I was so stoked to get to sit down with Marci. Her films inspired me to want to become an actor. Working with Steven Spielberg and John Hughes, she had a hand in casting some of my favorite movies of all time. Make sure to watch the audition tape for 'Elliot' in E.T. towards the end of the interview.
What first got you excited about the entertainment industry?
When I was just getting out of college, I knew I wanted to do something in the entertainment business. And I didn’t know whether it was in the music industry, film, television or theater. And my first job was working for a film company that did distribution. It was in the late 70’s and we distributed ‘Blaxploitation films’ . They weren’t my cup of tea in terms of the films we were doing. But I learned all about distribution and marketing. And I was in the foreign film department so we were selling them to countries like Abu Dhabi. From there I went to ICM as an assistant to a Talent Agent. I realized that I was still very fascinated with the business but unaware of which direction I was going. By working with this television agent, I met Casting Directors. I learned very quickly that I didn’t want to be an Agent, but I used that for schooling, like a university, because there was just so much to learn there. I stayed for about a year and a half, then I met a couple Casting Directors and started working for them.
Was it a difficult to make the transition from a ‘seller’ to a ‘buyer’?
Well, I realized from my days at ICM that I didn’t want to be a seller. I wanted to be a buyer. So it wasn’t difficult at all. I felt much more comfortable on that side. But the truth is, there is still so much selling involved in casting. Meaning, I have to sell my ideas to 25 people. The studio execs, the network execs, the immediate creative team. So there’s still a lot of selling going on from my perspective.
Your IMDb page is full of a some of the most iconic movies of all time. Movies that have literally defined generations. I wish I could have been in the room when you were casting RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, PRETTY IN PINK and ST. ELMOS FIRE. When you are handed a script, do you immediately know which movies will become classics?
I can tell when something is really special. Some projects that I have thought were really special also turn out to be box office flops, you never know. For instance, when I was working on E.T., which is something I did very early in my career with Mike Fenton, I knew that it was really special. I could just feel it. And it shot in Los Angeles so I would go to the set and sit there and talk to ‘E.T.’. They had many different versions of E.T., but one time his head was propped up next to me and I just sat there talking to him. I knew it was really, really something. Working on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and INDIANA JONES, I knew it was very rarefied air. I did this little independent film called THE SPITFIRE GRILL that won the Audience Award at Sundance. When I read the script, I just couldn’t put it down. Usually, I don’t have the attention span to read a full script in one sitting. But I was just blown away by this one. At the end of the day, it didn’t make huge money at all, but it meant a lot to me and I thought it was a beautiful film. Another film I cast that I thought was amazing but did not get the right attention was THE IRON GIANT - which is an incredible animated film. It was the first feature film that Brad Bird directed, and it was just fantastic.
I want to ask you about that. Is it a different process casting for animation than it is for live action?
It’s different in that so much of what acting is about can be in a look, or a glance, or an actor being quiet and letting the camera show the moment on his face. That doesn’t translate in voice-over acting and animation. It’s literally all the voice. So you have to think of someone and bring people into the room that have the ability to do it all vocally. I’ve seen actors get tripped up by this situation, because they are so used to using their bodies and their facial expressions. I’ve cast a few animated projects now, and I really have seen some of the actors approach it in a very uncomfortable manner until they learned how to do it.
Let’s say you are casting a live action film and you release a casting notice and get a thousand submissions. That’s a thousand faces to look at to decide who to bring in. But what about animated films? Clearly you have to go for some large names for the leads. But with the other roles, how would you even know who to bring in? It’s not like you have a page with a thousand voices in front of you.
Well, Casting Directors know tons and tons of actors. And those that do voice-overs have vocal reels and voice-over agents. Their agents send me those demos and you hear all the different voices they can do. We also bring them in to audition. You have to remember that an animated film takes years to make and the voices are recorded after. Most of the rough work is done on the film and then they add the voices. So we can even trade the voices out if it’s not working out for a particular character.
I need to ask a question about the film PRETTY IN PINK. I remember watching it as a kid and just being amazed by ‘Duckie’. He was the first character I had seen in a movie that felt like someone I could know in real life. Just so three dimensional. Did you guys always have Jon Cryer in mind for that? Was it a direct offer?
No. We auditioned many, many, many people. He was not a well-known entity at that point so we went through the whole audition process. Robert Downey, Jr. got really close to getting this part. Jon Cryer truly is great in this part, and totally three dimensional. But you have to remember that it’s John Hughes’s writing. And John Hughes was a high school kid in a grown up’s body - so the writing was very real. If you like PRETTY IN PINK, you may love this podcast. Do you know of HERE’S THE THING? It’s Alec Baldwin’s podcast and he interviews tons of wonderful people. He interviewed Molly Ringwald and she talked about John Hughes a lot. How he changed her life and how he was back then. She said he was just this really sensitive guy who probably had PTSD from things that happened to him in high school and he was still hanging onto them as an adult. That’s how he wrote so raw. All of the BREAKFAST CLUB stuff was so raw and personal. It’s great writing which is why it still holds up to this day.
I talk a lot about the Casting Director superpower of incredible memory for names. Have you always had that?
Interesting question. Even as a kid I watched tons of television and movies. So I knew who people were before I started casting. But now with the advent of IMDb we don’t have to memorize as much as we used to. It literally had to be all in our head because there was no internet and no place to go to look it up. So my brain was actually sharper than it is now. Now I have to play a game of charades when I try to figure out somebody’s name. It’s like: “The guy… who was in the…thing…with the…girl…” you know! I have to act it out because I can’t remember anyone’s name anymore.
That makes sense. It’s like phone numbers. Now that you have cell phones, you can’t remember people’s actual digits.
Yeah, I don’t remember anything.
You are actively casting and are also the social media queen of Hollywood. In my opinion, you’re actually better than a lot of 14 year olds who grew up in this social age. Did you teach yourself??
It was something I went into kicking and screaming. In 2009, I had a friend who was really into it. She sat me down, set up my website, made me get on twitter and she made me start a Facebook page for my business. I also started doing vlogs. And it really changed the way I was living. I have two older brothers who are 7 – 10 years older than I am and I was just a child in the 60’s, but still very present in the 60’s. And back then it was all about privacy and ‘the man’. So it was a huge adjustment to suddenly be so open and revealing and public. Because Casting Directors have generally been very elusive and exclusive and don’t want to share. But I realize that the business model has changed with the advent of the internet and social media. And I had a lot of information to give and so I wanted to start giving of myself and giving all the things that I learned. I started teaching and coaching Actors. And on social media I feel like I’m an Actor’s advocate. I want to create great content and post great content that’s not necessarily about myself but interesting things that I find that are going to help actors.
I think your blogs are fantastic. I don’t yet know how to tweet so I haven’t been keeping up there.
Well, I’m actually going to start teaching a class with Ben Whitehair. We are putting together a social media class for someone like you or anyone that wants to jump into it and learn about social media in L.A. May 10, 17 and 24. Here’s a link if you want to join us: http://benwhitehair.com/socialmediaclass/
I’m in! Because I am so confused…
There’s a lot to learn and I’m constantly getting calls from my casting colleagues saying “I feel like I need to do this and I don’t really know how and can I take you to lunch and pick your brain?” But it’s not an hour long thing. I do this for a living. I’m a Social Media Consultant and I work with individuals and companies, and people that have books coming out to help them get their social media wings. It actually takes weeks, it doesn’t happen over lunch. There’s a lot to learn.
And it’s always changing and evolving. At one time Twitter is the must-use platform, then I hear it’s Snapchat, then something else. So it’s not something you can learn once and then walk away from.
Right. And you asked about how I learned it and if I was self taught? Well, I really immersed myself in it and read a lot. I did a lot of research.
And do you think social media is changing the landscape of casting?
This is the million-dollar question. It’s an ever evolving thing. And there are definitely some projects that will cast by how many followers you have. I don’t know of any studio films that are doing this at the moment but that could certainly change tomorrow. It definitely happens with web-series and some of the smaller indies. Some of these projects want to cast the Vine stars and YouTubers. But there’s a very small percentage of those people who have huge numbers that are actually trained actors. So it will only work if they can hold the screen and if they really know what they’re doing. And it just might be a stunt.
I hope that your social media training for actors or others in the business really takes off, because one of the things I hear from my friends who are Casting Directors, is that many Actors will bombard them with information on Facebook and Twitter in pretty inappropriate ways.
Yes, people need to learn that social media etiquette is very important. Twitter is not your own personal PR unit. So it doesn’t mean that you get on Twitter and start going through the list of all the Casting Directors and say “Marci Liroff, here’s my demo reel.” Then I look at the person’s tweets and they’ve done that to 25 people. I block them and report them for spam. Because that is spam in the social media world. You have no relationship with me, we’ve never spoken. You’re not even following me and you’re just blasting this stuff out. I’ve said this a lot: Social Media is like a dinner party, and you should have those basic manners. You wouldn’t walk into somebody’s house and yell “Here! Look at this!! Here’s my demo reel!!” It wouldn’t happen. So you have to go through the steps of forming an online relationship with that person and get in the conversation with them first.
That’s good advice. Now, besides doing the social media for your own company, and advocating for Actors, you’re also now doing the social media for the Casting Society of America. Is it difficult to manage multiple accounts?
You have to be very organized so you’re not suddenly tweeting something on the wrong account. Right now I’m just managing my stuff and the CSA, so that’s not difficult. It’s just a matter of finding content that makes sense for that account. As a Social Media Consultant, when I’m working with someone I like to teach them how to do it, rather than run their account. With the adage of “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish he’ll eat for a lifetime”. So I like to teach them, and then I will oversee what they are doing virtually and correct things that need to be adjusted. But for the CSA I am solely tweeting for them and running the Instagram account we have.
I see that you’ve also done some producing.
Yes. In most circumstances they are projects I am casting that have also asked for me to come on board as a Producer. Except for the one that I did recently called MYRNA, which was a pilot presentation I cast and also served as an Executive Producer on. They came to me several years ago when they tried to get it off the ground. This was way before TRANSPARENT (because MYRNA is trans-centric material) and we just couldn’t get the financing together. So we regrouped a few years later and created a crowd sourcing campaign and raised about $22,000.
I pick and choose the projects I want to get involved in as a Producer. It takes years to get something off the ground, so you have to be passionate about it in order to be involved for such a long time.
Do you have any tips for Actors who are creating their own material?
Absolutely. I think right now we’re in an age where there’s so much an actor can do to help promote themselves and create great content. But just because you have a camera doesn’t mean that you should use it! I say that because I see a lot of crap out there, and you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. You’ve already put a bad taste in my mouth by the stuff that you’ve shown me if it’s not well done. So if you’re going to create your own content, it has to be as good as everything else out there that I’m seeing. It has to be professionally shot and lit. The script has to be great. The acting has to be great. It’s got to look wonderful. It can’t look like a homemade project that your Dad shot. Unfortunately, I’m seeing a lot of that.
It’s like going out on an audition when you’re not ready to be seen.
Exactly. I teach a 3-night Audition Bootcamp class and I had a student who was offered by Funny or Die to produce a short for them. She wrote it / shot it / and edited it all over the weekend. When she was done she realized: “This is not good enough” and decided not to send it out. Which is really rare when someone completes a project. Most of the time people just throw it out there and they don’t think about the repercussions involved in that. She realized it was not up to par, and started over. She wanted to make sure it looked great and that it was the best it could possibly be because many times you have one shot. It’s like these producers that send me scripts because they want me to get involved and attach cast so they can get financing. And they send me these scripts that are full of typos, that don’t make any sense, I’m up to page 60 and nothing has happened yet, there’s no three act structure and it’s just not working. And they say ”oh yeah, we’re probably going to fix that” Well, I’m not going to read it again. You’ve already blown it. You want me to send this out to people? It’s a mess.
How can I find about your class schedule? What you’re teaching and when you’re teaching?
You can sign up for my newsletter on my website. Then when I’m teaching classes next, you’ll get an email. My classes are not ‘acting classes’. You should be in acting class. On my website I have a ‘resources page’ which is chock-full of information and has a list of wonderful classes in Los Angeles that I like. My class focuses on the business and auditioning. It’s called ‘Audition Bootcamp’. I assume that when you come to me, you know how to act. It’s really for working Actors that are constantly auditioning and have been on set many times. It’s not for someone that’s just starting out. I created it because I got frustrated seeing Actors coming in to audition for me that I knew were very well trained…but didn’t know how to audition. They didn’t know that game and they became completely undone by the process. Your job is not just being in front of the camera. Your job is auditioning. And getting your pictures done. And going to classes.
Can we talk about specific auditions? One time we discussed Henry Thomas’ audition for Elliot in E.T. and then I watched it on YouTube. It was everything you said it was. When you were casting E.T. and this kid came in, how did you know he was special?
Well I didn’t know he was special until he opened his mouth and said the first line. We were standing behind the camera. Spielberg, Kathy Kennedy, Frank Marshall and my boss Mike Fenton who was doing the scene with him, improving. As soon as he opened his mouth, you saw that laser focus of his just being so in the shoes of this kid. I have all my classes watch this audition because as an Actor, especially as an adult, what you really want to get back to is what you were like as a kid. When you were a little kid, before you had gotten into your teens and hit puberty, your ego hadn’t formed yet. As a kid you’ll do anything. You don’t care about looking foolish. You really don’t care yet. You have a tremendous imagination. He was given this improv to do and he completely got into it in a heartbeat. As soon as we saw his little lip start quivering, we were gone. We were just gone. We had found our Elliot.
True story. We had found another young Actor for that role before this. And we had the choices for the boys who were going to be his friends and his brother. We put them all together at the writer’s house to play a game of Dungeons and Dragons, to see how they would get along. It became clear very quickly that nobody liked this little kid that we’d cast as Elliot.
You know how sometimes when you play a game your true colors come out? So we realized we had to completely start over. Steven Spielberg was friendly with a Director who had just worked with Henry on a film, Jack Fisk. He was from this little town in Texas, and when we were told about him, we flew him in. And that’s how it happened.
Do a lot of people ask you about the casting process for these great movies?
Sure. Of course. When Drew Barrymore came in for the audition, it was really just to talk to me. She was only about 5 years old at the time. She sat in the chair across from me, pulled her dress up over her head and sat there talking to me through her dress. I finally got her to put her dress back down, and I wanted to get to know her a bit. So instead of asking questions that are just yes or no, I wanted to ask her questions that would really prompt her to talk. I asked her to tell me what her bedroom looked like. She said “Oh, it’s just a mess right now. It’s full of equipment from my band. There’s just musical equipment all over the place.” I said “What are you talking about?” She replied “Oh, I have a band. I’m the lead singer.” Turns out she totally made this story up. None of that was true. But she just had this wild imagination and was spectacular.
Do you still love casting as much now as you did when you started?
I do and I don’t. It depends what I’m working on. Quite honestly it depends on the people that I’m working with. The internet has changed things so much for the good and bad, in that things move with lightning speed. You can have access to everything at your fingertips - which is amazing. It used to be, that if an Agent wanted to send me a demo on an Actor, they’d get a messenger and I might get it the next day. Maybe. And then it would get stuck in the mailroom for a while. Now, they’re on the phone with me and it comes into my inbox in a second. So that’s incredible. The double edge sword of it is that the creative team (the network, the executives) expect me to pull off a miracle in a very condensed period of time. It used to be that we would have time to cast something. And now when they want to do a search, it’s not just a search in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York…it’s a global search. So we’re having to review thousands of submissions. Which, on one hand, is great that everyone has a chance to submit…but it’s very, very, very time consuming due to the sheer volume. Back in the early days, I would hate to release a Breakdown because I was the Assistant and I would get a stack of mail that was so high. Now everything comes digitally and it’s here in a nanosecond. Not only do the Agents and Managers submit through Breakdown Services, but then they double submit to me on my email. So I have to go through thousands of submissions on Breakdown and then thousands of submissions in my email with links on each Actor that I have to go through as well. It’s extremely time consuming.
Do you have a traditional casting office? With an Associate and an Assistant?
Yes. I don’t keep an office when I’m not casting something. But when I’m on a project, they give me an office, an Assistant and an Associate. On television, they generally will pay for one or the other. They won’t pay for both. Television is where you NEED both. You actually need more staff. They tend to short change us all the time. It’s really unfortunate.
A while ago, I was at the Arclight Theater in Sherman Oaks, and lo and behold, I saw your photograph on the wall. That was really cool! You were up there with these huge Producers and Directors. It was pretty sweet.
That campaign was for the 10 year anniversary of the Arclight being in existence and they wanted people to talk about what going out to the Arclight Theater means to them. I inquired about participating and they said they would love to have me do it! The photoshoot was really fun, the photographer was really great, and to see it up on the wall was really something. I took my 93 year old Mother to see that and she started crying.
I felt proud of you as well. Whenever you have a friend being honored for something, I think you can’t help but feel a part of it.
Did you see the short The Academy did on me about creativity?
Well, I am now a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Casting Directors used to be Members-At-Large, but we now have our own Branch, which is a very big deal. I saw this series they were doing called CREATIVE SPARK. They did one on my friend Betsy Heimann who is a Costume Designer. We had just gotten our Branch, and I thought I would pitch to them that it was the perfect time to do one on a Casting Director, as we wanted some awareness. They agreed, and I suggested the three Governors of our Branch. But they replied that they would be interested in doing one on me. And because I’m more comfortable doing on-camera stuff than many CDs, I said “Sure, I’d love to”. There’s a short version that explains the E.T. story and they run that at the Academy before the films.
Since I am on a mission to introduce you to some people that I admire and respect in the entertainment business, I wanted to make sure to interview my friend Eric Kind. He is a personal manager and one of the 'kindest' people you could know. (Sorry for the pun. I am sure he gets that a lot.) We met up at Jerry's Deli for lunch. I worked at Jerry's for a short time when I first moved to LA. I sucked at it.
What has been your personal path to the entertainment industry?
I started out as an actor, and actually trained at one of the conservatories at the collegiate level. Over a summer I worked at Liz Lewis Casting in NY and really fell in love with that side of it. I wasn’t expecting that. But I found that I was still able to speak the language of the actor without being the actor. I was really getting into business side and I felt something between casting and agency would work for me. So I kind of knew right when I was out of college. The day I graduated from school, I applied for a job and at Buchwald in NYC, and soon started working there. After that I worked at two separate casting offices in NYC and then moved to LA. Once I got here, I worked at a production company for a little while, but ended up over at Lionsgate.
How did you go from working at a big production company to going into talent representation?
Well, at Lionsgate I was working in business and legal affairs in TV. And somewhere along the lines, someone asked me to do a workshop. When I walked in, I saw 30 actors. 28 of which, didn’t seem to know what they were doing. Many of these actors needed a classroom and not an opportunity to be ‘seen’. I felt empathy as a former actor and former casting worker. I just wanted to help these people. So I shifted gears and applied what I learned at the conservatory to turn the workshop into a class. Then all of a sudden I started getting a lot of requests to teach. So I teamed up with a Casting Director and we started teaching a lot. When I left Lionsgate, my initial thought was “Well, I’ll just go teach” because I really loved it. I really got some satisfaction out of it. That’s not an easy thing to jump into in LA. There are a thousand teachers. How am I going to get a client base? So I went to work for an agency and that really kept me close to working with the people that I loved.
From being a Talent Agent you became a Talent Manager. How do you see your current position differing from when you were an agent?
In my experience, I feel like the two are related. I’m still dealing with the actor’s business and my business and legal background in television really helps. But I’m also dealing with the other issues that come up. Or how they feel about auditions. I feel I have become more accessible. I don’t think a lot of actors call up their agents and say “Ugh, I didn’t feel so great about that one” because the agents are busy and the client’s don’t want to bother them. I really think that’s something that is lost in entertainment. This is still a service part of the industry. Agencies, management companies, Attorneys, PR, we’re all service people. We get paid for being of service. The client who is paying, is the boss. So I’ve really started taking that into consideration with every conversation that I have. I need to be helpful and serve in whatever capacity I can. Even if it’s just helping decide where to go for headshots or what part of town to move to.
Do you think training as an actor gave you a better eye to spot talent in your potential clients?
Yes and no. Because I think everyone has an eye for their own taste. If you see someone on TV who is not trained, and you like it, you keep watching it. If you don’t like it, you change the channel. I feel like I know someone can act just by talking to them. I can get a feel for whether or not we share some common history, and then I feel like I know where they are at.
Interesting. So as a Talent Manager, you can spot whether someone has talent or not. But how to you spot if they have potential to earn a living or not?
Those are the two different sides of the coin. You know it’s funny. I’ve been talking a lot lately to my clients about auditioning. Which is not the same as acting.
It’s like saying to someone “What do you do?”
And they respond “I’m a musician.”
And I say “Great, play the flute for me.”
And they say “Well I don’t play the flute. I play the piano.”
And I go “But yeah, you just said you were a musician”
And I feel like it’s the same thing with acting. There’s the ART. And then there’s the BUSINESS. I think there’s an ART to auditioning, and that’s just another side of the business. Many people think that just because they have trained as an actor, that they are trained to audition. But no, that’s not the case.
Is there something specific you look for in Kind Management clients?
I think it changes. Every month. I’m using this new tool called Active Pitch, which I love, and one of the services they have is that they pull clips from the shows you have been on. They will literally go find the show, edit the clips you are in and just put it right up on their page. And I don’t mean this as a plug for them, I was just really very pleasantly surprised. So I was talking to my client and said “You have 3 shows with 6 clips, this is going to go on your credit card that they have on file.” He said “yeah, do what you want. You gotta spend money to make money” And I thought “why can’t I have more like you?” You know, you tell somebody to go do this, and they don’t do it for four months. You tell someone else to go do this, and they don’t do it ever. You ask someone else to do something and they do it immediately. But it’s a back and forth. I’m sure some of my clients wish my manager did this and I’ve got to be accountable for it.
Do you have a niche? Are you the type of manager who likes a specific age range or look?
I don’t have a niche. I feel like I have been getting people with very few credits as series regulars on shows. Which is baffling because it goes against everything that I’ve ever been told. But I love being able to get that developmental actor in the room. It might come from the fact that I think I have a good eye, but I know my clients are going to do the job. That’s why I have them on my roster. That’s why I feel confident sending everyone who’s on my roster into the room, because I know they’re going to do a good job. And it’s not about booking the role, it’s about booking the room. Because the truth is, you’re auditioning for everything that casting director’s ever going to cast. So as far as my niche, I have 3 people on series right now. One of them had zero tv credits. Another one had a few. But one of the things that I want for my company is life-long clients. Just because you’re not doing great that year, doesn’t mean I am going to drop you. At some point, if I feel like I can’t help you and you’re better served elsewhere, that’s the only time I’m going to say “Hey, we should have a discussion about this”
How can actors get on your radar? Is there an appropriate way to get your attention?
Yeah. Don’t call me Gordon.
Is that what people call you?? Gordon??
Some guy wrote me this morning and started the email “Hi Gordon, I’m ______________. I’m looking for a new manager…” And that happens more often than you think. What happens is, people write the form emails, and copy and paste it from the last one. They forget to change the name.
Do you attend showcases?
I love going to see actors perform and talking to them after. Nobody teaches this in college. I went to one of the top schools in the world for acting. They didn’t teach me anything about the business. They taught me how to audition for stage and be on stage. There was nothing about TV or film. So, I like being helpful to new people. Because I remember what that felt like. Not having any information, so I would have to go find it myself. Some people don’t even do that. They think they’re just good with what they got. So I love going to those things.
What’s the most fulfilling part about what you do?
Calling the client and saying they got the part. I just called a client with a smile on my face and said “Still got your passport?” As a matter of fact, I called her while she was working at her restaurant job. She said how slammed it was and that she couldn’t talk right now. I said “no, no, no…you want to take this call. I’ll call you in ten minutes. Go in the bathroom” That’s the one thing that supersedes any amount of money. Hearing that joy in your client’s voice when you tell them the good news. Especially those first few bookings. When someone is REALLY a development client and you get to tell them they are getting their first network credit, it’s an amazing thrill. You can’t buy that sound in their voice.
So if you share in that excitement when they get it, do you share in the disappointment if they don’t get it?
Of course I care about disappointment. But I also have to be stronger than they’re feeling because they’re in a moment of vulnerability. And I understand that. I need to be someone to lean on. They’re going to go through every scenario in their mind : “What did I do wrong? How could I have changed that?” But there’s the old Chinese philosophy of: get knocked down 7 times, get up 8. And I need to be the person who delivers that message. And if they didn’t get something big, then there’s always the next one. If you’re getting to that space where you’re that far ahead then it just becomes a numbers game. It’s funny to me how people can be dismissive of certain roles. Like: “It’s just a co star. Who cares?” They’re all life changing. You never know what opportunity you can get from a co-star. That pilot may never go, but it may be directed by the next Martin Scorsese who works with the same people over and over again. That may be the life changing opportunity. As Sandy Meisner said: Every moment has a meaning of it’s own.
Do you have any advice for actors?
Yeah, I’m going to give the advice that an Emmy Award winning actor once gave to my class: If you have something to fall back on, you will fall back. If you could do anything else, do that. But if you really believe in your talent and this is all you can do…DO IT. It may not be in front of the TV camera or film cameras, or maybe it’s not with the Directors you’ve always imagined. Or if you enjoy making youtube videos, go make youtube videos. It’s not about the money. Money is never going to make you happier. It may make things easier. Figure out a way to make your career part of what you love. I happen to love actors, I love acting. But I figured out a way to stay involved in my passion without being the actor. So whatever it is, know there are other options besides tv or movie star
For my first obSETHed interview, I wanted to make sure to speak with someone I admired and who had the respect of the community. I chose Laura Adler, CSA and was thrilled that she agreed. She is a terrific Casting Director and the Administrator of the Casting Society of America.
The interview took place at the CSA office in Hollywood. I arrived a full thirty minutes early because they have massage chairs in the lobby of the building.
I auditioned for Laura a few years before when she was casting the show BETTER OFF TED. She doesn’t remember me from that audition. And if you watch my series, obSETHed, you know that’s a great thing.
I got some questions for ya.
First of all, Thanks so much for taking the time. Some people have written me, after seeing my videos, asking what ‘CSA’ stands for after someone’s name. Clearly it’s CASTING SOCIETY OF AMERICA. But if you don’t mind, I’m hoping you can tell me a little more about what that means.
We’re the largest organization of casting professionals in the world for film, television and theater. We’re global, with membership in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South Africa, and more. The CSA stands up for the quality of work of it’s members, and provides a great forum for people to gather information and support each other. I also feel that raising our profile has helped, and continues, to make people in the industry and outside of it aware of the amazing work CDs do. What I’ve noticed a lot since being at the CSA office and taking the phone calls from the members, is that it’s a great sense of community. CSA helps to uphold the standards that Casting Directors strive for.
It’s cool to hear that Casting Directors have a community of their own, because we Actors pride ourselves on having a large community and being able to depend on each other.
Exactly. Our website (www.castingsociety.com) offers opportunities for networking, and members can put out job searches to receive resumes from Casting Assistants and Associates who can sign up for these job listings without having to be members themselves.
If someone is interested in getting into casting, is the CSA website the right place to go? Or do you only want people who already have their feet wet?
It’s a great place to go because you can get lots of good information. But like any entry level position, there is a catch-22 where Casting Directors, especially during pilot season, are looking for Associates and Assistants who have the experience. But a lot of people who want to be Casting Assistants don’t have the experience and can’t get their foot in the door that way. Internships used to be an easier thing, and now obviously with all of the lawsuits going on, we have been advised not to advocate for internships until everything is settled and we know where everything stands.
Such a shame. Almost everyone I know, including myself, got their start interning.
It is kind of a shame. I got my start because I knew somebody. I actually got my first job with a completely made up resume.
But one thing that we are doing to help with that catch-22, is developing a training program for Assistants who have no experience. It will be completed within the next few years, as we’re currently working on the curriculum. It’s going to be a great program. Where literally, a person who wants to be a Casting Assistant, but has no experience, can take this course and learn everything. From etiquette in the office, to the different programs that they have to know. Like Eco Cast, Breakdown Services, Cast It and Now Casting. They'll learn the actual process of casting something and what the duties of a Casting Assistant are. It’s going to be like an 8 to 10 hour program. Actual classes. And that’s going to be a great tool.
I interned in casting for quite a long time because it was the best acting class I ever took. With those internship opportunities minimizing, will actors who really want to understand the casting process be able to take this class?
It’ll be open to anyone who wants to take it. I think it’ll be a great tool for actors to understand what the process is and how it works. I think most people do understand the concept, but they don’t have that insight into how decisions are made. And how completely arbitrary things can be.
Will the training program be taught by Casting Directors?
Most probably. The actual course will be run by trained facilitators who will also interact with CD guests. But what I’ve been told is that the facilitators will consist of about four CDs who have been trained to facilitate the program. Again, keep in mind that all of this is in the development stages, but that’s the plan as of now.
Sounds awesome. And what was your own path to casting?
I grew up in NY and my father was a Stage Manager and a Director in the Broadway theater world. I knew I wanted to be in the business, but I kind of felt like, at that time in the early 80s, theater wasn’t where I wanted to be. I decided to come out to LA and got a job at a production company. Alan Landsburg Productions, which at the time was kind of on the forefront of reality television. I worked on THAT’S INCREDIBLE, and another show called THOSE AMAZING ANIMALS. He did all those kind of reality type shows. I worked there for 4 years and then my dad moved out here and was stage managing. He got me in the DGA. I did a few things in the DGA but I just didn’t really like the AD kind of life. I was at a crossroads, so I put it out to friends that I was looking for a job. And I got a call from a friend of mine who said “I’m working on a show and they’re looking for a Casting Assistant. Do you think you would want to do something like that?” And at Alan Landsburg Productions, Alan was married to Linda Otto who was one of the top Casting Directors of the day and an old family friend. That’s actually how I got the job at Lansburg. By calling Linda and saying ‘I’m moving to California and I need a job.” She said “Come work for us” . Linda’s Associate was Randy Stone, also a wonderful Casting Director, and I used to love to go sit in their office and look at all the submissions. Actually, when I was a kid I used to love to look at the Players Directory at my Dad’s office, where I’d read a book and wonder: if they made this book into a movie, who would be good to play so-and-so? I would just do that in my mind, and I always had a great memory for Actors. I thought that it could be fun. I could do that. But I had no experience whatsoever. So I called Randy and I said, I’m going in on a job for a Casting Assistant tomorrow and I’m putting you down as a reference and I’m saying that I worked for you. That’s the part about the resume I told you I made up. Randy said ‘okay’ and I went in and got the job. It was my first gig.
One of the things that amazes me about Casting Directors, actually, is their incredible memories. Although you sort of stumbled into it, clearly you already had that super power.
I completely did. I always had a great memory for faces and names. And I would be obsessed with watching credits at the end of tv shows. I was a child of the 70s. And I watched all those shows. THE BRADY BUNCH, THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY. I was obsessed with the actors. I knew who Jodie Foster was when she was on THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER when she was 9 years old. I used to go to theater auditions with my Dad and look at all the pictures, and hand the headshots to him as the actors would enter the room as if I was his little assistant. I always sort of had that encyclopedic memory for faces and names.
Did you ever want to act?
I did do theater and musical theater in high school and camp. But going to auditions at an early age, I just knew I didn’t have the constitution for it. I didn’t have the ability to let things go, and with all of the rejection...I knew I didn’t have that in me.
So once you started working in casting, did you just know it was a fit?
Instantly. Instantly. I always loved seeing new talent for the first time. I loved the experience of reading and finding someone new who was incredibly talented. I read Reese Witherspoon right after she did THE MAN IN THE MOON. We cast her in a Lifetime TV movie when she was 14 years old. And just being in the room with her, and just knowing that this kid was a star. She was going to be a star. You could just see it.
So going back to the memory thing, a lot of actors are afraid that the incredible memories of Casting Directors will work AGAINST them if they have a less than stellar audition. Does it work that way? Do you remember the bad auditions?
No. I remember the SPECTACULARLY bad auditions. But I could maybe count off 5 stories of that. It’s usually because something scary happened. Like someone pulled out a gun, or took their clothes off. Stuff like that. The truth is, you always see something special in an audition. Unless someone is truly not talented. And you rarely see people come in, who are represented, who are not talented. I mean, it usually doesn’t happen. Most people are good at their craft. So you can always see something.
I often like to tell actors, that auditions are NOT acting competitions. It’s not the person who comes in with the best technique who is going to get the part. It’s the person who is the best fit for the role.
And the Casting Directors have to know a lot about what the Producers are looking for, in order to know who’s the best fit.
Very true.. And it’s not just what they’re looking for. It’s putting a puzzle together. If you’re casting a family, and you already have a certain type, the ‘brother’ has got to be somebody who will fit into that world. So certainly not always the person who gives the best audition will get the job. And you can get married to your choices with your producers and your writers, and then you go to the studio and the network and they say “No, that’s not how we see it at all” Then you have to go back to the drawing board because the visions aren’t meshing.
Is pilot casting really very different from episodic casting?
Yes. With pilots, you are creating the ‘world’, it’s like you are giving birth to the actual series. With episodic casting, it’s fast. You could be casting 20-25 roles in five days. It has to move fast, you can’t see as many people. You don’t have the opportunity to explore the characters and bring in as many actors as you want. Simply because there’s no time. Whereas in a pilot, you have from 8 to 12 weeks to do that. So you’re really digging deep. Seeing a lot of people. Hoping to discover new talent.
Do you think there’s something the acting community and the talent representative community can do to help Casting Directors get the acknowledgement they deserve?
Well, yeah. One of the things they could be doing is thanking their Casting Directors when they get awards.
That’s the main thing. It’s so frustrating to watch the SAG AWARDS, which are all about the performances, and to have your ensemble shows win their award...well who do you think put those people together? And they never thank the Casting Directors. The only show that ever thanked the Casting Director was MODERN FAMILY. They thanked Jeff Greenberg every year when they won, God bless them. And I think one year, the DOWNTON ABBEY cast. One year. But besides that, nobody. You rarely get an actor thanking the Casting Director that cast them in a role. And you rarely get a Director or a Producer to say it as well. I think Martin Scorsese is the only one that’s ever thanked his Casting Director when he won Best Director. He thanked Ellen Lewis.
It would certainly make sense though, that it could start with some public recognition from the people who benefit from the Casting Director’s work. Which is largely, auditioning actors. Speaking of which, some people are masters at auditioning and some people get very nervous. Do you have any advice for Actors going into auditions?
I always say that I want you to get the job. And this is how I conducted my sessions. I want you to do your best work. We’re on your side. I think some actors have the feeling that it’s an adversarial relationship. It’s hard for them to get through the door, and they feel like they have to prove something. If you’re coming into my door, I already think that you can do the job. I have faith in you. That’s why I want to see you. I’m interested in your credits on your resume, I’ve heard good things about you, I saw something that you did. I’m on your side already. And I will always be on your side because I want you to do your best work and get the job. Because getting you the job, means my job is done and I can move on to the next part. I think it’s important to create an atmosphere where an actor can do their best work. And I think they’ll do their best work if they’re relaxed, comfortable, and enjoying their performance.
The ironic thing is that an Actor always does their best work on the car ride home.
Absolutely. I work with my nephew a lot on his auditions. And though he is a very talented, working actor, it’s possible that I might be seeing something better than what the Casting Directors for the project might be seeing. Because nerves do overtake you when the spotlight’s on. No matter how confident you are. In any job situation. It’s not just Actors. When we have CSA Board meetings and I have to present stuff to the Board, I get nervous doing that. Because I’m not used to public speaking. It’s not my thing. I’m not comfortable in it. I’ll never forget this: My Dad was the production stage manager on the TONY AWARDS every year. I used to get to go to all the day-of rehearsals and it was great. Then when I was 16, I started working as a PA on the TONY’S. I think it was 1978 or 1979, and one of my jobs was to go get the presenter from their dressing room and bring them to their mark, right before they were going to come on stage. And one of the people I had to go get was Al Pacino. And at that time, I could not have been more enamored with him! Anyway, I go to get him, and he was...terrified. He was literally clutching my arm from his dressing room to the stage, where he stood standing and shaking. And he just kept repeating “The nominees for best actor are...the nominees for best actor are…” over and over and over again. Terrified. And I was like: He’s PACINO! What is he so scared about? You know what I mean? But when he had to go up there and just be himself, without the cover of the character, he was petrified.
Do you have any advice for actors trying to gain a solid career?
I feel terrible because I don’t have a magic solution. I don’t have a magic answer. But I would say that it’s important to get good training. Participate in showcases that are the result of your training. Go to a good college that has a great acting program. They all do showcases every year and you can get seen that way. Do lots of live theater in Los Angeles and New York. Casting Directors do go and see shows. Getting into class is really key.