Why It's Probably Too Late By The Time It's Casting

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By the time a role is casting, it’s often too late to meaningfully compete. Unless you have a solid pre- and post-game strategy. Once breakdowns are released, a given role has been kicking around with producers for a while, sometimes even years. They’ve already talked at length about who should play the part you’re up for. They may have even made offers to people they know. There are actors who are sent to casting under the category “network/production approved.” Casting might just be a formality, or a measure put in place “just in case” or “to see what else is out there.” You shouldn’t feel defeated by this notion. It just means you need to have a super tight pre- and post-audition game.

Pre-Game

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, it’s possible to book series-lead-level jobs before those roles ever reach a casting office. How? By building career launching relationships with the people who actually cast you: producers, writers, showrunners, and directors. You’ve heard it a million times: this town is all about relationships.

Get to know the people who create projects and forge real friendships. There is a proper way to use those relationships to leverage getting access to early releases of scripts and sides before they ever go to a 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.

Post-Game

Follow up! Don’t reach out after every audition, of course, but only for those roles that are important to you. Touching base on preferred parts with a method in place can give you valuable data and feedback about your audition performance.

Not having a strong post-game strategy is perhaps worse than not have a strong pre-game strategy. Following up with casting or production after important auditions is vital. It’s part of being pleasantly persistent.

A Cautionary Tale

I have a Korean actor client who is with a rep who doesn’t believe in her and thus doesn’t pitch her for major roles. He criticizes her acting and demands she put a lot of things on tape for him to prove herself. The whole professional relationship is off-balance and veering into unhealthy territory.

Your agent and/or manager should not only absolutely trust in you and your work, they should also personally like you! If your reps don’t have faith in your abilities enough to pick up the phone and pitch you hard, then you need new reps. Period. Staying with an agent or manager who lets you languish on their roster without pitching you, is like dating someone who won’t introduce you to their friends. It’s a relationship that isn’t going anywhere.

I worked with this actor and I put her on tape for a major feature film with an award-winning top Korean director. As always, I helped her to reach a booked-role caliber performance and captured it on tape. She was thrilled and loved the finished product.

Two weeks later, the actor came into class, looking somber and unhappy. I asked her about what was wrong and said told me that her rep hated the video—that the acting was “too big,” and they both had concerns given the absence of a response from casting.  

I let her know that her rep shouldn’t be saying things like that to her, as he’s not an acting coach or a director. Sure, everyone has opinions, but most agents and managers know that their opinions about their clients’ work or abilities should be kept private.

I asked the actress what her thoughts on her performance were. She said, “Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I really thought it was totally wrong and totally off, and I didn’t think it was good what we did.”

Even though she was criticizing my work as a coach in front of my class, I wasn’t perturbed. It was clear her dysfunctional agent had influenced her, in combination with the silence from casting about the role.

I reminded her that she loved the work, that it was fun for her and that I wouldn’t have given it my stamp of approval if I hadn’t thought it was her best acting. I prodded her: Was she sure her agent had sent the tape? Did he follow up? Did she?

It turns out that neither the agent nor actress had followed up with casting, which was odd, particularly since my client had recently taken the “Launch Your Career Program” with me and knew how to pitch herself.

I told her that I would personally reach out to the Casting Director to figure out if they had received the self-tape and to get any feedback. With all the craziness of this business, why deride a solid performance if you haven’t even made an attempt to follow up?

I sent a simple but powerfully worded email to the person my client identified as the CD, only to later find out that he was also the writer/director/producer who was helping with the casting for the project. He immediately responded, telling me the actor was one of the top 3 finalists and that she was also his personal favorite submission. He explained that she ultimately wasn’t selected for the part due to something out of her control: her own looks. They were looking for someone who fit a more ethnically Chinese look. He finished the email by saying that as Korean American, he was thrilled to see her perfect Korean language ability on her reel and that he would be interested in working with her on a different upcoming feature project. This was a major audition win for my client but she would have never known about it.

Takeaway

Here’s what this situation helps us all realize:

•    Actors must always believe their instincts.

•    Reps who don’t believe in you will stagnate your career.

•    Stop listening to people who engage in fear-based decision-making.

•    Following up is often as important as the actual audition: get feedback!

•    Pursue relationships with these people before you pitch for roles so you can feel better about checking in on the status of projects you’ve been submitted for.

Inquire about:

            1. Did they get the tape?

            2. Did they have a chance to review it?

            3. Is there anything else they’d like to see?

            4. Do they have any feedback?

It’s too easy to succumb to negativity in this business. Resist the urge to just throw up your hands and say to yourself, “well I guess they hated my performance.” Getting feedback can help you refocus the lens of your work, offering you invaluable clarity.

Now, what do you think the next steps for my client should be?     

Leave her agent. Start pitching herself (properly) for every role she’s right for.

This article was originally posted on Backstage.

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.