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

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

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

A Crazy Casting Story

Let me start by saying that I am not sure that all actors know what being a true devoted actor means. It means taking roles, even ones that may be out of your comfort zone, and applying all your acting skills to do a great job. An actor that passes on a part because of a kissing scene, whether you are portraying straight or gay, has nothing to do with your own sexuality. That is why it’s called acting.

I did a job this week. It was SAG, traveling to a foreign country, fully paid, first class travel, as well as multiple web videos that paid approximately $2,500 per video. That is without travel days, overtime, etc. These web videos were each like little movies, so a great opportunity to use acting skills and have something of quality that could be used for your acting reel. The character I was casting was a young African American male, the adopted child of a couple from the Midwest, going on an incredible trip. The videos show more than commercial sightseeing.

When I put the breakdown out, I was asking for an actor with a great comedy background. I also needed them to have a valid passport, which every actor should have. One of the scenes takes place in a nightclub and the actor was going to have to a kiss a guy. When we put the breakdown out, we could not have been clearer about this. If the actor wanted to audition, he had to be comfortable with it. In this day and age, it should not have been an issue. Movies like Brokeback Mountain are a great example of this. Philip Seymour Hoffman did it many times. It is part of being an actor. That’s what acting means. You are playing a part and everyone should get that. Many actors have done Queer as Folk and were straight.

Anyway, this actor auditioned, knew the rules, then got a callback, reconfirmed that he was totally okay with the kissing and confirmed his appointment. The best part was I only had two actors for the callback – two guys, a 50/50 chance. The callback time came and went. The agent and manager were frantically calling him to find out why he was late, no response. At first our instinct was to worry, but when hours went by and still no response, it was not because of an accident or emergency.

After an hour passed by with no word, I guessed that he had probably changed his mind about kissing a guy. That in itself is insane because of how many times it was discussed and he said yes every single time. The thing that really pisses me off is that he was a coward. If you wake up with a panic attack or an epiphany, call your manager or agent right away. Do not disappear for the whole day. I was put in a horrible situation with my client. I had to recast for free. There is no “sorry” that will work for me. Maybe he would have stood a bit of a chance with his agent and I if he had contacted his manager or agent about this situation. That’s how “professionals” would handle themselves.

I didn’t ask his sexual orientation nor did I care. Again, this type of thing as an actor is becoming very normal in the film and TV world. This actor had a legit agent. Do you know how many 22 year olds would die to have legit representation? His agents had no idea that they signed an actor who might limit their jobs because of the things he’s not comfortable doing. You, as a young and up and coming actor, with an agent that has taken the time to put their faith in you, should have no limitations. I can’t say it enough: that is what acting is. It is not your real life. Everyone watching knows that. He was not being asked to hurt anyone or do anything illegal (or porn, for that matter). He did the audition knowing all the details and had no problem with it. He got a callback, confirmed, reconfirmed the details, and then just disappeared. He left all the people that had worked so hard for him in a very embarrassing situation.

Okay, so for some crazy reason, he woke up that morning and decided he could not do this. I guess he had issues that made him turn down a job of a lifetime and one that would have paid his rent for a year. But not communicating, leaving me hanging and looking like a fool to my client is totally unacceptable and there is no apology that will ever be acceptable to his agent or me.

Maybe this situation opened up some big issues in his personal life but you fulfill your word and then put acting on hold until your figure it out. If, and maybe if, he had handled this in a professional manner and called someone instead of disappearing, we would have tried to understand the breakdown he had over doing this.

Like I said, I do not know his issues, but I know that he is not ready to be a professional actor. As an up and comer, you are not in a position to do what he did and go against his manager’s and agent’s advice. But more importantly, he disappeared and did terrible damage to his career. He lost trust. Things happen that are out of your control but this whole situation was not only in his control, but he was so selfish that he never once thought about the people working so hard for him and that the casting director (me) was put in a position of losing a client.

He has made it so far in his early career and did not have any of the tools to handle this right. He knew there were only two callback appointments. He panicked and ran. Things happen, people are human, and sometimes you need to be talked off the ledge. Maybe there is more to what was going on with him that we will never know, but there are some lessons to be learned here.

  • You take an audition, go to it; you live by your word.
  • If you are having doubts, do not accept the callback and you can discuss it with your agent.
  • Do not ever put a casting director in this position.

Everyone has someone to answer to, including me. You jeopardized my livelihood and that was just selfish. If actors cannot understand the big picture, they should not be doing this. There is no room in this business for dishonesty. With more supply than demand, there are no second chances. Sorry to all the actors that would have been thrilled for this job.

On a lighter note, congratulations to the LGBTQ community. Love wins!

A Crazy Casting Story

Commercials vs. Film

I would like to switch gears a bit and talk about some of the films I have cast and the biggest difference between casting commercials and film. First off, I love casting commercials. Not only do we get to start careers, but we also work at an amazing pace. I have a large staff and amazingly talented casting directors that work as hard and as fast as I do.

I have my own office with studios and that allows me to make fast scheduling decisions and never have to say no. We have a joke in my life, “I would have been a great air traffic controller.” Honestly, I don’t know exactly what they do but I can schedule six casting sessions per day if it’s busy, giving each one equal attention based on each of their needs.

I prep everything myself, along with great backup. For non-union, I rely heavily on Ashley, who is insanely diligent. We care about a great result on everything equally and even a job that seems easy is a challenge to me. Positive feedback is what we thrive on.

I find that as I am casting many, many commercials a year, I like to do one film a year. I also love doing independent films. I have a great with relationship with the director Tony Kaye. The last film I cast for him, “Detachment,” took three months of Tony being in my office everyday and needing a hands-on staff. In order to do those films I have to keep doing commercials at the same time to support the other in more than one way, not only financially, but also with the knowledge of a massive talent pool that I would not know without all my commercial work. My commercial work enables me to do those kinds of feature films as more of a hobby.

There is no instant gratification in casting films. From beginning to end, it is a long process, but major gratification comes when you finally get your cast. Commercials can be in and out in three days. There’s a shoot date already scheduled and I really have more than a week to ten days from beginning to end. Sometimes I have two days. There is no schedule that scares my office. We just get it done well with an incredible amount of care and get it right, regardless of any and all challenges. SAG, non-SAG, great money, no money, the end result (booking actors) never gets old.

It is never just about the money. It is great to be compensated for our hard work and quality in which we direct the actual sessions, and then how we present it to the clients at the end of each day. We use a posting/uploading system called “Casting Frontier.” There are other very good ones. Casting directors now have to not only be great directors, but also be very tech savvy. We are hired to be perfect from A to Z. That not only means great casting, but great presentation and being on call all the time for changes. We never say no. We fix anything and everything, without complaints.

Films do not have the same expectations. They do not expect all sessions to be taped and uploaded. They do not expect studio availability. They just expect casting. Having all the other things to offer is a bonus. We have managed to do low budget films while offering all services. Many directors that I have done commercials for have hired me to cast films, or short films. I am always thrilled and happy to be able to offer my services, for free sometimes, because I take it as a compliment.

I am very lucky that I am trusted in both areas and have cast many independent features and shorts. Not all casting directors can do both. In features, you have time to make it work. In commercials, you work fast and have no time to get it wrong. Casting commercials the way we do, knowing “all” rules, is not easy but very important.

There is not a lot of forgiveness in commercials and Beth Melsky Casting likes to be perfect. I chose to stay in New York and do primarily commercials. The film work is just something I have been lucky to do as well. Most films (studio) are cast out of LA or LA is where the casting is headed up. Technology has allowed those casting directors to reach out to New York and get actors to self submit or agents arrange for taped auditions. Therefore, it seems to me, that less big pictures are cast in New York. I am just happy to be working and I will continue to change with the times.

I had the pleasure of working with Billy Hopkins recently. We both had different things to bring to the table. It was a great collaboration. I was able to do quality casting because of the project and the pace it needed to be done. Billy’s expertise in actors and some different connections were a great asset. The LA casting director on this project is also great in both areas (film and commercial) and that has been an incredible benefit.

It is unusual for two casting directors in one city working well together on a project. Egos have to be put aside. It is not a competition; it is a collaboration. I think this was a rare situation. I am not sure if it will come up again, but I feel confident that if it did, we would be comfortable working this way again.

Casting is a very competitive business (commercial, theatrical, or legit). I do not think you could hire two competitive New York casting directors to do the same project and ask us to work together. It would always be a race to who books the job.

New York commercial casting is a very small community, but I am not looking to make enemies. I think I have respect for everyone and I hope they have the same for me. My greatest hope is that there is enough work to keep us all busy. That would be a great outcome for this business.

I love seeing actors that I have worked with and booked very often for commercials now on TV and in film. Tony Hale, Nick Kroll, Kristen Schall, J.K. Simmons, Amanda Peet, Michael Kelly – all amazing to see. Commercials, as I always say, are a great stepping-stone.

My last thought is to actors. Just like casting being a divided business, agent representation is very divided. If you want to audition for commercials you need a commercial agent. If you want to audition for TV, film, and theater, you need another agent. Commercial agents are easier to get because there are so many more auditions with tons more actors that need to be seen. Theatrical (legit) agents only get to submit and push for a few appointments so they have very few actors, pick carefully, and invest a lot of time and energy trying to get them seen.

I find young actors that want to do film, smaller roles on episodic, and theater have to do their own due diligence, pound the pavement, and get seen. Hopefully it will lead to the agents’ interest. I have a nephew that just graduated from the Actors Studio. He has a commercial agent who is great and believes in him…very lucky. On the other side, since he graduated two weeks ago, he has booked two plays. He has not sat on his ass waiting. He gets up everyday looking for auditions and goes to everything he can get into. He is lucky in having me. It gets a foot in the door, but he has to prove himself. He is a great example of making it happen.

Commercials vs. Film

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


David:

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.


David:

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.


David:

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.


Beth:

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

Summer Auditions

I call this my summer blog post. I’ve been giving actors time to graduate, take vacations, and to decide if they really want to be doing this. SAG established actors have to help by being available. Summer is hopefully our busiest time. Weather is great and more production is done in New York. If there were ever a time that you should re-evaluate your commitment and love for acting, now would be the time. Summer is the “worst” time to take vacations. People want to shoot in New York when the weather is nice. When it is cold, agencies and production companies are happy to get away; summer is when they want to stay in New York. This is a big window of time – June 1st to the end of September. This is the time to be an available actor. Take your vacations in the winter. The more quality actors available will help casting directors do a good job and prove that New York is a great place to cast and shoot. If there was ever a time, summer is it. I know everyone likes time off in the summer but in all my years of casting, I work 5-6 days a week during the summer. We don’t take Fridays off. We even make ourselves available to cast on Saturdays.

Friday is a workday. The actors that make themselves available are the ones that will work. My clients do not want to hear that actors take Fridays off in the summer; something they never have to with in LA. They are offering opportunity and we all need to take advantage. Supply demand, demand supply…be there for it.

Give this a chance to work. Acting is not based on a school year. Make yourself very available. Union or non-union, the hope is that there is enough work for everyone to get a job. Nothing in New York shuts down because it’s summer.

I am just pleading to all actors to use summer the right way. Come February you “asked” where are all the auditions. Let’s commit and work hard to get and keep production in New York. Stop jumping on a plane every other week. You can have one day’s notice for an audition or one hour (that happens a lot). Wake up everyday believing you will get an audition. Let’s just start with this summer and see where it goes. I’m asking for actors’ support. Give it this summer; we’ll all do our part. You know that saying, “the early bird catches the worm.” Be the early bird.

Let’s start with this very important advice and as the weeks go on, I will continue to give advice on how to make the most of your time while making yourself available. Availability is the key.

Also, a few of my favorite excuses from the last two weeks of casting:

  1. I scheduled an actor that I have known for a long time. Called his agent, agent called him, and he told the agent he retired. Signed client. You would have thought he would have notified his agent that he had retired.
  2. Actor does an audition and then a callback. Accepted a ROFR (hold) for shoot day. We called to book him and he said that he thought his callback sucked so he didn’t think he would get the job. He took a waiter job for shoot day. When I called him, he was going to turn down the booking. I asked if he wanted to be an actor or a waiter. His agent could not convince him to take my booking. I gave him five minutes to change his mind if wanted to be an actor. He took the acting job. His agent thanked me for getting him to do the job. Huge lesson here: just because you think you didn’t do well at the callback, doesn’t mean anything.
  3. An actor that I scheduled for a network audition, big payday, turned the audition down because he had to chaperone his kid on a school field trip. Acting: a hobby or job? Really trying to figure this out and so are the agents. I can keep going on but I think this is a good example of how messed up things are.
Summer Auditions

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

A Word From My Staff

This week’s post is going to be mostly written by the casting directors and casting assistants that work for me. They all work very hard and have my frustrations, as well as their own. They do not have attitude and work hard to create the best casting sessions along with me and their advice and opinions matter.


Ashley:

Hello everyone! For those of you who do not know me, my name is Ashley and I’ve worked at Beth’s office for over 8 years. I started out at the front desk as a casting assistant, then became a casting director, and now primarily I work in the back office with her (with a made up title I gave myself), helping clients, talking with the agents, and scheduling the seasons. Prior to this, I was working in casting in the wonderful city of Chicago. The reason I’m giving you my background is so you can feel reassured that the advice I’m about to give you is not just a minor pet peeve. It is a misconception that started, who knows when, but for some reason it has continued. Also, it means that out of everything I could have chosen to discuss, I picked this… So it’s probably important.

Actors, please don’t lie or exaggerate on your resume…or really exaggerate your skill set in general.  Here is the deal, we work on a lot of jobs that are looking for “real people” or require a specific skill set. Therefore, I spend a great deal of my time looking at your resumes, your “special skills,” and reading the notes provided by you or your agent. While this may feel like a golden opportunity for you to show off some of the tools you have gained through school, classes or life in general, the truth of the matter is if you are not great at something you should not mention it.

Casting directors and directors look at those extra details to see if you qualify for certain characters or for the opportunity to bring something useful or unique to the set. So as much as we appreciate the jokes and the small tidbits about your life, this area is really meant as another extension to sell yourself. You have a valid drivers license or passport? Great! List it here! You went to cirque school and can juggle, walk a tightrope, and tumble, amazing! Every week you write a fairly well known baking blog or teach yoga on the side, all of that is relevant information. You speak 3 other languages? Tell us! But if you tell me you know how to speak another language, I expect you to know how to read it as well. Think about it, if we ask you to speak Spanish, the script will be in Spanish. So if you show up and can’t read the language, you’ve wasted our time, your agents’ time, your own time and you’ve taken a spot away from a person who actually has the skill. If you say you can swim, I fully expect you to be able to prove that by jumping in a pool at callbacks. You say you can ride a horse; you better have ridden for years, because we don’t have time for you to learn to cantor before arriving to set. Anything mentioned is fair game to be asked about on the spot. So if you can only do a Russian accent after 3 days of practice, take it off. It’s better not to include it, and save yourself from an embarrassing situation. (Slightly off topic, if someone tells you that a job requires you to be a legal age, don’t try to fib your way into a session; we require valid forms of ID to audition. If you lie here you may find yourself in a whole bunch of legal trouble and ain’t nobody got time for that.)

The same can be said about the roles you have played.  I’ve heard horror stories about actors auditioning for casting directors and claiming they were day players on series when they were actually an extra and the casting director calling them out, because they cast the project. You never want to be that person.

I am really saying this for your benefit, as much as my own. As much as it frustrates me, and your agents, it makes you look foolish. Every job we have we want to give our clients the best possible casting session. We don’t like to waste people’s time and we try our best to bring in only the right people for each role. We don’t believe in open calls, so therefore we rarely take people off the tape. But if someone we have taken the time to schedule, comes in and hasn’t been honest about the level of their abilities, we have no choice but to take them off the link. This always leads to a series of upset phones call between us and the agents trying to figure out what exactly got lost in translation. Needless to say, sometimes a bitter taste is left in our mouths and we cannot help but remember that the next time a job comes around that you might be right for. We understand if mistakes were made, but if it comes down that you were overly confident, it doesn’t bode well for you. So do everyone, and yourself a favor, just be honest! You’ll look good, your agents will look good, and we will look good for the clients. It is a win-win for everyone.


Marisa:

Cooperation is a very important factor for me. I love working with actors and the sense of camaraderie during the audition process in the studio. I always try to make the experience a positive one. One thing that stands out as a pet peeve of mine is when actors do not show up at their scheduled appointment times and are expected to be seen at any time. We schedule each session with a purpose and showing up on time is a lot more important than you would think. When people don’t show up on time, it gets the session running behind. The time wasted waiting on someone to show up has to be made up by rushing the process in the studio which gets frustrating since I enjoy spending time in the studio to ensure a better quality audition. It’s also frustrating when someone shows up demanding to be squeezed in early. I understand life can get in the way and I try to be as accommodating as I can, but these issues should be resolved in advance to avoid upsetting the flow of the session.


Elizabeth:

At the front desk, we see a lot…I mean, a lot. I’m usually swamped with phone calls, e-mails, and getting all the sessions together. When an actor comes in for an audition, I expect them to treat it like a job interview. That means reading the signs that clearly mark what job is in each studio, knowing what job you’re here for, coming in at your given time, telling your agent when you’re running late, and signing yourself in. I’m always available to help you and happy to do so. But I LOVE when someone is self-efficient and knows what’s going on. If I remember you for being late, all over the place, and unable to sign in for your audition, that will NOT be good for your chances on getting more auditions! Each audition is a chance to pursue your dream, so don’t waste it!


Joe:

Anyone coming in for an on-camera audition at BMC is required to sign-in on Casting Frontier with a username and password or ID number. You should have this information ready when you get here. If you come in prepared, you will be in and out faster and on your way to your next audition. Everything these days requires a username and password. Your casting sign-in information is just as important as your Facebook and Instagram sign-in information.


Sara:

I often work on casting projects where we’re required to find real people and real stories. These jobs are labor intensive and time consuming, I am so appreciative of those agents and assistants willing to do the work to help us get the job done quickly and efficiently. It makes all the difference to know we have each others’ support and makes those bookings all the more rewarding.


Now, I’m going to use this week to bring up vacations. Somehow, one-day holidays have become five-day weekends for actors. Christmas has become two weeks down for talent agents and actors leaving from before Thanksgiving, yes Thanksgiving, until one week after New Years. For people that live on salaries like agents, maybe it’s a nice perk, but for casting companies, we don’t make money if we are not casting. Over two weeks down means I can’t cast. No casting means I am paying out lots of money and not bringing any in; my landlord doesn’t waive my rent from mid December to the first week of January. My employees still need to get paid. I am more than happy to be open during any of that time (and I stay open for most of the time), with, of course, being closed for Christmas and New Years.

Every once in a while an emergency job comes in during that time and for the lucky actors that stayed in New York they have a real good chance of booking a job. As a casting company, getting these jobs depends on the phone ringing (we are technically freelance). We never know when the phone is going to ring, so we are ALWAYS ready, waiting, and willing to take the work. We are not a 9-5, five-day per week business anymore. California casting is a six-day per week job. The people that work for me get a very fair amount of vacation time, as well as all legal holidays. So just because the actors drag out holidays, even like a long extended weekend for President’s Day, we still wait by the phone hoping for work and we make ourselves available 24/7, 52 weeks a year. You never know when the phone will stop ringing so “no” is not an option for me. I would rather be able to keep employing people and work is the only way I can do that.

I guess my main point is agents closing too often and actors dragging out the simplest or shortest holidays affects casting companies and independent casting directors greatly. Financially, we cannot say no. I’m just not sure why so many other people can. This weekend is Easter and Passover. Starting from yesterday and up until Tuesday, I’ll be hearing more than less, “They are still out of town.” I guess for the upside to actors born and bred in New York, they don’t have to go home. They are home.

A Word From My Staff