You may not know this, but I used to teach audition workshops for high school students. You probably already knew I was in casting for nearly 20 years.
I did principal and extras casting with Robert Altman on GINGERBREAD MAN. I cast a Halle Berry Globetrotting Basketball double in CATWOMAN. I cast every single club Sydney Bristow ever entered on ALIAS (over 100 of them). I've been involved in the casting of nearly 80 films, TV movies and series. I cast over 1,300 hours of series television.
As an extras casting director, I always worked with the lead casting director, because inevitably there would come a time when "the extras casting director can just cast that one line." Or once the film went into production and the lead has moved on to another film, I would get the phone call to cast a few additional principals.
I would also work with casting directors like the amazing April Webster and Mandy Sherman, because my background talent would need to match the looks and types of talent they cast as the principals. Whether it was "The Covenant" or "SD-6" or Vaughn's friends. Plus, April and Mandy LOVE actors. I loved watching April go through every piece of mail during production meetings. And if I ever had a suggestion, she would listen to it.
I've cast theatre. I've cast music videos. I've cast industrials. I've cast commercials.
So what I'm about to say I hope does not fall on deaf ears...
Thursday, I begin shooting a short film called GROOM'S CAKE that I wrote. I'm producing it along with Krissy Lindquist, Rib Hillis, Pat Murray, and my PORN BRAT PACK co-producer, Kathy Weiss is pinching in as well. I'm also directing it. And I'm also acting in it.
I started off as an actor. Started acting when I was a child, thanks to my parents who allowed me to study at the Doraville Arts Theatre. I had acting and dance classes 4 nights a week and we worked 9-5 every Saturday on an upcoming show. I learned discipline through Jim Ray-James.
When I got into high school, I left DAT and pursued theatre at Norcross High. I was accepted into Governors Honor for Theatre. I graduated. I started working as an extra while going to college and got sucked into casting thanks to the brilliant, Cynthia Stillwell.
I've taught "Life After High School" classes for years at various thespian conferences. And in the vicious world of "Casting Director Workshops" (where many casting directors will call out others because, "they've never cast a film" or "they only do extras,") I've focused on acting as a business. Because I've been an actor.
In casting some of the roles this week for my short, I reached out to some actors I know. Some actors like Haviland Stillwell, Ryan O'Connor, Peter Paige, Candis Cayne, Jennifer Gimenez, and many others responded, "absolutely. Tell me where to be." When I called my beloved Willam Belli yesterday, he said, "I would be there in a heartbeat for you, but I'm going to be in Dallas." And I know he would. When I was doing extras casting and needed a drag queen on set in 30 minutes, Willam was already in the car and doing his make-up before we hung up.
I had several actors have conflicts because of trips or work, but I understand.
Then I had one actor (who I hope reads this and takes it in the spirit it is meant to be taken and as the gift of information I'm hoping is bestowed to him) respond to me that he wanted to read the script, then send it to his agent... then called back 10 minutes later to tell me that he talked to his agent and his agent said he doesn't want him doing any more SAG deferred short films. Because he's focusing on bigger things. And he has to keep the team happy.
Gather children, down by the river, because we're all about to go to church. We're all about to have a come to Jesus up in here.
1) NEVER tell a casting director, producer, writer, director, or anyone who holds opportunity for the project at hand that "your agent doesn't want you doing any more SAG deferred short films." First off, your agent is an idiot. You don't LIST your film as "SAG deferred" on your resume, so no one would know. And if you appeared on a reality show for an entire season, you need as many legit film roles as you can get, especially when you have movies with extremely questionably dumb titles on it.
And any good actor knows (as any producer or writer knows) "it's not about this film... it's about the next one."
No casting director in the history of cinema has ever looked at someone's IMDB page and said, "I wonder if this was SAG deferred."
No casting director in the history of cinema has ever looked at someone's IMDB page and said, "huh... there's like five short films on here."
No casting director in the history of cinema has ever said, "don't do short films. Hold out for "real" roles."
AND... if your agent has time to read short film scripts for you in the middle of pilot season, news flash: YOUR AGENT SUCKS.
2) YOU NEED AS MUCH ON SET EXPERIENCE AS YOU CAN POSSIBLY GET UNTIL YOU ARE NUMBER ONE ON A CALL SHEET.
You never know who the producer is. You never know what project the DP is shooting next. Or if the PA is related to casting director. Or what that writer/ producer/ director is doing next. Hell, my friends Catie and Will MET on set.
You can take classes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But if someone if offering you the opportunity to be on a set and take class for free, then you take the opportunity.
3) YOU NEED AS MUCH MATERIAL FOR YOUR REEL AS POSSIBLE. Especially when I've seen your material for your reel. And there's very little substance to it.
4) If you don't want to do a short film, if you don't want to work with someone who asks you to be a part of your project... YOU LIE.
You tell them, "Oh my God, thank you so much for thinking of me. I wish I could be there, but unfortunately I have (plans, already booked, I'm working and can't get out of it, I am completely slammed and I know I'm not going to have the time to focus on the script)" - followed up with "but thank you so much for thinking of me. I really appreciate it and I hope we can work on something next time! Good luck! And if you need any help casting that role, I know some actors I could recommend."
See, you let them down softly, you recommended a friend to help, and you kept the door open.
If you tell someone, "I'm not doing short films," you will probably never, ever be considered for anything else with that person again and you will get a reputation very quickly for being difficult or an idiot. It's the equivalant of shooting yourself in the face. Because people talk. And if you know me, then you KNOW I talk. Actors are a dime a dozen. And I'm extremely loyal to people who are loyal to me.
5) IT'S PLAY! If you don't enjoy playing with other actors and enjoying the work and the "play" of it, then you need to know you will NEVER make it as an actor.
When I was doing principal casting, I knew the second an actor walked into the room whether or not they were game or not. It's an instinct thing. You can line up a hundred actors and I tell me there are 10 actors that I would want to work with and I can pick them out. You can see it in their eyes. There's a fire there.
6) NEVER BE LATE. This goes without saying, but never, ever be late. Whether it's a staged reading or simply lunch. If you're running late, call and let them know you are running late.
My roommate (I'm stealing his story here, but it's too good not to tell) is up for a major role in a big film. He went in for a small day player, but the director saw something in him and gave him sides for a larger role. One of the leads. They brought him back time after time after time. Every time, he said, "I'm going to get this."
The day of his last big callback, he locked his keys in the car. He took a hammer and bashed out the window. He called his agent and told him what had happened, afraid he was going to late. The agent called the producers and when he walked in (right on time), they all knew what had happened. "So... you bashed out your window?" And he said, "I didn't want to be late."
THAT'S fire. That story is going to get him cast. I'll bet a thousand dollars he gets that role simply for that story. Especially when it was his final callback.
Last year, I had a staged reading for PORN BRAT PACK for one, single investor who had a million dollars and wanted to make the movie. The actor playing "Joey Stefano" was nearly 45 minutes late (not taking the directions I told the rest of the cast, who were all there on time, because of Oscar traffic). By the time he arrived, the investor was so furious that I knew had already lost him. When the reading was over, the investor was late to his next meeting in Beverly Hills. I got a phone call the next day saying he wasn't interested. That actor possibly cost me a million dollars.
And THAT ACTOR was the same person above. And yet, even after he was late and possibly cost me a million dollars, I forgave him and gave him a second chance.
I just want to close with this... if someone offers you any opportunity as an actor that you don't have to audition for, be grateful. Whether you want to do it or not, that's up to you. But there are tactful ways to handle passing on a project.
Over the two years I've been developing PORN BRAT PACK, there have been actors that flat out turned down the script because of the story. I know for some actors, the idea of playing "Joey Stefano" is overwhelming. It's "Gia" with a dude. It's a lot. But I know I'm going to find THE RIGHT actor for him. And it's going to be someone who takes a risk. And he will be mind blowing.
If you do not take a risk in this town, you're dead. You have to take a leap. And if someone is willing to take a risk on you, then all the better. Even if it is a SAG deferred short film.