Monday, May 9, 2011

Network Television Casting and Launching a Studio

Casting TV Shows; Hilary Swank in the Producer's Chair

Banner image: (L to R) Molly Smith and Hilary Swank outside the KCRW studios

Casting TV Shows; Hilary Swank in the Producer's Chair

Produced by:
Notes by Art Lynch for SAGACTOR blog.
As television networks evaluate which new series to air in the Fall we talk with two veteran casting executives about casting TV shows. Lori Openden and Marcia Shulman talk about why women are uniquely equipped to be casting directors, how Botox makes their jobs harder, and how it's nearly impossible to find an American man to lead a TV drama. 
Openden, who was with NBC when it was in its heyday, is with the CW. Shulman was head of casting and development for FOX, stepping down to be a consultant. Why women? Casting directors came from "secretaries" and "casting assistants" who tend to be women. 80% of the casting industry is now women. While in the past casting directors had acting experience, today most come from the business side.
The joy of casting is discovery. The difference between casting people and the rest of the world is when I see someone I think of how can I use that person, what can I put them in, how can be benefit each other.
Shulman elevated Hugh Laurie, wanting to bring him to the network for years. She went to her boss with "House" and her boss said "he's Stuart Little, not House." Hugh Laurie's audition took place on a video tape he shot in a bathroom while on location for a film in Africa.
Openden selected Jennifer Aniston in "Friends", off of her performance in the TV show "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". 
The show runner and casting director narrow the selections made by location and primary casting directors before a select group is presented to the producers and the network. Usually network casting reviews talent prior to any final negotiations and selection.
Today video has replaced live auditions, at least at FOX. From a network standpoint the decision was made to stop the fast decision of short auditions and replace it with "screen tests" and the option of live auditions for the best to to four actors for the role.
FOX uses live auditions on video, with those casting in a separate room, with the tape available to later consideration. 
Casting directors are mostly advocates for the producers, the creative people, talent and the networks. Operden says network casting executives have input into the casts and the ultimate responsibility to recommend the final OK on the casting of lead role actors. 
Shulman believes that there is a "sameness" in actors that is not interesting. Charisma, uniqueness, non-traditional, non-Hollywood talent rises to the top. It is best not to do what everyone else does.
It is not your imagination that American talent has a hard time breaking through to the top. Both agree that there is a reason, not wanting to take a chance on actors who do not "get it." 
Showrunners tend to turn to Australians and Brits to play American leads. Shulman says there is a stylistic "old fashioned real men" attitude that experienced foreign actors understand and can present. American actors seem to go boyish or muscleman, and not real and in depth.
Many strong American actors do not want to work the number of episodes a year television requires, or want the freedom to use language or subject matter still treated differently on television than paid cable or in films. There is also a patience and willingness to keep training and working on their craft in English and Australian actors that Americans seem to lack.
Then the show sits down with Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank and Molly Smith (daughter of billionaire Fred Smith, founder and CEO of Fed Ex and the sole financier of Alcon Entertainment) to talk about their new company, 2S, and the partnership between an accomplished actress and a producer with access to funding. Their first film together is the new movie, Something Borrowed
Swank says that there are roles opening up in film, as well as on stage, for older women, and that older women get the roles over "younger" actors "like herself." 
Smith met Swank when she was a production assistant on a film. She worked her way up in the business. Swank says that a name does not get you very far..and even money does not guarenttee success.
Their company is geared to tell stories for women with women stars, using emotion and heart. 

Today's Banter Topics:
- Judy McGrath ousted as head of MTV networks and what it means for MTV, Comedy Central and Nickolodeon. McGrath's track record is one of the best in television. She helped build MTV when it was music and built the brand for MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Nikolodian and other networks. MTV's parent company is Viacom, whose CEO is the highest paid CEO in the country, and is very business hands on.
- Hollywood's hopes that Showtime's Bob Greenblatt can turn NBC around and Comcast's new infusion of cash into NBC's programming. This includes USA and other NBC Universal Networks. NBC is pushing over $300 million into program development this year alone, with a focus on "better shows."  
- The end of the indie production company, The Film Department, started by veterans of Miramax and other indy film studios. Distribution fees and the new model of Hollywood, with a money investment crunch, put the nails in the coffin, and may inhibit other companies in trying to produce middle brown and art films. 


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