Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
What fun it was to have Casting Director, Craig Campobasso, as our guest speaker at our Inside the Industry Seminar on November 7. Craig still brings an enthusiasm for casting and his love for actors after 27 years in the business! Here is his bio-
CRAIG CAMPOBASSO was born in Sun Valley, California. Just out of high school, while attending acting school, he found himself working behind-the-scenes under Writer/Director David Lynchs’ and producer Raffaella De Laurentiis’ tutelage on Dune. Craig learned from the master storytellers, working on the entire production for 4 years. He also worked on Conan: The Destroyer at the same time as Dune, both films for Universal Pictures and shot at Estudios Churabusco in Mexico City. Raffaella gave Craig his start in the business, and later as a Casting Director, after he apprenticed as a Casting Associate on Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. A 27 year casting veteran, Craig has close to 50 films under his casting belt, including Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (additional casting) and Redline, Craig was also nominated for an Emmy for casting David E. Kelly’s Picket Fences.
Craig has just completed casting My Life Untitled starring Jesse Johnson (Redline) and Rachel Hunter; Magic Man, a thriller starring Billy Zane, Robert Davi, Armand Assante & Bai Ling; Pizza With Bullets starring Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos) and Talia Shire (The Godfather and Rocky movies);The Perfect Host starring David Hyde Pierce, Clayne Crawford.
He’s currently casting: In Our Time, a contemporary version of the life of Jesus; Bennie & Gene (The Bennie Goodman & Gene Krupa Story), a musical; In Love, In Death, an Italian drama; and is prepping Awakeners, a paranormal thriller.
Now onto the Seminar – when we got started, Craig gave out sides to six different actors who were chosen at random to work on their three paired-up scenes during the Seminar. When the first actors who didn’t know each other came up, Craig said, “Aren’t they a cute couple?” then asked if they were each married. The attendees laughed when Craig said, “Maybe in a year or so!”
Craig said, I’m just going to tell you a little about how the casting process works, then we’ll open it up to questions. Every time we get a film, we read it, we get a budget and we see how much money there is. They always have to fulfill, no matter what kind of budget it is, some sort of ‘name value’ that they can sell to distribution so they can earn their money back worldwide, whether it’s a big film or what have you.
We always have these wonderful anomalies like Paranormal or My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I would just love if we could just cast films and not have to put any stars in them. They already have enough money, don’t you agree? [laughter] I agree. I see what they make. I pay them! Not out of my pocket…. We sit down and confer and see exactly who we can get what for names and that kind of thing and we toy around with all the other roles.
We’re creative and actually start bringing people in. We just start trying it, especially in comedies. I love it when I’m doing a comedy. If the role says, ‘Connie Wang’, I’ll bring in a Latina. I’ll just try to keep it different and all very diversified which I think is a whole lot of fun. We start going through [actors] reading after reading and as you guys know, if you’ve ever sat in on a casting session, every actor brings something so completely different to the same role. It’s absolutely mind blowing! When I was an actor and if I got on the other side, I could have had a TV series! That is the most unbelievable ammunition, so if you guys ever get a chance to be a reader or sit in on a session, make sure that you do because it will really, really help you in the long run.
In television, when I’ve cast TV in the past, [casting] TV is a whole different thing than features. In features, we have more time. In TV, you have no time. One of the shows I did was Picket Fences. Each episode, for an hour, is eight shooting days. If for instance we started shooting the next episode on a Monday, sometimes on Thursday at 5:00PM, we’d get that script and we’d go Okay, we’re going to sit here and work all night, set up pre-reads in the morning and then the session in the afternoon for the people who work the first few days just to make sure you get those characters out. Make sure that you are prepared for those things in television.
If you have a TV reel, have a short little dramatic reel and short little comedic one. Don’t put them on the same one. I’ll tell you why. People don’t have the time to ‘toggle’, they just don’t have the patience. Make it easy for them. Always make sure, especially in television, that you have a contact number on the back of your picture. Here’s a great idea for all of you to do. The new season has already started, so all those Casting Directors who were doing TV, you should send your pic and res just with a little Post It note saying ‘updated pic and res for your season files’ with your contact number on it because like I said, actors who I had met in workshops or Agents that I could contact at home, were the people who got in on the sessions because it was already after hours and if I left it on an Agents’ machine but I needed people there at 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning, it’s just going to be a long, intense day of casting. Cover your bases that way because you’ll really make it better that way for you to have more opportunities.”
An actor asked Craig what his “pet peeves” were. Craig said, “People who don’t bring their pic and res even if you’re coming back for a second or third callback. Always. Offices are crazy. You want to make sure a Director always has something in hand and that all four corners are stapled.”
When asked, Craig recommended demo reels be one to three minutes in length. Craig said, “Put your best work first. If you have something and you just did something better, pay the money [to edit it]. Make sure that that’s first. It scares me to send them (demos) to a Director. I prefer to sit in the office with the Director watching and cue up what I think they should see. A lot of times, I can’t and have to give them the reel and plus what we’ve put on tape. Remember that attention spans are short.”
Another attendee asked Craig to share what he learned when he was an actor observing casting sessions. Craig replied, “It was actually just seeing all of the various versions and ways of doing the same scene. I only ever saw ‘just the surface’ of how to do a scene, but I saw people get into the nitty gritty and break it down and go into the symbology of it. Actually go in and ‘see’ what was going on. Now because of all these years of just reading, reading and reading scripts, I get it. When I was acting, I could read a script and it could have been the worst script in the world and I just would have thought it was fine because I didn’t know any better. So now, when I read a really great script, I am very excited because I can actually tell the Agents, ‘This one is great. Don’t miss this one.’ It is really getting into the textures, colors, depth and all those kinds of things within those characters. Some of my favorites are performances that really go deep without saying a lot because that’s a big part if you have these scenes to do. Like Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs where he [Sir Anthony Hopkins] is talking about the lambs. She doesn’t say a word, but you see everything going across her face and in her eyes. You see her soul experiencing going back into that memory. That’s so brilliant. Not many people can do that. My other favorite is Chris Cooper in American Beauty where he goes to Kevin Spacey’s character and thinks he’s gay and comes out. It was just the most vulnerable piece. I really thought he was going to get nominated for an Oscar and actually win that. I mean that’s how brilliant he was and he didn’t get nominated. It’s those kinds of things.”
A non-union actor then asked if she should join the acting unions. Craig responded, “You don’t need to go join SAG and AFTRA until you have to because it’s a lot of money. What I would do is join an extras service or get on one of those calling services. I know a lot of my actor friends who aren’t getting regular work are now doing that just to work and to keep up their SAG benefits. There are services that you can belong to where you can call and hear what’s going on the next day to be picked and be a part of it. Maybe check with some of your other actors.”
He continued, “Don’t put background work on your resume unless they gave you something to say even if it’s a word. This is your acting resume, that’s background. If you’re acting, you don’t want people to know that you’re doing background.” Craig then whispered, “But it’s okay to do background! I mean it makes me crazy like when agents say [to actors], Now that you are with us, you can’t do background anymore. No! You can’t tell somebody that they can’t make a living. And it’s good for you to get out there and be on those sets and see how they work! When I was fifteen, I did extra work because I wanted to see what it was like. I was terrified! I remember one of the first things that I did was a Lindsay Wagner Movie-of-the-Week and I remember just watching and all that kind of stuff. Then I thought, ‘Okay…this is easy…not so bad!’ It’s gaining experience.”
Craig said, “All of you should be in the Player’s Directory. They give us those books for free. Every Casting Director in the CSA [Casting Society of America] gets them for free. We don’t have to pay for them and they are expensive…85 to 100 bucks! Have your contact number in there too. Only people in the industry get a hold of those. A website is also terrific. Be on IMDb and make sure that you upload a picture because if I’m talking to an Agent, and I go to IMDbPro and it doesn’t have a picture, it makes me crazy. Then the agent will say that they will email me one….and sometimes the email doesn’t work and this Mac doesn’t talk to this PC. It becomes a nightmare! Again, going back to you guys have to make it easy for everyone. Have your email and contact number on IMDbPro. Only people who pay for IMDbPro can get that information. Not anybody who goes to IMDB can get that information.”
With improvisations for scripted auditions, Craig said, “If it’s a comedy feature, it’s okay to improvise. If it’s TV, you can’t change anything. You can’t change a word or they will get pissed. They will! They will knock you out of the competition right away, but also feel the vibe of the people in the room when you come in. If they are nice and if they’re happy, play with it. Have fun with it. Go with your instinct when you walk into a room.”
When an actor asked Craig whether non-rep’d talent versus rep’d talent made a difference when calling actors in, Craig replied, “To me, it really doesn’t matter. Everybody thinks that there is a big conspiracy against non-represented actors, but there’s not. When things come into my office, the Assistants and Associate open everything up. We have them put all the people for the role of Susie, all those pictures go into one pile, the role of John all go into that pile… down to Nurse #1 and Cop #2. ALL the agencies are in there. CAA and those Agencies don’t submit. They don’t care about those roles. All they want is the big money roles. I’m just looking at the actor. It doesn’t matter if they have an Agent or not. The role is going to end up being Scale+ 10% anyway. What am I going to negotiate with an Agent?”
After a half hour of questions and answers, our three sets of actors got up to read. Craig’s re-directs were well thought out and concise. Several “types” got up on the stage and did really well. It was great for attendees to see how “apples and oranges” casting is and to appreciate the process.
Craig spoke about character development. Craig said, “Keep it simple. If you can’t connect your ‘feeling body’, then it’s not going to work, especially if it’s an emotional scene. I can work with actors…. I can help you get there… Stanislavsky, Meisner, Strasberg….. nobody can get you to understand your own feelings but you. You have to know what your triggers are. You have to work on those triggers and figure those things out. One thing that I really like is repetition. If you’re doing a scene, be repetitive with it. You know why that works? It’s because you stop thinking. You actually let your ‘feeling body’ come out and start to process, so repetition is really, really good. I think that’s a Meisner technique. I use repetition all the time.”
When casting roles with various ethnicities, Craig said, ”Here’s my take on it. When I cast something, I don’t cast it for color. I just cast it. If an actor is right for a role, I bring him/her in. Sometimes if it states that it’s a Latin family, then it’s a Latin family because it’s about the culture. So you can’t change that. I was doing a Latin film in Miami a couple of years ago casting here and there and the Writer/Director was Cuban. It was an autobiographical film about himself and he said, ‘I don’t care what ethnicity plays me. I just want the best actor. We did. We just hired the best actor for the job.”
He went on, “I know that I can change things with what I’m doing. If everybody does it, it doesn’t become an issue anymore. I think that, that is all of our jobs to go beyond all of those barriers and just realize that it’s the human race. It’s not that everybody is separate, this and this and this. There are movies and things that I love where they’ve cast mothers, fathers and children all different ethnicities and they never explain it. I love that! I think that’s terrific! It doesn’t need to be explained. It’s slow but the thing is, we can only do what we can do on this end. I find that if I don’t make anything an issue and just bring in actors, it doesn’t matter what color they are, then the producers don’t really ever have an issue either.”
In conclusion, I asked Craig for any last ‘words of wisdom.’ Craig replied, “This [acting] is everybody’s dream. It was my dream at one time although I realized that I wasn’t that good at it when I was younger. I wasn’t focused enough. So what I look for is when I see actors, is I love actors that just love to act…in plays or this or that. I see that they love to act and are serious about their craft and learning more. I get a lot of students myself out of the ‘big namey’ acting schools. They come to me with the same thing as when I came out as one of them, ‘I’m more confused now than ever. This one says do this, this one says do that. ’Take everything you learn and put it only into a book that works for you. You just use whatever it is that works for you and that’s going to get you there quicker. I’m lucky. I’ve learned to get you actors from Point A all the way to Z in a short period of time like we did here today without a lot of the acting mumbo-jumbo. Remember that you are doing it for fun. Don’t become an angry actor. It’s just about having fun!”
Craig has a New Year’s Special and has reduced the price of his 4-week session Acting Workshop from $200.00 to $160.00. Additionally, Casting Networks members get an additional $10 discount bringing the class to a total of $150.00 for 4 consecutive Sundays from 12 -3 PM. The workshop location is near Warner Brothers in Burbank. All you have to do is show that you are a member of Casting Networks.