Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
I have known delightful Casting Director Patrick Baca since I moved to Los Angeles over thirteen years ago. He was our guest speaker at our Casting Networks’ free for members Inside the Industry Seminar in April and I was struck by how passionate and enthusiastic Patrick still is about his job in casting and actors! It was very refreshing! Here is Patrick’s bio-
Los Angeles Casting Director Patrick Baca, CSA is presently teamed with Shana Landsburg, CSA and together their casting credits include motion pictures, movies of the week and network pilots. Patrick and Shana are recently cast two television pilots entitled “Passport” and “Magic Eye.” A few of his favorite casting credits include the Kelsey Grammer directed comedy “Alligator Point” starring Cybill Shepherd and Leslie Jordan, the Comedy Central series “Stripmall” starring Julie Brown, and the TV movie for the hit series L.A. Law. Patrick has cast all forms and medias — but his passion is for comedy. Patrick previously served two terms on the Board of Directors of The Casting Society of America, and is a five time CSA Artios Awards nominee. In addition to casting, Patrick also enjoys teaching script and character analysis to actors. He has moderated industry panel discussions on Pilot Season Casting at various venues including the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA. View samples of his casting work.
Patrick told us, “Thank you for coming! I have been a casting director now for a while. A while. I won’t date myself. It’s a long while. I didn’t intend to become a casting director. It was just the path that my life took. We’ve got 90 minutes with each other, right? I thought I would do something unusual and different. Something I’m sure that that you’ve never heard before. In the spirit of Pilot Season, which we are still at the tail end of, I thought I’d explain to you Pilot Season, from my eyes…from the eyes of a casting director.
Casting Pilots are the most unique of all the casting processes. It is the most unique because there is a studio involved and there is a network involved. When you get entities like that, it complicates the creative process, so there are specific steps that I have to navigate through as a casting director if I want to get an actor cast, let’s say in a series regular role in a Network Pilot. I thought I would share that with you to sort of demystify and let you sort of take an insider’s look at what we go through.
Then I thought I would talk to you a little about the craft of acting. You’re already familiar with the craft of acting, but you’re probably not familiar with the craft of casting. That is a craft, so that I would like to talk a little bit about with you because I bet there’s a lot about it that you don’t know. It is important that you do know because we are literally partners with each other-casting directors and actors. There is this partnership that exists between us. The reason that is, is because your work as actors becomes my work as a casting director, so I’m vested in your performance. I’m vested in your interpretations and ability to execute a character; a fictional character. Take ink on paper and bring it to life in an interesting, complex and psychologically accurate manner. So let’s get started and maybe I’ll save some time at the end for some Q and A.”
Patrick continued, “First of all, casting directors, if you’ve never thought of them in this manner, like actors, are artists. I am a ‘creative.’ I’m not a secretary [laughter] although my job does involve quite a bit of organization and administrative things. That is definitely part of my job but that’s not why I get hired. I’m not hired because I’m organized. The greater part of my job and why I get hired is for my ability to be creative, my ability to be visionary, for my knowledge of actors and for my ability to match actors to the written page.
For me, one of the fun parts about being part of the storytelling machine, is I love the collaboration part. I love how all these different artists come together and collaborate to tell a story. The designers which it begins with all come together and the actors come later. The designers, all come together and we all have a sort of a responsibility like a sliver of the pie that we are all responsible for. For example, if you are a wardrobe designer, you read the story and in your mind, you have a vision of the story from a fashion point of view. Fabrics help you tell the story and that’s your contribution because you know the history of fashion and you’re able to sort of paint what that pallet is going to look like. If you’re a scenic designer, obviously you read the story and have a vision of the story from an architectural point of view. You create walls, you give us flooring, you create moldings… the space that we as the characters are going to inhabit.
If you’re a location guy, then you’re responsible for everything that exists outside the doors, outside the window, landscape is your pallet. Make-up…that’s obvious, but your assignment is going to be very different if you find yourself working on a story that is maybe set in the future, than if you’re working on a story set in the past. Hair, the same thing. I feel my department of casting, of all the designers…and I do think of myself in casting as a designer…I’m really like the most important of all of them and I know maybe some would think that’s a pretty bold statement to make, but I think it’s absolutely true because here’s what I can do that none of the other designers can do. You can create a beautiful rack of outfits/wardrobe but if you put them on the stage, they can’t tell the story by themselves. You could build a gorgeous set but if there’s no actors to live in it, you can’t tell the story. You can’t tell the story with just hair. So none of those departments can tell the stories by themselves, but you can tell the story with just a cast. If you have just actors on the stage, you can tell the story, so that’s why to me, casting is the most important process. I feel like I’m there to accomplish and to collaborate with the writer, to help him realize his vision and to collaborate with the director.
Casting ends up being a three-way collaboration. Then, it becomes a four-way collaboration between the writer, the casting director, the actor, then the director. What the audience fails to see whenever we see a great performance on stage [or screen] is we just see the actor up there. What we don’t see is all the others who are with him. The writer who created the character, the casting director who interpreted the character and envisioned it, then there was an actor who interpreted the character and executed it and lastly, there was a director who interpreted the character and then fine tuned that performance, so there are four people up there so the actor is never alone, but of course, the audience never sees that.”
Patrick went on to say, “So I’m there to help the writer realize his vision, but a good casting director has their own creative input as well. Sometimes casting is kind of like being handed a coloring book. It’s got characters in it but they are just outlines. There’s no real color in there and it’s my job to fill in that color. The crayons that I use are actors. I mean, I look around the room and you’re all are very unique, very individual and very colorful in your own way. To me, you’re just like a box of crayons…. [laughter] that I get to play with. That’s how I do my work! I use a pallet like any other artist except the pallet that I use is not fabrics or swatches… it’s swatches of people, of personalities, and swatches of psychology. That’s what I use. Sometimes the writers are specific in their characters they create on the page but a lot of times they’re not.
One of the first things that I do when I get a job is that I get the breakdown going. I’ll send the script and create a synopsis and description of all the characters. Then one of the first things I’ll do is schedule a ‘concept meeting’ with the writer, director and producers usually. We’ll all gather and I’ll give copies of the Breakdown to everybody and we’ll sit there and literally go through each and every character and we talk about them. What our vision is for them and how specific. I like to get specific details. I’m there to facilitate their vision, but to squeeze mine in as well.”
Patrick continued, “In Pilot casting and sometime Sitcom casting, not always but a lot of time, the characters are kind of, by default are written as Caucasian. One of the responsibilities that I feel I have as an artist, is to be colorful and to be painting a picture that is going to wind up on screen or on the stage. Like any good portrait, it has got to have color, it has to have depth, it has to have detail, perspective, complexity and balance, so I take this into consideration when I put together an overall cast.
There’s this term that the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA have in their contract language and it’s called The American Scene. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that term before, but The American Scene….basically what it refers to is it’s a casting related term where it’s the responsibility to us who is creating these pictures and images, to create them in an accurate manner as the American scene appears today. Today, The American Scene is very complex and very colorful. It’s not ‘1950s white picket fence’ anymore. It’s got color. The writers don’t always take that into consideration or they don’t detail that out, so one of the things I do when I’m at this concept meeting and one of my goals is, ‘Where can I add color to this overall picture?’ Also, a lot of the roles by default are written for men and I’m not sure that this is accurate in terms of members of the Screen Actors Guild…I don’t know how many there are and I think there’s more but let’s just say 100, 000 members are in the Screen Actors Guild. I’m curious to know how many of those are female and the ratio of males to females. I’m sure it’s at least, I’m just guessing, but I would say that it is probably 60-70 % female to 30% male. The reason I say that is because when I get submissions, that’s usually how it breaks down. If I get 1000 male submissions for a series regular role on a Pilot, I know that I’m going to get 1500 female submissions and less roles.
One of the things I’ll say (in the concept meeting) is, ‘You know this co-star role in the court room and there’s a judge presiding. on the page it’s just written as a Distinguished Caucasian Male Judge.’ I’ll look at that and I will ask the Producer, ‘ I can bring that in sure, no problem but is there any reason why this judge in the courtroom couldn’t also be let’s say, a dreadlocked African American zaftig female in her mid-40s? [laughter] Then they’ll think about it and they’ll look at me and go, ‘No! No reason why not. Sounds good!’ Then I think, ‘Okay great!’ Then I know what my parameters are and I’m just trying to figure out how creative I can get with each of these roles – how interesting and far I can push the envelope. I’ve never been told ‘No.’ I’ve never had a producer tell me ‘no’ unless it was integral to the storyline. Usually they will go along and be open but I have to remind them. They don’t necessarily do it on the page. That’s fine. I don’t mind reminding them. It gives me more to do. It gives me an opportunity to be creative and to think but that’s part of my responsibility.
So once we lock everything down and once we agree, then I’ll go about starting the casting process once I realize that we all are on the same ‘visionary page’ with all the characters, then I begin. In the process that I have to go through, there are nine steps. It’s a long, long process. You can almost think of it as a pyramid and I’m going to work my way up.”
Patrick Baca’s Network Casting Pyramid:
This is a nine-tiered pyramid (in radial form) that cating directors have to navigate through when casting actors in series regular roles on a network television pilot. Step one begins with the vreakdown being released and steps 8 and 9 are the studio test and finally, the network test.
Step 1- Breakdown Released
“Basically the breakdown winds up being an announcement from me, the buyer, let’s say, to the sellers-the agents and the managers. It lets them know that I’m in business, where I am, what it is that I am doing and what it is that I am looking for. This just gets the ball going. I can release it as far and wide as I want. I’m not sure where the term ‘casting’ came from but casting also means casting a line in the water. Maybe that’s where it came from but we want to look at the actor markets in terms of bodies of water. Here in LA…in Hollywood, this is the biggest and widest talent pool in all the world! I’m pretty lucky as a casting director to be working in this pool because it is the deepest and widest of all the pools! It is an Olympic sized pool basically, so if you can’t get something cast here, then you should be doing something else because I don’t have to throw my line out very far. I don’t have to look much further than Los Angeles. If time and budget allow, you can look in other places…other pools of water.”
Step 2- Agents and Managers Submit
“Regarding representation-Do I trust their taste in actors?”
Step 3- Casting Director Sets up Sessions
“The casting director starts sifting through the submissions. Like I said, I might have 1000 submissions that I’m getting and there are probably more if I’m also looking at the actor submissions from the casting services. That’s where, I think, casting directors have the greatest sense of power is in that third step because no one’s looking over my shoulder as I’m going through the submissions telling me who to bring in. They might have suggestions but they are not looking at all the submissions. That’s what I think I’m hired for is my taste in the actors and that’s where my knowledge really sort of comes in. Sometimes actors will ask me, ’What do you look at? What criteria determines whether you select this person versus that person?’
First of all the image, the photograph itself is the first thing that I am going to see. I already have an image in my head and some sort of a vision based on my team, our vision, of what this character might look like, so the photograph is very important. Then the resume…if I’m casting comedy which is one of my passions, one of my loves and one of my specialties is comedy casting. When you cast a sitcom pilot, you look for sitcom credits on that resume because sitcom acting is very specific. It’s got its own rhythm and its’ own tempo and not everybody can do it. Remember I spoke about that pool of talent that’s here in LA? Inside that pool there is a little wading pool [laughter] within it of people who can do comedy. Not everybody can do comedy. It’s really, really specific. If I’m going to bring somebody in, I have to know that they understand comedy and sitcom acting, so I’ll look to the resume. If the sitcom credits are there and I know them already, I know their work. If I don’t know them, then I’m looking to see if somebody else has hired them just to put my mind to ease if I don’t know you. If there are no sitcom credits, then I’ll look for ‘comedy clues.’ I’ll look to see if you do stand-up around town or I’ll look to see if you do improve around town…if you’re in the Sunday Company of The Groundlings, then I now that you’ll know comedy or Improv Olympic or Second City and then I’m willing. The resume really does speak to me. “
“Another consideration is which agents and managers are submitting. Do I trust their taste in actors? Does their taste in actors trust my taste in actors?”
“Another consideration is a demo reel. If it’s there and I don’t know you and I can click on it, sometimes that’s all I need. I just need five seconds to hear your voice, to see you move or to get a sense of your presence or your sensibility or your castability, so the demo reel is really, really important to have as part of your online profile. It can either make or break you. It can make or break my decision on whether or not to take a risk or gamble in bringing you in. It is a gamble.
I’ve got seven roles to cast and they’ve probably given me seven weeks to do it and that’s not nearly enough time. That means that the available (audition) slots that I have are few and far between, so to me they are like gold and I just don’t want to give them away. I want to give them away but I want to know that if I’m giving them away, that that investment is going to return. So when you get an audition, basically, you can think of it like as an invitation from me to you for you to help me do my job! Come in and be brilliant! Come in with your interpretation and all your skills and help me get this job done! That’s what an audition is. It’s an invitation to a party basically. Whenever you get an invitation to a party, you never show up empty handed. You always bring a bottle of wine…a good one. Not Two Buck Chuck either! [laughter] Your bottle of wine is to come in with your sides executed and with your strong choices. If you can do that, then I’m happy. If you’re skimming the surface, then you’re coming in empty handed”
Step 4- Casting Pre-Read Session
‘The fourth step is a casting pre-read. The casting pre-read is where you come in one-on-one to see me with your interpretation of the character. There’s nobody else in the room. I’m not recording you. It’s just you and me, one-on-one. This is where you ‘show me your wares.’ You show me your interpretation of the character. I realize that performance in auditioning is a work in progress. I realize that however, when you come into a casting pre-read, you have to be pretty developed. Your interpretation has to be very far along already. There’s no time for us to develop it later because I have to be discriminating because the next step after this is going to be the producers’ callback.
I feel like actors when they come to see me for the first time, have to be at 90% done. 90% developed at worst because if you come in and you’re at 80%, or let’s say you’re at 70%…you know with the lines, the character, all the detail and the laughs that are built in the material, if you’re only 70% done? That’s only a ‘C.’ That’s only average. I don’t have to settle for average in the ocean that is Los Angeles. That’s not good enough. Even 80% isn’t good enough. I’m looking for a ‘Low A to a High A’ to bring back. If you’re missing 10%, I’ll jump in there and collaborate with you. I’ll tweak you. I’ll detail you out. I’ll guide you and try to point out this laugh that you didn’t get here or that one. I’ll jump in there and play with you and try to make you better. I’ll get you ready for the director but only if you’ve done the bulk of the work already because I don’t want to do your work for you. I could. I could if I wanted to, but I don’t want to.
It’s a test, for me too because I want to know that you are self-sufficient and that you can come up with these answers on your own. Once you get on the set, you’re going to be alone basically. The TV directors here, I feel like a lot of them are traffic cops. They are guiding all these different departments, but there’s no time for them for us to sit down and romantically figure out the character and all that wonderful stuff. It doesn’t happen in TV. There is no time for it. I’m looking for actors who can do the director’s work for him. That’s really what I feel like I’m doing. I’m doing his work for him and you are too. We both are together like that partnership I spoke of, so you have to be really, really far along to motivate me to even re-direct you. But if you don’t and you’re just skimming the surface, you’re just giving me what’s on the page and just doing what’s expected, I’ll smile at you, thank you and nod at you and out the door you go and I won’t tend to remember you. You’ll be surprised. A lot of them do. They have agents and they got in somehow. Those actors who do just what is expected, they cancel each other out in my mind just blur and become bland. “
“The lines between the lines are so much more interesting. The subtext is your gift. Don’t come in without it.”
“That’s the biggest sin is to come into my office and be bland.”
Step 5- Producers Callback Session
“When you come in and be great in the room, then I’ve just been great! If you’ve had a bad day, you’ve just taken me down in flames with you [laughter] …except that you get to go home! But I can’t leave although I want to go home with you!”
Step 6- Test Option Deal
The twenty actors who have gone to producers is narrowed down to five. The studio lawyer makes pilot and series deal with actor’s agent.
Step 7- Director’s Rehearsal
The director gets the top actors ready to audition at the Studio Test. “We’re there to ‘polish’ you.”
Step 8- Studio Test
“Step 8 is when we go visit the President of the Studio. For example, I did a pilot called ALLIGATOR POINT. First of all…let me explain to you that there are three entities involved in production and making of a sitcom usually. This is why Pilot casting is so complicated.”
- First entity- The Production Company– The producers that own the rights to the material. The production team winds up being the people that they assemble around them. For example-the writer, the director and the casting directors that they hire, so I’m part of the production team. Then for example, on ALLIGATOR POINT, the production company was Grammnet Productions, the production company of Kelsey Grammer.
- Second entity- The Studio- In that case, the studio was Paramount Network Television, so if you ever see CHEERS or FRAZIER, you’ll usually see the Paramount Network Television logo comes up at the end. He’s had a long relationship with Paramount, so that was the studio.
- Third entity- The Network- Then the network was NBC. The guys who actually broadcast it. Before I go to the president of NBC, I have to go visit the president of Paramount Network Television. This is where one president decides what the president above him is going to see. This guy has ‘veto power.’ So to get three actors to Step 9 (Network Test), I’ve got to show the studio president maybe 5 actors, so he can veto 2. To get by to there, I feel I have to show my producing team maybe 20 actors that we can boil down to five. To get 20 actors to show the producers, I probably have to see 100 actors. That’s sort of how the math breaks down.
Step 9- Network Test
“The very last step in this casting pyramid is Step 9 and I wanted to explain for you is the test at the Network. Has anyone ever tested at the Network for a Pilot? One day you will. When that happens, what you’re going to do is you will be with the casting director, the producers and the writer to go visit the president of the Network. Taking three actors is a good choice. Three is a really great number. We, as the production team don’t want to bring him five actors because five is probably too many choices and they’ll turn to you and say, ‘Oh, you don’t know who you really want.’ I could get away with taking two, but you never, ever want to go to the Network with one actor because that’s psychologically loaded. It will backfire on you and they will feel like you are forcing this person on them. They don’t like that. They want a choice. And we’re going to say to the president, ‘Hey Mr. President, we have this Sitcom Pilot that have seven series regular roles and today, we are going to show you three of those roles. We have brought with us three actors per role and they are all going to perform for you. These are all actors that we like. These are all actors who we have done ‘test option deals’ with. They are all available and we could live with any one of them. Pick one. Sign off and approve one of these guys (actors) and tell us who you like. That’s ultimately what we’re hoping will happen at the Network. The president has sort of the final say.”
Thank you Patrick for your incredibly informative, helpful and insightful seminar!