Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
We had another informative Inside the Industry Seminar, free for Casting Networks members when veteran Casting Director, John McCarthy was our guest speaker April 26th. Since John had been a professional actor on Broadway before he turned to casting, his understanding of actors and insights were valuable. Here is his bio-
John started his casting company 23 years ago. He has cast thousands of commercials as well as seven television series and over 20 pilots. Having been an actor in New York and Los Angeles, John has a first-hand knowledge of the actor’s world. He does his best to run his own sessions so that he gets to meet the actors as they audition. He has cast for a broad range of clients. . . from Mattel to McDonald’s and from the Arizona Lottery to the Del Webb Retirement Village. John primarily works out of The Casting Lounge on La Brea.
Mr. McCarthy began, “Hello. Thank you all for coming and thank you for inviting me. I’ve had my own casting company for 23 years. I started as an actor in college and then I was lucky enough to do a show on Broadway many years ago and came here, sort of trying to see if I was going to still be an actor. I just wasn’t making a living to the point where I was comfortable. So when I stopped waiting tables in New York, I started working in a casting office in New York City. First, I was at a talent agent, then at a casting office and as time went on and I came out here (to Los Angeles) and was still auditioning, I was working running camera at different places around town. It just sort of morphed into my starting running sessions. When one casting director couldn’t do a job, she asked me if I would cover for her. I sort of had been half running her business anyway—then the client came back to me. From that, one America’s Most Wanted job, a career was started, so I’ve been doing it a long time. My acting name was John Mulkeen, so I was a casting director under that name for a long time until about 9 years ago. Since 9/11, you couldn’t have two names, so my AKA was John Mulkeen as an actor, so I switched back to my real name John McCarthy and I’m much happier there.” [laughter]
He continued, “Over the last 23 years, I’ve cast thousands of commercials. I’ve also done about twenty television pilots and I used to cast a lot of TV shows, mostly for kids…a lot of Nickelodeon and Disney Channel shows and that sort of stuff working for The Tom Lynch Company, which is still a pretty big player in the kids’ world. I got out of that a few years ago and am very happy working & doing exclusively commercials now. We have a lot of repeat clients. I do a lot of kids’ commercials…a lot of toy commercials…that sort of stuff but it’s getting more and more that every toy commercial also has a mother, a father, a grandmother…somebody else that it’s not just exclusively the little kids anymore. Coincidentally in the past couple of years, for any casting director, the best thing that can happen is that the producer that you work with loses his or her job because then they go somewhere else and all of the sudden, you’ll have a new client when they end up somewhere else. In the last couple of years, some of my kids’ producers have gone and now I would say for the past eight months, it’s been about doing 80% adult commercials whereas the kids stuff is a little slow right now, so I am doing a much broader spectrum of commercials.”
Mr. McCarthy went on to say, “I do a lot of non-union commercials, and I think most of my colleagues are finding that the non-union world is certainly growing out here. I’m certainly open to doing union (SAG-AFTRA) commercials. I’ve done a few this year but generally, it just seems that where I work, over at The Casting Lounge (1035 S. LaBrea), that most of us are doing non-union stuff. I know that that is a problem for any SAG-AFTRA members who are here but it’s sort of a sign of the time. I don’t know where this all will end up but it’s where the industry is.
“I think every casting director has his own unique talents. I think the thing that you get when you audition for me is, unless I’m super busy, I run my own camera and I run the session. If you get an audition from me, you will meet me and it’s been a great benefit for me because, when clients ask who the talent are, I’m not having to rely on my session runner to find out or to review a session. Sometimes when I’m too busy, I do have a couple of guys and gals who work for me and they cover but I don’t like necessarily the administrative part of casting. Anybody can do that but what I do like is interacting with the actors and having been one, I sort of understand the challenges and having been not a terribly successful one, I also want to give people a chance. Just for my own sake, I don’t believe that my talent was acknowledged to a point where I should’ve had the career that we all believe
should’ve had, so now as a casting director, I’ve been able to help people in my small way, get more work and start to let their careers broaden.”
Mr. McCarthy continued, “What I really appreciate in actors is preparation. There are a lot of jobs now that don’t have ‘copy’ involved. I’ll give you an example with a couple of actors in a little bit to show you what a typical audition for me is. When there is dialogue in a commercial, I will, as best I can, send it out at least 24 hours in advance. Then, what I’m doing when I’m sending it out to the actors is that I’m saying, ‘I am giving you every chance to prepare for your job audition tomorrow.’ Do the best you can to come in and be prepared and I can’t tell you how many people don’t take advantage of that. They arrive at the audition never having seen the sides and saying they ‘had no idea.’ I’m not exactly sure how LA Casting works for you guys on your end but on my end, I put in the wardrobe and then “Get copy. Get copy. Get copy” and in the notes to the agents, ‘Get copy’ and I do everything that I know to help you. Most people will do it. I understand that it is a job interview and that’s what the actors have to understand. I’m sure you’ve heard it a thousand times. Since the merging of the union, the submissions for every job has grown exponentially. That everybody who was SAG or AFTRA, now merged that if I’m doing a union job and I’m looking for a woman 25 years-old, I will get 5000 pictures. I can see 50 people. Of that, one will get hired. I always say, ‘To get an audition is lucky and to get the job is a miracle.’ Non-union is the same. It is a very, very deep pool out here.”
Mr. McCarthy added, “As I came out here over twenty-five years ago as an arrogant New York actor and thought ‘New York is so much better than LA’ [laughter] and I think that before people really discovered Los Angeles, there was a difference. There weren’t a lot of dialogue spots run out of California way back when but I think the talent out here is fantastic and you will be up against very strong people no matter what–Union or non-union, no matter what age range you are in, etc… There are people who take this very seriously and are very, very good, so your preparation is what it’s all about. Now when you do auditions for me, if there is dialogue, I will have you do it the first time to see where you are at. It gives me a good idea of where your creativity is and I will have normally put a little information on the sides to say what the set-up of the scene would be, so for you to work on it in that, even if it is completely off than what the director wanted, it gives me an idea of…’Okay…this is your talent. This is what you think you do best’, so it helps me as I adjust it. I can then say, ‘That was great’ or ‘We can get rid of that’. It really has to be a collaborative situation for the actor and the casting director. Again, because I’m in the room and I have nothing vested only that I want my client to be happy and I want everybody to get the job. In a perfect world, every one of the people that I have called in would be getting the job. I want to give you each as equal a chance as possible. Also as a casting director, I really hate group explanations. I hate giving actors information before they come in the room. A script is one thing but that’s private. That’s your own thing but to go out in a room and say, ‘Everybody…you’re all going to come in and do this and this….’ I don’t like you to start thinking before you get in the room. I want to watch your creativity happen when you come in. I am so adamantly opposed to putting it out there because all of the sudden, you are watching a room of people that are thinking. So now you come in and it’s not spontaneous. I really think the magic of what you do is if you can listen and can do something that you don’t know will come next. On camera, in a close-up, the littlest thing you do is going to register. The interesting thing for me because I am watching you and not the monitor as I’m auditioning, sometimes I won’t know if that was so great or if they (the actor) got that or not but with a director watching the monitor, he’s seeing in the monitor what I was not sure was there. Then in re-play with like clients in the room making decisions who they are going to book, when I see it on the monitor, I see ‘Oh that moment really did happen’ so I can’t even see it with the naked eye but the camera will really pull it out for you. It’s all about listening and being ready for the unexpected in an audition.
Again, you’ve probably heard this a million times but in callbacks, be prepared to think you might do, what you did the first time, but don’t be so invested in that. I see so many actors lose the job because they can’t hear what the director said. They know they hit it the first time and they want to hit it again but then the director doesn’t want that now. Something has changed. The scenario has changed, so it becomes complicated. It’s a really, really hard thing that you guys are trying to do. You’re up against huge numbers for the job. You think it’s going to go one way, they can throw you a curve and even change the character on you…’You’re not a nurse anymore. Now you’re a truck driver. [laughter] But the facility of the actor is to make that adjustment. That’s what it is. Your ears have to be ‘Dumbo’ sized to really listen to what’s happening.”
- “One of my big pet peeves is actors telling other actors about their auditions in a waiting room. [laughter] I think it’s diminished but those sort of head-games I don’t like. I’m a very reasonable, easygoing guy but boy, that gets me! I don’t want to hear anybody say, ‘Oh, were you at that audition?’ or ‘I have three more after this.’ Nobody is interested in that. You are here for me. I don’t want to hear that you have four other things to go to. I want to know that I’m your job interview.”
- “Also if you’re auditioning for me, unless it’s really unusual, I will give a time frame. I’m not one of those casting directors that you have to show up right on time. I would like you to but I want you there. I see that we have a couple of kids here today and with a lot of the children’s stuff, I will run a session from 2:00PM until 5:30PM. I understand that the child already went to school and that the mother has stuff to do. Just get the kid there when they are happy to come. To parents, if they have a soccer game, go to the soccer game. There will be another commercial. There won’t be another championship of the soccer game. For children, for me, to have an unhappy child in the audition space is not worth it…even if they are the most talented.”
The importance of confirming an audition appointment-
- “For the actors, I would love you to confirm your appointments as soon as possible because I put it out there at 6:00AM the day before. At 5:00PM, after eleven hours, I don’t know how people haven’t confirmed an appointment. I don’t know how that’s possible. I prep in advance. I’m really organized. Maybe it’s a little controlling but I know how I work best and I work giving out the information as quickly as I can and we’re still at 6:00PM, scraping to find where the person is, it just makes it difficult for me. From when you get the appointment, help me out and say that ‘I’m coming’ because I have to hit a certain number. I have to show a certain amount of people per role. I have to give them 30, 40 or 50 choices or whatever they want or I have to replace.”
- Let your agents know if you are available as a substitute to fill in if another of their actors drops out and cannot go to an audition. Be ready at the drop of the hat.
- In auditions, make sure EVERYTHING is to the camera. Don’t turn around. It won’t serve you.
“I know Tracy mentioned (hardcopy) headshots and she brings up a really good point, that so many times at callbacks, I recommend you always have a headshot at callbacks—always. And you should certainly have hardcopies with you on a normal audition. As much as the upload helps, all of my directors want to have a picture in their hand. They still do that 1st, 2nd, & 3rd choice pinning it up or putting it on the floor. They have to do something and often times, we have to print out the actor’s LA Casting picture at the studio and when you have four or five other casting directors working there, it just becomes a logistical nightmare. Also, a headshot is an easier thing for them. Definitely bring it to callbacks and have them still in the car at all times. They are almost becoming obsolete but not quite.”
Thank you cards- “A card of thanks is very nice but without your picture in it. I know who you are. Stop ‘selling’ for a minute. If you want to say ‘thank you’ say thank you. I understand what the business is but there has to be some humanity to it too. You have to sort of pull back.”
Mr. McCarthy paired up six actors and each set got up on the stage in an improvised vignette audition which was very enlightening as each actor took Mr. McCarthy’s direction, then redirects. Afterward he said, “And I do that a hundred times in a day, [laughter] but the thing is that with all of those, often times for the toy commercials, they are just really seeing what a Mom is doing. It’s so much easier with kids because a kid actor comes in, I can say to make a happy face, dance and do all of that. Then an adult can come in and go, ‘How old is the kid?’ It doesn’t matter how old the kid is! [laughter] For me, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to just tell you, ‘Do as I say and everybody will get the exact same audition.” I can guarantee you, if you ever get a chance to see a session…to see everybody doing the exactly the same thing, you will understand why the people get the callback and you will understand why the people book the job. There is something… some people have the luck in that their face explodes on-camera. You cannot take your eyes off them and it’s not because necessarily their beauty. There is just something about their features with how the light hits it, it is undeniable. My best friend, who gave up acting a long time ago, who went to Julliard was a really good stage actor but on-camera, there was nobody else auditioning with him. You only looked at him. There are many other people that just have that advantage. They will always get the callback however, that doesn’t mean that those who don’t, can’t do something magical also. My auditions tend to be like a minute. The director in thirty seconds knows if he likes the face, if you’re listening, if you’ve got a sparkle to you and that’s it! With so many of the jobs now because they aren’t talking, that’s really what it is. That moment of, ‘Boom. Bring it and you’re done.’ ”
Thank you John McCarthy for a great seminar and for your continued love of actors!
Contact Mr. McCarthy-
c/o The Casting Lounge
1035 S. La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90019