Summer Casting and Puppy Mills

It has been a few months since I wrote my last blog. As I mentioned, my mom passed away suddenly and my world has changed. I have never experienced a loss so devastating that I feel I have no control or understanding of what I’m feeling. I find working is the best thing for me and I am so grateful that since mid-June, it has been very busy. She died June 8th. I had the time to do what I had to do to bury her and have my family and all of our friends come to my house and honor her. It was like Karma. The minute the third day of Shiva was over, I knew I had to get back to the office and work. One quiet week can slow down my cash flow and on top of being a casting director, I had to try and figure out what my mother had done with my business finances for over 20 years. I knew she was making every dollar stretch and letting me run a great casting company. She loved her job and did it the old fashioned way. She made me feel safe and that things would always be okay. Through busy times, slow times, things like Netflix, union, non-union, crazy low budgets, and so many changes over the last 20 years that she ran things, she stood by me.

Casting directors are freelance. Whether you own a company with your own space or you rent space, you have to work so hard to do an an incredible job, every time, regardless of how hard the casting spec is or how little we are getting paid, or even how underpaid the actors are. We do this to keep the business going for all of us.

There are jobs that I work on where the casting fee is more important than the quality they might get. I cut my rate often to try and gain new clients and to prove we are great at what we do and then maybe the next time they will find more money. I never undercut other casting directors to get a job. I do not even know what my competitors’ rates are. If that is what they care about, then they do not really care who is casting. I also think the process and the job of a casting director is not always understood. We add real value. Top directors and agencies understand the value of a good casting director – one that is well respected, that understands rules and the SAG contract, can be a huge asset. This knowledge and relationship with actors and agents can help in getting top quality talent.

I think that with all my focus on work right now I see things a bit differently. It has always been important to me to do a great job. It is just who I am but now I worry that casting could end up being eliminated. I believe that commercials are the only way to see products but the broadcast quality work is becoming less frequent. The chain of events that comes along with that is actors missing commercial auditions and being accountable for their schedules does not matter. We have had more SAG network work this summer than we have had in years. We can never quarantine what work is going to be like, but summer is always a safe bet for quality work in New York.

I do not know how to make actors understand this. I did a session for a great product and if an actor booked this, it could pay their bills for a year. I lost 25 people because they all took Friday off because it is summer. Really? I will not be given another chance. My client needed the session today. I have had multiple sessions every Friday for the last six weeks. I am not going to turn down the work because of this made up rule. Next time, they will just cast in LA. SAG actors that have been so frustrated with the amount of non-union work should not only notice what has been going on, but should rethink their schedules. If these issues are not thought about and addressed, then how can we move forward and try and keep things going?

I have family, employees, agents, and so many actors that depend on my hard work. Sometimes I feel the agents and actors are not doing their fair share to help fix things. I have a great understanding of family emergencies now more than ever, but that term is used very loosely…a dentist appointment, a therapy appointment, etc. Auditions come first. There are a lot of actors out there and you probably will not get another chance so before you have a crazy reason to not make an audition or ask for a time change, please think about how hard we are working to set up quality casting sessions. No, we never know, but we are always prepared. This is what I spend my time thinking about now. At times it feels hopeless.

One last thing that I would like to talk about: It has nothing to do with casting. I am a huge animal lover. I ride horses. I love horses. I love dogs and I have two of my own. My youngest son’s friend decided he wanted a dog. In this day and age, everyone knows that there are thousands of dogs that need to be rescued and adopted. He went to a pet store, thinking he was buying a pure bred from a breeder…makes no sense.

Well of course it turned out the puppy was from a puppy mill and everything he was told was a lie and all the paperwork was forged. And nothing about giving the dog back because then what? Puppy mills must be closed down and a good place to start is with pet shops. I will help in reporting this and having this store shut down. This is horrifying to me and would love to learn as much about putting an end to puppy mills as I can. Just putting it out there that I am interested in helping.

 

Summer Casting and Puppy Mills

Lets Move Forward

The SAG/AFTRA commercial contract was approved overwhelmingly. There is no reason to dwell. We need to move forward. As union members, it is important for you to understand the new rules.

There is a clause about NDA’S that I think everyone should understand. It seems it is automatic on every commercial job that you are under an NDA. You don’t have to sign an NDA for it to be enforced. Casting directors have been putting them out for years on jobs that are new concepts or have celebrity talent in them. We have, many times, not let actors know the name of the product, just the conflict area. Since social media has made it so easy to talk about things and publicize it, I think actors get excited to share things and clients do not want their new ideas shared in that way. They have competitors as well…remember?

I think when actors audition they need to assume every audition and the material are under that rule. Never ever take scripts with you. This has now become a SAG/AFTRA rule and it is not worth taking any chances on. It is so easy to find out where the leak came from and nobody needs trouble. Casting directors even sign them saying that we will not post scripts and, if we do, they will not have certain info on them, like product names or logos.

New York rarely posts scripts. Beth Melsky Casting rarely posts union breakdowns, unless we are looking for something very unusual. We are very old fashion and believe that verbal communication with agents helps them understand the creative and gives us the chance to talk about seasoned actors as well as new actors that they feel have great potential. The less that is posted, the less chance there is for problems. However, that is not why we choose to prep by communicating. We do it the old fashion way because, even though it might take more time, it is more effective in doing a great job.

If we are casting non-union, I think you should follow this rule as well. Our clients expect that from us and we will continue to put out NDA’S when requested on non-union jobs. Social media has changed this industry and you must be careful. If you were a stock broker, would you tell everyone what you did all day? This is a job.

Our casting process allows me to present my client with the pros, as well as working hard to add new and interesting choices. This is a very important balance. Again, Beth Melsky Casting does this across the board. We also respect and set up our casting sessions the same way. Everyone gets a time and we work hard to get actors in and out as fast as possible. For actors that are used to going to non-union auditions and thinking that “anytime works,” that is not the way we work. Please take your appointments seriously, take everything you are told seriously, and the audition process in my office will go very smoothly. Union or non-union, all sessions are important and all casting needs to be presented with quality. Actors are treated with respect and the actors need to respect the casting process. Non-union is not going away…so let’s present it the same and build a greater level of respect. I think, even with union casting, or the lack of, actors are being forced to put it lower on their list of priorities; therefore, union sessions can end up equally as hard to put together. I get both sides and I just ask that everybody (not just actors ) try harder.

I think actors need to assess their careers, decide their priorities, and choose what is best for them. Joining the union if you are able, staying non-union or even going financial core, none of us have a crystal ball so all you can do is decide what is the best path for you right now and how you might earn the most money in your near future. Going fi-core after you have become a union member is a big decision. Just as joining the union, if you have the opportunity, is a big decision. Going fi-core is easy but deciding to be union again is not so easy. While you are fi-core you cannot audition for union work. It’s not as if you can book something union and then pick up the phone and say, “I want to be SAG again.” It is a process that will take way longer then you would ever have in being able to do the job and will cause huge problems for the casting director and the signatory.

If you make a decision to be a member again then you must start the process before you audition for union work. You cannot do both. Actors that have worked non-stop non-union might very well see a big change in the amount of auditions you end up getting. Do your due diligence. You cannot let it figure itself out. Actors that have been union for many years decide to go financial core because being a union member is no longer helping their careers. You cannot use the option of fi-core as a way to toggle back and forth. If you make the choice to join and it does not work out for you, you can file to go fi-core. Just make sure that is what you will be happier with. Everyone’s career is different. I think there are times that actors should join and times they shouldn’t, but it is not up to me to advise you.

With the Internet and social media, advertising is a changed world. I know actors were hoping that this contract would help change the amount of non-union work, but unfortunately advertisers are not seeing enough of a return to increase budgets to cast union. This belief also greatly affects casting directors. We used to have day rates. Now we are being offered flat rates and it is hard for us as well. We work twice as hard for half the money, but I cannot let that affect my quality, staff, or services.

We all have to hope that with time and knowledge things will get better for all of us. Maybe it would have been great if the negotiations (since it seemed they were going well) were extended and took more time. That is easy for me to say. I do not know the process. I do know that things will hopefully continue along because products still have to be advertised and in three years when the commercial contract is up again, we will not only be more knowledgeable, but the future of the way things can and will work will be shown over that time.

In the meantime, everyone should do what he/she is doing. Pay attention to the flow and future of advertising and do not make rash decisions. Three years in our world is a short amount of time but a lot can been learned.

Like I have said before, knowledge is everything. We are all in the same position…and hope time helps for the next contract.

There are no easy answers. If I could turn the clock back twenty years, I would. Social media and technology are moving faster then we are and I do not see it slowing down. Maybe casting will become an app (haha). I do not think there were any clear winners here but a war is not the answer.

My personal opinion does not matter. I do not have a vote but it all affects my business. Something I very much have to keep going. Let’s work towards a future that can works best for everyone so actors can just think about acting. Beth Melsky Casting is here for everyone.

Lets Move Forward

To A Productive 2016

It is the end of the year and it has been a tiring one. Casting directors have had some very busy times and some slow times. Believe it or not, the busy times are harder than the slow periods. That brings me to my three biggest wishes for the New Year:

  1. Enough work for casting directors, talent agents, and actors. That being said, my next wish…
  2. For actors to help make the agents’ (then, in turn, the casting directors’) lives much easier by being responsible. Send in your schedules. Do not wait for an appointment to let your agent know about something by saying, “Oh, I was just about to tell you. It just happened.” This is a job and one you need to take seriously. If acting is no longer your “career,” then let your agent or agents know that. If you are responsible with your schedules, they will have the information and work with it.
  3. The commercial contract is up in April. It would be amazing if the union could wipe the slate clean and start again. Times are very different now and it would be great if all actors had the same opportunities. This is not a realistic wish. Union or non-union is tough on everyone but we need to work and union is not always affordable in this new digital age. Everyone should have a chance to work and make money at what they love doing.

I wish everyone a happy and successful New Year and I can’t wait for the newest and funniest excuses.

 

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To A Productive 2016

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