Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
It was a joy to welcome back theatrical casting director Craig Campobasso as our Inside the Industry guest speaker March 31st. The room was packed as it was when he last spoke in 2009. As I mentioned then, Craig’s enthusiasm & love for actors has not waned in his 30+ years in the industry.
Here is Craig’s bio-
Fresh out of high school, California native Craig Campobasso found himself working behind the scenes for four years on Frank Herbert’s Dune. The father and daughter producing team, Dino and Raffaella De Laurentiis, and director David Lynch, were Craig’s mentors into the business of filmmaking. Raffaella later hired him on the popular Christmas movie Prancer, starring Sam Elliott, as a casting director after he apprenticed as a casting associate on Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. Craig has been casting for more than two decades and was nominated for an Emmy for casting David E. Kelly’s Picket Fences. He is also an acting coach in the Los Angeles area.
Craig is currently casting: 02, A Sci-Fi film directed by Joe Dante, Furious Angel, drama directed by Jan de Bont; Cyber Planet, a special effects movie; Starbright, a fantasy film; and The Kiss, a suspense horror film.
Craig’s first book has just been released: “The Autobiography of an ExtraTerrestrial Saga: I AM Thyron,” with Foreword by Sylvia Browne.
When we began, the first thing Craig did was give out sides to six different actors who were chosen at random to work on their three paired-up scenes during the seminar, then Q & A began.
Right off the bat, an actor asked, “How much value do you put on casting director workshops?” Craig replied, “I think casting director workshops are good for the sense that it does keep your instrument going all the time. Back in the ‘old days’ we had time to do what we called ‘general meetings.’ We just don’t have time to do general meetings anymore because we’re doing several projects and we’re casting. The thing is that even when we’re not casting, the phone is crazy and busy with talking to producers, the director, finding (actors) availability, trying to find people because we also have to satiate the investors by getting the ‘name value,’ so they can get their buck back. There’s a lot of different things that we do.”
Craig went on to say, “Getting back to workshops….I will tell you that one of my friends was an actor and she did acting workshops for many, many years and what it did was it sharpened her for every audition. She called me and said, ‘I just got the biggest audition of my life! I’m going to read for this huge guest spot on a TV show.’ I said that I will guarantee you, every actor will go in there and do it & externalize and make it really big. If you internalize it and show that she is emotionally unstable from the inside but let it bleed through just here, you’ll get the part. So she did and she called me immediately and she said, ‘Everybody did! I heard ‘em all through the door! They were all screaming! [laughter] I went in and did it.’ Right after she did her audition, they walked her directly to the ‘big boss.’ She did it for him…Steven Bochco by the way… (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law & NYPD Blue) He said, ‘That’s it!’ She got it. The performance was so mind blowing, even when I saw it, that every studio head of casting called her in and she was walked to every casting office on the lot. So not only did Bochco put her on NYPD Blue for a year but then all these big movies, tons of guest spots and all that stuff came. What I’m saying from that is that on one of those movies, even though she only made $5000 a week because on those movies, they hire you and they just keep you. You can come to work every day, get dressed and just sit there but you’re still getting paid. She made only $80,000 on the movie but the movie became such a huge hit that her first residual check was $30,000 [audience gasp!], her next one was $50,000 and her next one was $80,000 with DVD and video. She ended up making almost $350,000 to $400,000 on that movie. She quit her job and became a working actor. So there’s your answer. It’s also a good tool and it’s also good because it keeps your face in front of everybody. Good acting is good acting no matter where you see it.”
As we finished talking about workshops, I added, “I’ve been an actor in town for fifteen years and the assistant to the assistant are full casting directors now. Just the relationships I’ve grown over the years have been so valuable. People move up in this town so quickly. You are a much better cold reader than you would be otherwise and it’s that skill sharpening. Workshops have been invaluable to my career.” Craig concurred and added, “Listen, at one studio there was one woman….I’m not going to say who it was… who was an assistant for a matter of a couple of weeks and they fired everybody and she became the head of casting, so there you go!” [laughter]
When an actor asked about representation, Craig stated, “That’s a four hour question! If you’re not a star, you’re not going to be with CAA. ALL the agencies have various levels of actors. CAA isn’t going to have somebody who is unknown. They may have somebody who is up and coming or something like that. All agencies submit and I, as a casting director, try and see as many people from all the different agencies to give everybody a chance.”
An actor said that she was SAG Eligible and asked what she should do, Craig advised, “You can just wait it out until you get a SAG job. Join then and then you can still do non-union work.”
As an actor, be easily found. Don’t rely just on your agents. “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.”
In callbacks- “Do not change anything especially if we tell you when you are leaving our audition. Do not change a thing. We know what they are looking for. We know what they want. Trust us! If you come back and you’ve changed it… ’Oh I went to my acting coach and I’ll change it up and make it better…’ and actors have. They come back in and I had one director who was just in one of those bad moods that day and the actor did it and I was like, ‘No, no no. Remember when we did it and how we…’ The director said, ‘No. That’s it. Thank you.’ Sometimes they are just out. Here’s the thing. EVERY situation is different. I’ve cast movies where they say, ‘Craig, we love you. We don’t even want to have producers’ sessions. You pick all the actors. Tell us who you want and we’ll okay it and just hire them. There are other movies where they want to be hands on, hands on, hands on! Commercials are different. It’s about the client.”
Craig then told a funny story about when he was a 17-year old actor auditioning for commercials, “In the years that I was doing commercials, they would pick the people off the tape and bring them back. It could be anywhere from 5 to 10 to 20 guys if it was for one specific thing. That’s when it boils down to personality in the room. At 17, I went in for a McDonald’s commercial and I was so naive. Within like five or six weeks, my agent kept sending me on these McDonald’s commercials, right? I thought, ‘Wow, there’s an awful lot of these McDonald’s commercials!’ I didn’t know. I was going back to callback, after callback, after callback! [laughter] I had no idea! On the seventh time, I walked in and there were four other boys that looked just like me…young All-American, right? The casting director came out and said, ‘Who wants to go first?’ and I don’t know why but I said, ‘I will!’ I walked in and I was the guy at McDonald’s behind the counter. It was for the very first chicken sandwich at McDonald’s, so it was a long time ago! [laughter] There were like 30 people in the room I mean because it’s McDonald’s. I just sort of looked at everybody in the room and blah, blah,blah…and then we made a few jokes and blah, blah, blah and then they went, ‘Great! We like him!’ The she (the casting director) said, ‘Wait right here outside the door. They gave it to you’ and she went outside and sent all the other boys home. Now…how many times has that happened? Not a lot…but what I’m saying is ‘Always be the one.’”
Craig spoke of the challenges of being a casting director and said, “Sometimes…and I won’t say what film this was but the most challenging can be producers….meaning that they do not have respect for human beings shall we say. [laughter] Not only the people in the crew but the actors as well. Those are the most challenging for me because it’s not nice to see people degraded because they think they have power because they have money. Those are the things that break my heart….that kind of thing. Sometimes challenging things are people with disabilities and also reading actors who have the disabilities and then weighing it with non-disabled actors and seeing what works best for the project, so that’s what’s always best. Those are challenges.”
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 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!”
Update from Craig-
Not only has Craig been casting movie and television for over 2 decades, but he is an “Acting Coach” as well. To learn more about his “affordable” Acting Workout for Adults & Kids/Teens, go to www.CraigCampobasso.com
Craig’s new book, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EXTRATERRESTRIAL SAGA: I AM THYRON, with FOREWORD by Sylvia Browne, New York Times best-selling author and psychic is fully illustrated. You can check out the Book Trailer, buy “autographed” hard or soft covers at www.AutobiographyOfAnET.com
To contact Craig- Go to www.CraigCampobasso.com