My Casting Origin Story

My Grandmother can easily be credited with kick-starting my Casting career. When I was 15 or 16 years old, we were watching a movie together and as the end credits rolled, I saw “Casting By Ronnie Yeskel.” I turned to my Grandma, “Are we related to Ronnie Yeskel?” (My Grandma’s sister married a Yeskel.) “Yep! […]

The Value of Unpaid or Low-Paying Jobs

As the Geoffrey Owens story reverberated around the internet last week, I was literally vibrating with utter rage at this view of actors/artists, and the idea that to work a day job or a second job makes you sad or unsuccessful. Geoffrey is not only a WILDLY talented actor, he is also a massively big-hearted […]

My Biggest Career Regret

My biggest career regret doesn’t actually involve Casting. (Lord knows I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my career, but those all feel like true lessons and growth experiences, not regrets.) I think about this particular story often because when I was faced with a clear choice, I made the objectively wrong decision and the pain […]

Tales from the Audition Room: Part 4

Back when I was 22 yrs old, (which was yesterday, obviously,) I cast my very first ultra low budget feature. The producer was a friend of mine and the script was an interesting psychological thriller, being directed by the writer, (who was also 22 yrs old, and fresh out of film school.)

We held auditions for the lead roles and some wonderful and experienced actors came in to read for our little $100/day project. Many actors passed or decided to be offer only, but the few who did come in provided an invaluable experience to these budding filmmakers.

One such actress is someone with a long resume, who you would all know and recognize. She came in to read and was terrific; very respectful and gave a great read. I advocated like crazy for her, but my filmmakers were undecided and wanted to do callbacks. (Callbacks on $100/day projects are a hard sell to agents and actors, alike. If it’s a chemistry read, that’s one thing, but to have a callback with the same group of people who were there for the first read… if we can get anybody to come back in, it’s often begrudgingly.)

This actor came back without any sort of complaint. She walked into the room with positivity and calmness, and the director said to her, “thanks for coming back. We just want to try a few things.” She said, “Great!” and then crouched down a few feet in front of him while he explained what he wanted to do. She listened closely, asked a few clarifying questions and then stood up and performed his notes brilliantly. I’ve always remembered that behavior – she physically put herself in a position where she had to look up at him. It wasn’t that she was being obsequious or suggestive, she was giving him the feeling of being the one to listen to. (And there could have been a multitude of reasons she did this – get her blood pumping, for one – but whatever her reasons, this move gave the impression that she was actively ready to get his notes and implement his ideas.)

This woman had years of experience on all of us – her credits far outweighed all of ours (combined,) and without question, she had been on about a zillion more sets and through hundreds of more auditions than the rest of us. But for the five minutes that she was in that tiny room for a callback on an ultra low budget feature by a brand new director, she made all of us feel as though we were the most important filmmakers she’s ever worked with, and that she was there to be an instrument in our symphony. It instilled in all of us a newfound confidence that we employed through the rest of the project, (and for me, far beyond this particular feature.)

I have remembered that woman and that moment since then. I’ve tried to hire her (or at least audition her,) as often as I can. Any actor with that kind of kindness, openness and respect for others is someone ANY of us would be lucky to work with.

Tales from the Audition Room: Part 3

Several years ago, we were casting a pilot with well-known producers and a big name director. It was an ensemble cast, but there was a leading man role that you could assume would be offered out based on his description, (40s, male, former hero and “leader of the pack” type,) story line and the people involved with the show. We had our lists of namey-name actors, and we did try to offer it out to a few of them, but nothing was sticking and after seeing some guys read, our producers wanted it to come from someone who would audition. So, we read guys, and re-read them, tested a few with no success, and pulled self-tapes from England, Australia, Canada, the moon and beyond.

As we were getting down to the wire, we brought in an actor who had everything we were looking for: he had a leading man look, charisma, and was age-appropriate. He had been the lead of series previously, (not super recently, but nonetheless,) and he could certainly handle the material.

He shuffled back toward our audition room with his shoulders slightly slumped and his head down. As we were mic-ing him and providing some additional back story, he looked at us and said, “I’m not really sure why I’m here.” My boss and I looked at him, a little dumbfounded. “What do you mean?” she said. “Well, I can tell what you need in this character, and I’m sure I’m just not enough of a name for it, so I don’t really know what I’m doing here.” He didn’t say this with any sort of disdain. He stated it with the utter sadness of not being talented or well-known enough to even deserve a shot.

We spent the next five minutes trying to explain that he truly DID have a shot, for the reasons I’ve already mentioned and many more. We also told him that we wouldn’t just be reading him for the hell of it this late in the game. You could see that he took our emphatic reasoning as lip-service. He listened, acknowledged what we were saying but didn’t truly believe it. Unsurprisingly, he gave a vaguely depressing read with zero heart or energy. He left looking just as disappointed as he had when he walked in.

The moral of the story is this: you will sometimes go out for roles that you think, “I’m totally wrong for this,” or “they might offer this out,” or you may even go in for roles knowing that there is CURRENTLY an offer out on that role. In all of those scenarios, you STILL have a shot at that role, (Casting wouldn’t be reading you otherwise.) And if nothing else, give a great read and Casting will be excited to think of you for something else.

If you think there’s been a MISUNDERSTANDING – something about your headshot or resume made it seem like you were capable of something that you really aren’t, THEN it would behoove you to have your reps call Casting to ask if you should still read. If it doesn’t matter that much, we will tell you to still come in. If it’s utterly important to the character or world, we will appreciate your honesty and read you for something else down the line.

Otherwise, you should always walk into the audition room with the confidence that Casting has selected YOU, out of THOUSANDS to be there. If you’ve gotten that far, you’ve got a real shot at it. Check your emotional baggage at the door and focus on being there, in that moment, and having fun.

Tales from the Audition Room: Part 2

Recently, we were casting some co-stars for one of our shows. It was a long day of sessions (three and a half hours in the morning, three and a half in the afternoon,) reading 60+ actors for 5 or 6 different roles. (Side note: this is the benefit of not having producers in the room; we aren’t beholden to someone else’s schedule, so we can read as many actors as we like, whenever we’d like.) We had narrowed this pool of actors down from thousands and thousands of submissions, and I felt confident that every actor walking in the door could nail their read.

And so they did. The waiting room was constantly full, so every actor who came in was respectful of our time together. Even if they knew me well, they kept the catch-up chit chat to a minimum and focused on their work and being present in the room.

We were coming to the end of this very long day, when in came an actor, I’ll call him “Mark.” As I was mic’ing Mark, I asked how he was doing and if he had any questions… the usual banter. He had no questions and told me how he was feeling blessed because he had been very busy auditioning and working. Before he could elaborate further, we read the scene a couple of times. Mark’s performance was solid, he took redirects well, and when we finished I felt good about including him as an option for our producers.

But as I was de-mic’ing Mark, he began telling me about all of his auditions and bookings, how he was in a contest with another actor friend to see how many auditions they can get in a single month and how he was blowing that guy out of the water. Mark listed off the directors he’d recently worked with, and how they all sang his praises, telling him that he was one of the best actors they’d worked with, ever. He went on and on about himself this way, until I finally reminded him that we still had actors to read and we had to keep going. As he walked out, Mark turned to me and said, “if I booked this show, it would be my tenth this month. Get me to ten!” There was nothing threatening or creepy about this. He said it playfully, as if I had a stake in his game.

After Mark had gone, my assistant looked at me with big, “are you f*cking kidding me?” eyes. She had never seen an actor brag about himself in that way. Unfortunately, this was nothing new for me. I’ve never had anyone tell me about a (frankly, stupid and probably hurtful) contest they were in with another actor, but I have had MANY actors come in and (without my asking,) verbally give me their resume and go on and on about their accolades. I’ve had actors who will listen to my direction and then relate it to something so-and-so director said to them when they were on the set of whatever-movie, and how that director had LOVED what they had done, and on and on and on…

This is a version of what we call, “talking yourself out of a job.” You might have a great audition, but then, in an attempt to prove JUST how perfect you are for the role, you end up over-explaining your choices, or entering into a major bragfest about yourself (like Mark did.) When this happens, we become worried about sending you to set. How will our crew finish their day if you can’t stop talking about yourself? Will the other actors get frustrated if you continually distract them with stories? Will the director get fed up with your antics, thus choosing not to interact with you or give you notes? Will the producer then come to us and complain about how “bad” you were, and how they hope they can cut around you?

As actors, you will often have to be your own PR agent. You will sometimes need to brag about your credits, the people you’ve worked with, how your web series just got into five different festivals, etc. However, you NEVER need to do that in the audition room, (unless we very specifically ask.) If you’re there, we know your credits. If you’re there, we picked you over someone else. If you’re there, we already like you and feel you have a good shot at a particular role. You don’t need to try to impress us by listing off the directors with whom you’ve worked. Impress us by giving a good read, acting professionally and then going about your day.

The Social Media Conundrum

Social Media; such a blessing, and an utter curse all at once.

The good news is that (for the most part,) the massive wave of casting social media “influencers” has passed. No longer will you be beat out for a role by someone significantly less right or talented than you because they have two million YouTube subscribers. The bad news is that we’ve all begun to rely on social media as our way of communicating, and thus, it has become increasingly easy to alienate possible collaborators.

As actors, you’ve been told repeatedly that you MUST have a social media presence. The more followers, likes, views, retweets, etc., the better. It is an exhausting time suck, and yet completely exhilarating when a post goes viral or a favorite celebrity follows you back.

A lot of actors will choose to stay in touch with Casting, their peers, directors, producers, etc. via social media. That is TOTALLY FINE. If that is your bag, go for it. HOWEVER, you MUST MUST MUST be aware that if you post about [INSERT HERE: your political opinions, your hatred of the latest STAR WARS, your beef with a certain CD who apparently didn’t watch your self-tape] you could very well have reached (and pissed off) someone who may have been a future employer.

This is not to say that you have to stifle every urge to share an opinion. On the contrary, if you’re passionate about something, use your platform to express yourself. Just be aware that it could turn some people away. For example, I try very hard to keep my FB/Twitter straight business, but I’ve been SO unbelievably moved by the Parkland kids that I cannot help but post and retweet about gun reform. I’ve lost followers, but I don’t care. This is an issue and a group that I care deeply about, and if it means that there are people who don’t want to work with me because of this, then so be it.

The social media conundrum is that we all CRAVE more connections, but the more eyes we have on our posts, the higher the probability of pushing some of those people away with any sort of charged remark. As an example, I follow someone on Twitter who I’ve long worked with in the entertainment industry. This person posts CONSTANTLY about politics. I happen to share their beliefs, but the incessant barrage of posts and retweets, at all hours of the day, have me wondering how they have time to actually do their job. I’ve always liked this person, but frankly, it’s turned me off a little. While I used to recommend this person heartily, I now don’t mention their name when people ask for that kind of referral.

Similarly, I have seen actors bash movies and tv shows they don’t like, some of which I have worked on. I try very hard to neither take it to heart nor hold it against them. While everyone is entitled to their opinions, you have to know that if you have a certain social media reach, chances are good that SOMEONE who worked on that project is seeing you talk smack about their work and is hurt or bothered by your post.

This is the fine line: having an AUTHENTIC social media presence while being fully aware of your audience. Some actors will have a professional social media page and a personal one (under a different version of their name.) Some will choose to have Twitter be for business, Facebook be for personal use. Some (bless these people,) are off social media entirely.

Whatever you choose to do, be MINDFUL of what you are posting: if you want to go off about a Casting Director who you think wronged you, maybe do that over a cup of coffee with a peer, as opposed to blasting it out over Facebook, (even if you’re not “friends” with that CD, one of your “friends” may be and will share it with them.) If you think equal pay is a silly concept, then explain (the hell out of) your rationale in a coherent, logical series of posts instead of a bunch of angry and divisive retweets.

Not every studio, producer or CD will care about what you post on social media. But some will. And as we’ve all seen, it’s very easy to dredge up old posts. So before you hit TWEET/SEND/POST on anything that can be deemed controversial or highly opinionated, think about this: would you say these things to someone’s face? If you’re not brave enough to speak the words you type in a real-life setting, then think twice about posting it online.

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