When I began casting as a fulltime profession eighteen years ago, I found it disconcerting when I would see other, seasoned casting directors who seemed unhappy with their careers, or frustrated with talent, and I couldn't help but wonder how on Earth this could happen. To me, this is the most amazing career, as I get to help dreams come true. What could be better than that!?! After eighteen years, I have come to learn what it is that causes this and what actors can do to make their experience with a casting director a GREAT one. The big secret is... FOLLOW DIRECTIONS.Pretty cool indeed. Whenever I get myself all twisted up with the folks I encounter who simply cannot be bothered to read, I remind myself that there are many more wonderful, glorious, make-my-job-a-joy folks on my journey than those few that take up way too much of my time, and I turn my attention to those who make me thrilled to get to do the work--especially on a favor gig. It's easy to get distracted by the noise of those who are working at less than a professional level. Luckily, we have the choice to NOT get distracted, just by reframing our focus.
Yup, that's it. Just FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. Wait, I know some of you want to stop reading, because you THINK you already follow directions well, but please, read on, because you might find out you aren't following them as well as you think you are.
When I say, "follow directions," what I mean is do nothing more and do nothing less. I'm not talking about acting (although this rule applies to that, as well). I'm talking about the business side of show business. Casting directors aren't kidding when they give you instructions on submissions or needed information. Yes, I'm sure there are some who like to hear themselves talk (as in any profession), but, more often than not, we just don't have the time for it.
Let me explain with a few very recent examples. This past Friday, I received a call from one of my favorite clients, who was in a bind. He needed a voiceover, and didn't have room in the budget for this additional casting, so not only would I not receive my regular pay rates, but it meant giving up my weekend plans, and spending my Saturday and Sunday in front of the computer to have this done for him before Monday morning.
Because he is typically a dream client, I had no problem agreeing to help him out of this jam, but I needed to limit any extra or unnecessary work in order to get this done for him by Monday morning. I put out a breakdown, which stated, "Please only submit if you have experience with voiceover work, and/or training in voiceover. YOU MUST be available and have the ability to self-record (if requested) before 4pm on Sunday, for consideration."
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, after sifting through nearly 300 submissions, I found that only 45 of them met this little bit of the criteria. That meant that I read through 255 resumés of people who either didn't follow the instructions, or haven't bothered to update their resumé, or felt my needs did not apply to them because they are so special. Reading 300 resumés takes a while and reading 255 resumés of people who didn't follow instructions was time I won't get back. So, now I'm not a happy camper.
After I sifted through those 300 submissions and invited the 45 who DID follow instructions to submit, I then received emails back from a couple saying, "Sorry, not available this weekend." Really??? UGH. Moving on.
When I emailed the talent I wanted to audition, I gave specific step-by-step instructions to make the process as easy as possible. Do you think everyone followed directions? Nope. No they did not. Several sent the wrong file type (one actor sent the wrong file type, after I sent it back to him and said, "This won't work; please follow the instructions").
One instruction that seems to be the most obvious to follow, is to read the copy, the sides, the script, as it is written. This was a commercial project, and on commercial projects, the copy has to be approved by what feels like a gazillion people. One actor felt it was appropriate to change the copy because it was "not grammatically correct," and even felt the need to state on his recording that he changed the copy and that was why. Apparently, this actor didn't realize that the people choosing the actor for this job were the creatives (AKA the writers), which is very common, and they don't take kindly to actors telling them they don't know how to do their jobs. No one wants to work with a know-it-all who needs to correct everyone else in the recording booth or on set.
Another time-waster is the actor who feels the need to email rather than submit through the breakdown, or the one who emails and says "I can't submit through the breakdown because..., but please consider me, anyway," and of course, the one who emails multiple times AFTER sending their submission to explain and to ask for advice, help, extra consideration, or even just to say thank you a dozen times.
I don't mean to be rude when I don't respond to those emails, I just don't have the time. On a day like today, 200 to 500 emails is the norm (in addition to listening to and uploading multiple auditions), and I'm under a tight deadline. No, I don't expect you know when I'm busy or when I'm working for a favor more than the money, but you SHOULD assume that is always the case, that way, you won't be mistaken by taking up too much time.
So, after spending nearly nine hours on a job that should have taken me about three, I can see why casting directors have become frustrated and joyless with their jobs. It makes sense to me. Thankfully, I stopped and realized that my frustration was not good and was clouding my ability to enjoy those actors who were good, who followed the directions, and who made my job a bit easier.
I actually went back through and noted which talent they were, so I can remember them for future needs, and just email them directly, when I'm not in a position to waste multiple hours. And, as I noted the 20 remaining actors who were worth forwarding to the client as options, I was reminded why I DO love this job. I know that of those 20 actors, someone is going to be very excited to have landed this national job with a client who will likely utilize him multiple times, and I got to be the catalyst to making that happen for them.
About Kim Swanson
As a performer, Kim Swanson began as a dancer at the age of four. She studied dance with the most respected master instructors in the field of dance and went on to dance with several dance companies including "Jazz Works," "La Troupe de Jazz," "The Company," "The Toledo Ballet," "L' Jazz," and "Giordano Dance Company." She continued her stage career, appearing in George M! and A Chorus Line. She also appeared in several national television commercials, print ads, and on film. After working as a professional dancer and actress, she opened The Studio, Inc., one of the most respected dance training facilities in the St. Louis metropolitan area, which is currently in its 18th dance season. The first two projects Kim completed casting for won Emmy Awards. Since then, she became the first casting director in the state of Missouri to become a member of the CSA. She has completed casting for international feature film projects--the first of which earned best movie, best actor, and best actress awards in Beijing--music videos, national television commercials, and print advertisements, having completed casting for more than 200 projects. In addition, she has become an advocate of young talent, and assisted many in their pursuit for ethical representation within the film community. Hanson Entertainment Industries, Inc., currently maintains a database list of more than 4500 talent. For more information about Kim Swanson, please visit CastingByKim.com.