Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
At our free Inside the Industry Seminar on October 24, we got a 2 for 1 special! Not only did we have very busy Commercial Casting Director, Alyson Horn, as our guest speaker, but also her Sessions Director, Casting Associate and Commercial Coach, Killian McHugh who is also an actor.
Here is Ms. Horn’s bio-
Alyson Horn studied at Mountview Conservatoire in London majoring in Opera with a secondary degree in Theatre Arts. After graduation, she worked as an actress in London and Chicago.
Upon moving to Los Angeles, she began to pursue a career in development and was a script analyst for CAA in the mid 90’s. However, after a few years, Alyson realized that she missed being around actors and performance, so she began interning for Deborah Kurtz Casting where she developed a love for the casting process.
In 1999, Alyson cast a music video for, a then unknown band, Blink 182. Blink took off, as did their Video Director, Marcos Siega, and so her casting career began in earnest. Alyson proceeded to cast over 100 music videos in the next few years and also began casting commercials.
Having always been a fan of the Jack in the Box Campaign, she wrote a fan letter to “Jack” in 2001 and long story short, has been casting that campaign ever since.
Alyson Horn Casting casts a range of spots from comedic to dramatic and has worked with most major Ad Agencies and Commercial Production companies.
Ms. Horn began by saying, “A little bit about myself. Some of you I know and have come out for me. I’m a Commercial Casting Director. I only do commercials. Very briefly at the beginning of my career, I did a television show. I actually prefer commercials. I’ve been asked to do films but that’s (commercials) really my niche. Primarily, my office does comedy. We do everything. We do some beauty. That’s probably the least of what we do. We also do some things that are more dramatic…the drug company commercials…things like depression and things like that. What I’m kind of most known for are the Jack in the Box commercials. I’ve been doing that for about seven years. Any Jack in the Box commercials you’ve seen in the past seven years, my office has done that. So that’s basically what I do. Killian is an actor, Casting Associate and Sessions Director and he also runs a commercial workshop that the two of us developed.”
Ms. Horn then took a poll of all the people in attendance by asking-
Who is represented?
Who goes out on auditions at least 5 times a month?
Once a week?
Who has booked something in the last year?
Last six months?
Last three months?
After the results, she said, “Good! Those are pretty good odds!”
Ms. Horn continued, “I think it’s important for actors to understand the process from where the Casting Director is coming from. It always is incredible to me, these classes that are taught by actors, because I don’t understand how actors would know anything except for their own experience of auditioning. Also, as good as Agents are, they don’t a lot of times understand what the Casting Director needs and I feel like sometimes Agents, even if they are really good Agents, can sometimes give their talent really bad advise because they don’t understand what the Casting Director is actually looking for. So I thought we would start off with your pictures and submission process and how to be the most effective within that, then we’ll move on to once you’re going to the audition and basic kind of etiquette and in the audition itself.”
She went on, “As most of you know, the market in Los Angeles is absolutely enormous if you’re trying to be an actor. I was an actor in London and Chicago and it is nothing compared to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Casting Directors tend to specialize. That’s why I only do commercials. There are some Casting Directors that do features and who do television projects. Pretty much, I can speak to commercials. In any given submission, if I am looking for a category that is 25-30 or 30-40 Caucasian men, I will get, only from agent submissions, about 3000 submissions. That’s 3000 individual pictures that I will get submissions for and that’s for one role. So the amount of information that a Casting Director gets is enormous! That goes down a little bit if you’re ethnic, but what tends to happens is that Casting Directors tend to spate Caucasians, then all ethnicities. Just because you’re an ethnic group, you still will be lumped in with another 2000 people, so it’s a lot of competition. That thumbnail (photo) that you have is so important. Is everyone here on LA Casting? That’s the only one that I use (referring to electronic submission databases for actors). I know that there are other ones out there, but because of so many pictures that I get, realistically, I have enough to look through. I don’t need to be on multiple services. I think most Casting Directors feel the same way, but that’s just me. You want to put yourself in a Casting Director’s position.”
Ms. Horn continued, regarding headshots, “Your Agents will say to keep your headshots kind of ‘neutral.’ You don’t want to take yourself out of any part. I think that’s really bad advice because if you think about it as a Casting Director, I’m looking for a Mom or a business person or policewoman or whatever it is, if I have to spend an extra 20 seconds thinking, ‘you know if her hair was different or blah, blah, blah,’ I’m not going to do it. I’m going to be drawn to the faces for what I’m looking for…’that looks like a Mom, that looks like a Mom…’ so it’s really important to have a few different pictures. I also don’t think you should go crazy with that because when I click on the different pictures and somebody has fifteen pictures in essentially different Halloween costumes [laughter]…I think that person has a level of taste that probably means they are not very smart, and I don’t know if I really want to audition them. That’s often what I’m not looking for. You want to have 4-5 pictures (online) that are helpful to show a Casting Director different things. If you have curly hair, it’s nice to see what it looks like straight or if you have glasses, it’s good to see what that looks like. A kind of Mom look, a slightly more upscale look…” She then stressed that since our pictures are a thumbnail size online, that ¾ photos or a full body shot as our primary photo is not helpful, but thought having one full body shot that “truly represents you” today is helpful.
She then said, “If you’re an athlete or something like that, you should have a picture that shows that. If you have a special skill, you should have a picture that shows that. When I say ‘special skill, let me clarify. This is Los Angeles and like I said, with 3000 submissions, if you’re not really, really, really good at something, you can’t do it and don’t really put it on your resume. Take it with a grain of salt. When somebody is looking for yoga in Los Angeles, we mean people who are on Yoga Magazine because I’ll get 50 of those people. Killian added, “Even accents as well. We can tell when you’re not from Brooklyn no matter how well you think you do it because we have people from Brooklyn here.”
Ms. Horn added, “I went to drama school. Lots of people did. No one can do every accent. You really can’t. You might be able to do one other than your own really, really, really well, but even that’s rare, so unless you’re actually native, be careful about that stuff. Again, competition here is huge and there is going to be people in these categories who really, really, really excel at this stuff. If you do have a special skill, it’s good to have a picture that represents that…if it’s surfing, snowboarding, have a shot of it. Those are the ones I’m clicking on.”
Ms. Horn then moved on stating, “The other thing that’s really important and this is also, I think, a larger issue that actors struggle with (and Killian’s class really helps people figure this out) is… this is the reason why I think I never really became successful as an actor. I didn’t figure this out early on in my career which is, what is it that you have to sell? Everybody has something different and it’s not a ‘pretty competition.’ The prettiest girl doesn’t always win. The prettiest picture, the most handsome guy or the most cut figure, doesn’t always win. There are lots of different roles, so really take a realistic look at yourself and what is it that you do best?”
Killian added, “That’s what I say in class all the time. Don’t be a character in commercials. The reason that everybody looks like you in the lobby is because that’s who we want to book. We want to book you. Be you when you come into that room. It can be varying degrees of you, but don’t be a character. Figure out what you do well and do that.”
Ms. Horn said, “You’re going to be able to bring to that, if it’s already innate in you, you’re going to be able to do that better than the other people who are pretending to do or be that. I think in acting schools and with Agents sometimes, hopefully they are still not giving this advice of ‘you don’t want to be type cast.’ You want to be type cast! [laughter] That means you’re working! Really think about that and be realistic about it. Don’t try to have a picture that’s prettier than what you are. If your picture took a make-up artist and an hour to do your hair and I’ve chosen that picture and you come into my office because you got the call an hour and a half ago and you are in Hollywood and it’s in Santa Monica, if you can’t look like that…you know what I mean? The pictures should be stuff that on any given day, you can pretty much approximate. I get it if you can’t straighten your hair and stuff like that.”
Killian then told us a funny story, “Alyson is my brutally honest friend, mentor and advice-giver. I got pictures taken recently. One shot was really hot. It was a total fluke and I loved it! I showed her and she loved it and said, ‘but please do not put that up on LA Casting.’ And I said, ‘but that’s my favorite shot’ and she said ‘yeah…but you don’t look like that. You’re going to get called in for those roles and you’re standing next to these hot guys and you’re not going to get it.’ [laughter] And I didn’t take that badly. In my class, I tell that to people. There was a girl in it and I said, ‘what is it you do here’ because she was very, very funny. I asked her, ‘What is your thing?’ and she said ‘I model’. I said ‘I’m sorry, but you’re not.’ Why waste time? There’s no time to waste.”
Ms. Horn continued, “There’s nothing more damaging to your ego than if you have some picture that makes you look totally different than you are and then you’re sitting in a lobby full of people who really do look like that…Don’t do that to yourself! Don’t give us a shot 20 years and pounds ago. That carries over in less dramatic ways. If you get pregnant and your body is different after the pregnancy, change your pictures. Your pictures need to represent what you look like now. Also, because there is so much stuff with men. This is something that is so confusing to me. If your head is shaved, if you have a picture with a full head of hair and a shot with your head shaved, what do you look like now? I don’t know, so you know what? I’m not going to pick you because you might show up looking like an ax murderer and or you might show up looking like casual Dad. Sometimes I need a shaved head. Sometimes I don’t. It totally changes your look. Women, when you colored your hair…am I supposed to guess if you’re a redhead now or a brunette when my clients specifically told me that they want 70% of the session to be a brunette? Don’t make me guess. I won’t pick you. There’s 3000 other pictures. I don’t know how it works with LA Casting to be changing what not, but I’m telling you, you have to do it. It’s your job. I need to know what you look like now. Weight and all that stuff…even on your profile, make sure your weight and sizes are correct.”
Then addressing parents with young performers in the room, she said, “Parents with kids. You have to have pictures of what your kid looks like now. I know they change a lot. Again, I don’t know the prices for pictures and all that kind of stuff, but your money is better spent getting the right there than paying for some fancy photographer. All these pictures are color now. I would have a friend take their pictures or shoot them yourselves. Just make sure they are accurate. I can’t tell you the amount of times I did kids sessions and there’s a five-year-old and I’m looking at pictures at kids who are two and three! I’m not picking them. Think about that with kids. It is really important especially if your child is big for their age or small for their age. We really need that information. It’s really helpful to us. Again, the more confusing you make it, we’re not going to pick you. We’re not going to spend the five extra seconds to figure it out. I’ve usually looked at all 3000 pictures because I’m a bit OCD freak. It’s really got to grab me.”
For, or at, auditions-
Ms. Horn said when coming to her office for an audition, “Our offices are our offices. Would you go to a corporate office and ask to use their stapler or go into their kitchen and get water?”
- Actors who have headshots with glasses or contacts and men who are clean shaven or with whiskers – Bring both headshots.
- Women with long hair-Always bring an elastic scrunchy to tie your hair back with.
- Wardrobe notes are important. Example: Ms. Horn casts the SoCal Honda spots and all the men auditioning have to be clean shaven.
- It’s important to understand the spot’s concept and finding the joke if it’s a comedic spot.
- Take the temperature of the room especially with callbacks.
- Always have 4 looks in your car.
Ms. Horn randomly selected four actors for a mock audition. It was great to see them up on their feet with Ms. Horn’s re-directs. “Cheat out” especially with two person scenes. Killian added, “Cheating out doesn’t feel natural, but when actors do it well, it looks natural.” Afterward, Ms. Horn said, “With the four people I chose, I was really impressed with them at least as competent actors.”
Killian and Ms. Horn created a class solely on callbacks because they noticed in sessions that actors continually did a couple of things that kept them from booking. They said that 30% of people from their class booked a commercial within four weeks of taking it. To learn more, visit the class website.
Thank you to Alyson Horn and Killian McHugh for a very informative and enlightening seminar!
For more information please visit Alyson Horn’s website.