by Casting Director, Laurie Records
… lament the non-politically correct role descriptions on a breakdown.
The commercial casting world is not like the real world… in many ways. One way, and the topic I would like to address today, is political correctness. Now, let it be known, I’m a Seattle gal through and through and Seattle is arguably the most politically correct [PC] city on the planet. I’m well versed in political correctness. When I arrived in Los Angeles many years ago, I remember my jaw dropping when called “sweetie” and “honey” by my co-workers at Starbucks. That’s how PC my world was. Now that I have landed in commercial casting, I’ve heard the chatter about it not being the most PC process. I’m not talking the “sweetie/honey” sort of way, but there is a worthy conversation to be had.
Commercial actors should never be thrown by the lack of political correctness in casting.
Let’s hit on the obvious.
It’s common in commercial breakdowns to list the sex, age range and ethnicity for the role being cast. In a perfect world would we see all ethnicities for each role? Sure. Bigger age ranges? Ok. But that’s not how it is. These things are dictated from people far more important than the casting director, and it would cost too much money and take too much time to see the masses that just aren’t part of the vision for the spot. What may be more jarring to you as an actor are the role descriptions that may include slightly to very unflattering terms. I can’t imagine most people like to be referred to as overweight, haggard, nerdy, unattractive, abnormally short or tall… you get the idea. If I had a dime for every time I heard an actor lament that they fit the unflattering role description, I could likely retire tomorrow, or shortly thereafter. These are the terms that are used. Casting directors have been publicly shamed from time to time with screen shots of their breakdown posted for public scrutiny. PC language is not always used. Nope.
Note: the role description is often times copied and pasted to the commercial breakdown, not dreamed up by the casting director. Not that it makes it better that someone other than the casting director is using unflattering terms, but complaining to the casting director isn’t helpful. Actually, feeling bad that you’ve been called in out of thousands of submissions because the role description isn’t one that you want to be identified with isn’t helpful either. I’d encourage a new perspective. If nothing else, think of the fantastic money that could be coming your way, if you are fortunate enough to book the job.
The truth is commercials are written and cast in stereotypes. Have you watched them lately? You can label the characters, can you not? Nerdy older brother, handsome businessman, Midwest mom, fat funny guy… I believe there is a role for everyone in commercial land, but there are some types that are more commonly found in commercials than others. When you fit one of those often used stereotypes, you have potential for consistent commercial work, versus the fluke booking once every 2 years. This is good news for you.
My recommendation: figure out your commercial type or types (if you are so lucky) that you can play. Be honest with yourself and embrace them. Your headshots should reflect those types, from your hair to your makeup to your wardrobe. If you happen to not be personally thrilled with being that type, you have several choices. Keep trying to be the beautiful, gorgeous, handsome person we all wish we were and really aren’t. Have headshots reflecting your best attempt at being gorgeous or handsome and be fine with not booking work, because you aren’t really that type. I wouldn’t recommend that option. You can work hard to alter yourself to become the beautiful type you wish you were (i.e. lose weight, work out, get a great hair stylist, hire a stylist to work with your wardrobe, etc). I’m cool with that. Or, you can come to terms that this is a business and that it behooves you to embrace your less than flattering, non-PC type for the good of your business. Have the headshots that reflect your nerdy self. Wear the conservative wardrobe that you wouldn’t be caught dead in at a dinner party, but sure defines you as a mom type. The person you aspire to be in life may not be your commercial type. You don’t have to be that person in your spare time. You just need to be willing, and I’d recommend LOVE that unflattering type while working. If you are the nerd, be very comfortable in your nerd skin all day long as you audition, and switch your skin before you go out for the evening or come home to your beloved significant other.
I’m a big fan of picking and choosing your battles. If you were to subscribe to the Laurie school of thought, I’d say let this one go. Let go of any outrage you feel from less than lovely terms used in a breakdown. There are better causes to get behind in an actor’s life than the movement to promote a change in breakdown language to be more politically correct. Instead, channel that energy toward defining and embracing your non-perfect type and celebrate every time you are called in for it… or transform yourself to become the type you want to be. The decision is yours.
It’s a new year. Commit to embracing and nurturing your less than perfect, non-PC type.
Laurie Records, Casting Director