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Laurieby Casting Director, Laurie Records

…wonder why Casting is trying to torture them.

I have read about, heard (literally with my own ears, and also secondhand) and watched actors qualify as “disgruntled” to “fuming” to “full tantrum status” over a commercial casting gone wrong. I have seen actors blow their audition because they couldn’t let their frustration go before walking into the room, and it read on camera. I have witnessed actors lose their cool in such a dramatic manner that they are blacklisted from the casting office.

For the record, I have also seen/heard Casting Directors guilty of the same… you are in good company of passionate adults behaving badly from time to time. But, this column is not for them. If you are already feeling defensive and criticized, you are going down the wrong track. My hope is to enlighten you, the actor, of the process (and the MANY places that it can go “wrong”) in order to create more understanding, more inner peace, leading to less self-sabotage in a commercial audition setting.

Commercial actors should never wonder why Casting is trying to torture them.

Here is a brief perfect world commercial casting scenario:

*Day 1: Casting Director is awarded the job and given all details (run, rate, shoot dates, etc.), treatment, storyboards, and copy. CD puts out breakdown, actors are submitted.

*Day 2: Casting Director “preps” the job. The CD sifts through what is sometimes thousands (yes, plural) of submissions per role and makes selects. The selects are scheduled and sent out preferably in the afternoon… by 5:45 at the latest. Copy posted on LA Casting, wardrobe given, audition location, etc.

*Day 3: Casting session. Actors arrive on time, prepared (copy and wardrobe), wait time less than 30 minutes. All details communicated again (verbally or written) and unchanged. It’s a light and enjoyable experience.

*Day 6 (6 picked randomly): Casting Director receives callback selects. Creates schedule for the following day with all details reiterated OR highlighting any changes in wardrobe, copy, shoot dates, etc. CD sends schedule by early afternoon and receives ALL confirmations by the end of the evening.

*Day 7: Callbacks. Clients arrive on time, talent arrive on time. Everyone is prepared and good-natured. Wait time less than 30 minutes. Again, it’s a light and enjoyable experience. Director and Ad agency creatives narrow their choices to 1st and backups. All talent put on avail.

*Day 9: Bookings come in. Calls go out. All project details remain the same. Agents call the actors and all are available and excited. All booking confirmations come back to casting in a reasonable amount of time and production is given all booking info. Production then takes the ball.

Ok… what I just described is a perfect world scenario. I can count on one hand (in four years) how many times casting a commercial went just as described. Curveballs can and often do come every step of the way. It’s the norm and it’s important to know it happens all the time… and to be able to roll with it. Unruffled actors get the job.

Let’s explore about where you, the actor, may feel that casting isn’t respecting you or your time and what could potentially be the causes:

Same day auditions/little notice: Commercials happen fast. Casting Directors are often awarded the job, put out the breakdown, look through submissions, make selects, schedule the talent, and email it out all in the same day. You may get your audition after normal business hours. New roles can come in from production at noon and must be seen at the end of the day. In this scenario, you may get 4 hours notice for an audition. Clients may be sitting at callbacks and realize they need a wider variety of ethnic choices… and the session ends in 2 hours. This is when you get the “get in your car now” phone call. Casting, like actors, needs to “just say yes” and make it happen. When Casting says something is impossible, they risk having production go with another casting office the next time that CAN accommodate their (sometimes crazy) requests. When there are an extreme amount of cancellations and no shows during a session, Casting Directors may also need to call in additional talent at the last minute to fill in the holes.

Obviously, everyone would prefer to give actors plenty of notice to arrive relaxed, in wardrobe, having worked on the copy. Many times, for many reasons you won’t get that kind of notice. Casting is not trying to torture you with last minute calls.

Cancelled audition: Canceling an entire session is tough. This usually happens when the entire job is cancelled or put on hold. Inevitably, some of the actors don’t get the message, which results in a wasted trip to the casting facility. Casting can send an email and even follow with phone calls to Agents… and sometimes, talent don’t get the message. It stinks. Another challenging situation is when a single role has been cancelled (this always comes from production). Usually, this means the spec has changed pretty dramatically, or occasionally, the role or spot has been cancelled. So, some talent on the schedule are still needed, and others are cancelled. This situation quickly becomes confusing and chaos can ensue for the casting team. Likely, if your audition wasn’t cancelled, you show up having no idea anything has changed, and can’t figure out why the lobby is crowded, why Casting is scrambling and disorganized… well, this could be one of MANY reasons. I have heard/seen/called talent in at the last possible moment as a first call to callback… only to have the client change their minds. The talent are told after they rushed across that they are not needed. All I can say is your frustration is completely justified, but you are killing the messenger when you let loose on the casting team. I assure you, it’s no picnic for us either.

Change of copy/wardrobe: I can’t tell you how many times I have been on my hands and knees rewriting cue cards because Casting just received the copy or it has changed… 20 minutes AFTER the session was supposed to have started. No fun for Casting, no fun for you who worked all night on copy that is now different… and in the end, Casting wants you to be really, really good. We know it can throw actors for a loop when the copy changes. It happens and you have to roll with it. The same goes with a wardrobe change. There are certain Directors and certain situations in which wardrobe is extremely important. Important enough for Casting to make 50 phone calls to have you turn around and go home to pick up a new wardrobe piece. Maddening, yes. The commercial process moves fast. There is a lot of money being spent. Last minute requests and changes from production must be accommodated.

Excessive wait: Many of the above examples can contribute to a longer wait for the actor. Even the time it takes to switch copy can be hard to recover from, let alone if it is considerably longer. Schedules are carefully crafted to pair up couples, families, to see as many actors, efficiently, as possible. A seemingly small kink in the plan can have big effect on the casting day. There are technical difficulties that can devastate a casting day. Excessive no shows can be a culprit when couples are scheduled, and all men show and only a few women. A last minute change in how the Director would like to see the talent is another thing. When the schedule has been written to see 4 actors at a time and the Director decides last minute he/she wants to see one at a time… you can imagine what that does to the day. Callbacks are often the worst. The session can’t start until the clients have arrived. Clients are notoriously late (to their defense, their schedules are packed), sometimes causing the session to begin an hour late. It’s stressful and it happens.

By no means do I want to leave Casting blameless when sessions go wrong. It’s our job to roll with these punches, make changes, minimizing the effect on the actor, as much as possible. Human error obviously comes in to play. Over scheduling, neglecting to click “send” on a schedule, skipping an actor on the sign in sheet, etc. There are plenty of instances when your inconvenience is the fault of the casting team.

In the end, your ability to remain calm, collected, and focused in the worst audition situation will only behoove you. Hopefully understanding some of the many things that can contribute to a casting session going “wrong” will help. It usually isn’t flagrant disregard for you, your time and talent. Often times, your anger with the casting team is misguided and nearly always detrimental. Perhaps this info will help to ease your mind, simply knowing the “why” often helps. In extreme lobby situations, call your agent instead of being confrontational. If it is appropriate, they will call the office to find out what is going on and discuss potential solutions…

A positive spin: when the lobby is tense and full of frustrated actors complaining and griping to each other, you will shine all the more when you walk in calm, warm and likeable… increasing your chances of a callback (or booking) exponentially.

I think it’s safe to say “actor torture” is not the reason behind a frustrating audition experience. If misery loves company, when you are frustrated, the casting team is too.

Laurie Records, Casting Director