Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
We had a very fun, informative and interactive Inside the Industry Seminar on December 12 with veteran Commercial Casting Sessions Managers, Scott Wissner and Melissa Egan. Mr. Wissner is also a Producer and Casting Director. Here is his bio-
Mr. Wissner has over 15 years experience in casting and production. He recently completed work on “Denise Richards: It’s Complicated”, acting as a child advocate for the show. He acted as a court order expert, insuring the physical and psychological safety of Denise’s children. Currently, he is writing and developing a half-hour comedy for television and a network reality show. He has directed thousands of commercial casting sessions, more than anyone in Los Angeles. He is known throughout the industry, as an “Actor’s Director”, helping actors find their best performances. In 1988, Mr. Wissner helped create and was an original partner in Beth Holmes Casting. Within 3 years, BHC had annual billings of over $1,000,000. His work can be seen on ABC’s hit reality show. As the Casting Director, Scott found not only dysfunctional, attractive and outgoing families, but also produced key story lines and guided the Producers on psychosocial family issues. Mr. Wissner’s Master Degree as a Marriage and Family Therapist has always proven to be a valuable asset in casting and production.
Mr. Wissner has cast many reality shows, including ABC’s “Ultimate Love Test” and “The Benefactor.” He was recently the Casting Producer on “The Mole 3 ” for ABC. Within the last couple of years, he has cast “Master Blasters” for the SCI-FI NETWORK, “Top Gear” for DISCOVERY CHANNEL, as well as “The Start Up” for NBC/USA and “One Week To Save Your Marriage” for TLC. He was also instrumental in casting “The Mole” Seasons 1 and 2. Scott cast Spike TV’s, “Joe Schmo” and numerous reality TV pilots over the past few year, as well.
Mr. Wissner’s casting background began in the world of commercial production. He is known for his work with children, humor and “real people”. In fact, it has been his work with established “real people” commercial Directors, Mark Story and Jeff Gorman that led to his success in reality television.
Melissa Egan has been a working actress for over 20 years. She has numerous Television and Commercial credits as well as performing Off-Broadway. She has directed thousands of commercial sessions and works with some of the best Casting Directors in the city, most notable Ross Lacy, Dowd/Roman, Francene Selkirk and Arlene Schuster-Goss. Her education background includes a BA of Theatre Arts from Cortland University, studies abroad with the National Theatre of London and Riverside Studios (London), Bill Esper Studios in NYC and Laura Henry Studios in Los Angeles.
I was thrilled that our December Saturday Seminar was a packed house especially with the rain! Our proactive LA Casting members were ready to step-it-up in 2010!
Scott began with a humorous comment that broke the ice and the room up, then stated, “That was Tip #1 of the day. Seriously, now we’ll get started. I got here a little early and I prepared a little funny moment there. It was a little cheesy all be it but what we try to tell actors to do…and you’d be shocked in commercial auditions…a lot of actors show up late. Really show up early, so you can prepare yourself, especially if it’s comedy. You can look over the script and see where you can add a little something of yourself, so that was a little demonstration of that. We really love questions because we find that there is a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about commercial auditioning. Our background is really mostly in commercials. Mel has done a lot of acting in other areas, as well. So we’re going to have some fun! But first, we’d like to introduce ourselves, just to give you a little bit of an idea about our backgrounds. I’ve been involved in casting and production of commercials for about 25 years. So literally, Mel and I together, for sure without question have directed more commercial auditions than, not everyone in LA, but it’s thousands of auditions we have directed and callbacks, as well, where we see the process of how actors shoot themselves in the foot sometimes but hopefully succeed. We have also seen the way the clients…the ad people and the Directors work, so we really understand the audition process.”
Melissa said, “My name is Melissa Egan-O’Neill. I’ve been an actress for over 25 years and I’ve been in casting for about 13 years. Between Scott and I, like he said, I don’t think anyone has run more sessions between the two of us in this city. We’ve done thousands upon thousands of auditions, hundreds of commercials, worked with the top casting people and the top Directors that are working today. I’m also still going out as an actress and my children go out as actors, so I thoroughly ‘get’ the business. I also went to school for the Meisner technique and a lot of the students here have some type of acting background and I like to use that in our class as well, so whatever your background is, you can take pieces of it…I have the language to talk to you that you understand and can give you tips that can help you. That’s where we come from.”
Melissa and Scott then took a poll of attendees in the room asking how many people had commercial representation, how many people go out on auditions at least once a month and how many people had booked commercials. (I particularly like when our casting guest speakers ask this because of the wide variety of Casting Networks/LA Casting members in attendance, they can “target” any given audience with the information they impart.) After seeing the show of hands, Melissa said, “That’s the most exciting thing about this business. There is room for everybody (in commercials), especially today. Does anybody here know who the new salesperson/spokesperson is? Real people or the person off the street. It used to be that there were a handful of select, very talented actors that were the spokespeople across the board and they were in every single commercial. They hawked every product and they all had a similar look or vibe and that’s the way it was, but as you know as you watch your TV today, the ad industry has found out that people don’t want that ‘slick sell’. They want a real sell. They want a real person…the everyday person especially when it comes to cars. So many of our cars, they want a real person to sell it. You’re the new person. There’s room for everybody. There are all different types. Now…because there is room for everybody, there may not be the same ‘hits’ that you used to get. You may book maybe one or two spots a year as opposed to maybe the five or six, but things aren’t as specific anymore.
There is this incredible group right now of actors that’s called ‘ethnically ambiguous. It’s a look, so if they are not sure what nationality you are, they love it because that’s where people feel the trend is going now. We will be the big melting pot, so you’ll see that in a lot of the breakdowns we receive that say ‘ethically ambiguous.’ Does anyone here speak another language? [hands raised] Outstanding! Keep your hand up if it’s Spanish. When you speak Spanish and you’re an actor, you double your market. It’s a fantastic thing to be! If you speak another language, it should be highlighted on your resume as one of the number one things.”
An actor asked a smart question about how actors “shoot themselves in the foot” in a callback referring to what Scott mentioned previously. He replied, “What happens in a callback is that everybody is amped up. You’re probably more nervous than the first audition because you have more to lose in your mind. There could be a booking ahead of you usually, so you’re maybe filled with anxiety. Anxiety is probably #1. Nervousness… so you tend to overcompensate. Overcockiness then. Sometimes you try to be too friendly with the clients. As actors, you need to feel empowered without question. That’s the way to succeed which means that everything you do and prepare is fantastic. Whether or not the clients love you or not as a person, it doesn’t matter. I’m a big believer in ‘The Golden Rule’. Treat people how you expect to be treated. Be a nice person and treat people with respect, but there’s no need ever to kiss anybody’s butt that’s in casting or commercial production.”
Upon seeing two young actors, Melissa added, “There’s also two young ladies right here in the front, so I am going to say something very specific to parents. Parents, do not have your children shake everyone’s hand at the end of the audition. It’s frowned upon, they don’t like it and it’s an uncomfortable moment. They also don’t want to get sick. They have probably flown in from somewhere else and it just sets up being ingratiating to them and there’s no need for that.” Scott concurred, saying that it was a real health issue for all involved.
When an actor asked if he should do the exact same thing at a callback as the first audition, Melissa said, “What happens is that the script might have changed. They might now want to see you for a different role, so the Casting Director may have talked to you outside the room, so you have to kind of feel out the situation. It’s not necessarily in black and white. What happens if you do that then is that you’re ‘locked on’ to what you thought you should do…you’ve kept working on how you tried to do it in the first take, then that means that you’re not in the moment of you actually doing this and right now, they don’t know what they are going to do, so they are going to work with you a bit. If you’re locked onto your first audition, then you have sabotaged yourself because you’re not going to listen and it’s going be harder for you to interact with another actor in the room. If they are trying to ‘give or take’ and you’re standing here, it’s going to eliminate you.” Both Scott and Melissa said that “You’re in the top 5% of actors if you even get called in for a commercial audition.” They both advised not to treat a commercial audition casually.
It was enlightening when Melissa and Scott had six different actors come up onto the stage separately and we had a very interactive exercise discussing each one’s “type”, commercial “likeability factor” and if we trusted them. They said, “Your look is part of your talent.” And with headshots “let it match who you are when you come in the door [at auditions].”
Other points include-
- “What happens when you have a lot of [commercial] copy? You go into your head.”
- “Most actors come in unprepared. That’s a fact. They give a ‘vanilla’ audition. We’re always looking for you to bring something to the table.”
- “I am asking you to come in and give the information you just got. Give us your take and point of view.”
- “We’re always, always, always looking for comedy and improv.”
- “Likeability and trust factor [in an actor] are huge.”
- If you’re not auditioning, you have to be in class.”
- “People who have fun at an audition are in the moment. Clients want to hang out with those people.”
My friend, fellow actor and associate with the seminars, Richard Hotson, who many of you know, recently took Melissa and Scott’s Complete Commercial Workout Weekend Intensive. I asked Richard to include his impressions in this article. He said, “My weekend spent at the CCW gave me a greater understanding of commercial auditioning, in a safe and nurturing environment. I now have more insight into the process of casting a commercial and how to make the best impression, from slating to callbacks. I feel that my classmates and I finished the weekend with much sharper skills than we had when we arrived. This is a class that I would highly recommend.”
Thanks Melissa and Scott for a fun and informative seminar.
MELISSA and SCOTT HAVE ON GOING CLASSES, SO CHECK THE WEBSITE FOR NEW DATES! The class descriptions are below.
This weekend intensive is designed to give the beginning commercial actor a total workout. Starting with your slate, the class will work with today’s “spokesman” copy, reacting and eating on camera. We will simulate audition settings and have you review your auditions. We will teach you secrets to bringing “yourself” to your audition and how that works with improvisation auditions. We show you how you are submitted to Casting Directors and put on the web in today’s technical world and how to make yourself stand out and go over your pictures and resumes. The highlight of this class is the Callback work.
Audition Audition Audition! Auditioning is a skill! You need to keep those skills sharp. Nothing beats just auditioning. The more you work, the better you feel. The better you feel, the more confident you are. In this 4 part class series, you will have several mock auditions a night and get to review your auditions and get feedback.
Our unique approach to callbacks is also a huge part of our Masters Class Program. This class is geared to the more seasoned actor who wants to take their work to the next level. We take an in-depth look at their work and make more personal adjustments. This class with one-on-one instruction will deal with individual problem-solving and troubleshooting. Reference required.
Addendum from Melissa:
What a great time we had at the LA Casting seminar! We were so thrilled that over 100 actors showed up in the rain! We are thrilled to say that we have been working with some of our seminar actors and find it so rewarding. To see them grow from unsure to confident and to witness their “breakthroughs” is very rewarding.