Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An open-and-shut case of business of acting greed?

I received an e-mail today from an actor in Philadelphia who wrote to ask a question about the value of access and information. Casting directors was the subject -- and the question so irked me that I want to share it – and my response.

Chapter 10 in The New Business of Acting teaches actors how to create their personal action plan, an essential tool and map for the launch and growth of any career in this business. One of the key strategies I write about in the chapter is to include a plan for seeking out and meeting with casting directors for informational interviews. In the old days, in the off-season, most casting directors would set aside time to meet with actors whom they didn’t get a chance to meet during the production season.

These “general” interviews were not role-specific, but rather an opportunity for the casting director to broaden her base and knowledge of available talent. It was a great way for actors and casting directors to connect without the pressure and stress of having to cast a role.

As the landscape has changed, relatively few casting directors do this any more. I know a few who still do, but they are a rare and fading breed.

Nonetheless, it remains important for actors to be proactive with their outreach and attempt to meet with as many industry professionals as they can on a regular basis.

This brings me to this morning’s e-mail.

A Philadelphia-based actor who has been reading and absorbing the advise in the book (smart actor!) began implementing her action plan with a contact to a local casting director she was hoping to meet with for an informational interview. The casting director, as it turns out, was very interested in and happy to meet with her – for a fee!

The actor was told that for a fee of $100 the casting director would make herself available for a one-on-one informational interview. A bit stunned, the actor’s next step was to write me ask my opinion. In the same e-mail, the actor asked about the value of “open calls,” perhaps, in some way, a bit related.

I responded:

“One-hundred dollars to have an informational interview?” I have never heard of this. Ever. Find someone else to connect with.

By ‘open calls’ for casting directors, are you referring to an open call for a specific project the casting director is seeking actors for — or do you mean a ‘general’ one-on-one meeting with a casting director, giving both the casting director and the actor an opportunity to meet “in general” and not for a specific project?

Either way, the answer is that it depends. It depends on the project and it depends on the casting director. Some actors will say that any opportunity to get ‘face time’ with a casting director is worth anything. I disagree. When I went undercover as an actor while writing the book, I also went to a couple of open calls. I thought the process was very disrespectful of the actors who showed up seeking a break or an opportunity. I think it’s important to weigh every aspect of the situation and then make a decision, without becoming invested in the outcome.

With regard to a ‘general’ with a legitimate, professional casting director, it can often be a very valuable ‘get’ for an actor to land one of these appointments, as it can be valuable for the casting director to get to know an actor she might not otherwise have had exposure to. But never, ever pay for the opportunity, unless the casting director is also willing to pay you for your time, as well. Seems a fair deal to me.”

Case closed, from my perspective.

Your thoughts? What would you do?