Casting: Experience Goes a Long Way

This is my fourth try at writing a post about what a casting director’s job is. The biggest problem is getting to the point. It should be simple to explain. Many actors, especially those who are new to the business, and even clients (directors, producers, or anyone that hires a casting director) are not always sure what it is we do. The casting director title has become so watered down, especially in the commercial business. I think that with so much non-union work, where there are no set rules that have to be followed and so many low budget jobs, people can call themselves casting directors, offer very low rates to cast, throw a breakdown out on too many services, and then basically throw the casting against the wall and see what sticks. They have huge cattle calls, put out sloppy casting tapes, do their best to follow rates that have been used before, and make their way through it. Does it take them longer? Yes. Do they have the experience behind them? No, but it is easy to say, “It’s non-union so there is nothing I can do.” That is where the experienced and seasoned casting directors can help.

Beth Melsky Casting works as hard on non-union as union. We help set the rules and rates and very rarely have problems with follow through on bookings and contracts. Having an experienced casting director with a strong reputation gives us an edge in getting the job done faster and not struggling and fighting with agents/managers. We all want to keep great relationships.

I have a very hard time dealing with some of these issues as a seasoned casting director. I pride myself on knowing union rules and using that knowledge to help my clients. I also feel in non-union, we can produce the most professional casting possible, as well as being fair in recommending talent fees. We also work hard to make sure contracts are written correctly. Actors or clients can pick up the phone from the set where there might be a problem and get things straightened out very quickly.

We document everything and expect everyone to follow the rules that were well documented. A deal is a deal and I know how to settle it quickly. This is something that comes with time and respect that has been earned over many years. It is like insurance. Being a casting director is something you need to learn and train for. There are so many pop-up casting directors taking on jobs that they are really not trained for.

It has taken me years to gain the respect of top directors, ad agencies, and producers. They understand that the main purpose of our job is to find what they are looking for. We try our best to hand over incredible casting tapes without a lot of fluff. These actors were hand picked to audition. I am not wasting their time. There are no surprises here. I use great session casting directors that are well trained in how to direct the actors.

Some very low budget projects feel that they cannot afford an established casting director or casting company. We have all had to change with the times and are willing to work with these situations. Producers should not be afraid to call. It is a changing business and we are better equipped to change with it and make everyone look good.

Not only does Beth Melsky Casting and casting companies like us know how to do both union and non-union, we are always looking to build new relationships in the hope that one day it will pay off for everyone. We take so much pride in our work and always want to do a quality job. Not every job can be done the same but we know how to cut to the chase, get the best talent for the job, and help directors with the casting process.

We are clear about the actors that we can get for the budget and bring in the cream of the crop instead of stumbling on it by seeing quantity. My frustration is that I have been doing this for thirty years. I have gone through so many changes and can still do any job with quality. Reputation goes a long way and Beth Melsky Casting has not been around for so long for no reason.

When I started, I had to train for years with the best casting directors. The job of a casting director has not changed. We get the actors through the door. As an actor, you want to be recommended by us and have a chance to form a relationship.

On the production side, do not assume that a low budget means sloppy casting. Union or non-union, we have trained eyes for great actors, good actors, or actors that are right for the job.

Union casting or casting for top directors and clients require a respect for what casting is. Anyone can put a breakdown out on one of these many free services offered, rent a studio, and just tape hundreds of faces. That is not being a casting director. Just like a director, or a stylist, or an art director, we actually practice our craft. If we did not, film directors would not trust their casting directors so much.

Yes, now people can become casting directors but they should train with someone established and learn the craft properly. It is not as easy as it looks, even with tiny budgets. I just wish some productions at any budget, would take the value of experience into consideration. Just like in any business, experience goes a long way.

Casting: Experience Goes a Long Way

An Actor’s Success

Natalie Knepp is an amazing example of an actor who is devoted to her career choice – responsible not only to her agent, but to casting directors, as well. She is very focused and driven.

She has stayed diligent and patient at the same time. That has all paid off and we could not be happier. Having talent is obviously very important, but doing everything else right in this environment is also very important. For every booking we do, it feels like the first one and is always just as rewarding.

Good luck, Natalie!

From,

Beth Melsky Casting


Dear Beth,

There are no words, no gesture large enough to express how grateful I am to you and your team that worked on the Verizon account.

More than that, you are a standout to me among those whose belief in me over the years has truly inspired me to work hard and to always reach beyond my grasp. Thank you for always being my champion.

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Always,

Natalie Knepp

An Actor’s Success

#OverIt

If I hear “I need a time change” or “family emergency” one more time…

 


Anyway, Michael Patrick Lane is one of the most professional and responsible actors I have ever met. I asked him to contribute to this week’s blog. Enjoy.

 


 

To the actors and people who plan to affect others. You are students of humanity and so much more. You are your own boss. You are craftsmen, nutritionists, personal trainers, researchers, marketers, social media experts and masters of branding. You are constantly in classes, reading and pushing the limits, ignoring when the guy who has more than you calls it a day because you are willing to do whatever it takes to be the best. You are open and willing to be affected and to breathe love and life into your dream through action. And when you fail, you will make whatever small tweaks are necessary to succeed time and time again when no one is watching. You are the one who has what it takes to shape your destiny. Start with what you have and where you’re at, because what you have is plenty.  

 

Beth’s blog touches on a lot of amazing subjects, most recently about actors making excuses, double booking projects, potentially throwing colleagues under the bus to get ahead, etc. I’d argue there is no right or wrong way to go about handling your professionalism. It’s truly up to you who you want to be and how you will be perceived. So lets decide shall we?

 

The profession we have chosen is potentially drenched in fear (character building opportunities) and opens us up to self-sabotage through things like drinking, drugs, lack of preparation, over committing and ultimately regret. The good news is you can overcome all the BS. One of the most profound things I read this year that truly affected my being was this, by Stephen R. Covey, “You can’t be afraid of letting go of who you are, for who you will become”.  Don’t be afraid to ask who you are and then answer it. Try this. Honestly try it. 

 

Who are you, what do you want, how will you do it, and why?

 

I would encourage you to decide the answers to these questions and continue exploring and being empathetic to what the other disciplines of our field are going through in their equally important careers. You will teach yourself your version of professionalism and follow your path. Your talent is in your choices, in your scripts and in your life.

#OverIt

Casting: Always Something to Learn

As I promised, this week I am going to write about the commercial world overlapping with the legit/theatrical world. I have been lucky for the last two weeks. My top directors have done major work for incredible new break out campaigns. They love and are used to the top of the line, very talented actors that not only do commercials, but do work in episodic and theater as well.

The major challenge in dealing with the amount of episodic being shot in New York right now, is trying to help and understand how the actors are juggling a day on Orange Is the New Black (which doesn’t make as much money as a commercial, but it is a bit closer to why they become an actor) with not wanting to close the door on a great commercial with a great director that can make them great money and give them exposure and a relationship that can move their careers along faster than a day here or there on Jennifer Lopez’s new show.

I have told you before but the list of actors that have booked with these directors and have gone on to huge careers is incredible – Thomas Middleditch, Michael Kelly, Jessie Tyler Ferguson, Amanda Peet, Selma Blair, Chris Gethard, etc. I don’t think you will ever regret the stepping-stone as well as recognizing the fact that commercials help.

Commercial casting directors are able to meet new people and get you seen in quality work. The problem that I am facing with these incredible jobs is that I am at the mercy of those shows and, even though I clear a schedule before I show anything to my director, there is a chance that if there is a schedule change, it could put us in an embarrassing situation. I have to heavily weigh the risk. I work very hard to figure out this level of talents’ legit schedule before I see them. I get it, I really do. But the process to be selected as a first choice on a commercial is huge. Then to present to the client, have them approve the actor, and then have the actor bail and take a legit job is not something that anyone on my side understands.

Actors should value their talent more on situation and understand that they are not easily replaced. We are talking top-level directors with top products that win awards and, like being the lead in anything, there are rarely backups that are as strong as the first choice. The end result for me could be a loss of a client (agency) or even a director because I could not fix things. I will lose the next job.

All I am asking from these actors is that they understand our side. Maybe we’re not called legit, but for us, our work is equally as important. I can only make a decision based on what your agent tells me and they can only tell me what you have told them. Booking out for personal reasons is one thing. Keeping your commercial agent informed of what is going on in your legit/theatrical career allows them full disclosure. When I want to see you, it also allows me to pass on seeing you if I think there are going to be conflicts.

If your legit career is in a place that is moving forward and a lot of opportunities are coming your way, then take yourself out of commercials for a while. You can’t have everything. If you are lucky enough to book both, someone is going to lose and someone else’s career is going to be affected. Full disclosure, please! The worst thing an actor can say or think is, “I’ll wait to see what happens.” It’s just not fair. I am not trying to stop anyone’s career. I would rather tell a director that you are “pinned” then take a chance.

Let’s go back to the word “pinned.” I had to call several agents to ask what this meant. Thirty years and a new word, at least in New York. The answer was that it is stronger than a right of first refusal. It is a booking, but with no exact dates. If they own you, you cannot take another right of first refusal during those dates. Sometimes they change your shoot date. What if you accepted another job? Are you going to tell the commercial, “oops?” These are the things that I am very diligent about. Your agent should know your schedule.

Managers’ first choice will always be legit over commercial and will generally not tell your commercial agent anything until they are called. Sometimes they know and don’t tell. They have their priorities. Please don’t depend on your manager to tell your commercial agents. Commercials are seen as secondary to them and if there is a schedule conflict, they will either pick legit or have your agents fight it out. I think commercial is equally as important, but I cannot speak for managers.

I always honor my word. I always want it to work out for the actor but not at the expense of my career. And yes, being a casting director is a career for me and one I take very seriously. Mistakes happen, things are missed, but I find most times it comes down to priorities. I cast films, as well…some smaller, some bigger. I understand but I would never pull an actor from a commercial to work on one of my films. When I cast a film, I dig deep into my pool of commercial actors and will always work hard to work out a conflict. One thing is never more important. Casting directors and agents will go the extra yard to try and make things work. You can never depend on production. Production cares about their production. That is it.

We need the actors’ help. Every relationship is important. You never know if one day I will cast a commercial for Tony Kaye and the next week it might be a film. Burning bridges is a mistake. Many commercial directors have gone on to do huge films. You do not want conflicts when an opportunity comes up to do a commercial for Bennett Miller and then a film.

People remember effort. They also remember no effort. I have huge respect for Bernie Telsey. He understands all of it. I am going to reach out to him for advice on how to balance this.

Things have again changed. Theater has always been huge in New York, but TV and film has become huge, as well. We must all make an effort to work together again. Commercials can make careers in other ways. They can lead to much bigger things. Do not underestimate them or the casting directors.

It seems, once again, I am asking for honesty and communication. Once I speak to Bernie (he is not only the top in New York, but very well respected), I will let you know what I learn because yes, in the legit area, with all the work in New York, I have things to learn.

What I am asking of everyone is hard but maybe we can come to a solution that will make things easier for all of us. Thank you for listening. I want to give great actors to directors that I know will do films and TV and present it all properly. The communication has to start with the actor.

A request: Do not use the excuse “family emergency” anymore. If you made a mistake with your schedule, own up to it. If you got lazy, do not abuse the one reason I am not comfortable pushing on. Let’s all try.

And one last request: If you confirm an appointment at my office, then make that appointment. Also, please keep the time change requests to a “very” important reason. I prep very exactly. I pair people up that I think will work well together and I divide my days by roles or spots so just needing a time change out of what is easiest for you is exhausting to us and simply not an option.

Again, please…our jobs are hard enough. There is a method to my madness and I work hard to not keep you waiting. I am prepping to do a great job and show respect to actors. I hope you understand that. We produce great quality casting because of this and you need to understand that. Actors are not a “dime a dozen” in my office and you should think of yourself that way.

Casting: Always Something to Learn

Goodbye Summer, Back to Work

This is my last blog of the summer…summer as New Yorkers know it. Summer is my favorite time of the year. I hate the cold weather and I love the long days with so many hours of light. It is also my most frustrating time of the year as a casting director. I love summer, but I do not take off any time. I have never taken a “summer vacation.” You want to know why? Casting is not like school. We do not close or slow up because schools are closed.

We do not usually get slow and, if anything, we hope for it to be very busy. More work is shot in New York because of the weather and clients like to travel to here when it’s warm. Production does not stop because it is summer.

Schedule is not determined by weather. It is determined based on events. We cast for back to school, football, new products, etc. There is no way for us to know the inner workings of advertising agencies and what they need to produce or why.

The ad business never stops. It may slow down at times, but we have no idea when new products are going to be launched. We can only stay open and wait. Actors have decided that August is a month off. My clients are shocked to hear many actors take off long periods of time and it makes it so hard for casting directors to do quality casting sessions.

This summer has been very busy with a large amount of last minute jobs coming up, especially in the voiceover/radio world. I get one day’s notice to put a great session together and this is the time actors should be waiting by their phones. Actors must have gotten a memo that I missed saying, “August is slow so take the month off.”

Give this some thought and ignore the memo next summer. For all the work Beth Melsky Casting has had, prepping quality casting sessions (union, non-union, voiceover, and radio) has been a painful process. This is not Europe. We do not shut down for the month of August.

Come October, actors will be calling their agents asking where all the work is. I hope their answer will be that it was all done in August. The only time actors can feel secure in not missing anything is the four days off for Thanksgiving and the week between Christmas and New Years.

It seems if an actor sits with no auditions for a few days, they assume they can just pick up and leave. Eventually, you’re going to miss something. Short holidays have turned into ridiculous spans. My clients do not think about things like that. They have a job to shoot. They do not put it off because it is the Monday before Thanksgiving. My directors and producers cannot fathom what we go through and what we listen to on a daily basis. They need to cast and shoot. That is all that matters. They do not even care about a casting director’s struggle to provide quality casting.

If they could hear a tenth of the excuses I hear on a daily basis, I do not think they would believe it. They think actors become actors to act, not to take vacations. They are giving me an opportunity and would never believe what casting directors go through. Frankly, they shouldn’t have to care. They want the casting sessions done well, and that’s what matters.

Casting is a part of production. Without actors, it cannot happen, but they have so many other things to deal with to get the production done. Doing things without actors takes the struggle off the table. Don’t think for a minute, it couldn’t go that way. I think actors need to take a look at the business that you have chosen to be in and take time off when it makes sense. Nothing is waiting for you. Commercials are not unimportant. We make careers.

That brings me back to the same old problem. E-mail to update your agent or agents on your availability. That is what I am asking. I am sure you check your e-mails 50 times a day, but you won’t take 2 minutes to notify your agent about your schedule – personal or business. If you are not going to be available, you need to tell them. Again, even if you haven’t heard from them in three weeks doesn’t mean an audition couldn’t come up any second. They need to know. They want to know your schedule before they submit you to me. They look at an actor’s schedule and if it’s clear, they’ll submit the actor. The agent calls with the appointment only to finally get an e-mail response from the actor that they forgot to book out because they’re getting married that weekend, have to move out of their apartment, or forgot they’re going to California, or even having surgery. I could go on and on.

It does not matter why you are booking out. Hopefully, sometimes it is because you have an acting job. But you MUST book out. I get mad and your agent gets mad. I cannot do my job well and your agent cannot make money. You are actors. You should be of the mindset that every audition you get matters. Think about how many actors are not getting auditions and would die to be in your position.

I just thought I would point out the excuse I got the most in the month of August – “family emergency.” Now I am sure some are really family emergencies. I am also sure everyone’s idea of a family emergency is different but when someone tells me they have a family emergency and their emergency was going to Florida because it was their father’s birthday. Is that what an “emergency” is? Be careful how you want to cry wolf.

I had over 100 family emergency excuses last month and I’m sorry if I am a bit skeptical but it seems to be the safest excuse to go with. What agent would want to pry and ask what the “family emergency” is? At some point, I am going to notice actors using that excuse more than once. I also do not think it’s right to use the “family emergency” excuse because you have a hangover and want a later time.

I am also always surprised when actors know exactly when their family emergency will be over. Maybe it should be called a family issue instead. That is enough ranting about my busy and different August.

Next post I am going to teach non-union actors how to be responsible about their careers, especially when they have multiple agents. There are just as many rules that have to be followed. If you are going to say yes to everything, you are going to end up in a bad situation. There is a correct way to do it. Too many mistakes could end your career.

Goodbye Summer, Back to Work

Crazy Excuses of the Week

Just a few crazy excuses from the past week:

  1. Can I be late? I need to go to the post office.
  2. I cannot make my appointment. The weather is so nice that I decided to stay on Fire Island
  3. Oh…I forgot I was getting married.
  4. I can’t leave town, my wife is having a birthday (mind you, this was AFTER getting a callback).
  5. I forgot I had to close on my apartment.
  6. I have to go to the dentist (top ten).
  7. My girlfriend is in Russia and I HAVE to go visit her.

Are you acting as a profession or is it a hobby? Either way, the agent needs to know.

This is how I ended my week:

I booked a little girl on a job shooting out of town. It was a non-union job. Her father brought her to audition, then to the callback, and accepted the booking. She was signed to a great kids agent.

Much to my frustration then anger (and her agent’s), her father, after accepting the booking, decided that he did not want to leave Hilton Head in order for her to do the job…REALLY?!

I cannot blame the little girl, but I can blame her father. This was a little girl’s dream and, because of a selfish parent, she will not get to see come true. The agent, producer, and I have not heard from her father again on this matter. He told us he would think about it and call us back. Still thinking?

Crazy Excuses of the Week

Two Talent Agents’ View

This week, I do not want my blog to be me ranting about the state of the business. I will tell you from a director’s side about how hard it is to deal with the talent agents and listening to their ridiculous excuses on behalf of actors not being professional. There has been a change in responsibility of actors dealing with their chosen profession in a very lay manner.

There are three sides to every story. My company is not overreacting. We are reacting and trying to teach and get things back on track. I think it is important for actors, assistants, casting directors, and other agents to hear some major pet peeves from two top commercial agents that are amazing at their jobs that love and long for the way the business used to be. At the end, we are all saying the same thing, just from a different perspective.

We are all working together to make things better and to be able to call ourselves professionals. Professional seems to be the thing that young actors have not learned, season actors have given up on, and agents’ assistants are not understanding the importance of following through and teaching the actors. I am not sure the assistants get that if they don’t help get actors to auditions, then their agencies cannot book and eventually cannot pay their salaries.

I hope actors and assistants will read and take what these agents are saying and approach things with a different mindset. It is not just about Beth Melsky Casting. This is another attempt at trying to fix a very broken process. What these agents are saying is as correct as what I say. If you take their advice, maybe it will eliminate some of the frustrations of casting. Read and think, please.

Here are some pet peeves from Doug Kesten, talent agent at Paradigm Agency:

  • When actors/actresses don’t provide detailed responses when they decline an audition…an e-mail or voice message saying, “thank you, but I can’t make it” is frustratingly not sufficient. We need to know specifics in case there’s a chance the opportunity can be re-scheduled or if that talent needs to be taken off the active roster for a certain time frame.
  • And similarly, when we call with an audition only to be told, “I was going to let you know…I’m leaving town for a tour…or a play…or a wedding…or a vacation.” Since everyone can e-mail any hour of the day there’s no reason why agents & our assistants should only be hearing about these developments when we call with business.
  • Calling a freelance performer with an audition only to find out he/she has signed elsewhere. Not appreciated or smart…if the exclusive arrangement doesn’t work out, I wouldn’t be inclined to resume providing audition opportunities for that individual…l would with someone who had the courtesy to alert me of his/her decision to stop freelancing as soon as it was made.

Here are some pet peeves from Carole Ingber, talent agent at Ingber and Associates:

  • If an actor is sag eligible, they should check with the union to see if they are an ok 30 or a must join. If they are a must join and do not have the money to pay the initial $1,000 and the remainder over time, they should tell the agent not to send them out until they have the money. It is not the agent’s job to pay for actor’s initiation fees (or their dues).
  • Scheduling: When we first meet potential clients, we tell them to always let us know when their schedules, even if it is 2 months in advance…work schedules, vacation schedules, bookings that aren’t ours. We need to know. If we submit on a job and the actor is not available for the shoot or the callback, we may lose a time for another client who could potentially book it. If the actor has a server job, bartending, etc. and works from 3:00 on, we can mark on the submissions to the casting director what their time problems are so they can either be scheduled or not.
  • If the actor is running late, they need to call their agent, not just show up. We should all be working as a team.
  • We love our clients to check in at least once every 3-4 weeks to say hello so we know they are around and available. Sometimes out of sight is out of mind!
  • When not to call: Do not call everyday to check in or ask about money. Do not call to check in before 10am or after 4:30pm, unless of course it is a confirm.
  • When confirming a callback and first refusal, do not assume the agent knows you are in a show. You need to let the agent know when you need a release in the city. For example, Tuesday show performance is at 7pm so a 6pm release is needed, 8pm show, 7pm release is needed, etc.
Two Talent Agents’ View