Really Weird Times – You Are Not Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Really Weird Times – You Are Not Alone

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

Thank You

This is my last post for the year 2016. First, I would like to thank you for reading. I write this blog because it helps me vent about my frustrations. I am lucky enough to work enough to have things to vent and be frustrated about.
2016, on a personal level, was the worst year of my life. I lost my mother (which I am not even coming close to accepting), and I won’t even get started on politics. I have never been political and now I find myself actually depressed about it.
I cannot complain about work; however, I can complain that the budgets are getting smaller and smaller and that I have to hope to get twice the amount of work to meet my numbers but I am so grateful to my clients, directors, and producers for continuing to put their faith in me and my company. I have an incredible staff – assistants, casting directors, studio managers, and more. Everyone puts in 110%.
Slow times are scary. I never know when the phone will ring, so we hope and when the phone does ring, we are available and ready to work our butts off. You never know what the next day will bring so we do not take any job for granted…full rate, half rate, free. We all do what we have to do to keep everyone happy, it is also an amazing feeling to employ so many actors. It takes all of us being ready and responsible to do a great job. We are all needed to make the process work – casting directors, agents, and actors.
I cannot even imagine what actors go through. I appreciate the actors that are responsible – the actors that treat the process like an art but also a business. We have a lot of work to do in 2017. We need to find a way to have everyone understand the benefits of being more responsible to their agents when it comes to their schedules. I have said it over and over again and I’ll continue to say it, but right now I just want to say thank all the people that have made the effort to make New York casting great.
Training is important. I work with some incredible directors that love working with smart and talented actors. Never think you know it all. I learn something new every day. The last 4 months have been great – a nice amount of SAG work with quality creative and top productions. Non-union is still there and just as important. We work hard on all of it. People need to sit still. Commit your time to making our work top quality all the time. Doing four auditions and then jumping on a plane is not a commitment. Booking a job and then jumping on a plane is not taking your job seriously.
I hope for a healthy and happy New Year to everyone. I never gave much thought to that phrase before this year…a lot of firsts. A huge thank you to the agencies, production companies, directors, and producers that continue to put your faith in my team and I. Happy New Year from all of us at Beth Melsky Casting.

Thank You

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

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: 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

Two Talent Agents’ View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Bad Theatrical Experience

I’d like to switch to an area that I never talk about – theatrical. The reason I am bringing it up is because, of everything stressful that went on last week, this was the worst. I was witness to the most unprofessional thing I have ever seen.

I know a young (and new) actor, who took a part in a play for virtually no money, but for the experience. He was promised a lot, none of which came to fruition. The young actor made one mistake; he expressed his frustration to someone he should not have. The director/writer (who has been doing this for a long time) should have been the professional. She should have had a meeting with the actor and they should have discussed their issues. Instead, the show ended, the actor was frustrated, and the director was angry.

I will not tell you how it ended. But I will tell you, this is a small business and what goes around comes around. I don’t care if you are the young new actor or the seasoned professional – act professional. In this case, the “professional” did not act that way. Do not assume that because the actor is young that he is not connected. You never know and it is a small business when it comes to reputations. The actor made a “new actor” mistake, but still put on great shows. The professional acted very unprofessionally in every way possible. Instead of stepping up and being a mentor, she tried to ruin him emotionally, as well as threaten his career.

As an actor starting out and taking projects without agent representation, you trust everyone involved to do what they have promised. All I can say is do your homework. Check out all the people involved. Make sure they are who they say they are. If you are not happy, finish and walk away or talk to the person directly.

I do not wish on anyone what this actor had to endure when the show ended. He learned a simple lesson the hard way. I cannot imagine what this director/writer could have learned.

Next week, back to my world.

A Bad Theatrical Experience