How To Win A Series Lead Before It Goes To Casting

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For those of us who have been in the industry for decades, we can recall quite a few transformations. We remember the change from black and white headshots to colored ones, allowing us to create more vivid submissions. We remember how the internet changed the entire casting and submission process. We can recount how digital cameras let us record auditions and email them to the other side of the world. The technological age has forced the entertainment industry to grow with it and we can only reasonably expect that more shifting tides are to come.

Technology has made large and small production companies more nimble and self-sufficient. More jobs that they would traditionally outsource, they’re finding ways to complete on their own because it saves time and money to just have the person down the hall do it. The pendulum is swiftly swinging toward ‘casting’ for many major projects now taking place exclusively in-house within production studios. There’s now a new job title (subject to change) that has emerged from this shift: “Casting Producer.”

This is a win for both actors and reps who know how to use a phone to pitch, as it has created a growing trend toward major film and TV roles now being staked and won exclusively within production companies, before they ever go to a traditional casting office.

This year, fifteen of my clients booked series leads, series regulars, and leading/supporting roles in major feature films without ever setting foot in a conventional casting office. And, mostly without the help of reps.

This has been the slowest year in history for casting directors with regards to them getting jobs. In fact, many of the industry’s biggest casting facilities—places that house multiple casting offices within a single space—are going out of business. While no one wants to celebrate the struggles of any company or field, this does equate a win for actors.

Why? When it comes to actors, so many casting offices have their drawbridges up and moats filled with sharks and eels. They are built to keep actors out, except for the small number that have appointments. They’re less open to cold calls and sometimes downright hostile.

Production companies have lots of people working there with all sorts of jobs, and responsibilities. They’re typically more actor friendly, and it’s easier for actors at the top of their game who know how to sell themselves on the phone to wiggle their way in and build career-launching relationships—with or without reps! At this stage in the game, they’re simply more receptive to the unknown actor who knows how to make a properly worded phone pitch.

These changes bring about an exciting new environment for truly brilliant actors. One in which the traditional rule book of etiquette can be thrown out the window.

Actors who are competing for major film and TV roles are competing at the Olympic level of the industry. It’s simply not enough to be “good.” You must be “great” to win at this level—otherwise you run the very real risk of closing more doors than you open. This means that your pitch strategy for getting your foot in the door must be great as well.

When you’re “great” there are no rules. Just more opportunities for bravery.

What is for you will not go by you.

This holds true with regards to launching a successful acting career, and it also applies to life. This doesn’t mean awesome opportunities will simply fall into your lap. Nor does it mean that some agent or manager will magically bestow a career upon you. It’s your responsibility to learn how to do the heavy lifting to reach out and grab them.

This article was originally posted on Backstage.

Why Your Reader Can Make Or Break Your Self-Tape Auditions

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Nearly every actor has a “bad reader” story at an audition. Either it was a casting director who was tired and irritable, a casting assistant who gave a weird delivery, or an intern who flubbed a line, throwing the scene off. These experiences can be so frustrating because they’re simply out of your control. It would be naïve to say that they don’t impact the quality of your audition, because they do. Even if you make sure your performance stays flawless, they can still put a mild stain on your overall audition that can impact everyone in the room subconsciously—even the decision makers.  

This is why taped auditions are so fantastic. You have the freedom to handpick your reader—selecting someone you have great chemistry with, who knows what they’re doing, and who will a give a good read without taking attention away from you. An excellent reader can give you an edge that helps you to guarantee an audition win. An abysmal reader can instantly shut you out of competition.

I can’t tell you how many audition videos done by superb actors have tanked because their readers were awful, either non-actors—such as family members or roommates—or actors who didn’t know how to be a decent reader. I’ve even seen actors reading sexy love scenes with their parents. Do I really need to explain why that is a terrible idea?

Things to Avoid

  • Many people, even some experienced actors, think that as a reader you should be monotone, almost robotic, as a means of keeping all the attention on the actor. This is not helpful. It creates a scene that seems imbalanced and a generally weaker audition tape.

  • Some believe that the reader’s voice must not be loud—and should just fade into the background. The problem with this is that it can motivate a lot of readers to just speak slightly above a whisper. This presents very real problems when the tape is screened by producers, as they often have to strain to hear the reader and can’t quite understand the scene, again putting the actor at a disadvantage.  

  • Some readers, and I cringe to write this, when reading for a scene with different characters, will use different voices for each. Please. Don’t. It’s very distracting, clueless and comical. It is the verbal equivalent of slipping on a banana peel—it pretty much guarantees the attention will be taken away from the actor auditioning.

  • Avoid recruiting any actors who have naturally odd cadences, accents or ways of speaking—even if they’re talented and you have fantastic chemistry with them. I recall one of my clients had his roommate, a gifted actress, read with him for a taped audition. He did a tremendous job, but I really pushed him to retape it with a different reader. His roommate had a voice that sounded oddly identical to Scarlett Johansson. It was unbelievably distracting and definitely took my attention away from the actor on camera. I kept wondering if it actually was Scarlett Johansson, and did my student know her? And how? And why was she helping him with his audition? I knew that if I found it off-putting, the producers would too.

Things to Focus On

  • Think of your reader as a reliable scene partner who is equally involved and prepared. This person needs to be invested in the scene but still have an intuitive sense of restraint, as the emphasis is on you.

  • When recruiting your reader, if you have time, try to find another trustworthy, talented actor to read for your taped audition. If you can find someone of the same gender as the character in the scene—then great. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter. Really. And it will never impact your chances of booking. A capable actor who understands the scene and brings their talent and intelligence to the character will always give you what you need.

  • Feel free to direct the reader a little. If there are times you want him or her to look at you, cut you off just so, or gesture—tell them explicitly.

  • Ask your reader to pull back from the camera and microphone if they need to yell or raise their voice.

While so much of booking can feel like a game of chance, you can still load the dice in your favor. We help our clients guarantee an audition win every single time. A taped audition that features you at your utter best, every time, significantly boosts your chance of booking the role, period.

This article was originally posted on Backstage.

Why You Must Stop Rolling The Dice With Your Training

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Casting directors have a tough job, one that takes talent, patience, and stamina. They are some of the most gifted and under-praised members of our industry. Through their wisdom and shrewd instincts, they have shaped some of our most beloved films and television shows.

But while casting directors are integral to the process of making great works of film or TV, they do not make final casting decisions. That is the job of the producers, writers, and directors. A fallacy that has so deeply infiltrated itself into the collective consciousness of the actor is that pleasing CDs is the magic pill for launching an acting career. This couldn’t be more untrue.

I blame CD-run workshops/classes—fundamentally flawed gatherings in that they paint the casting director as superior to the actor—for propagating the myth. But this couldn’t be further from reality when it comes to how things actually work in the industry.

When a professional actor wants to meet and build a new relationship with a casting director, they schedule a general meeting. They don’t do casting director workshops or classes. Yes, “generals” with casting directors (and producers, writers, directors) are still alive and well and happen regularly throughout the industry—they’re how actors can actually compete for many major film/TV roles before they even go to casting.

A general meeting is a scheduled meeting between actor and casting director where both parties are on level ground. First and foremost, it’s really an exciting opportunity to meet and connect as human beings. Generals offer a more respectful (to the actor) and professional way of meeting and building lasting relationships with these industry professionals.

While I don’t care to comment on the credibility, experience, or real love of the craft that these casting-director-cum-teachers may or may not have, they are able to readily pull students from a pool of actors who will simply study with them in hopes of getting cast. Taking an acting class or workshop with a CD because you think he/she is going to launch your career or actually cast you is like spending your hard earned money at a casino. The golden rule in Las Vegas also applies here: no matter how big the promise of riches, the house always wins and you’re only paying to play. 

I’ve even noticed a trend of some agents and managers sending their clients to “study” acting with casting directors. This is a prime example of agents and managers doing a massive disservice to their clients. Rather than studying at a reputable school that can actually help them hone the craft and achieve meaningful, regular breakthroughs, these industry reps send them off with the hopes that they’ll win a lottery that will always be stacked against them and that’s never winnable. 

The biggest problem with these CD-run classes and workshops is that there are often ulterior motives that poison the well. Most actors in these classes want something from their casting director-teacher. They want to be called in for a role and they want to book that role. They believe that the casting director-teacher has the power to make that happen and can grant or withhold such a desire at will. Thus, all craft development gets cast aside and the entire class experience revolves around pleasing the teacher. This is a major red flag. Being a part of any acting class where the primary goal is to please the teacher is like signing up for stunted development.

Instead of spending hard-earned money, time, and patience on industry professionals who ultimately can’t advance your career, why not reach out to directors, writers, and producers and maintain relationships with them? Not only do professionals, like writers, not receive enough recognition, they are also likely to be more open to meeting actors and building relationships with them, as they’re not so besieged by actors trying to get their attention all the time. The same goes for indie directors. Making an effort to meet indie directors whose careers are on an upward trajectory is a wise idea: they want to meet new faces and they won’t have the hang-ups and barriers present that other industry players may have.

Casting directors are an important alliance but they’re not the jackpot they may seem to be. Using your common sense, not checking your power at the door, and finding off-the-beaten-track methods for opening industry doors are definitely the best way to get ahead in this business.

This article was originally posted on Backstage.

Launch Your Career Faster By Rejecting These Two Toxic Myths

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For years, I’ve had a passion for helping actors stand up for themselves and achieve badass results, often without the help of reps. And doing so requires the ruthless debunking of many toxic industry myths that can stunt an actor’s development and end a career. Below are two of the biggest, most harmful myths that need busting, and how to do it. 

Myth #1
One of the most chronic delusions I see actors falling victim to is the belief that an agent or manager is a magic pill. That once found they will solve your existential dilemma and deliver an acting career to you on a silver platter. It never happens.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, 99 percent of the industry’s agents and managers do not know how to—or deliberately choose not to—use a phone to pitch their clients to production offices and casting directors for major film and TV auditions. They think they’re “not supposed to that.” They’re afraid someone will get mad at them. I’ve heard this a lot: “So-and-so casting director will ‘have my head’ if I call.” Instead, they choose to “obediently” submit their clients online via “breakdown services.”

But there is no way to make a significant living as an agent or manager without using the phone to pitch clients. Actors who are submitted solely online by their reps stand a lottery’s chance (at best) of ever getting into an audition room. Submitting actors online only is the equivalent of throwing a handful of bubblegum on the wall in the hope that something sticks. Furthermore, if that rep miraculously gets their client an audition from that online submission, the chances of that actor’s performance making it to a producer is nil.  

Laziness, an irrational fear of rejection, and not knowing how to sell clients are the primary factors for reps not using the phone as their primary method of attack. But using the telephone to pitch separates the doers from the dreamers. In the entertainment industry, it’s critical for separating the mega-successes from the failures.

How to fix it: The good news is that there is a right way (and a wrong way) for actors to directly pitch themselves for every role they’re right for while building game-changing relationships with major producers, directors, writers, and casting directors.

Myth #2
Although casting directors whittle down the masses to a few actors, they don’t actually cast actors. Writers, directors, and producers make all the final casting decisions. This myth causes a great deal of F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty, doubt) among actors who think it’s their duty to spend emotional energy toadying up to and trying to please casting directors.

How to fix it: You need to know how you’re going to sell yourself when you—or your team—get on the phone with production and casting. When you pick up the phone to pitch, you have seconds to communicate who you are, where you fit in the industry, and what your value is to the production. Once crafted, this concise and impactful pitch is something that cannot be ignored. 

A value proposition is a succinct statement that gets straight to the point. It hits home with what you’re offering, why it’s beneficial, and why you are the answer to their quandary. It’s the DNA of all of your marketing, social media, email/phone pitches, etc. Unfortunately, most actors neglect to lay this strong foundation before they dive in and invest huge amounts of time, money, and energy in their career and all the collateral that goes with it: reels, pictures, websites, social media, stylists, PR, etc. 

By strapping accountability onto your own shoulders—where it belongs—there will never be anyone else to hold you back from achieving your wildest dreams. The result is that you get to launch your career faster and on your own terms.

This article was originally posted on Backstage.

What Happens Behind The Scenes At Award Shows Will Shock You

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The environment backstage at an award show feels like a SWAT team has infiltrated the Olympic Games with the cast of Toddlers and Tiaras wandering around. If you’re a presenter, it can feel like walking the plank and plunging into an unforgiving ocean. When the assistant director barks that you take your position, step onstage and hit your mark in 5-4-3-2-1—if you hesitate, he will push you out, and it’s sink or swim. Presenting at an award show can be exhilarating or terrifying, depending on your perspective and preparation.

I empower my clients to thrive under this unnatural pressure. In addition to helping actors launch careers and reach Oscar potential, I’ve been coaching a range of industry players to present at all the major televised award shows. Even though these clients have received multiple award nominations and wins, they all express the same sentiment at the prospect of presenting: cold terror.

Trotting out in heels and restrictive designer clothing on a sometimes slippery stage before a live audience while the show broadcasts to over 65 million viewers worldwide is dizzying. Any misstep, gaffe, sniffle, etc. can be turned into a meme or gif and live eternally on the Internet.

Here are some guidelines to load the dice in your favor.

Cover Your Basics
Request your lines beforehand and memorize them. Do not depend exclusively on the teleprompter as they can fail—as we saw with Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie at the Golden Globes in 2014. Memorizing your lines frees you from the human error of the teleprompter operator.

Make sure with utter certainty that you can correctly pronounce all names and titles. Repeat your lines so that your tongue knows the movements it needs to make to smoothly recite each word, so you don’t trip over them. Andrew Garfield (Golden Globes 2011) fumbled the word “inspiringly,” something a few rudimentary rehearsals would have prevented.

Bring Your Personality to the Lines
Pinpoint your hook and let it launch you onstage, allowing your personality to shine through. A hook is a feeling, word, or internal battle cry that is specific to you, and instantly lights you up—it prevents you from looking over-rehearsed and lets your authentic self shine through.

Practice Walking in Your Shoes
You don’t want to be the road-kill of the award show that trips and is gossiped about later. Sure, Jennifer Lawrence has done this at both the 2013 and 2014 Oscars, but she is in a special category of celebrity who actually benefits from such actions, as they add to her authenticity and likeability. Most actors will just look drunk, silly, or clumsy.

Presenting at an Award Show is a Privilege
You must never forget this and behave accordingly, even if you have to recite schlocky or trite words. Never make fun of the dialogue with eye-rolling, or condescending asides, as it makes you look petty.

It’s Open Season, and Everyone is a Target
If you find yourself on the receiving end of a nasty joke, you need to smile, laugh and show how unbothered you are. Ellen took at swing Liza Minnelli sitting in the audience of the 2014 Oscars: "Hello to the best Liza Minnelli impersonator I've ever seen… Good job, sir." Minnelli, by appearing offended, only made herself look fragile.

Being in attendance at an award show means that you are in a tense room with some of the most talented and narcissistic people in entertainment. Be kind to everyone, infusing all your interactions with grace and humor, and you will be able to handle the unexpected with remarkable ease.

This article was originally published on Backstage.
 

The #1 Reason You Won’t Book The Role + How To Fix It

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For years, I’ve helped actors hone the ability to walk on set, enter the audition room or agent meeting with unshakable charismatic confidence and guarantee one of these three winning results:

1. Booking the Role/Getting Signed
You delivered a fantastic performance, took risks, entered emotionally full and you landed the role. Likewise, the agent or manager has offered you a spot on their roster. Three cheers.

2. Getting Called Back/Additional Meetings
You have done your job as an actor and have received a callback, producer’s session, or chemistry read; you are in definite competition for the role. Similarly, in a meeting with potential reps, they’ve asked to see you again or asked for more materials—additional clips, reels or pictures, because you are still under consideration. Nice.

Just because you don’t book or don’t get called back doesn’t mean you haven’t succeeded. There’s a final scenario that’s just as awesome.

3. Booking the Room
This is when you’ve walked into the audition room or meeting with captivating self-assurance, delivered a fantastic performance, but you’re just not the right fit to proceed further—for reasons beyond your control. Maybe they wanted someone “weird like Zooey Deschanel” and you’re more “weird like Ellen Page.” Maybe they wanted “nerdy like Thomas Middleditch” and you’re more “nerdy like Matthew Gray Gubler.” When you book the room, your performance is so damn good, you stay in the heads of casting or the producers long after you’re gone. This can result in your reps getting great feedback, or later on they decide to bring you back for another role. Likewise, in meetings with reps, they might already have clients who already have your look or vibe. In this case, these reps are being responsible by not over-crowding their client lists. But agency rosters change with the ebb and flow of the tides, so definitely follow up in six months, as there might be an opening.

However, if you’re not consistently reaping one of these three scenarios every single time you audition or take a meeting, you may be sabotaging yourself by projecting some form of desperation, perhaps subliminally. Desperation is life’s cyanide. It will poison and downright undermine everything you want to achieve—from getting the job to getting a date. Desperation is toxic and so repellant to people because it means you’re acting from places of weakness—lack of confidence in yourself, your abilities, and the future. In Hollywood, many can sniff out even the faintest whiff of desperation and no one wants to get near it.

Here are three simple time-tested ways to instantly burn through the fog of desperation every time you walk into a room.

Get over yourself
Desperation actually does come from a place of ego, and an unhealthy scrutiny of oneself. Getting over yourself means taking the “I” out of the scenario. It starts by owning the attitude, "It ain't about me; it's about how I can better serve this project/opportunity/company." Releasing yourself from the notion that you are the main event can be liberating, as it forces you to focus on the great film, episode, or play that all involved parties are trying to create. This also frees you from any notion of personal rejection.

Don't get attached to the outcome
Not being consumed by the desired outcome of any scenario eliminates self-consciousness. You will rarely be disappointed if you stop getting attached to an idea of "how it should go" according to you. When you let go of your expectations about how a specific scenario is going to play out, you instantly free yourself from its outcome. This liberating freedom lays the groundwork for you to radiate infectious charismatic confidence that will consistently trigger an enthusiastic "WOW!" from production and casting.

Getting "wrapped up" in the potential success or failure of any endeavor is when desperation will often shut you down, and out of contention, within seconds.

Get lit up!
I help actors figure out what is uniquely fun and exciting to THEM about what they're preparing for—what lights their inner fire. My clients learn how to energize real and heightened emotional attitudes within their bodies which translates to an infectious confidence and commitment—regardless of whether they are staring down a casting director or new agent. The result is passion and confidence so compelling that they book more roles and launch their careers faster. Best of all, I show them how to activate and deploy this awesome ability within seconds, whenever they need it.

With the stakes as high as they are in show business, it’s only natural to feel desperate at times. The key is to be proactive in strategically annihilating it from impacting your auditions and meetings, even on the most subliminal level.

This article was originally published on Backstage