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.