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We had a packed house for our final event at the Las Palmas Senior Center. Thank you to everyone who made the space our seminar “home” for the past decade. We look forward to seeing you all at future Los Angeles events at our new venue, the SAG Foundation Actors Center.

For our final seminar of 2014, we welcomed the wonderful Michael Sanford as our guest speaker.

Michael is a true actors’ advocate, having started his career as an actor more than 20 years ago. During that time, he interned for various casting directors and realized how much he enjoyed working in casting. 15 years ago, he opened his own office and has been working exclusively in casting ever since. While the bulk of his credits lie in commercial casting, he also works theatrically with Heidi Levitt.

The morning kicked off with a Q&A, followed by some commercial cold reads. To set the stage even before the questions started, Michael stressed, “If you ask me and five other casting directors the same question, you will get six different answers.

Michael spent a lot of time discussing the topic of photos, media and the online submission process. As most casting directors will get at least one thousand (yes – 1,000!) submissions PER role on a national commercial spot, excellent photos are essential. “That thumbnail has to be good when it’s on a page with 100 pictures,” he said. “It has to start with the digital thumbnail.”

He went on to discuss the importance of having video on your profile, saying, “If I don’t know you, I don’t know what you sound like or how you move. Within 5 seconds of your reel, I can get a sense of that.” He added that he prefers theatrical reels, even for commercial resumes and recommended that actors “open with their best stuff and keep their reels short (2-3 minutes long).”

When an actress, who was getting back into the business after a long hiatus, asked if she should have some of her older work on her reel, Michael replied, “You really have to have what represents you now.”

So what happens when a casting director DOES click on your thumbnail? Michael said one of his biggest pet peeves is to open your resume and have none there. “People think they don’t need a resume for commercials…‘Oh well, it’s just a commercial.’ Well, David O. Russell is directing this spot.” Wouldn’t you want him to see your credits? Michael added how important it is to have skills and training listed, especially for commercial resumes or if you don’t have (m)any credits yet. *Side note: Michael likes to read resumes from the bottom up, starting with your skills and training, then moving to your credits.

When an actor asked if commercial credits should be listed, the response was similar to what many casting directors have said in the past…”A lot of ad agency people are not open-minded. Just be clear about your conflicts or list the big commercial directors you’ve worked with in the past.” If you list that you did a Pepsi spot five years ago, chances are you won’t get booked for Coke today. A simple “conflicts available upon request” is always a safe bet.

When it comes to submitting yourself, Michael said not to submit in more than one category (AKA for more than one role in the same project). Casting directors are creative – they have imaginations! And can move you to another role if needed! When it comes to working with agents, he said, “It’s all based on trust. We are all in this together. I can’t do this without the agents and the actors.”

Some key takeaways from the Q&A:

  • “We’re all ‘real people.’ Don’t get discouraged by that when you see it on a breakdown.”
  • “Self tapes are becoming big, and that’s actually a good thing for you guys.”
  • Improv is important.
  • “Fill in the questions in the copy while you’re working on it in the lobby. It will help you find your beats.”
  • Don’t give away your power by getting flustered, not believing in yourself, or letting the voice of your inner-critic creep in.
  • Don’t rush in the room, even if casting is rushed, the time in the room is YOURS.
  • Don’t judge yourself/your performance.
  • Always wear the same thing to the callback.
  • Let it all go.

When it comes to auditioning, Michael stressed the importance of not judging your performance. “If I don’t adjust you, it means I saw what I needed to see. It doesn’t mean you sucked.”

He also reminded everyone not to rush through commercial copy or change the words – especially in a callback. “You’re going to have the copywriter in the callback who thinks he just wrote the next Shakespearean novel. Don’t change the copy!”

As actors, you’re following a career path that can have some really high highs and some low lows. Michael reminded everyone in the room that, “Somebody has to win the lottery. Someone has to book the job.”

Play on everyone, and thank you Michael for a stellar morning!

(Bio courtesy of

Sanford Casting opened in the spring of 2000. During the past 14 years, Michael Sanford and his wonderful team have worked with many top commercial, television and film directors, production companies, and advertising agencies. Several of these clients have been nominated or have won the Oscar, Emmy, DGA and various other awards while collaborating with Sanford Casting. 

In 2006, Michael broadened the company’s vision to include casting projects in the Spanish Language market. In 2010, he launched a feature-length and short film division whose recent credits include, A Pebble of Love, A Reason, California Solo, The Artist, I Melt with You, Mosquita y Mari, The Sleepy Man, and Dustland. He shared the 2012 CSA Artios Award with his mentor and fellow casting director Heidi Levitt for their collaboration on The Artist. Additionally, Michael received the 2013 Seymour Heller Award for Commercial Casting Director of the year, which is given by the Talent Managers Association. He is currently on the national board of directors of the Casting Society of American (CSA), serving his second year where he also chairs the Diversity Committee.

erin jenningsErin Jennings is a human person with bangs. She used to work in casting, and was abducted by Casting Networks in 2010.