Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Casting an impression is more important than getting the job ...

Casting directors are an interesting, new breed these days. In the new landscape that is now the business of acting, there just isn’t the time there used to be for casting directors to get to know the pool of new, undiscovered talent out there. They have enough stress remembering the pool of working actors they already know. It’s not their fault; it’s just the nature of how the casting business has to function.

Time is of the essence, especially for the casting of a weekly series. Casting directors have to rely on three primary sources for information about qualified talent to audition for the roles they have available: the Breakdown Services, existing relationships with agents and managers, and their own files of actors they have met and /or cast before who made a great impression on them during the casting process.

I address some of these issues in chapter 5 of The Business of Acting (“A Casting Director’s Perspective”), but it bears repeating. Actors who get the opportunity to audition all too often focus on getting the job and not on doing a good job in that process.

Let me clarify. The actor who is so focused on preparing for an audition, but who is unpleasant (or perceived by the casting director to be unpleasant) will still get their chance up at bat – this time. But the residual impact of their negative behavior can haunt them long after they have left the casting director’s office.

Anyone can book a job, really. Eventually, you will book. But, getting called back by a casting director who auditioned you for one project and who wants to see you for another project (or another episode) they are casting is a huge deal.

As hard as it is to get a professional audition in this business, it’s tougher to get seen twice – unless the impression you made the first time was one of total preparedness, pleasantness and professionalism all around.

My casting director friends have told me stories of actors who have been pleasant enough in the room with them for an audition, but who were rude or outright mean to their assistants in the waiting room. This kind of behavior doesn’t go unnoticed – and, believe me, at the end of the casting day, that assistant is giving a “bigger picture” view of the day to their boss. Unprofessionalism in the waiting room or to anyone in the process of the audition (whether it be to an assistant or another actor), will get you on the casting director’s always growing list of “Never To Be Seen Again” – and those lists really exist.

Today’s lesson: Booking a job is one thing; building a relationship and a reputation is another. Head’s up on everything associated with the audition process. Even a great actor can be harmed by a bad attitude. It happens every day in the business of acting.

Your comments are invited through a direct posting here or by e-mail to


Monday, September 17, 2007

And the winner is …

While watching last night’s 59th Annual Emmy Awards telecast, memories began stirring back to the 1981 awards presentations (26 years ago!) when I watched my first client and friend Isabel Sanford win her (first and only) Emmy Award as Best Actress in a Comedy for her portrayal of Louise Jefferson on the then long-running, first run, CBS-TV series The Jeffersons.

Isabel had been nominated several times before, but never won. There had been numerous other important awards bestowed upon her during her life. As appreciative of those tributes as she was, the elusive Emmy was a career milestone she longed for. It wasn’t that the other awards weren’t important. They were – and she proudly displayed all of them in her Los Angeles home. But, the Emmy was special to Isabel. It represented a level of recognition from her peers and the industry that mattered deeply to her.

To a woman who didn’t become a working actress until well into her 50’s, a time (as I write in my introduction to The Business of Acting book) by which most others would have long before given up, Isabel’s belief in her ability to make a living as a working actress never waned.

The first words of her acceptance speech were, “At last.”

That Emmy evening 26 years ago marked two very important milestones: Isabel, at long last, felt as if she had finally achieved career success and, in doing so, became the first and only (to date) African American to win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy.

While the genre of television comedy has changed significantly since 1981, the goal of television comedy has remained constant since Milton Berle first put on a dress to get a laugh in the early days of television. Laughter heals, laughter brings people together, laughter is good for the soul. These aren’t “Brad Lemack-isms”; studies have proven this to be true.

Television audiences, both young and old, continue to laugh at the humor The Jeffersons serves up in reruns on TV Land. While established fans love to revisit a favorite show from the past, younger people who weren’t born yet when the series first aired are discovering Weezy, George, Florence and company and becoming new Jeffersons devotees in the process.

The endurance of the writing, the appreciation of the performances and the fan mail, particularly from the young, new viewers was important to Isabel. When she died in July 2004, she left behind a legacy that she earned through a lifetime of commitment to her craft and a sense of having achieved what she set out to accomplish. Against all odds, she was a winner.

“At last,” indeed.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Self-Submit and Ye Shall Audition … Sometimes

In The Business of Acting book, chapter 5, I write about the issues associated with actors who get a hold of materials from Breakdown Services and then self-submit on every role they think they are right for.

When this current edition of the book went to print, Breakdown Services had just gone online. With some, but not enough, security safeguards in place at the time, Gary Marsh soon discovered that a number of unscrupulous agents’ and managers’ assistants (and others) were supplementing their incomes by selling the new version of the Breakdowns to anyone who was willing and who could afford to pay for them (the practice also preceded the arrival of the online service when it was easy to simply copy the hard copy packet that arrived every morning).

It was simple enough for these people to violate the copyright laws that apply to Breakdown Services’ material. As individual breakdowns were issued, they were forwarded to the criminal’s “subscription” list.

Quickly and thankfully, Marsh and company created a system that identified each online breakdown with an imbedded code that identifies each authorized Breakdown Services subscriber and each authorized submission that subscriber makes. It’s all traceable.

Three things have resulted from this action: One, theft of Breakdown Services materials and illegal self-submissions by actors is way down; Two, those who have continued to break the law and steal the breakdowns for fun or profit have been caught and prosecuted; and Three, the creation and availability of actor-specific self-submission sites have flourished (particularly the Breakdown Services’ own

When I wrote in the book that I had never known of an actor who self-submitted on a project and actually got an audition from that self-submission, I was specifically referring to actors who submitted on illegally-received materials from Breakdown Services. and L.A. Casting, in particular, have, in many ways leveled the playing field for actors. Casting directors who place casting notices on these sites actually want actors to self-submit on these roles. While not all roles for all projects are posted on self-submit actor sites, many are – and many actors regularly do get auditions and jobs as a result of their self-submission through these sites.

Sarah, an actress in Los Angeles, wrote to tell me her story. She wrote:

I known that you are not fond of actors getting and submitting themselves from breakdowns and I completely understand your stance in this matter. Many actors may not really know how to submit themselves. But there is another side to that. In your book you mentioned that you have never known an actor who self-submitted for a professional project and got an audition as a result. Well, … I have! I have in the past submitted myself and, of course, then gotten an audition through my agent. How do I know that it was my submission that got the audition and not the agent’s? Well, I had some pictures that my agent didn’t like, but I used them myself. When I entered the room I saw that picture sitting on the casting director’s desk. Sometimes I’ve even seen the sticky-notes with my own handwriting still attached to pictures. And I’m talking about major network TV shows and films. It doesn’t happen very often, but it does sometimes. My agent wasn’t mad that I got myself an audition. We’re all on the same team.

Bravo, Sarah! The Business of Acting empowered pro-activity in action! Congratulations.

Do you have a relevant experience in the business of acting that you would like to share with our community? Post it here or e-mail me at