General Advice from one individual but representative of many...
Advice remains solid, but information may not be from one casting director.
Casting Directors are not gods, or your saviors. They are employees of management who have a job to do and do it to the best of their abilities or they do not work again. They audition and are hired for jobs just as actors are, and are only as good as their last job.
They are not your friend.
They are not the enemy.
They are not your teacher.
They are not your judge, no matter how you may see it that way.
They are doing their job.
Most want you to succeed.
Most are more open than you think to new talent.
All must know the economics and politics of the business.
All must look for skilled and professional talent who will get the job done quickly, professionally and do so without rubbing the director or crew the wrong way.
Their advice is to be taken as opinion, based on doing their job, not on how to act or what to do in all cases.
There are great difference in how casting is done by budget level, location, coast, market, type of production, needs of the production and from how business is done and decisions are made from casting director to casting director, company to company, production to production.
Casting Directors usually (almost always) do not decide who gets the role. It is the CD’s job to present a casting session of the best talent for whatever characters our client (Production Company/Ad Agency) is looking to hire. After the client reviews the casting session, they make their “select” choices and present them to their client (the Product Company, Director, Producers). From there, the choices are narrowed down and eventually a final choice is made. It’s very rare when a client will ask a CD to choose whom they should book. Those rare moments usually occur with only the most trusted casting directors or on very small and "insignificant" roles.
There is a difference between NY and LA casting is that in LA a lot of the TV shows are looking for people who look like actors (polished, well-groomed, attractive, etc.). Basically people who are the best versions of themselves. In NY, CDs are looking for authentic NY faces that look like they were plucked off a city street or subway car. They want virgins who an act and actors who look as if they never acted before. Just look at some of our TV shows in NY, LA and around the country and you’ll see it's true.
Professional background talent is at its best in NYC, with larger union numbers on the set, greater training and the look of being real. They are actors from stage, television, film and now from the web and on-line gaming. They are actors.
On both coast, and in between, where union theatrical background zone exist and on most all commercials, there is a negative stigma to being an extra. It can keep you from working as an actor. Most casting directors say not want to see background work (or any lies or exaggerations) on your resume or reel. A few feel that being a background actor can be part of your training and learning curve, but warn of bad habits you can pick up as background and the industry stigma of background not being actors.
The best casting directors are big fans of quality, not quantity.
It is more important for actors to be going out on auditions that are very focused and geared toward their type/strength so that the potential for booking increases. It is better to focus on going on the RIGHT auditions instead of going on EVERY audition.
Actors will not be taken seriously until they approach casting directors as applicants. Remember, qualified professionals do not beg for a job. They apply and if they do not get the job, they move on and apply someplace else. If they do not get the job and another one opens, perhaps that application will be reviewed and they may get the next opportunity to come around.
Auditioning has a great deal to do with the art of social networking. Everything in an audition sends a message and builds a profile in the mind of the casting director. The more you know, the larger potential you have to grow.
“Staying on a casting director’s radar” is subject to each individual CD’s methods and systems. This is a business of individuals and generally we all have a different process. What usually stays standard across the board however is that CD’s remember good work and talented actors. IT’S OUR JOB! It’s how we make a living and advance our careers. So while there really is no rule or exact science to staying on a CD’s radar or holding his or her interest, my personal opinion on the matter is QUALITY OVER QUANTITY! It doesn’t matter how many CD workshops or classes you take or how often you mail a postcard out. If your aren’t presenting polished, appealing, interesting and QUALITY work, then you probably aren’t making an impression (or even worse…you’re making a bad one).
Focusing on the actual work when you do have an opportunity to meet a CD is more important than figuring out how to keep in touch or stay on their radar. If you do good work and they like you, casting directors are going to want to keep you on their radar!
Every casting office works differently. Some only want submissions and other mail via post while others prefer email. Even after 9-11, casting offices open their mail regardless of how it gets to them. That doesn’t however guarantee or warrant a reply. Cover letters should be brief (you don’t want to take up too much of the CD’s time) and submissions should only be project/role specific. Show and screening invitations are generally always welcomed, but pleased don’t abuse the process.
Quality not quantity.
Do your homework. Research the roles, the director, the CD and the projects before you submit. If you are right go ahead and submit and be ready to apply your research when applicable (it may not always be). If it is about an historic event, actual issue or based on a book.... read the books, research in an academic and not just a cursory way, what you need to know to have a complete, deep and well reasoned audition. Then internalize your research.
Read your resume and review your experience and skills before every interview to remind yourself you right for the job!
Remember that auditioning is what you do. It is your chance to shine, to act to do what you love doing. If you land a role that is cream and money in your pocket. If not, you are practicing your craft and doing the best you can with every opportunity.
Know your craft, even that which goes beyond the talent and instinct of actors. You need to know how to slate, how to audition, camera angles and frames, how large or small to make a character or line-read, how to be real and when not to be real.
Take lessons and stay with the same teachers. Less than a year, and in some cases three, should not be on your resume.
If a Casting Director calls the teacher or coach, they must know who you are and be able to recommend you. Never lie.
There are a large number of actors in the non-union market who are new to this business and unfortunately do not have any on-camera training. You need to study, learn, and stay on top of your craft and of the industry. Sometimes an actor will shift their weight, blink their eyes a bit too much, lick their dry lips. Those are the most common ones.
When slating, it’s always better to keep it real and simple. And be yourself.
Remember the "edit time", "the moment before", the "goes into", so pause before and after your audition. The camera is still rolling and your knowledge on how to use that time shows your professionalism or lack of professionalism. Use the moment before to be in a reality, whatever is required to set the scene and make you a real character before anyone opens their mouth in a scene or monologue.
Relax. If an actor is relaxed and open to the direction they are showing their mastery of the craft. It does not matter if the direction is real or made simply to see what you do with it. If an actor looks good, then the casting director looks good to their client.
Read the trades, follow blogs, seek out advice on where to list your services, how to build your own tools (web site, IMDB, Actors Access, head-shots, reel, business cards and so on).
On reels keep it simple is the rule and put your best foot forward. The average attention span of watching these reels is 10 - 15 seconds. Have a creative way of showing your best work. Usually put the most recent work first and edit them together in chronological order. There are alternatives of having larger segments, but these are more for agents who know exactly which segment to submit for which role, Do not make a self produced reel any longer than 90 – 120 seconds. Most casting directors don’t have a lot of time to sit through 3 – 5 minute reels. But as always follow the advice of your agent or manager, as the trends change; vary by coast and by the nature of the submission. There is no such thing as one perfect reel.
Working in LA or NY is like working in most major cities. There is a lot of quality work here that’s both union and non-union. The qualified professional talent will have the edge in landing jobs, as the market will know who does the Job well, can be reliable and is takes their craft seriously enough to do their best work when it is needed most. Find some sort of survival job ASAP (even before moving to the city) because both cities are expensive and rent is also high even in less popular areas.
First published March 7, 2013
Complied by Art Lynch from Casting Director Inteviews