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.