Changing Times and We Are All Scared

This is a plea to actors. Please let’s figure out the future of the business before we give up. Let’s hope that when SAG asks casting directors what we truly think, they listen.

I have not written a blog post in a long time and to be honest, I was not sure I was going to write it anymore. I felt I was writing the same thing over and over and I was helping a   certain group of people learn the business but unable to reach the group that casting directors and agents need the most help from. That is the group of actors that have been doing this a long time. They are SAG members that seem to be so frustrated with SAG and the state of the business that they have given up.

The business right now is the most unpredictable that I have ever seen. Every month is a rollercoaster for casting and even worse for agents and actors. There is no consistency in any way for any of us. SAG commercial agent departments are getting smaller and smaller. As senior agents leave, they are not being replaced…supply and demand.

I have used the same calendar book for thirty years. I use it to write my daily schedule in it, what I prep and cast. My first diary book is dated 1984. It’s really amazing to look back at the “golden days,” the pages were filled. I can actually prove the flow and changes in the business better than anyone by going through those books. There is so much history there. The peak of my work and the network commercial work in NY was about fifteen years ago. Back then I used to say, “I am exhausted but I have to hope and pray that I am lucky enough to stay successful.” I couldn’t keep up with it. Every job paid my rate. Every job was SAG. If I had known then what I know now, I would have saved more money.

To tell you the truth, I have no idea where the advertising business is going now but I would like to have a conversation with somebody who does. The first big change I noticed was the addition of cable. That did not affect my work flow or getting my rates to cast. Actors were upset and went on strike. Casting directors do what we are hired to do. We have no union. That strike made my job twice as hard and I was glad when it was over.

I believe the union underestimated the amount of commercials that would be shot for cable and believed it was a passing phase. And here we go again. We have now entered the world of digital and social media. This is not going away and seems to be about 70% of the commercials being shot. These ads have very tiny budgets and most cannot afford to use SAG talent. Some of these play on things like Snap Chat. The 17% pension and welfare is what makes it impossible to use SAG talent. Casting Directors have had to agree to cut their rates by 2/3 and hope to cast twice the amount of work to pay our bills and stay in business.

This is the point I was trying to get to: It’s not the huge corporations shooting broadcast commercials and just wanting to do them non-union; I think everyone values great SAG actors but with the shooting budgets for digital, it is not affordable and the truth is that network TV is mostly watched for live sporting events, award shows, and specials.

We are all scared right now and network seems to be at an all time low, though SAG says that they are making more money than ever. The average actor can no longer afford medical and the chances are that they will never collect a pension.

I believe advertising will always be necessary. It actually works in introducing products and selling them. I have no idea how SAG said they had the best year ever. I know that the average actor struggles to pay their bills and have very little hope that things will change. This next contract needs to be thought out in a whole new way. Someone has to be on top of this digital situation and figure out a way that we can all stay working. I am on the ground as the case with most casting directors and we truly look for guidance and hope. There are no convincing low budgeted jobs to go SAG so or even try and buy up every actor in NYC. That is an old fashioned way of thinking and maybe it is time for new blood.

Changing Times and We Are All Scared

Summer Casting and Puppy Mills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Summer Casting and Puppy Mills

Lets Move Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lets Move Forward

My Thoughts on the New SAG Contract

I’d like to talk about the new proposed SAG commercial contract. The commercial business is the worst it has ever been. It is affecting agents, actors, casting directors, directors, producers, and god knows how many other people. Non-union has become almost the norm and I was so hoping that with all the questions casting directors and agents were asked before the negotiations, that some of the concerns would be addressed.

The future, whether we like it or not, is digital – the internet, social media, etc. These mediums, for whatever reason, do not seem to warrant big budgets. Just paying pension and welfare makes it unaffordable to shoot on a SAG contract. The 8-hour shoot day makes it unaffordable and SAG is the last union to be doing it. Outside the zone makes it unaffordable, and still first class airfare for over 1,000 miles. You are talking about a plane ticket for $6,000. That rule is stopping clients from casting on both coasts and, once again, losing work for your members across the country. It is not the rates for the actors, it’s all the extras. Non-union work, for the most part, pays the actors very well.

Broadcast TV commercials paying residuals are becoming dinosaurs. Meanwhile that is where all the negotiating energy was put. The hope was to recognize where the future is and concentrate on that. Instead, there were huge increases in things that are becoming obsolete. Sometimes, you need to go backwards to move forward.

Now was the time to try and understand where we are in 2016 and deal with those issues so that SAG actors can continue to work. My fear is that this new deal is going to benefit the top level of commercial actors; but where is the benefit for young actors to want to join the union? I do not have the answers but I feel this negotiation will do nothing to help in getting more clients to shoot on a sag contract.

I urge all SAG members to do their due diligence. Ask your agents questions and make sure you understand how it will impact you. Cable is now up 13%, P&W 18%, and medical is almost impossible for actors to get. I have been doing this for 33 years.

When I started I never imagined that we would be doing so much non-union work.

I was hoping for HOPE and I don’t see it here. If you look back at the last strike, there was no reason for it. The biggest new problem back then was cable and I do not think the union thought it would be that be a deal. Why you didn’t want agents and even casting directors as part of the negotiation, I will never understand. We are on the front lines and understand what is going on better than anyone. The future in social media is moving so fast and it is only going to get worse. I truly think that it was pretty much ignored. So few people, especially the younger ones, do not watch network or even broadcast TV. Even cable shows can be watched on Netflix without any commercials. You got tremendous increases in things that barely exist and now even cable commercials will be done non-union.

Old ways of negotiating and ignoring the future mediums (that I don’t think are really understood) are not going to help the future of the existing membership. Does anyone realize that when a casting director gets a job, the first question is, “Is it union or non union?” Approximately 60% of all commercials cast are now non-union. Not sure anyone tried to figure out that number in order to help the negotiations.

How are agents going to survive? I certainly was hoping for so much more to help bridge this gap. We can’t change the reality but we can care enough about the up coming generation and the massive changes in the tech world to have tried harder on their behalf.

Casting directors have been left in a position to continue doing what we are doing because the door was not even opened enough to think things can change. I wish I understood why the majority of your membership would agree to this when there is not one drop of hope in there for them.

Pensions are like social security. Will these actors ever be able to work enough to collect? Maybe I am naive but you could have done so much better. I have never asked a union actor to work non-union and I never will. I respect the idea of the “union.” I just think you gave had years and hundreds of hours of meetings to then completely ignore the “real” issues.

I urge all actors to read and really understand this new deal.

It would have benefitted everyone if you had come closer. Where’s the incentive for non-union actors to become union? What could possibly turn things around under this deal? Everyone wants a union but a union that works for everyone – the big guy and the small guy.

I was really hoping for so much more. Extending the talks and trying to figure this out would have been better. You did it with cable and now it’s too late. You did it with internet and now it’s too late and now you are doing it with all social media platforms. Three years from now, I’m not sure where union shot commercials will be.

SOOOOOO FRUSTRATED, ALONG WITH ALL OTHER CASTING DIRECTORS, AGENTS, AND MANY ACTORS THAT NEED THE PROPER HELP.

Good luck.

My Thoughts on the New SAG Contract

A Bit About Beth

 

Saturday was my birthday. Year is not allowed to be discussed…haha. It was nice to have a stress free day knowing that I will have casting sessions set up for next week. I went horseback riding, which is my one non-work related passion. I am always so busy talking about the stress of setting up casting sessions and the struggle to get actors to be accountable to agents and managers that I have never explained the casting director side.

I do not have a staff job. Beth Melsky Casting is a freelance company. Just like actors wait for the phone to ring, I wait for the phone to ring. Every job with a client could be my last. That is why I treat EVERY job like my first. It does not matter how big or small. It does not matter if they are paying my rate or asking for a discount. A job is a job and we do them all 100%.

The excuse, “they are not paying me enough” is not an excuse to dial it in.

You also never know what the future could bring so I always do my best. Do actors half ass auditions because they are not getting paid enough?

I feel this work ethic has served my company and I well. Favors are usually not forgotten and ending on a positive note could lead to future business.

When I started, you only needed a handful of directors/clients that understood the positives of a great casting director (once you proved to be talented), especially in New York, where most ad agencies and production companies were based. There was a lot of top-level work being done. Relationships were about my taste in actors as well as my relationship with talent agents to help provide me the option for the best actors. Every director is different and has different ideas and ways of explaining what they are looking for. Two directors could want the same type of talent but say if very differently. It is my job to understand that and if I don’t, I ask questions. Assumptions are out of the question. Understanding a director should be the number one reason a director considers you his/her casting director. These relationships mean a lot to me. I am always searching and digging to present new actors but I still understand what the director wants. My job is to understand the director or ad agency and give them what they want based on taste and understanding.

My opinion is not the point in commercials. Films are a whole other animal. You MUST have a great relationship with a director and totally get in their heads. Directors are always open to suggestions as long as you can back them up.

The thing about film that I think people miss is that we see, meet, and use these actors way before they get on the radar of independent films and then studios. They could really learn a lot from top commercial casting directors about people that are going to break. The “money” cast may already be set but the hope, especially in an independent film, is to introduce them to those actors that will break by the time their movie gets released.

I was never interested in casting sitcoms and have always been interested in casting independent films with great scripts or great people behind them. I just do not think they have the same faith in us that we have in casting their projects.

We did a pretty great job with Tony Kaye and his last film Detachment. It was a great film with a great cast. It was an independent film that many celebrities worked on at scale because of the material and the director. I have worked on many films and I am very proud of that one.

I love working on one film a year because my commercial work is very important and, most times, fulfilling. I would not mind working on a great episodic, like Billions – a New York cast, great scripts, great regular characters that can be filled in with perfection, though I think the casting is great.

I have always stayed in commercials because I have been lucky enough to cover all areas of commercial casting by staffing up properly and understanding all union rules to protect signatories as well as understanding the demands of the non-union world. I try to get actors fare rates and fare deals.

Casting directors are not going to stop the non-union world. In order to stay working we need to be great and knowledgeable at both. We need for our clients to trust that we know what we are doing – getting the best for their budgets and protecting them. We also look out to protect actors. We never want anything coming back to us.

I hope that our diligence has kept us working and that we continue for the long haul. Change is happening very fast and we need to be ready. I have many people to support as well as animals, bills, rent and mortgages. This is what I do best and want to continue to have the phone ring. This is what I will always do and want to be the best at.

Any my last thought – I am not a mean person. I am a passionate person that wants to see everyone contribute to a get great end result. I actually always root for the underdog.

 

 

 

 

 

A Bit About Beth

Respect Everyone’s Time

 

Since my last post, I have found that time is an issue for casting directors and actors. There has to be respect on both sides. Whether Beth Melsky Casting sessions are union or non-union, they are scheduled the same way. We do not do cattle calls. We follow the spec and script and then schedule accordingly.

We hate having actors wait too long. We cannot always control callbacks because we are dealing with a director and client but I do the best to anticipate what might happen.

As far as my first calls, I really want quality sessions that run smoothly. This is why my office is so strict about time changes or even losses.

There is a real reason why we cannot accommodate all time changes. I hate getting agent submissions with actors that I am excited to see, but to find out that they are not available because they have not booked out or updated their schedules with their agent. We are trying to make every session perfect. We need the right type at a specific time for many reasons.

I can be doing five characters in a day with small windows for each one. Letting actors walk in whenever they want makes for a sloppy casting session and makes it harder for the people watching to get a sense of what they have. That can lead to more casting or too many callbacks. Some auditions require multiple actors of different types to make a scene work. We need to re-create the storyboard or script as closely as possible when setting up a session. I try and anticipate how long an audition will take and leave enough time for the casting director to do a great job and give all actors a fair chance. If actors are running late or just cancel, it throws off the whole session. I have had actors waiting way beyond their time because of this. They get as frustrated as we do.

Again, there are two sides to everything. First calls out of Beth Melsky Casting are very important. Our directors and clients look very closely at casting sessions. They trust us to do a great job and to get them to callbacks. This is like putting together a puzzle. When one piece does not fit, or needs a time change, or didn’t book out, I have to keep re-doing the puzzle.

I think the point I am trying to make here is that it is not the casting director against the agent or actor. The business has changed so much for all of us. In this fast paced business, a lot of effort and attention to detail are required and, in order to keep working, we have to make these changes. Casting directors, agents, and actors have to work together to make this process go smoothly and keep the quality.

My office might have a reputation for being difficult and I just want everyone to know that it is because we want to put out great casting sessions that will keep the process going.

A quality casting session in New York on a job shooting in New York will make those clients cast the next job in New York.

I’m not sure the casting process has ever been explained clearly to actors so it is hard to understand our actions. I would like if agents and their assistants understood the way casting sessions worked. I have made the offer for them to spend a day in my office to learn, but nobody seemed to care enough. I think certain things could be explained to all actors in a way that they would be happy to make more of an effort. We are working together to not only keep a very unclear business going, but to show respect for everyone who is trying to get a job done right.

Respect Everyone’s Time

To A Productive 2016

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

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

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

 

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To A Productive 2016