Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
Delightful veteran Casting Director, Lisa Pantone was our Inside the Industry Seminar guest speaker on July 26th. We broke a seminar record that day with a guest generously staying well over an hour to “meet & greet” actors afterwards! Lisa is like a fun and funny, yet forthright and candid Italian Aunt who tells it like it is. She also still very much enjoys her life as a casting director in Hollywood. Here is her bio-
Lisa Pantone started performing in theatre at the age of fourteen. After a few years in front of the audience, she decided to use her talents behind the scenes casting and directing theatre. It was there she realized her love of the art was best suited for coaching and casting. Over the years she has done just that. Ms. Pantone has now successfully been casting and working side by side with noted film, theatrical, and commercial directors, writers and producers such as: Vadim Perelman; James Woods; Susan Kirson; Marley Sims; Rayna Saslove; Jason Wolk; Elliot Shoenman; Daniel Shoenman; Rhonda Vernet; Lynn Pateman; Gil Cope; Jake Banks; Rich Kaylor; Joel Lipton; Antonio Cortes; Teresa Antista; Michael Connell; Nic Arnzen; Jeff McQueen; Rod Finley; Bill Werts; Tony, Ridley, and Jake Scott; Rick Linklater; Aaron Lipstadt; Hugh Johnson; Michael Bay; John Schlesinger; Antoine Fuqua and David Deneen. As a result of her instinct for character and her ability to identify the vision of her directors, many of Ms. Pantone’s projects have gone on to be recognized and nominated for numerous awards and honorable mentions.
Lisa had not been our guest speaker in over four years and yet, her enthusiasm for actors and casting has not waned. Even with all the changes in our industry over the years, Lisa stressed that we are all storytellers whether we are the actors, screenwriters, directors, etc…. on a project.
Referring to script pages, Lisa said, “You cannot forget that this is a story. It has a beginning, middle, and an end. Nowadays, directors are young. I’ve got news for you. I walk in and I’m like, ‘We’ll be right with you…’ ‘Hmm…Lisa, I’m the director.’ [laughter] ‘Oh, I thought you were one of the actors…’ Time is money for them. That’s not the way it used to be, we had luxuries way back when where it was relaxed. They don’t do that right now. Their main thing is that it’s called show business and they care about the business end of it—and we have to be respectful of that.
If you look at your acting in kind of a different light, like how I work with people, get your story. Learn it and tell it. You’re either going to be right or wrong. I’m simplifying right now but it’s the truth. [When I coach you] I don’t tell anybody that I’m going to teach you how to act. I’m going to guide you and I’m going to get you where this story should be. Sometimes it’s better to come from here (pointing to her heart) than here (pointing to her head). If you’re constantly thinking of how to change it or ‘Maybe the writer meant this…’ ‘Or maybe…it’s says that I’m sad but I think I’m just going to be happy…’ But whoa, whoa, whoa…it says that ‘She was extremely sad when she walked into work that day…’ and you’re going to be happy? ‘Well Lisa, we’re taught to make it ours.’ There you have it! ‘Making it yours means allow it to come out of you as you unless you are portraying a person who lived and breathed. Unless you’re portraying Marilyn Monroe or unless you are portraying someone who already lived on this Earth and then that’s a totally different way we work with them (actors). When you spend more time thinking, don’t think! The story has already been approved by the time I get it. It really has. They are not looking for anybody to change it. Now once you’re doing it, we put you on tape and say, ‘You know what? That one line is really not working. Maybe if I phrase it differently and let it bleed into the other line…’ That’s what they’re talking about. They’re not going to watch you do it and go, ‘Holy crap! I’m rewriting the whole thing!’ [laughter] If you concentrate on learning and telling the story, your acting walk will be so much smoother for you.”
Lisa continued, “I’ve had people say, ‘Lis, I’ve studied with like 15 people.’ ‘Oh really? Are you confused enough yet?’ [laughter] You know that because everybody ‘teaches’ their idea of what the ‘right’ way of doing it and I don’t. I tell you, ‘What are you doing? You’re thinking. Don’t think!’ I don’t care if I’m working with one of my award-winning people. ‘Oh…here we go! Can you cancel my next ten appointments because she’s thinking?’ [laughter] Please don’t. It’s harder for me sometimes to work with an accomplished actor or actress because I have to get them all out of that stuff first and get them right to the story. Sometimes when I work with a brand new person, it’s so easy because they absorb it. Now listen, take this story and really interpret it as it’s written. Don’t interpret it a different way in your head and visually see it a different way because I want you to book! I’m not calling you in to my studio at a casting because I want to hang out and visit or waste an actor’s and actresses’ time.”
Lisa added, “Travel in this acting world of yours knowing you’re storytellers. Somebody wrote a story and we’re looking for a storyteller. We are looking for you guys to breathe life into those words on the page. You give birth to them. They created them and wrote them but now, we’re looking for somebody to breathe life into them. That’s why I say, you’re either going to be right or wrong. You’re either going to be the right age, the right type, the right thing…you come in and you blow us away. You know the emotions that are attached in there. You feel that story right and left. Also, a person will come in and have all their lines yellowed out. You know what directors say? ‘Wow, that’s great. They know their lines. Do they know the other person’s?’ You’d better come in and tell me what the whole story is about. Once you read the whole story as a story, instead of a ‘Then he said and she said’ break those scripts down. You’ll know what your reaction should be when someone says something to you.”
Commercials– “It works commercially as well. Read the whole thing, not line by line. Read the (commercial) copy three times to yourself following the marks, then three times out loud so you can hear yourself. So many people come in and they go, ‘Can I do it again, Lis, because it sounded terrible?’ You should have heard yourself doing it out there three or four times out loud. You cannot redirect yourself within the story without hearing yourself say it out loud. I’m amazed by how many people do not do that. Three times to yourself and three times out loud so you can hear the flow of the story. How many of you go to an audition, tell the truth, then get into your car (afterward) and get to the red light and say, ‘Now I know what that meant!!!’ [laughter] Come on…you know it. How about doing it before that? You have been invited to that casting. You didn’t just come in and ‘crash.’ You didn’t coming crashing it, right? You were invited. That should put a whole new tone in your quest for success in this. ‘Guess what? I’ve been invited to see Lisa Pantone. After there, I’ve been invited to go over to Fox for that new TV show’ If you look at it as someone actually looked at your headshot, looked at your resume and said, ‘Dang it! I’m going to have this person come in and read.’ Is that an invitation? Yes! I’m Italian. If you guys said, ‘Hey Lis! Come over to the house. I’m going to make some lasagna. You invited me. I’m showing up! [laughter] I’m bringing wine. You want me to make the homemade garlic bread? I’m coming because that’s an invitation. So if my office or anyones’ office calls you in, how about a smile? How about, ‘Oh my gosh! This is fabulous! I’m going to read for this thing. I’ve been invited there.’ When I work with people I say to turn your thinking totally around. You will see that you will step out into this acting thing, so much more relaxed and be much more able to absorb it and tell it.”
Cold Reads- One of our stellar volunteers Kate had passed out Lisa’s commercial copy to many of the actors in attendance and before they got up on the stage to read Lisa stated, “We’re going to get started. My lovely assistant today handed out some stuff. I’d like to do cold reads on those. I’m going to show you, cold reads are fabulous! (An actor will say) ‘Oh my God, Lis! I walked in and they said, ‘No, we don’t want you for Judy. We want you for (the role of) Joan. Can I come back tomorrow?’ ‘What? No…’ [laughter] ‘Can I have about 25 minutes outside?’ ‘No…’ Cold reads are so easy. Don’t think, just read! What you’re reading will make sense to you. Don’t go, ‘Oh…the first line, I’m saying this…let me memorize that.’ The second line is this…’ Read it over and over again following the marks. That is imperative. I know you are taught to forget the marks. You know you’re taught that. I’ve been to these classes. ‘What did that person just say?’ Don’t disrespect my writer. If you write a sentence and you put commas in, a comma means, ‘Hold on a moment…I have some other stuff to say…’ Am I right? A period- I’m done with that. I’m going to move on. A question mark…when you ask a question, you’ve got that look like you’re waiting for the answer. We have enough writers in here today to know that’s either a thousand count or a thousand and one count (of a pause) and then go on. Nothing is written in one continuous sentence. You’re not telling a story for an hour and half on TV or a :30 commercial and it’s one continuous sentence. There are pauses and commas in there. If you don’t take them, your story doesn’t sound right and when we send it over at night, the writer or director are there. Until that writer or director hears that story as written, you’re not going to get a callback. That’s a simple known fact. You won’t get a callback unless they hear it as written.” To illustrate her point, as an example, Lisa then read some commercial copy first without taking the marks and then with them. It was great!
Lisa added, “Think about it. Those marks are there for a reason. The writer writes in rhythm. They write in rhythm like in their own heads. It makes sense. You cannot fly over the marks or they’ll stop you right there and say it’s not one continuous sentence. These are real life stories about real life products. You must respect the writer. What’s the trick of cold reads? Following the marks. You will be such a good actor if you can pick up something in front of any director in this town or writer and just go with it. They’ll be like ‘Wow! That sounded great!’ Well, the next person that’s coming in didn’t sound right because they didn’t say it right. Every story has a meaning and it’s written there for you.”
- “Commercials are usually 15, 30 and 60-second spots. Time your spots. If it is a 30-second spot and it comes in at 23 seconds, you’re reading too fast.”
- “Tell the story back to yourself. Know the story first, then sign in.”
In closing, Lisa said, “ALL of you that got up and did the reads, I was so impressed! I think a lot of times when an actor comes in, they may have this nervousness. I think that clouds the realness of you actually getting down to the story and telling it. This is what I coach people with, if you really continue to look at it like you’ve been invited there, I think that really will take a lot of the mental stress off. I work with Academy Award winners and they are just the same. I say, ‘Okay, why don’t you take Sammie my dog and run around the block ten times and get that nervousness out. [laughter] Or if we start and ‘Cut! Have a seat. Want a glass of wine? Something went on last night. Tell me…’ You know what I mean because you’re really not present. I think in life, the older I get, I realize that you really have to be present at that moment. Not thinking about your car, ‘Is it going to get towed?’ Where you parked it or whatever. Or not thinking about, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get down to somebody else’s casting and I only have a couple of minutes.’ If you’re not present in your thoughts at that very moment of really telling that story–and telling it great, you will be like a million other actors that go on auditions, audition, audition and not book, not book, not book and not get called back and not book because your mind, heart, and soul are not really connected to the story that you’re telling. None of you have that time. Gas is expensive and time is precious. If you really just take that little story at that moment at that very casting and devote your thoughts to that and time and explain that story and not just say the words, your ratio for callbacks and bookings will go up, believe me.”
Lisa’s last “words of wisdom” were, “I just think that I named my thing years ago, The Art of Keeping It Real. Now I see people teaching and saying, ‘Make it real…’ Well, you’re about twenty years behind. I just really think that if you have enough faith and understand that you are here at this very moment and you’re not anywhere else, you’ve been called to go on this particular situation. You’re not called to go to the doctors. You’re not called to go the mall. At that very moment, you’re called and invited in for that particular that situation or that particular project, I really think that you grow from that. You know, you have a great experience within that and you go, ‘Whoa! I did feel better. That was good.’ Let’s go to the next one and do the same thing! Let’s know the story before we even sign in, so when I go in there, I’m looking in that camera…calm…breathe. I want to leave with that as well. Breathe…I travel those friggin’ freeways and stuff and by the time you park, even if I have a meeting at the Weinstien’s. I think, ‘I’d better calm down before I go in that office….’ Calm down. Take three deep breaths is what I coach people to do because if you take three, I mean for real, deep, deep breaths and your kids should do it too…those three deep breaths will calm you down. They will calm your heart down. You will not get booked if you come in and give a nervous energy kind of a read. They actually expect you to do all of this. Breathe. Walk into that room with confidence. I know my story. I feel good and I’m going to tell it to you.”
Thank you dear Lisa for a fun and enlightening morning!