Thoughts From Two Casting Directors

This week’s post features a guest contributor, David O’Connor, a casting director based out of Chicago.

Hello all. Quick introduction: my name is David O’Connor. I am a casting director who lives and works and owns my very large business in Chicago. I have done this for the last 25 years. Like Beth, I’ve been around the casting block many times and have seen major shifts in the career of not only casting directors, but actors, talent agents, production companies, ad agencies, and even the union (SAG).

Beth and David:

As casting directors, like Beth and myself, we are unique in the fact that we must know “everything” without any real way of learning it. We have to know all the SAG rules to represent our producers and clients properly and now we’ve had to navigate a non-union world without any rules. It has been left up to the top casting directors to advise and guide our clients. We have tried very hard to set prices and some unified structure to a part of the business that has no rules.

We very much want to get the best deal for our clients without taking advantage of actors. The SAG (union) versus non-union situation is not a casting director’s job to get involved with. We’re hired to cast non-union and we do the best we can to keep it fair and continue to do that. We are trying to move forward with rates, not backwards.

Our business is mostly based on the commercial contract, which involves not only broadcast TV and Internet usage, but also industrial; now web video, print, and digital print. Union has defined lines. Non-union has none, so we are negotiating things that we never had to deal with, if it was a SAG job going on a SAG contract.

The floodgates for crazy amounts of usage for flat fees have been opened and I do not think there is any return. As casting directors “now,” we have to keep up the quality of the casting, but we also spend way too much time navigating budgets and negotiations. What we signed up for was an amazing creative job, understanding casting specs, fulfilling directors’ visions of what they want, and painting a beautiful portrait of talented people doing talented work. What an amazing feeling to get it right, done properly, and make everyone so happy that they come back. Our careers have been compromised by a new business. I think we always thought of our jobs as creative and now the shift in the business has changed the priorities or what is needed to get to that great end goal.

For both us, we wish we could spend more time setting up great casting sessions with quality actors that still want to do this. SAG actors cannot wait around for the union to fix things so they can learn that it’s worth being responsible to their agents and career. They are frustrated with the lack of work and, therefore, every time we get and set up a great job, we lose half of the actors we want because they have given up and even have other careers, something nobody finds out until they are called with an audition.

I think we both work the same way and take a lot of pride in our work so the lack of back up, whether it’s from the agents, agents’ assistants, or actors, is not helping us push for SAG work


I’d like to backtrack. If you have not read many of the previous blog posts, you should stop reading this and start from the first post. The situation is the same in Chicago, NY, and LA. There are so many things written to help you be the best you can be. They also help you to understand this business and ways to help, as a community, to stay strong and stay functional. Ok, now back to me. I am amazed at how casting directors in the major markets all have the same issues with clients and actors.

Beth and David:

I think SAG believes that so many of their members do not care and work non-union. SAG members are very loyal and I guess hopeful in that the union will do something to help.

Actors that cannot earn a living doing SAG work file for a thing called fi-core (financial core), which allows them to work non-union. The labor laws allow for this and anyone that we know that has done this does this properly with SAG. They work non-union and if they get a SAG job, then they have to rejoin. That’s a lot of money, then they have to file again. The only SAG issue that changes for them is that they cannot vote.

We all want the best for actors and encourage their careers. We hope to see them on the big screen or TV someday. It is an amazing journey for us to have a hand in and follow careers.

Non-union has watered this process down so much. We need to audition so many actors per part that we worry that someone talented will slip through the cracks. As casting directors, we are neutral. We have no union behind us supporting or helping us. They have never tried to work towards a compromise that might help. Non-union is not going away and we would love nothing more than unified rates and rules; “almost like a non-union union.” I guess that’s an oxymoron. We battle daily with changing times and talent pools.


We as casting directors have a lot of people to please and it is not an easy job. It literally has been getting more difficult every year for the past ten years. Remember, we get hired to find the best, given the parameters or rates, schedules and creative concepts. We are constantly working on tight deadlines and budgets at the same time, giving great options for our directors and creatives. That is and always will be the case.

Where the biggest issues come into play are working with actors and models when they do not take it as a business. Everyone refers to it as a business, but some get lost in the “me, me, me” aspect of life and do not realize that 99% of the time, the people paying for these services care about the job as a whole. They care about making something interesting, artistic, but mostly, they want to see their product make money.

Beth and David:

Let’s be honest. I do not think actors choose to be actors to do commercials. Commercial actors do it for the money, while they focus on their dream. One big change in commercials through all this is that commercials are not looked down upon, but can be a great stepping-stone to be seen by big producers and directors, and it can turn into very positive exposure. I think we both stayed in business by being very good at spotting and understanding talent. Chicago is a mecca for incredibly trained comedic improve actors. You have no idea how many famous actors are from the Chicago area.


I am an incredible businessperson and have been able to navigate it all. Beth and I have a lot in common in that way. Basically, the words I am putting to fingers currently are just to let you understand and focus on that. To apply to every audition or project you accept and understand that we all need each other to be successful. We all need to present ourselves properly and professionally, across all aspects of your career. From being prepared for auditions, respecting each other and the people running things, the people trying to help you build your craft constantly. Do your best everyday. We have to focus, educate, use common sense, and make strong creative choices daily. Truly, these are the only things you, as actors, are in control of. Do them well and you can reap the rewards of your chosen profession. Highly doubt that some stage parent was behind your choice. You chose this wacky, strange, chaotic, wonderful business of acting and performing. In doing so, you have the responsibility of taking control of your choices. You are an individual.

Thank you so much, Beth, for letting me throw some words out there. Hopefully, they can be helpful and won’t start any acting riots or hatred for this terrific city of Chicago that I call home.


For a majority of this post, I have chosen to add “us” and make these thoughts from the both David and I. I have a lot of respect for David O’Connor. He is a huge role model for me and for those who want to be casting directors and understand that there is a lot more to our profession. As always, thanks for reading.

Thoughts From Two Casting Directors

To All Graduating Actors That Need Help Starting Out

A lot of young actors are graduating in May and have to try and navigate their lives and concerns through a business that has more actors entering the biz than job opportunities right now. Truly, “pound the pavement.” If you wait around hoping for someone to just show up at a showcase and find you, you may end up very disappointed. Anyone you know, any connection or advantage you may have, jump on it. That’s just how it is right now. You must be talented, but that’s not enough. Managers and agents need a bit more to go on. Lots and lots of showcases with actors graduating from undergraduate or graduate schools need a little something more to make them stand out. It is important to use a name connection, maybe a casting director or even an actor friend who already has an agent that can put in a good word for you. Don’t be afraid to use that, but never in a bragging way. Always stay humble in whatever you do and be grateful for whatever you get.

The next important thing is making yourself available. What that means is if you don’t have a trust fund or rich parents to support you through this process, get a night job, so you can be available for auditions. Set realistic goals. You will know if you should keep going or make acting a hobby. Graduating is just the beginning. Never have an attitude over material, unless you do not feel you can do justice to the part.

Leave your schedule open to not only auditions, even if they’re last minute, but also available to do the job if you book it. If it’s a commercial audition, make damn sure you ask when the callback is and when it shoots before you come in to audition. We understand if an acting job comes up after you come in to audition, but no other excuse is going to work and you could ruin your chances of ever being called in by that casting director again. Even though you are actors, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t handle your career professionally.

If you want to do theater, even showcases, do it. Those are opportunities to help your craft along. Don’t sit at home and wait for the big famous bus to hit you. Try and do a “fringe” show. Agents and managers go to them and respect them.

If you need to make money, then take a weekend job, or a flexible restaurant job, or even a sales job that allows you to set your own schedule. Even seasoned actors that have been able to earn a good living as actors for years are finding it harder and have to figure out ways to supplement incomes. The biggest problem with that for their agents and casting directors is that the actors are trying to do multiple professions. They don’t want to tell their agents that they have a job because they don’t want to stop being submitted for acting jobs. Then they pick and choose what auditions might be worth their time to take off from work for. We need actors that want to audition and book.

Agents not knowing their clients’ schedule leads me to prep a job multiple times. If you’ve made acting a hobby, then your agent should know that and will submit you accordingly. Acting in this environment should not be a hobby, but I also get people’s need to pay rent.

As an actor starting out, your priority must be getting seen, keeping your skills up, continuing to learn, and figuring out a way to pay your bills. To me, any theater job, paid or not, is experience (unless of course it’s just a terrible project). Any commercial booking is worth doing.

New actors are not generally SAG yet. Take advantage of that and go out on non-union auditions as much as possible. Once you’re union, your opportunities will change and you can no longer do non-union. Your choice of agents will change and SAG projects might be better and pay better, but these opportunities right now are fewer than non-union opportunities.

Years and years ago, people would say to me, “I’d like to do commercials to make money,” as if it was an easy acting gig to get while pursing the “real stuff.” My answer to that now is that commercials are a career choice, not an easy fix. Commercials don’t ruin your chances of moving up, doing episodic, sitcom, or even film. Commercials are not looked down upon. They are not just an easy default to pay your bills. I can give you a list of very well known actors and actresses that started out in commercials or were even seen in a commercial and were requested by a producer or director. Good commercials are a great stepping-stone for your career.

If you are a strong improv/comedic actor and people see you in a really funny commercial, it could easily help you get an audition for a sitcom/pilot. It really has happened. People know that the people we cast in the commercials that run during the Super Bowl are not only directed by the top directors in the world, but we do tons of casting with well trained actors that have studied at the top level, UCB, The Pit, The Magnet, etc.

We are a great resource for up and comers that are talented and well trained in improv and that belong to improv groups. Commercials can be used as a great platform for actors to be seen and advance their career. A comedy commercial that is directed by a top comedy director is something that comedy/improv actors can really use to get seen.

You are going to “them.” “They” are not coming to you. Again, many of these actors have gone on to do big things. Even in some cases, they end up doing so well that by the time they are being asked to do a commercial, it is because people know them, love them, and they are doing commercials at a celebrity level with great offers. If you think hard, you can come up with a bunch of those actors on your own.

The last thing for now is don’t be afraid to put your comedy training on your resume. If you don’t want to present yourself in that way in your legit career, then you should have two resumes and two headshots. Have your agent submit the one that is right for the project. A lot of actors can do both, but I find most often that when starting, you have your preference and your strong points.

Quite often, lately when I ask for resumes for a comedy spot, I get them with no comedy training. I will call the agent and ask why they submitted them when they only have theater on their resume. The answer is the resume is for “legit” and legit wants to see theater training. I do not agree. I think your resume should reflect everything that you do “for real.”

Even when I cast film, I want a truthful resume. Your agent or manager makes that decision, whether they think you should have one or two resumes. I believe that great training of any kind is important. I believe any work of quality should be on there. I think young actors starting out might be stronger at one thing than another but give the casting director options. Not everyone can do comedy/improv. If you can’t and you don’t enjoy it, then don’t put it on your resume. From a commercial point, I’m looking for comedy more often than heavy theater, so make sure that you’re noting everything on your resume. It can cost you an audition. Good luck to all those graduating! As always, thanks for reading.

To All Graduating Actors That Need Help Starting Out

How to Get a Casting or Acting Job

I am receiving quite a few resumes from students graduating college and looking for a full-time starting position in casting. My advice to you is:

  • Do not address your letter as “To Whom it May Concern.” Take the time to find out the name of a person you can send your resume to. Even if it is sent to the owner, I’m sure it will get to the right person.
  • We are not a “casting agency.” There is no such thing as a “casting agency.” I have said it before; there are “casting companies” with “casting directors” and there are “talent agencies” with “talent agents.” Applying for a job in casting and calling us casting agents makes us feel like you didn’t learn properly at the internships you completed. This misunderstanding of terminology is a huge pet peeve of mine.

The next big issue of the week is Easter break. It seems a large number of actors take the whole week off to go on vacation with their families. The problem with this is that your agent does not know that you’re out of town until I call them with an appointment for you. The amount of losses due to this is unbelievable. My first thought is that everyone has plenty of money to go to the Caribbean or there are a lot of trust fund actors out there. Either way, PLEASE book out with your agent. Stop making Beth Melsky Casting the reason they find out you’re on vacation. It is exhausting to prep and re-prep. Everyone sends crazy amounts of e-mails out everyday; add your agent(s) to the list. How hard could this be? Doing the right thing and notifying your agent(s) leaves a much better impression than finding out that you’re out of town by scheduling you. I’m begging AGAIN.

Here’s a word from David, a casting director at BMC:

I’ve been a casting director for ten years with Beth Melsky and I’ve worked for several years before that in casting/production in Los Angeles. Beth runs the busiest casting company in NYC and that means for her business to be successful, it has to run efficiently and we need your help as actors. Keep in mind that when we call you in, we want you to do a good job. We believe, based on the spec given to us, that you have the right talent and look for the job and you will, in turn, make us look good as a casting company, once you get booked and perform successfully on the shoot.

Once you get into the studio, there are a number of things you can do to make us happy, like knowing what job you’re auditioning for, dressing in proper wardrobe, showing up at your scheduled time, signing in on the computer, studying the copy, and entering the studio prepared to perform without having to read directly from the prompter.

Here are a few things you should avoid doing once you’re in the studio. This is basic stuff but you all would be surprised at how often we see it happen:

  • Turn off your cell phone. Your agent/boyfriend/wife/mistress can wait.
  • Don’t bring the copy in. This is why we have a prompter, so you can refer to it. If all the copy is in my studio, actors in the waiting room have nothing to read. Also, I see so many actors rolling the copy up and putting it in their pocket/purse. These are not your personal scripts. Once you’re finished with the audition, please return the copy back to the basket above the sign-in area.
  • Don’t come in and sit on the couch. We are not hanging out and having wine together. Go directly to the mark opposite camera and wait to be slated.
  • Try not to criticize yourself in the studio. So many times I’ve seen an actor ruin a perfectly good take by making some hypercritical, disparaging comment about their performance before I have a chance to cut. Keep it to yourself. Often times, you’ve done better than you think.
  • When we do personality interviews, do not believe this is a moment to trumpet long impressive stories about your acting career. We’ve seen your resumes and most often, in this type of audition, directors and agencies are more interested in what you do outside of the acting business.
  • This is a big one and failure to do this can have real consequences. Always tell your agent/manager about any changes in your schedule in a detailed, clear, and timely manner. If anything happens that will affect your availability for a callback or booking, we need to know about it right away and beforehand, which means your agent/manager needs to be up to date on what your work/travel/family obligations are in real time. We cannot show a director/ad agency someone they might love and want to book, only to tell them after the callback that this actor has suddenly become unavailable for some unknown reason. This puts us in a very awkward position in front of our clients and few things make Beth more frustrated than having to explain this situation to a director who is under the gun to cast the job and start shooting.
  • Lastly, I think Ashley touch on this last week; do not lie about your “special skills.” If you can’t play the guitar, don’t list it on your resume. One day, you will be asked to demonstrate this skill in front of a lot of people and you will be embarrassed and you will make all of us trying to cast you look like we don’t know what we’re doing. I am fluent in Spanish and run most of the Spanish sessions at BMC. Same idea here. If you are fluent, that means you can read wall-to-wall Spanish copy with a confident, natural rhythm in a neutral Spanish accent. If you are not capable of doing this but have some competency in Spanish, you could list your skill as “conversational.” Know the difference because it makes a big difference to us.

I could probably list about ten more of these but this is a good start…

Thanks for listening.

How to Get a Casting or Acting Job

Let’s Try Again

I’m going to keep this post short with the hope that agents, assistants, and actors will go back to last week’s post and really consider the offer I made. I was very serious about the proposal I made to the assistants about spending a day in my office. Sadly, not one person (agent or their assistants) took me up on it and I strongly believe that it will be a huge help to see “the other side”. How can you possibly do the job properly if you have no idea why every loss or time change greatly effects a casting session? I honestly believe that if they could see what a fully prepped casting session is like, it would be such an eye opener. It would bring a lot of clarity as to why we are so strict. Maybe they would approach the situation differently. We’re all working together to try and get a job done; understanding other aspects of the business is important to achieve our goals and work as cohesively as possible.

I tend to know what agents’ clients look like better than they do. We see these actors more than they do, so if an actor has gained or lost weight, aged (which happens to all of us), or cut their hair or changed the color of it, I often find myself telling the agent. There is no set protocol on how often an agent meets with their signed clients. There is also no rule or advice given to an actor on how to let their agent know these things. I know that it is expensive for actors to take new pictures all the time, but maybe even sending a “selfie” would help. Though I do believe that if the only picture on file does not depict the actor’s age, then they should have an updated one. We request pictures very often and I can’t tell you how many times the pictures are 5-10 years old. My office is always telling agents that pictures they send no longer look anything like the actor. When a casting director is relying on picture submissions and the headshot does not depict the way an actor looks now, they may be passed over for an audition they are right for.

All in all, whether you’re an agent, assistant, or actor in this business, we all need to work together, respect each other, and do our absolute best to get all casting sessions done with quality. I really think that these points could help our business run better and make everyone’s lives easier.

Let’s try again.

Let’s Try Again