Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
Our free Inside the Industry Seminar May 21 started with some excitement when a new employee at the facility where the seminars are held forgot to open the space for us! Thanks to two delightful Los Angeles Police officers, fun casting director/guest speaker Killian McHugh, our valued volunteers, a gorgeous SoCal day and our seminar actor attendees who displayed their best improv skills, our very first “al fresco” seminar was great! Thanks all for your good natured spirits and flexibility!
Here is Killian’s bio-
Killian McHugh came to Los Angeles in 1998 to pursue acting and actually booked the first job for which he auditioned! Since then, he has become a very successful actor in commercials. He began his career in commercial casting in 2000. Over the years, he has worked with just about every top casting office in the commercial industry as both a casting associate and as a session director.
He has also worked with many of the top commercial directors in the industry as a camera principle, and through the casting process. In 2005, he found his home at Alyson Horn Casting (AHC Inc.) and quickly became her “No.1” session director. In 2006, he founded Killian’s Workshop. This series of commercial workshops is geared towards teaching actors the intricacies involved in having a career in the commercial industry. In 2010, Killian’s workshop was voted best commercial workshop in Los Angeles in the Backstage West actor’s poll and Killian was also voted best workshop instructor in Los Angeles from that same poll.
He was also promoted from session director/casting associate to casting director within the AHC Inc. organization. When asked about his philosophy and point of view with which he teaches, Killian responded “I am all about empowering the actor. I am not teaching people how to book a commercial, I am teaching them how to have a career. ” “Leap and the net will appear” is his philosophy for casting, teaching and living.
Considering the seminar started off rather unusually, Killian broke the ice beautifully and got a big laugh when he stated, “Welcome to the Rapture Day seminar!” and then fielded questions from the audience.
When an actor who had attended many various workshops and classes around Los Angeles asked about if commercial copy should be memorized, Killian stated, “The memorizing of the first line and last line thing is mostly a theatrical thing. People say not to do that in commercial auditions because the ‘sell point’ might be in the middle. It’s not about memorizing. 95% of the time you’re not ‘married’ to the copy anymore, but you still have to find out if you are or not. Like we do all the Jack in the Box spots, so director Dick Sittigs’ things are written like Shakespeare. If you change it [the copy], then I have to start the tape over. If it says, ‘I’m gonna go to the store’ and you say ‘I’m going to go to the store’, I have to erase that tape because he wants it exactly as it’s written. He was just at my workshop speaking. He’s the head Jack in the Box director and owns Secret Weapon Marketing [an advertising agency]. He created the Energizer Bunny, Foster Farms Chickens and all these things. He came to class to talk and was saying for him, you can’t change anything because he has it all timed out…the beats and everything.
Now not every creative in the ad agency is as good as Dick Siddig, so a lot of the times the reason you are improvising, even if SAG rules say that you’re not supposed to be improvising, is that they are not as good as that and they need you to bring something to the party. It’s not about memorizing line,s but you’ve got to know them for sure. It’s good to know them like Dick Sittig says, ‘You want my advice? Know your lines’ and usually it’s not that many, but it’s more about looking for the selling points of the product in a commercial as opposed to theatrical first and last lines.”
Another actor asked if Killian cast other projects in addition to commercials, Killian said, “Alyson Horn Casting just does commercials, but I, on the side, have just helped with movies. Things like that. Nothing gigantic, but our directors do short films and I’ve done a couple of full length features. I just want everybody to work all the time, so people will call me ask me if ‘Hey, do you know this actor who can fill this slot…’ People should be on my Facebook and Twitter because I put out auditions a lot. Some people might follow me and I put auditions out there all the time.”
Then an attendee asked Killian what annoyed him and he responded, “Everything! Anyone who knows me knows that! [laughter] Honestly, what annoys me the most is being unprofessional. It drives me insane! Thursday morning, I was doing ‘privates’ and we had three (casting) jobs going on in addition to me doing privates. I had to keep going out to the lobby and yelling to people to be quiet because the sound was bleeding through and I always try to teach ‘big picture.’ It’s about big picture. It’s not about booking a stupid Terminex spot or whatever you’re doing. That’s not what you’re here for. You’re here for the bigger picture and I feel that it’s a sign of the overall thing. You go to a theatrical casting, sit in that lobby and it’s crickets! Nobody speaks! Then you come for my (commercial) casting and it’s like a free-for-all club and that drives me insane. First of all, you’re probably there for some under-5 waiter role in that lobby at the theatrical call. You take it so seriously and you didn’t go out on the weekend and you’re a waiter…you’ve been practiced and practiced with a tray and then you come to this place where it is a $40,000 opportunity, or a spokesperson opportunity or an opportunity to springboard to a show and everybody’s just chatting! Then you come into the room and then you don’t know your lines. Then you didn’t listen to the direction and you don’t know what’s going on and all that’s going on. Everybody is wondering why we’re always screaming in casting. That’s a big part of it. You were just chatting for 20 minutes with your friends and then you come into the room and you don’t have anything to give me.
That’s the biggest thing about not being professional. Everybody’s worried about the next level up on the job, so I have to worry about my clients, the clients are worrying about the actual company that hired them and the director and all that stuff, so everybody is responsible all along the chain and you’re a big part of that. So if you treat it like, ‘I don’t care about this’ then that kind of makes me nuts because it’s my job.”
A smart actor asked Killian to further elaborate on ‘the big picture’ and how we actors can best prepare for that, Killian came up with some gems stating, “What I always teach in class is don’t lose sight of why you’re here. It has nothing to do with Terminex. It has nothing to do with Coca Cola. Females…show of hands…who sat at your Mama’s knee at six years old and said, ‘I can’t wait to be the Tampax girl!’ [laughter] Okay guys…’I can’t wait to be the face of Viagra!’ That’s not what we came here for so you always have to see the big picture and keep your eye on the prize, but that does not mean to take this lightly. That doesn’t mean to put the weight of the world on your shoulders when you come in my room. It’s not about this one job, but this one job could get you a show!
That’s what I think the disconnect is with commercial actors…I don’t like separating commercial actors from theatrical actors because we’re all actors, but the point is that when you come to a commercial casting, there seems to be a great disconnect between that and you’re thinking…’Oh yeah…I just gotta do this thing here, then I have to get to Ross Lacy’s by 2:00PM, then oh my God, I’ve got to go to the Westside and you get in and get out to get through it’ and that’s what you get back. You get back exactly what you give in. So if you’re ‘just getting through it’, that’s what you’re going to get in your career. Just getting through it. You might book a couple (of commercials) by accident along the way, but you have to understand that it’s all big picture. How you do one thing is kind of how you do everything.”
An actor complimented Killian saying that she had heard ‘great things’ about his class and asked him how his commercial classes differed from other commercial teachers’ classes in Los Angeles to which he responded, “There are several factors. One is that I didn’t start this to pay a mortgage. That’s a big one. I wanted to help actors. Alyson made me start classes and it just took off from there, so that’s won the attention. The second thing is that I work in casting which a lot of people do not. You (actors) have to be really smart with your money and if they (teachers) don’t work in casting…they’re taking your money, but don’t work in casting, I find that odd. I don’t understand how they can help you if you’re in an audition class. Now maybe scene study. People don’t have to work in that industry to be a good teacher. You have to be working every day.
Casting changes. The trends go crazy! Three years ago, the world collapsed, so everybody is hyper-sensitive of losing their jobs in advertising and losing these clients, so it’s even harder for them to make a decision about people because they are so scared because everybody lost their budgets, so you have to make sure they are in casting. Also, I’m just a very ‘real deal’ kind of person. I won’t tell you you’re good if you’re not good, but I do it in a positive way. I mean I’ve taken all the classes in town. [When a teacher would say] ‘Oh, that was so good,’ I’d say, ‘No, but it wasn’t’. I know it wasn’t because I work in casting. I mean like I used to say that in class. Coming from both sides of it (acting and casting) is invaluable for the teaching process.”
Another actor asked about including ‘notes’ in the notes section when self-submitting or his agent submitting his headshot online with Casting Networks. Killian responded with, “That’s a really good question. It depends on what the note is, okay? There’s an agency in this city that puts a note on every talent that they submit… ‘This person is amazing!’ ‘This person is amazing at improv.’ ‘Big huge booker.’ Every single person that you have? [laughter] Hmmm…because your agency is not the top agency in this city. How can you possibly have everybody is huge booker and everybody is the best in this city at improv? It makes me mad and so I don’t pick any of those people. That’s insulting really. If it’s a specific note…‘double jointed’ because I am looking for acrobats, that’s good, but ‘He’s amazing!’ Sure he is.”
An attendee then asked how much weight does a casting director have? Killian said, “Very little…with an asterisk by it. The true job of casting is to show the available talent pool to the client. That’s what our job is. The casting directors’ main power is who they call in and who they don’t call in. Then it goes to a tape that gets sent to the ad agency and then also to the director and they separately pick callbacks. Then we merge the lists and then we bring everybody into callback. Now they pick who they want. The director has his strong choices and the agency has their strong choices. Hopefully, they gel with their choices, but then the ultimate decision is the CEO of Microsoft, McDonalds…they pick them. Very often, the person that the director wants is not the person that they pick, but generally they tend to go along with the director’s pick. It’s a very strange, weird relationship because they hire this guy and then, they don’t pick his picks. [laughter] It’s very strange to me and the ad agency too. Sometimes it’s an adversarial relationship. It’s a strange, strange world.
What we do though is we can very strongly influence, you know? Again, big picture. I teach everything matters and if you take my class, people sitting here who have taken my class, I’m no BS when you get to my thing. If you want to have fun, go to the Valley, you know what I mean? That’s not what I’m doing. I am no BS when you get to that room because it is an audition. I’m trying to get you to have a career. Fun is a by-product of my class. People have fun, but that’s not the point of it. The point of it is to come here, get stuff done and get out there and book! So everything matters is what I try to teach. How you act in that lobby matters. Who you’re rude to matters. The lobby girl was rude to you, okay…that’s not a battle that you’re going to win. Just wish her well in your mind not verbalizing it…wish her well and get on with your thing. All we’re concerned with is ‘How is this person going to act on set?’ and everything you do is an indication of that. If she’s a crazy person in the lobby, I can’t put her in front of my biggest director you know what I mean because if anything goes wrong on set, no matter what it is, it’s our fault. It’s not the actor’s fault and we get the call.”
Killian then mentioned that we should never lie about our special skills on our resumes and sited a commercial casting years ago when the son of a famous actor was cast in a job where he had to ride an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) for the commercial. It was a very early shoot in the desert and the casting director got a call from set at 6:00AM because the actor did not know how to ride the ATV after all. The production day cost approximately $100,000 and the production company wanted to sue the actor for their costs.
- “Try not to be the first person in the room because they are still working it out.”
- “Wear what they tell you to wear. People who are watching (the audition tape) are very literal. If you don’t, it’s also telling them that you don’t care.”
- “You have to learn how to read a room.”
- “You may not be able to verbally improvise, but you can non-verbally improvise.”
- Callbacks are about two things. A) A listening test and B) Weeding out the crazies.
- “Bookings are a residual effect of good work. Do good work, be present in the moment and not think about the parking meters.”
- “An avail is a win. It’s a booking just without a check.”
Lastly, when Killian was asked what he likes most about casting, he said, “Giving people bookings!”
Thank you Killian for an enlightening seminar. Personally, I have taken Killian’s four week Callback class and look forward to taking his Improv class soon. Casting Networks also hopes to have Killian back before the end of the year for Part II of this seminar since he was unable to read actors and do a mock, work/audition session due to the circumstances. We always enjoy it and learn when we can see our directors and casting director guest speakers doing what they do best with actors up on their feet!
UPDATE from Killian– Killian is teaching a free class at the SAG Conservatory this summer for their commercial series. It is at 12:30pm on July 30th.