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

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

Actors: Life After the SAG/AFTRA Contract

I am not a political person but it has been impossible to ignore the circus of this year’s election. I am thinking about the way the process works and the amount of strategy used. I started to think about the SAG commercial contract, when it was expiring and the  renegotiation. I never thought of two smart sides using strategy to come to a fair settlement. I actually think I was very naïve in believing it was actors on one side and producers on the other. I was very sure that actors were feeling the lack of union work and were afraid if they went on strike, the union would never bounce back. I do not think for the everyday actor that they were concerned about rates, increases, or rule changes.

Actors getting involved in an increase of day rates, or first class airfare, or an 8 hour work day are not things the average voting actor was concerned with. I have found that most commercial actors do not know most of the rules in the SAG contract. Many do not ever know the rate for an 8 hour work day. They rely on agents or managers to inform and advise them. Agents and managers…that had no say in the negotiation. SAG actors were sitting back and watching while more than 60% of all auditions were non-union. Many actors did not care about the terms. They were so afraid that if they voted for a  strike that there would never be any SAG commercial work again. All they thought or heard about was the last strike and that if they went on strike again it was over for them.

I now believe that they should not have gone on strike because with the all the changes (digital, social media, etc.) that this contract was a good compromise.

We (casting directors, directors, producers and more) have all been hit hard financially while the world of advertising tries to figure itself out.

No matter what, when a client is dealing with a small budget to get their brand out there, they still can’t afford 8 hour work days, work outside the zone, P&W of 17%, etc. I have so many clients that actually investigate going union. It’s not the day rate, it’s all the other things I mentioned. I never thought that they were shooting non-union to prove a point. Maybe it was part of a negotiating strategy.  The buyouts for internet and social media are reasonable for now.  “Broadcast “ union commercials cost so much money in residuals that a lot of what I see is that they run one cycle (13 weeks) and then they move over to internet, where not only are they being viewed more, it becomes an additional buyout which is affordable under SAG.

The truth is, a lot of network commercials are being shot to air on a special events that will be watched live by millions of people. Commercials made for the super bowl are the best example. I felt that if they could have gotten rid of residuals and offer buyouts based on usage, then there would be more commercials running on broadcast TV. The union is never giving anything back. That would be like lowering an employee’s salary. I think continuing to fight for the part of the contract that will end up obsolete instead of trying to figure out the future would be more productive. Find a better balance. 

I hope network TV  will never go away. I watch a lot of it as well as the other available options. It seems to me that people need commercials more then they realize. You go shopping and know the toilet paper you want because you have seen an ad that stuck with you and you don’t even know that it is stuck in your head . If all our watching became ad-free like Netflix, then how would products advertise? It seems to me, as a person that can’t pay my rent without advertising, that it is necessary. Isn’t there a way or a compromise? Even Netflix advertises so people will know that they exist…commercial free. If there was no way for them to advertise then how would we know? How would we know about all the new original programing if they couldn’t promote these shows on Broadcast, cable, etc. Maybe I am completely wrong and uninformed, but it scares me. Social media is so fast and even less clear on how advertising works and how effective it is. Product clients can’t pay SAG rates when they have no idea if it is being watched or selling anything.  It was like going from print to TV. It feels like history is repeating itself when cable TV was added to the contract and the union decided there was no future in it. Having a reasonable union that understands all sides so they can work together seems so important. Talent agents, casting directors, and managers were never asked their opinions. We are on the ground living it everyday. I don’t think the people that were in a position to vote ever felt that everyone’s goal was the same.

I was convinced (since most of the casting I was doing leading up to the negotiation) that after it was over, there would continue be more non-union work then ever. I knew that all the big agencies and their signatories were doing more and more digital work and were stuck in how to move forward. Nobody knew what to do with Twitter, Snap Chat, etc. The actors won with broadcast and the producers/signatories won with Internet and New Media. Everyone knew that Broadcast was getting less and less and just had to hope that as low as the rates were, it would cut down on non union.

I think the point I’m trying to make (and maybe not doing a great job of ) is everyone made the best deal they could. Could they have gotten rid of first class? Yes. Would it have made a difference? Yes. Could they have come up with a tier system for P&W and would it have made a difference? Yes.

What I am understanding now and did not see was the strategy behind the negotiations. You do not flood the market with SAG network auditions before a possible strike. You sit back and let all the SAG actors see how much non-union work there is and they get scared. Great strategy. I actually believed going into the vote that there would barely be any union work again and three years from now everyone would jump ship. After the vote and the contract was passed, I had more union work than I had had in a year.

I was thrilled, but surprised. It would be nice to be able to do every job on a SAG contract while still allowing agents and casting directors to meet and employ new people without the fear of penalties. Creative changes all the time and, often times, we need to search for new types. If we are shut down then creativity will not move forward. Also, the membership amount is higher than actors can afford, since most internet or social media ads pay much less. This negotiation made actors afraid to become union members. Less auditions with more bills. The union said, for the commercial contract, that it was their highest revenue year yet. My answer to that is “celebrity endorsements.” How much of that money came from that?

This strategy (after watching the nonsense of a presidential election) became very clear to me. It was a very smart way to go and I truly think we have a chance of merging the gap even more if people involved would be honest, acknowledge the future, and consider a way for actors to work on union contracts and the advertisers can afford to offer them.

If I am lucky enough to be busy casting, I see they need to try and work together to make things better for everyone, not get political and out strategize the other side. Let’s stop the CIRCUS mentality and in 3 years, maybe ask the opinions of the people who are knee deep in it.

As my mother said, there are 3 sides to every story…yours, mine, and the correct one.

You can’t get there if you don’t ask everyone.

Actors: Life After the SAG/AFTRA Contract

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

Advice to Actors

Last weekend was July 4th and I felt like I could have taken my blog post from one year ago and just used it again.

We are in a business without any real schedule…no guarantees as to when it is going to be busy or slow or if it will be union or non-union work. A year ago, I begged actors to take their vacations in the winter. I never know when the phone will ring and the chances are I will be given no real lead time to do my job properly. Many times, I get a call in the morning to cast that same day.

Because it’s Thursday in the summer and you have no auditions for Friday, many of you leave for the weekend. Why don’t you be the actor that sticks around and is available for the Friday afternoon last minute auditions? Keeping yourself around and available gives you an edge. What’s the rush? Where are you going?

As usual, July 4th has become a weeklong holiday. Actors not being available can cost a casting director a job. Be the actor that sticks around and see what happens. I don’t think I have ever heard the excuse, “He has a flight” as many times as I have heard recently. Where is everyone going? Aren’t flights expensive? If there was ever a time to sit still and make the decision to be responsible, it would be now. There has been a nice amount of SAG (network) work and I cannot tell you how hard it was to get 20 actors confirmed last Friday. Be that actor that is available on a Friday in the summer and I bet your agent will push for you. We do not get to go again. We do a session with the best available. Many times we are only given one day to cast and if our first 20 choices have decided to get on a plane I have to find another 20 actors that will be great options.

Being an actor is a “hurry up and wait” profession. Casting directors, or at least those at Beth Melsky Casting, make themselves available 24/7. I never turn down anything because I am getting on a plane. I fly through the night. I am committed to my job because that is a big part in being successful.

The beginning of June was personally the worst time of my life. I did not expect my clients to understand and did not want to put them in an awkward situation so I forged ahead. June is usually a very busy month but I am spiritual and I believe karma played a big part in allowing me to do everything I needed to and then it picked up strongly so I could catch up. July is starting out strong and August (the month that all actors think they should or can take off) has been a great month for New York casting in the past.

All I am asking is to give it a try this year. Please help us casting directors do a great job and give clients a reason to think New York casting is very important. Your availability is what helps us do a great job. I am asking for a one-summer commitment. I do not always know my schedule so do not call and ask me if your actors can leave early and take long weekends. I get calls at night for the next day and honestly it is not my responsibility to give you the green light to leave. Being an agent and an actor is a job. I do not give my staff Fridays off because I am not sure what will come my way. Would you expect that if you had a full time job? What is the problem with sitting still?

The other ongoing issue, and it’s not getting any better, is actors not booking out. Why don’t you do it? You can go four weeks without an audition and then your agent submits you and I guess because you haven’t heard from them you think it doesn’t matter. The agent submits you to me; I pick you and give you an appointment. The agents check schedules before submitting as to not waste my time. If it is clear, they submit with what they think is accurate information. More than 50% of the time, it turns out they have wasted my time and they have to call me with their tail between their legs to cancel your appointment. Often times, I do not give them a replacement. That means the agent has worked a whole day without even a chance of booking the job and making any money.

One of the most disappointing occurrences, and it happens too often, is when an agent calls one of their clients with an appointment only to be told that the actor moved to LA. That is irresponsible and shows such a lack of respect for the people that are working as hard as they can to get you work. The responsible actors are the ones agents will feel comfortable submitting last minute.

Also, informing your agent of bookings that might happen through a legit or theatrical agent are also important. Not only are they happy that you are working but it might not take you out. Knowledge is power.

The last thing I want to talk about is the word “booked.” That word only means one thing to me. You are on another acting job. For the amount of times I hear that word in a day, I would say the business is beyond booming. The casting sessions going on are not reflecting the amount of actors “booked.” Having a part time job or taking other work is not being booked. Honesty is what allows us to try and work out auditions. Do not use that word loosely.

 


 

And now I wanted to give Nikki, a casting assistant at my office who most of you probably know, the chance to post:

I appreciate everyone who reads Beth’s blog regularly. I love my job and I love what we do at Beth Melsky Casting; however, there are some lessons to be learned. I want to touch on the point of booking out. I wish everyone could understand what goes on in Beth’s office. Beth puts out a breakdown, agents submit, and Beth HANDPICKS whom she wants to see and who is right for the job. She preps her sessions with diligence and precision. Everyone has a specific appointment time. Often times, you are reading with another actor or two or three. When I lose someone on a session because they have not booked out, I get quite frustrated too (so does your agent, by the way…I know this because I talk to each of them). I have to tell Beth whom we lost and why and then she has to go back through the submissions and try to find someone else who is right, prolonging the process and prepping double. Doing this over and over and over again is exhausting and frustrating. Please book out with your agents. Thank you to everyone who does. We are all on the same team here, trying to get a job done. Let’s work together in this. I want you all to book jobs, too!

 


 

I am begging everyone to give a lot of thought to what I am asking and if I am wrong, I won’t ask again. Help to make this an easy summer and maybe even put a smile on my face.

Beth Melsky

Advice to Actors

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.

 

.IMG_0665

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

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