Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
What a joy it was to have Emmy-winning casting director Deborah Barylski as our September guest speaker! Again, we broke an eight year seminar record in amazing time with actors RSVPing for the Casting Networks’ free member event. Of our many actors that attended who thanked me upon leaving, one said that it was a “master class.” It was a master class indeed!
Here is Ms. Barylski’s bio-
Deborah Barylski is an Emmy-Award winning casting director, a job she has held for the past thirty years. Some of her most recent credits include ST. GEORGE (the new George Lopez series), THE MIDDLE, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (for which she won the Emmy), LIFE WITH BONNIE, STILL STANDING, HOME IMPROVEMENT and JUST SHOOT ME, as well as past favorites FRANK’S PLACE, THE FAMOUS TEDDY Z and DOCTOR, DOCTOR. She also cast the feature, PASTIME, which won the Audience Award at Sundance in 1990. She was nominated for the Artios Award for excellence in casting seven times, and won the Artios in 2003 for ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. Her first love, however, is the theatre and she has directed in theatres in Michigan, Illinois, California, and Alaska. She was the assistant director and contributing editor to the world premiere of TRACERS, a play which ran two years at the Odyssey Theatre in LA, with further productions in New York, Chicago, and an international tour. Her most recent full-length Los Angeles directorial outing, the world premiere of SOLACE by Jake Jay Clark, garnered three L.A. Weekly Award nominations, including “Best Direction,” “Best Original Play,” and “Best Ensemble.” In 2007, she was selected to direct in the auspicious Ojai original Christmas play series. For the past twenty-five years she has held acting seminars in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, San Diego and Vancouver, and Toronto. She holds professional memberships in the Casting Society of America and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and is proud to be a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Below is a brief overview of a few things Ms. Barylski covered. (I try to be brief when I write these articles but our guest speakers have so much wisdom to impart!)
Ms. Barylski wasted no time as she jumped right in explaining the new sitcom shooting format of SAINT GEORGE, the new George Lopez show she is casting. She said, “Wow! I’m like on a stage! [laughter] I’m usually on ground level with you guys. It’s not that I’m not used to it, it’s just recently that I’m not used to it. Good morning everyone. Saturday morning, huh? Look at it, you got up; you got out. Good, good, good. You know what? I’m finding that a lot of people don’t know what the ‘10/90 Format ’ is. Anybody know what that is? One person. Maybe I should talk a little bit about that first because that seems to be the wave of at least some shows in the future. I think you all know what a single-camera hour show is, right? If you’re hired for one scene, you go in for the day and then you either get [SAG-AFTRA] ‘scale’ or if it’s a larger scene, you might get more, but basically if you have one scene you, work one day on an hour show. An hour single-camera show. In a half-hour single-camera show, like THE OFFICE, like THE MIDDLE, like a lot of the shows that are done right now, again, you do one scene…I’m kind of taking this from your perspective…you do one scene and might work for scale or you might have a higher ‘quote’ [pay rate] that they can honor depending on the budget of that particular episode. If you’re doing a multiple-camera comedy show which are coming back a little bit. If you’re doing one scene, you often get two or three days, even if it’s at scale because they need you there for the day that they’re taping, they need you there for a day of rehearsal, and sometimes they even want you there a third day when they do the Network run-through on day three, so sometimes you get three whole days and even though it’s scale, you’re getting three days, right? So the hour format takes anywhere from what? Anywhere from 7 days to 10 days to shoot. A half-hour single-camera is a five-day to shoot. A multiple-camera half-hour show is a five-day shoot and that multiple-camera is the closest thing to doing a play as possible, so if you’re a theatre person and trying to break in, that’s really the most comfortable because you basically for three days rehearse without camera. They rewrite every day and you come back to a new script…sometimes from Page 1 rewrite, then the cameras come in on the fourth day for camera blocking, then they shoot on the fifth. So…now we come to the ‘10/90 Format’ ANGER MANAGEMENT is done like this, the George Lopez show which is what I’m working on right now which is called SAINT GEORGE, which is going to start airing sometime late fall or maybe in January…we’re not really quite sure when it’s going to start airing. Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence are also doing a ‘10/90 format’ and they’ve got two or three more in the chute. What this means…you know it’s always about money, right? [laughter] It’s always about money, so if a half-hour show goes into syndication, do you know how many episodes they need to start going into syndication? A hundred and it usually takes five years to get those because you do about 22 to 25 episodes a year. Well, with the ‘10/90 format’, we do 10 episodes and that constitutes the ‘Pilot’ and that’s what we’re working on right now. That constitutes the pilot. They give you 10 episodes, so you shoot those. You wait and then they air them and depending on the numbers, if they like the numbers or the Network thinks that even the numbers aren’t great but they have a lot of faith in it, then they pick you up for 90 more. [audience murmurs] However, here’s the hitch. They shoot TWO a week. Not a five-day shoot but a two-day shoot. So I’m shooting an episode Monday-Tuesday; Wednesday off; Thursday-Friday is the second episode that week. It goes very fast. It’s really a hybrid. It’s more similar to a single-camera because you come in, get a little rehearsal and then they shoot and you’re done! I mean, if you’ve only got one scene, you might be done in four hours, right? And there is no coverage. They’ve got multiple cameras going. There are four cameras going all the time at different angles. It’s more like a soap opera frankly because a soap opera is shooting a whole show every day, right? It’s more like that. So what happens is, they divide those scenes up into two days, we have two different stages, so that we can be working shooting on this stage while they’re building a set on another. If you only had one stage, there is no way you could do it because you can’t shoot and work on a set with hammers and sound. Basically, what you would do is to come in, you would go to your wardrobe, makeup, and all that stuff but when you got to the set and when they got to your scene, you would sit down on the couch. What we do is sit on the couch in George’s ‘house’ in his ‘living room.’ So everybody sits around on the couch and we talk through the scene. We work through the scene just like we were working on a play. But it’s all very fast. You’ve all done your homework. This is not the time to do the homework. The homework’s from home, right? So everybody brings to the party what they worked on. You might get little adjustments in that regard. Then, they put it up on its feet. The director has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do. Then, there is a ‘camera coordinator’ who is looking at all the cameras because frankly, one person can’t do it. There is the director and the camera coordinator. The guy who is our camera coordinator worked on soaps for years in New York, so he knows and really understands how all that fits together, right? So then they put it on its feet. Figure out the rehearsals, the lighting people, all of the crew and designers and those are watching the blocking, then the ‘2nd team’ comes in, while the 1st team goes off and runs lines again because they’re memorizing two scripts a week. For George Lopez who is in every scene, that’s like 100 pages of dialogue a week. [audiences’ amazed murmurs] He knows his lines better than anybody else. Then the 2nd team is in while they’re fixing the lighting and doing any technical thing they need to do. Then the 1st team comes back and they shoot it and literally, if it’s a three-page scene, that whole process takes about an hour and a half. That’s how fast it goes. They may run it again if they have technical glitches or people forget lines or something like that. So here’s the deal. I mean, the good news is that it’s 90 episodes. The bad news is on your level, they really don’t allow me to pay any Day Players more than scale for the day.
Ms Barylski continued, “Then when we come back, we shoot them in 30-episode increments. We do more than a season in five months. Thirty episodes, take two months off, thirty episodes, take two months off, so you are actually trying to shoot them out in two years. You shoot all 100 episodes in about two years if you stay on schedule…and don’t die in the process! [laughter] So that’s the 10/90 Format
. Listen, you probably know more than your agent does right now about 10/90 Formats because they’re so new, okay? So that’s something to keep in your head about how that works if you ever go out for ANGER MANAGEMENT, or SAINT GEORGE or anything like that.
[From Tracy- Wow! This was such valuable information for us actors! From this veteran actress, I learned more in the first 15 minutes from Ms. Barylski than I have in a long time. Thank you!]
An actor then asked Ms. Barylski if the quick turnaround of the new format affected her casting process for actors to which she replied, “You don’t have to worry about that. Here’s the reason. We’re still having auditions. I’m lucky to have ‘old school’ producers who think that somebody from the creative team should be in the room. [Collective audience cheers!] So you all have a producer in the room almost every single time that you come up to audition…almost every single time. How it’s changed is I make a lot of offers and I’ve worked with these guys for 20 years. I worked with them on HOME IMPROVEMENT. They kept me employed all through the ’90s. I did HOME IMPROVEMENT with them, THUNDER ALLEY and BUDDIES. HOME IMPROVEMENT was the big one, so I’ve known them for 20+ years. One of the producers I went to grad school with, so I’ve known him even longer. They trust me. When I say, ‘This is the person you should hire,’ they hire them. It helps them not to have to worry about that part of it. I even come to them and say, ‘Do you want a (casting) session because like here’s two people who would be really great.’ ‘Who’s your favorite? ‘This one.’ They go, ‘Okay, hire her.’ Just like that.
Another actor asked if Ms. Barylski was open to see ‘unknown/no-name talent’ for guest star roles. She said, “Here’s the thing. Yes, it depends. The biggest determining factor is time. My time. Their time. If I’ve got time to pre-screen and make sure that the person that I liked in the showcase actually can carry this part, then absolutely! Listen, there is part of us that likes to go with the ‘tried and true’ and another part of us likes to be the first person who hires somebody for a big role because you have all these casting directors calling you… ‘Who was that? Who was that?’ ‘I didn’t know who that was!’ ….It’s like one of our big coups that we’re the first person to hire somebody and move them up to, ‘Who was that?’ That’s like the best call you can get from another casting director! “Who was that?’ That’s great but it’s time. Literally, sometimes I get the script in the morning and I have a session set up by the next morning or later that day. That means I don’t have time to do any pre-screenings. I just don’t. It’s also about the producers and the relationship you have with them. I know I can take chances with them. You can’t with everybody because then, I’d be in danger of losing my job, right?
When another actor asked Ms. Barylski if “certain casting directors had relationships with certain agencies” she threw the question back to the actor saying, “Of course. Don’t you have certain relationships with certain people in your life?” He said, “Yes” and she replied,” Okay, no different. I get along with certain people and I hate others.’ [laughter] Well, isn’t that the same for you? You don’t like everybody you meet.”
Ms. Barylski continued, “Good agents do half of our jobs. I know that if I’m in a bind, I call my tried and true people. If I’m in a hurry, I have to go with the people that I know.”
Ms. Barylski got a few groups of actors up on the stage for a cold reading. For me and all our attendees, it is always great when our casting guests do this so we actors can see first-hand how challenging their jobs as a casting directors is. Ms. Barylski gave concise, insightful and thoughtful redirects that the actors took well. We in the audience could see the actors’ adjustments the second time around.
- If you flub a line during an audition? “There’s a couple of rules. If that happens to you and it happens early on in the scene, don’t even ask. Just say, ‘I’m sorry. I need to start again.’ If it happens at the end and you get to the end and you go, ‘I need to do that again,’ they are going to say ‘No’ unless they feel that you have the possibility of booking the role. If it’s about halfway through and just maybe it’s like a one-page scene, again just say, ‘You know what? I‘m so sorry. I got off on the wrong foot. I need to start again.’ If it’s a three-page scene and you’re at the bottom of the 2nd page, you don’t say it then. It just kind of depends on where you’re at. First of all, when you’re off on the wrong foot, we know it too. The fact that you know you’re off on the wrong foot, tells me that you’re an actor who knows when it’s right and when it isn’t. That’s good to know. Listen, if there weren’t people who said the wrong line and got off on the wrong foot, there would be on out-take reels guys, right? [laughter] So everybody does it, so just take responsibility for it. Then you have to make sure that you figure out a way to quickly get yourself focused, whether it’s a deep cleansing breathe, whether it’s a little mantra, whether it’s a little prayer…whatever it is, you have to turn it around fast because if it’s not better the 2nd time, you’ve wasted their time.”
- Paraphrasing in an audition? “Mostly, I say no. Listen, I would say 90% of the writers don’t want you to change their words. Do you know that Aaron Sorkin even wants you to say ‘and and but’ when he writes, ‘and and but’? Do you know that it has to be word-perfect on Aaron Sorkin? Those people can’t make a period where there is a comma and comma where there’s a period even, okay? Not everybody is that strict but think about this. You have no idea how long it took to maybe for the writer to craft that particular sentence. And in comedy, it’s all about the words and the pace, so the music of the line gets screwed when you f*** with it, so don’t do that. Now if they say, ‘Feel free to improv,’ that’s a whole different thing number #1. Number #2, if you’re off-book and know the gist of that line and you can’t think of the exact words, it’s better to muddle your way through with a paraphrase, than to stop and start again because basically, think about this. If you’re on-set and you’ve forgotten the exact line, isn’t it better to keep going because you can’t stop unless they say ‘Cut’ so you have to figure out a way to keep going anyway and the fact that they can see you, they know you’re not saying the line because they wrote it but they see what you’re trying to do and you got back on track without a hitch, that tells us a whole lot about you.”
- Casting director workshops/showcases? She said, “I do a lot of showcases and I’m a really good teacher. I think you’ll see that in a little bit because I love to teach. I taught in college—acting, directing, and theatre management before I was a casting director. I thought I was going to be an academic. I thought that that was going to be my life. After three years, I went…(then she did a brushing off motion)…I thought sure this is it. I had the courage to kind of go and try and see what else was out there. It isn’t that I didn’t like teaching. I didn’t really like academia as much as I thought I would. I didn’t like it at all actually. I liked the teaching. I liked all of that, so I continued to teach and so I meet a lot of people that I think have a lot of potential but I can only bring them in if I have time to pre-screen them because I don’t know their work. I just see them briefly you know for two or three minutes. You know these ‘new’ formats when you come in where you’re one-on-one with casting directors? I don’t think that serves any of us. I really don’t. I know you get more out of it because you see more people at a time but frankly, I like the class format. Our job in that room is to teach you. That’s what the state laws say. ‘There has to be teaching in that room’ otherwise it’s illegal. I always teach but it’s one-on-one. If you’re in a class, working with 20 other people, and you’re watching me give notes and adjustments to every person in that room, you’re going to leave with a whole lot more information than you did when you came in. Now you might only meet one casting director in three hours but you are also walking away with information that is helpful to you. I know that you try to maximize your bucks and I totally get that but if you’re in a classroom with a good teacher, it’s worth seeing only one person (casting director) every three hours.”
Ms. Barylski’s last “words of wisdom” were gently, “You’re here because you’re artists. Take care of that artistic soul…which is kind of hard to remember when you’re being a salesperson at The Gap or waiting tables or doing typing input into medical journals because they can do that at home at night and on the weekends. It’s hard to remember who you are and what you came here for. Take care of your artistic soul. I would guarantee that probably you’re the only member of your family that‘s doing this. [laughter] How many of you are the only members of your family doing this? They don’t understand you. They will never understand you. Don’t try to get their understanding because they don’t ‘get’ you. They don’t! Why do you think we’re all out here and they’re all back there? [laughter] So take care. I just gave myself goosebumps. So take care of yourself. Make sure if you can’t afford acting classes, get together with a group of your friends for four weeks and put up scenes for each other. If you were a marathon runner, would you not run for six months? No! You can’t do that. But if you’re an actor and you don’t act for three or four months in a row, you can’t do that. You’ve got to keep the muscle ready to work. If you haven’t done an audition in four months and you finally get one and you haven’t done any work for four months, how rusty are you going to be? Even if you’ve done an audition class with your friends. Get somebody who’s got a camera and put yourself on-tape. Look at it. Evaluate it for each other. That takes no money. That just takes time and commitment. There’s one other thing. If you don’t know a book called THE ARTIST’S WAY, that would be a very good thing for you to read. It gives you daily exercises on what to do to remind yourself how to protect the soul of your art. That’s what I have to say. Thanks so much.”
Thank you Ms. Barylski for really investing yourself and for a terrific and enlightening seminar!