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

Casting is as Challenging as Acting

Here is a little bit about me and what it’s like being a casting director now versus when I started. It is important for actors to understand how drastically the business has changed. It might help in learning new things that we all have to do to try to keep the business going…for all of us.

I used to love being a casting director. I still love casting. I love casting the same way actors love acting. Now the business is so out of whack and lost; only about 20% of each workday for me is actually about “casting.” The rest is business. Casting is an art. It is very rewarding and exciting for me, even after 30 years, to book a job. That means I did my job.

Unfortunately, the jobs that require my casting eye and expertise are few and far between. So much of it has become navigating the business with expertise on rules, rates, and respect. My expertise is needed by a lot of new producers and companies that need knowledge to get them the best talent for the best rate and keep the casting process done with quality. Budgets for casting have decreased, money for actors has decreased, and money for production has decreased, but they still need my company’s expertise to put out a casting session as if every job was like a big paying union network job. I spend everyday trying to navigate all of this and be fair.

Right now is the best time for new actors to have more agent choices and more opportunity to audition with a greater chance to be seen and book. There is a lot of advice I can give you on how to do this and I will do that in my next blog post. This one is about how the casting director job has changed and how it affects some actors in a positive way and others in a negative way.

A great example of how the biz has changed is that 25 years ago, there was no non-union work. All commercials were SAG and clients were happy with 10-15 strong choices. They would pick three actors for callbacks; the actors’ chance of booking was incredible. John Goodman was the cream of the crop back then. He booked almost every commercial he auditioned for. Actors that booked lots of network commercials back then went onto success. Now we have to see 100 per part…really narrows down the chances.

Then, the first strike happened. We got through it and things went back to normal. Then the second strike hit, along with the Internet and nothing went back to normal. This is when the casting director’s job started to change. To stay in business, we had to change with it.

There are so many blanks to fill and if you show interest in the story, I will be happy to keep writing it. The invention of the Internet and then streaming content has changed the commercial business forever. I think I have an idea of where it’s going but we have to have faith that, at least for commercials, the only way to sell a product is to advertise.

The advertising business just needs to figure out how to get ads seen. There’s so much to learn and think about for all of us. I do not plan on ever closing my doors. I will change as I have to and hopefully be able to keep employing actors along with me. I have a lot more history to talk about as well as ideas moving forward and things we can do to help.

Casting is as Challenging as Acting

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

An Actor’s Perspective

This week I asked actor Mark Gessner, who works a ton and is one of the best in the business, to contribute to my blog. I did not edit this. I allowed him to tell us things that I talk about every week, but from an actors’ perspective versus a casting director’s. I think it’s important that all sides are heard. I hope opening it up helps everyone reading to understand the big picture.


Remember like six months ago when people were constantly writing “open letters” all the time? It was just after the time goats were a big deal and a bit before things being “on fleek” started? That’s kind of what I’m doing here, but not annoying hopefully. I want to talk about the business of acting and our responsibilities as actors in said business.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Beth Melsky asked me if I would write something from an actor’s perspective. Also I should note that, while she is intimidating and tough as hell and frequently used to scare the ever-living shit out of me, I happen to like her very much. So when she asked me, I said sure. I did not write this because I feel like I have some sort of deep wisdom you’d all be lucky to have. Frankly, I owe her. For her part, Beth just asked me to write it and said she’ll present it as is. So here goes.

Usually when we hear the phrase “personal responsibility”, it’s Mitt Romney or Ted Cruz saying it, or it’s Thanksgiving and your “guns should have more rights than women” uncle is saying it. But it does apply to us as actors and to the careers we are trying to build. And I speak for myself here, but I feel comfortable generalizing in some ways. We all want to audition one million times per week and we all want to be on a show or in movies or on Broadway and not have to work at a bar or restaurant where we have to answer questions like “Um excuse me, what part of the cow does the sea bass come from?” We’re over that. And if we work hard and get a little lucky, we can pay our bills a different way. We can do it just acting.

For me, that was always the dream. I wouldn’t mind being rich as hell and still have plenty of plans for when I am, but in the mean time I will be more than happy with acting simply being how I pay my way in the world and how I feed my kids. And it’s tempting to feel “past” things. For example, one of the biggest challenges in my career was finding a good agent. It took yeeeeeears. But I have found where I belong now. And that hurdle having been cleared makes it seem like in some ways your work is done. I would submit to you that your work begins now. You can actually focus on your career and skills and craft in a different way because you’re not obsessed with finding an agent. It is my firm belief that we are the captains of our own team/brand/career/reputation. And as such we have the responsibility to empower those around us who are tasked with helping us to achieve our dreams and goals. Earning a career in this business requires a large amount of self-focus. We have to know ourselves very well, we have to work hard to find parts that are in our wheelhouse, etc. But it is not a good look when self-focus becomes self-involvement. Everyone hates that like they hate gum in their hair. Don’t be that dude(tte).

Do you like lists? Tough shit if you don’t because I have kids and so I don’t sleep anymore and I need lists or I can’t function. Here’s a short list of things we can actually control that will make us less of a pain in the ass:

  1. TELL YOUR AGENT WHEN YOU’RE UNAVAILABLE. It’s not a crime to take some time away from NYC or to take a few days off here and there. You might need to do that just to remember why you love this crazy ass place. Or this crazy ass business, frankly. You are allowed to do this. You are a grown adult. But the city and the business bustle along briskly without you and people still work on projects. These same people may even want YOU to be in their project. You will cause a disproportionately large problem if you don’t book out and your agent tells a casting director you’re available. It seems so simple and it seems like so not a big deal. It seems like so not a big deal because it’s not YOUR time getting wasted and it’s not YOU getting cursed out because multiple schedules are effed up because a two-line email re: your schedule wasn’t sent. That is a bad reputation to get. If you’re unavailable, cool. TELL SOMEONE!
  2. SHOW UP AND WORK AND DON’T BE A TOOL. Show up on time because Read the copy. Don’t write on it. It’s not yours. But read it and know it. Don’t annoy other people with long bro-ey phone conversations and fake “no YOU’RE so pretty” conversations in the waiting room.
  3. LISTEN TO THE PERSON WHOSE JOB IT IS TO HELP YOU BOOK THE FREAKIN’ COMMERCIAL. We are overwhelmingly treated to excellent casting pros in our city. This is a tough city in which to succeed. That goes for casting directors too. So if you are dealing with a casting house here that has been around for a while, chances are they know what the hell they’re doing. So please listen. And do what they say. They don’t follow you around all day shouting advice and telling you to take things again. They help you for maybe 4 minutes. Focus and listen and do what they say because, apart from being generally good people who love actors, they have a vested interest in you succeeding. Also, realize that they are seeing literally hundreds of men and women all damn day. Value their time. They keep things moving and reasonably on schedule and that alone is a miracle.
  4. REALIZE AND BE OKAY WITH HOW LITTLE CONTROL WE HAVE. As actors, we have control over precisely two (2) things. Two. We have control over how well we prepare for the opportunities we receive and whether or not we quit acting. That’s literally it. We’re not in casting, we’re not studio execs, we’re not producers, we’re not directors. We’re actors. I write all that with the full and proud knowledge that many of my colleagues and friends brilliantly do most of those things, but during the moments when we’re auditioning, we’re “just” actors. We don’t get to make big, fancy decisions. We are workers. Until we’re A-Listers, we get where we get by working and working and working. We show up sick, sad, injured, hungover. We show up no matter what. Or at least we better. Your control begins and ends with your work in the room. So crush it in the goddamn room. Crush it. Leave no doubt.
  5. BE KIND TO EACH OTHER. Please? Can we? This business is brutal sometimes. And it’s not usually because of our fellow actors. We should lean on each other and be worthy of being leaned on. Be nice. FFS, it’s so much easier than being mean.

Thanks for reading! If you see me around, say hello! Keep following this blog and if you have questions about casting, ask Beth. She actually answers!


Next post will include an interview with a talent agent. There’s always at least three sides to every story. Thanks for reading. Makes me feel like people are learning and maybe some change will happen to help the process, which, in turn, will help the business.

An Actor’s Perspective

Actors: Don’t Make the Same Mistakes

I am going to discuss two things that happened this week. First, I decided to schedule an actress (who I haven’t scheduled in a while) to come in and audition for a great union commercial. She confirmed her appointment the day before. 20 minutes after her confirmed appointment time, I got a call from her agent saying that she was sick and had to cancel. I understand that people get sick but I’m pretty sure that she knew she was sick well before 20 minutes AFTER her appointment. It would have been nice if we were informed early enough so that another actress could have had a chance to be scheduled in. The casting director was waiting on her to work with another actor and this lack of respect caused many problems. I’m just asking for respect and responsibility. This even affected her peers. Be more responsible and consider the big picture.

This next story is the ultimate in frustration for me and can provide some good insight into how the process works. It shows how a lack of communication between casting director to agent and agent to actor can cause the loss of an audition and possible booking for no reason. I gave the breakdown to the agent verbally. I believe it’s very hard to convey important things in a written breakdown. I try and put out every breakdown verbally to get the best possible result. This job required amazing actors that are well trained in comedic timing and have a background in improvisation. I love giving casting specs this way, as well as being able to explain the spot. A top director known for his incredible work, as well as loyalty to strong actors, is directing this job. He has won many awards, including a Golden Lion at the Cannes Film Festival for best commercial campaign. It was an award for best casting, which we cast, so I was really proud. Any actor should be and is very proud to work with him on any project. You know the material will be great and he will make it even better.

This is not a big money job, but it is SAG and not a spot that will make an actor over exposed or tie them up in a big conflict area. The product is not high profile, so it would not have taken her out of high profile competitive work and it’s only running in one small city for 13 weeks. It’s a great spot for acting reel with no down side. Booking this job is a win-win. If the agent does his/her job and pays attention, they should be able to explain it to the actor and advise them to do it. That is an agents’ job…right??? First, the agent said that the actress passed because she didn’t want to do it at scale. I didn’t agree but accepted the answer. At that point, I wasn’t sure that the agent had given any real thought to the job and, therefore, didn’t even speak to the actress about it.

About 3 hours later, I received another phone call saying the actress was passing on the material. That’s when I lost it. I called the agent and pulled him out of a meeting. I knew that no one had actually seen the material, so how was this possible? I read the script to the agents but never send it out. I also thought that since the actress knew the director, she would know that the material could only be great and something any actor would want to do. Given all of this, I was sure her agent hadn’t informed her properly about the job. When I finally got the agent on the phone, he was completely out of the loop on the situation, passing on an audition because of “material” (as one of his assistants told us) and still fixated on the money. I asked him how she could possibly have passed on the material when she did not see it. The agent could have called me to clarify things, ask questions, or get more information to do his due diligence. I should not have had to call him; it is the job of the agent to try and get auditions for their clients.

It seems that when we gave his office the breakdown, he was unavailable to take the call himself so another agent there wrote down the information. Unfortunately, she wrote it down incorrectly. The main agent said the information in the written breakdown said the actress was going to have to say she had a horrible disease and she did not want to say that. This is a top improvisation/comedy actress and I knew if the spot was explained properly, she would get the comedy in it and be fine with it. I told the agent we never sent out a written breakdown, so could he tell me where he was reading the information? This is a comedy spot, not a dramatic pharmaceutical commercial.

This is what happens when people do not speak. This material doesn’t come along often and it was something I felt the actress would want to do. By the time I explained to the agent how he should do his job and pointed out the absurdity of the situation, the actress happily confirmed her appointment and came in at scale.

Agents actually thinking and taking the time to ask questions if necessary could make the difference in having one of their clients book the job. It is critical that thought and communication happens. So that it is a win-win for everyone.

It’s not always about the money. It should be about an agents’ opportunity to advise their clients. The ultimate goal is to further their careers. There are still agents in New York that have been doing this for as long as I have and they look at the whole picture. I should never have had to get on the phone again. This was a no-brainer. This is why I call in the breakdown. Once again, verbal communication versus e-mail is a huge concern right now. Next week on my blog will be a post from a very high profile union actor. As always, thanks for reading.

Actors: Don’t Make the Same Mistakes

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

Don’t Give Up

Today was a very sad day for me; a talent agency called Artists Entertainment closed their doors. They will continue to manage ongoing SAG contract work but will no longer represent talent or work on breakdowns. They were an agency that only did SAG work. They honored their franchise agreement with SAG and followed all the rules. Mary Haggerty, one of the owners, took my place when I left the casting company I worked for to open my own company. She then left there to pursue a career as a talent agent instead of a casting director.

Artists Entertainment is a small agency and always represented actors of quality not quantity. In this day and age, to be a SAG franchised agent, you need to have a huge client list. There are not enough breakdowns and the ones the agents get, they know the casting directors have to see 40-60 people per role. This is where everything falls apart. There’s too much competition for seasoned actors; therefore, those actors’ schedules are hit or miss. Their agents submit them without knowing their schedules, whereabouts, or if they even have interest in going to an audition. The SAG agent world is holding firm but they are at their wits end as to how to solve this problem and with each day there’s more and more non-union work with a good quality acting pool to choose from…and the pay is only getting better. I spoke to five agents and they all said the same thing to me, “what are we supposed to do?” My answer, “I don’t know anymore.”

Today I cast a union/network job, a great job and scheduled 48 actors. I got 23 of them to come in for an audition. The agents cannot keep track of actors because of a lack of work and the actors have become very complaisant about keeping their agents informed about their availability and schedule. It’s like everyone has given up. If we can’t produce great quality casting sessions out of New York, why would anyone bother casting here? When we’re given the chance, it’s hard to make it great under the circumstances. I don’t have the answer, but I do know the problem: union or non-union, this is a professional business. We are all going through huge changes but must change with the times in order to keep things going. Eventually this union/non-union thing will sort itself out. With less network spots and more digital, something has to give. All actors deserve a chance to work.

Everyone has to step up or we are just going to hear about more and more people giving up. Think about it!

Don’t Give Up

Actors, Agents, and Casting Directors: So Much to Learn

I’d like to start this post by saying “Beth Melsky Casting” does not teach commercial acting classes. I don’t want it to appear that I was recommending actors to take a commercial acting class from a casting director because it would benefit Beth Melsky Casting as a business, though I do feel it will benefit us because actors will come in ready with great audition skills. I’m not trying to suggest that casting directors are the only ones that can teach this. I’m just suggesting…why not get it directly from the horse’s mouth.

Onto other things: we are casting directors, not casting agents. There is no such thing as a “casting agent.” They are two separate jobs that people often confuse – “casting directors” cast and “talent agents” represent talent (actors, musicians, dancers, etc.). Casting directors are hired for a fee to cast a job. They rely on agents to find the “talent.”

I would like to talk about the job of a casting director and how the casting process works. There are three very important components:

  1. Casting director/company
  2. Talent agent/agencies
  3. Actors (let’s save “real people” for another discussion)

All three of these things are equally important to make the process work perfectly. As a casting director and casting company owner, I have casting directors and casting assistants working for me. Our profession consists of:

  1. Getting the job from a director, advertising agency, or production company.
  2. Taking the time to understand the creative, the casting spec, and all the other facts, such as union or non-union, the pay rate for actors, and making sure all rules and rates are clear and followed through on.
  3. Most importantly, putting out a great casting session and having all who are involved with the project content with the casting and able to pick a cast.

Information is different on every job and what we communicate to the agents, from the first call, is very specific. We don’t leave room for ambiguity. This way, casting directors can protect the client as well as the actor. Mutual respect and trust between casting director and agents allow for no issues at the time of bookings. If I am clear up front, it will make bookings an easy process, with a happy client, satisfied actor(s), and less arguing. Casting directors should have the knowledge to help and advise producers on how to get the best talent possible.

Beth Melsky Casting tries very hard to be very clear up front. There’s no reason to waste anybody’s time. I read all the information on money and usage that is sent to me. I tell producers of issues they may have and often, based on those conversations, things get changed or clarified. I know this doesn’t sound like what a casting director should be doing, but it’s part of doing the job 100% effectively. You would think that casting is just about bringing in and auditioning the best actors for the job but, in the end, if the client can’t have the actor they want for any reason, we have frustrated clients, leading to frustrated casting directors, then arguments with agents. We need to all work as a team – from casting director, to agent, to actor.

Once we get to the point of scheduling a strong casting session, then what goes on in the studio is most important. This is where the casting comes in. The casting director in the studio (casting directors at Beth Melsky Casting) has to have strong directing skills and work hard to get strong performances from all actors auditioning. Will every actor always be right for the role or nail every audition? No, but with casting directors working as hard as we can, we’ll have a strong casting tape and happy clients. Being directed well in an audition helps everyone. I value great studio directors. The job of the casting director in the studio is exhausting. We have to see so many people, way more than in years past, and keep the same energy going from the first audition of the day to the last audition of the day.

It is my job to get the right actors into the studio and it is the job of the casting directors that work for and with me to always do an excellent job in the studio. That’s what casting should really be about – finding the best and strongest actors and helping them do a great performance. Even if there is no “acting” in the audition, we still need great camera work, good energy, and consistency. Having a great eye for what is being looked for makes us a team. When I prep a job (set up actors), I will schedule ¾ of actors I know and leave room to meet new people. We work too fast to do pre-interviews. The casting directors that work for me always know the casting spec and will tell me if someone was just wrong for this project. I trust their opinions. This is where communication and trust comes in between the casting director and agents, as well.

Relationships are everything. We need talent agents out there meeting new actors all the time. This is how we find new actors for our sessions. The casting sessions must stay fresh. “Fresh” is a word used very often in this business. Mixing established with new actors gives clients a wider range of choices to get exactly what they’re looking for. Casting is not a dial-in business and my company takes pride in making every casting job and session as strong as it can be. At the end of the day, that is what’s most important.

Every job we do at Beth Melsky Casting is dealt with like our first. Directors that we work with all the time are as important as first-time clients and directors we work with all the time have to see new actors, as well as actors they know and like. I think it is so important for actors to understand what everyone’s job is and the important roles we all play in casting.

All of this is just my opinion written from experience and I believe that if all of this works, then we do our jobs well.

Actors, Agents, and Casting Directors: So Much to Learn