgets based and the budgets are locked in way before we are hired. This business has become challenging for a lot of people and for those of us that have rent, staff, etc.; we need to work. Times are changing quickly, but more money doesn’t seem to be where we are headed. I keep my office and every job as professional as possible regardless of budgets. I know there are a lot of very frustrated people out there and casting directors have also been effected by this change. We rarely get our rates anymore and many jobs are flat rate for casting. The expectations are the same, and we don’t work less hard. There is no battle for casting directors to win. As much as they want me to cast, they will move on to someone more affordable. It’s sad because I do think that BMC always works hard and because we have a great reputation sometimes we can get a higher level of actors. There are strong and real arguments on every side and I just have to go with the flow. Let’s keep trying. I’m not sure what will happen when the next commercial contract is up but as long as digital budgets stay low they can not afford the P&W, the 8-hour shoot days, the usage (they feel that they have nothing tangible to go on to decide how many people are seeing what they are doing) first class air fare etc… This January I did 5 more jobs than last January and billed $30k less. Agencies and production companies love to go to a nice casting office and get a great casting job, but I don’t think they have any perception on the fact that the cost of running a company with a great staff is very expensive and there are times that the casting budget being offered costs me money. I try to accommodate everyone … especially when they say the next one will be better, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.

I’m very proud to say that I was lucky enough to cast a few Super Bowl commercials this year. It feels great when advertising still works and those directors doing them are a pleasure to work for. Those budgets are being effected also, but there’s only so much you can cut before you can no longer produce great quality advertising. I’m scared every day, but I just keep going and hope I can pay my bills. I love being a casting director and I hope there will be enough work, so I can do it for a very long time.

Now an important piece of advice to actors: Headshots. It’s so important to have updated headshots. Casting directors look at them- especially for non-union commercials. When they are 10 years out dated and look nothing like you everyone is wasting their time. I think if you are going to spend money on anything, that is the most important thing. We are trying to do quality casting whether it is union or non-union so anything actors can do to help us not waste time would be great. Adding a resume instead of a form is also important. Most of what I do is not just a look, and a lot of it is comedy improv, so a resume makes the difference in you getting an audition. I have to work hard, hope the phone rings and hope I can cover my costs by doing what we love.

A CHANGE IN BUSINESS, BUT WE HAVE TO KEEP MOVING FORWARD…

Casting Couch

Casting couch. This is a term I have heard for 30 years. It is also a term that I have always thought was a thing people said when they didn’t really know what casting was. It’s not the 1950’s and I thought it was silly carry over from a different time. Most times I ignored the comment.

The majority of my work is commercials but I have done a bunch of films over the years.

Commercial casting works differently than film. They are fast with no time to wine and dine anyone. There are no promises to actors and the goal is to do the best casting sessions possible based on my expertise, relationship with the directors, production company producers, and advertising agencies. Regardless of who hires me, it needs to be done fast and efficiently. At the end of the process the agency’s client (product) have the final say, with recommendations from people they trust. From my perspective, it has always been business.

A talented casting director is talented regardless of what we are casting for. We see so many actors that have gone on to be stars and they are easy to spot early on. I auditioned Selma Blair many times and always thought that she was talented and would do very well. It breaks my heart to hear what she had to endure. She is very talented and that should have been enough.

I am a woman with my own business and maybe that made me naïve to things that went on. I just want to say that I am so sorry for any actors that were violated and felt no way out. I feel in all professions you should become successful based on your ability.

Hollywood and the film business had a reputation back in the 50’s and 60’s but I thought people had matured in their behavior and honestly would never have imagined that things went on to this degree. I am heartbroken for the actors that felt they needed to keep quiet. I am also sad for the actors that were scared and were not put in a position to trust their own talent.

It certainly has become a “who you know” business but that is to get in the door. I hope that the casting process can now work correctly and that actors get booked based on talent and nothing else. I just want to say I am sorry to anyone that was ever abused or assaulted.

One last note to all actors and agents: we cast up until 12/22 and even if your agent is silly enough to be closing, stick around. Super bowl commercials are cast up until 12/22. Casting companies will be opened and we will work until the end of that week. Thank you!

 

Beth Melsky

Casting Couch

Changing Times and We Are All Scared

This is a plea to actors. Please let’s figure out the future of the business before we give up. Let’s hope that when SAG asks casting directors what we truly think, they listen.

I have not written a blog post in a long time and to be honest, I was not sure I was going to write it anymore. I felt I was writing the same thing over and over and I was helping a   certain group of people learn the business but unable to reach the group that casting directors and agents need the most help from. That is the group of actors that have been doing this a long time. They are SAG members that seem to be so frustrated with SAG and the state of the business that they have given up.

The business right now is the most unpredictable that I have ever seen. Every month is a rollercoaster for casting and even worse for agents and actors. There is no consistency in any way for any of us. SAG commercial agent departments are getting smaller and smaller. As senior agents leave, they are not being replaced…supply and demand.

I have used the same calendar book for thirty years. I use it to write my daily schedule in it, what I prep and cast. My first diary book is dated 1984. It’s really amazing to look back at the “golden days,” the pages were filled. I can actually prove the flow and changes in the business better than anyone by going through those books. There is so much history there. The peak of my work and the network commercial work in NY was about fifteen years ago. Back then I used to say, “I am exhausted but I have to hope and pray that I am lucky enough to stay successful.” I couldn’t keep up with it. Every job paid my rate. Every job was SAG. If I had known then what I know now, I would have saved more money.

To tell you the truth, I have no idea where the advertising business is going now but I would like to have a conversation with somebody who does. The first big change I noticed was the addition of cable. That did not affect my work flow or getting my rates to cast. Actors were upset and went on strike. Casting directors do what we are hired to do. We have no union. That strike made my job twice as hard and I was glad when it was over.

I believe the union underestimated the amount of commercials that would be shot for cable and believed it was a passing phase. And here we go again. We have now entered the world of digital and social media. This is not going away and seems to be about 70% of the commercials being shot. These ads have very tiny budgets and most cannot afford to use SAG talent. Some of these play on things like Snap Chat. The 17% pension and welfare is what makes it impossible to use SAG talent. Casting Directors have had to agree to cut their rates by 2/3 and hope to cast twice the amount of work to pay our bills and stay in business.

This is the point I was trying to get to: It’s not the huge corporations shooting broadcast commercials and just wanting to do them non-union; I think everyone values great SAG actors but with the shooting budgets for digital, it is not affordable and the truth is that network TV is mostly watched for live sporting events, award shows, and specials.

We are all scared right now and network seems to be at an all time low, though SAG says that they are making more money than ever. The average actor can no longer afford medical and the chances are that they will never collect a pension.

I believe advertising will always be necessary. It actually works in introducing products and selling them. I have no idea how SAG said they had the best year ever. I know that the average actor struggles to pay their bills and have very little hope that things will change. This next contract needs to be thought out in a whole new way. Someone has to be on top of this digital situation and figure out a way that we can all stay working. I am on the ground as the case with most casting directors and we truly look for guidance and hope. There are no convincing low budgeted jobs to go SAG so or even try and buy up every actor in NYC. That is an old fashioned way of thinking and maybe it is time for new blood.

Changing Times and We Are All Scared

The Business Has Become a Catch-22

 

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.

 

 

The Business Has Become a Catch-22

Really Weird Times – You Are Not Alone

Times are strange. February is usually a slow month, especially after super bowl January. Some years I am lucky and get to work on many super bowl spots. This year was one of those years. Casting directors are freelance, just like anyone that owns a small business; we never know when the phone is going to ring.

Whenever it gets slow people ask me why? I have no idea. Maybe advertising agencies know or even production companies have theories. I try and look at the year before, but never come up with much consistency.

Winter in New York is cold so it’s hard to shoot outside. Though it does not seem to bother episodic as much (thank god). It seems that when it is cold out people like to get on a plane and go someplace warm to work. I know that shooting in New York is no bargain, unless you really need a location that you can only get on the east coast. I know that there were supposed to be great tax incentives to bring commercial production back to NY but it never seemed to happen.

As far as casting directors, you really need your own space to build up your business but the cost of real estate in New York is so high and the casting rates are getting lower and lower, so it’s impossible to rent your own office and build studios. Also the traffic that casting companies have makes it hard for buildings to want to rent to a casting company.

I was in my first place for 25 years. I went there when nobody was working that far downtown. I was scared to think that clients might not want to go down to 22nd street but over years the business slowly not only moved downtown but eventually I became up town to some of them.

I got very lucky when I rented my office on Madison and 27th street. The real estate market in New York, had crashed and my building needed a tenant, regardless of the type of business I was. The owner needed a lease fast and had to move quickly and I needed a place to move and fast. It’s a great location and I was in a great negotiating position. It has not been a love affair and once the market turned around and the owner was able to get partners and refinancing, he was ready to make the building legal and start major upgrades. I spent my first five years in my building in a huge legal battle. A lot of ups and downs but finally my space was finished correctly and legally and the landlord was on his way to making it a 70 dollar a square foot building. I only have 4 years left on my lease but even if they offered me a new lease I could never afford it unless the market takes a huge dive again. I guess anything is possible but highly unlikely. Just like when I took a chance in 1983 and paved a new way. That’s what I’ll be doing in four years. Will it be Brooklyn, Long Island City, Harlem, or even the South Street Seaport? I will have to take a chance and change the rules again.

Without a full up casting facility, I cannot do business the way I want. I am a full service company with studios, staff, and all the technology to be on the forefront of casting. I will always be hands on – prep my own jobs, pick the talent I want to see, meet new people and present great casting tapes. I do not rely on a computer services to prep my jobs, but having access to pictures, reels, and resumes is helpful. That brings me to a huge “must” in this industry – casting directors rely heavily on pictures that are very recent and look like you. There is nothing worse than a ten-year-old picture that looks nothing like you. You have wasted everyone’s time and add to the problem. Yes, sometimes it’s just a look so resume might not matter but if the picture you a are using does not look like you, then it could all be a waste of time. BMC does a ton of comedy and we look at resumes. There is a lot of non-union work that is searching for actors that have had training in improvisation but it is impossible to tell from a form that has “yes” checked off under every category.

Resumes are important to casting directors. Even if you do not have a lot of work on your resume, training and honesty about special skills could make the difference in getting an audition. It used to matter more for legit or theatrical, but it is now just as important commercially if you are newer to the business. Of course since I have been doing this for a long time I am familiar with many actors and I do not always have to look at pictures and resumes to set up actors for a session but there are many newer casting directors that rely on this for prepping. I promise by having these things up to date, it will increase your chances for auditions.

That brings me to the odd place the business is in right now – New York, Chicago, and LA have been slower from the beginning of February and still continuing. Union and non-union are very slow. Slow times have happened before but this is a longer stretch than I can ever remember. The commercial business feels like it is changing drastically. Budgets are tighter and we are all asked to work for way less than our rates. Why this is happening is not my battle but if I refuse, I won’t be able to pay my rent or staff.

I am willing to do this and change with the times. I want to stay in business and I want to be a casting director. I truly have no idea where the commercial business is going but I have to hold on to hope that advertising will always be a necessity to sell products.

This is one of those unusually slow times that we can’t explain but we need to hope and wait for it to pass and figure out the changes and demands. We all have to be flexible and do what we can to keep working. I do not know if SAG work will have a big comeback. I do not know if there will be more and more non-union work. I do not know if the phone will ring tomorrow. I do not know if I will start to get phone calls that say we finally have a good budget. I clearly know nothing other than my landlord wants his rent in full every month and therefore I change with the times and continue to put out quality casting regardless of the challenges and hope things pick up…for all of us.

 

Really Weird Times – You Are Not Alone

An Actor’s Story

I wanted to share this letter that an actor, Chris Cafero, wrote to me.

 

 

Beth,

 

In 2005, I was a nervous 14-year-od kid who had just begun chasing his dream of becoming a professional actor. My very first on-camera audition experience was with Beth Melsky Casting. I was awkward and green and most certainly terrible. Despite that, you continued to give me a chance. In the twelve years since that first audition, I have been back to your office countless times (I’d like to think I’ve improved). I have come very close on a lot of projects, but never seemed to be able to hook the big one – until a few weeks ago.

I cannot thank you enough for helping cast me in [national network commercial]. But more importantly, I want to thank you and your wonderful staff for the patience, persistence, and faith you have shown by giving me so many opportunities. Actors are blessed to have great allies like you in this business. Thank you for helping that awkward 14-year-old boy keep fighting for his dream.

I look forward to work with you and your office for many years to come.

 

All the best,

Chris Cafero

An Actor’s Story

SAG Status

This blog is a simple cry for help. I am going to keep this short and simple. Please pay your SAG dues. It seems the new way is not to pay up until you book a job. You are not allowed to work if you are not paid up. We get your social security numbers so we can make sure of your SAG status before you work. This “clearance report” must come back perfect in order for the signatory not to receive fines. It is my job to make sure of all this.

I am responsible for this and being diligent at it goes a long way. Casting directors have no union affiliation so we cannot get fined but our clients can, and if they do then it comes back to us not doing our job properly. In my office, Nikki is in charge of this. She is very diligent and understands the importance of it. She spends hours every day on this because actors are often irresponsible about paying their dues or not knowing their SAG status. How do you not know if you are a must join? If book you on a job and it turns out you have been waived on two previous jobs, that makes you a must join. You should know this. Your agent or agents should know this. Your manager should know this. Why do I need to send your information in for you to find out your own SAG status? What happens if the job you booked does not pay close to what the membership fee is? Are you going to turn around at that point and say, “I cannot afford to join so I cannot do the job?” We all know the process to get to the point of booking a job. For me to have to tell my client they can’t have you because you can’t afford to join the union is a nightmare. I know the union offers payment plans but it is still a commitment. It comes down to the same thing I always say…be responsible. Knowing this is part of your job.

The union gives you a grace period to join (only a few days) but you must make an appointment before the shoot. If you get booked over a weekend, on a holiday or same day as shoot you must call the union from the set and make an appointment. Once you make an appointment your agent calls Nikki and Nikki confirms it with the union rep. Then, she keeps record of your appointment and follows up to make sure you went. And if you don’t go then my client gets a fine, but you still make your money. I get blamed because that’s just how it works.so I hold my breath and hope you will join. Then she needs to get the clearance report updated. Once all of this falls into place, then we get a perfect clearance sheet that the agency has been asking for since the day after the shoot. We have moved onto the next job but this lingering work is not only frustrating, it is time consuming and takes away from fifty other things we should be doing. So, dealing with must-joins, actors that owe dues, and waivers we need to file for non-SAG members is a lot of work and we need you to do your part so we can move on and do the great part of our job…casting. Think about this: for every SAG job we work on, we have to do this. If we are lucky enough to have 4, 5, 6, or 7 jobs that week and some jobs that require 20 actors, this has become a full time very stressful job. I do not think actors are all aware of what we have to go through once you book a job.. Being a casting director is not just prepping and running casting sessions (wouldn’t that be nice).

And here I go again…schedules and accountability to your agent, agents, or manager. This will probably be the last thing that comes out of my mouth before I die. What is it? We still have so any actors that do not keep their agents updated. I have to be honest; there are some agents that are so unaware of their clients’ schedules and whereabouts that after a while I lose faith in their ability to help me set up quality casting sessions. There are also so many actors that I really liked and give appointments to often but that said, three strikes and you’re out.

Anything other than an emergency, it needs to be in your schedule – work, vacations, weddings, and even the birth of a baby. The reason I say that is because I had an actor confirm an appointment yesterday and then cancel because he remembered he could not leave town because it was his wife’s due date. Having a baby is an important thing for an agent to know. You should probably book out around that time. If she goes into labor and you’re on set, are you going to walk off? Enough said.

SAG Status