Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
How fortunate we were to have veteran Casting Director, Victoria Burrows, as our guest speaker on August 28 at Casting Network’s free Inside the Industry Seminar!
Here is Ms. Burrows bio-
Renowned Casting Director – Victoria Burrows’ career spans 30 years in both film and television industries. Ms. Burrows started working in the casting field with top independent Casting Director, Ramsay King. She apprenticed under Ramsay for 3 years before helming her first show, an After School Special titledJust Pals. Ms. Burrows expanded her casting experience to include film by joining the talented Barbara Claman. While working with Barbara Claman, Ms. Burrows focused on independent films during her employment. From there, she was asked to join the newly created Stephen Cannell Productions casting team in 1985. Victoria’s casting roster included: 21 Jump Street, Wiseguy, The A-Team, Riptide and Stingray. After two years, Ms. Burrows decided to go independent – casting high profile series such as MacGyver, Tales from the Crypt, Werewolf, Diagnosis Murder, Dynasty, The Colby’s and Martial Law. In 2000, Ms. Burrows offered a partnership to Casting Director, Scot Boland, thus creating Burrows/Boland Casting. Ms. Burrows and Mr. Boland love casting and being able to identify and support talented artists in their pursuit of acting.
I was especially proud when Ms. Burrows said “yes” to my invitation to speak because I knew that she very rarely did any kind of industry seminar or panel. I had previously met her a year ago. I was thrilled at our seminar by her warmth, humor and still great enthusiasm for actors and casting after so many years in the business.
When Ms. Burrows began, she suggested that before you meet with someone or hear someone speak, as in at our seminar, to look the person up on IMDB or do a little research. You will have an advantage.
She told us how she got her start in show business, “I’ve been doing this now for 30 years. I started in 1978. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I am still in that place even if I am enjoying what I do. My mother was an astrologer and she said, ‘middle management and the arts,’ so I kind of put that together, [laughter] well I keep getting fired from every job I do outside the business, maybe I’ll try something in (in the business), so I started looking at the Hollywood Reporter and looked at casting. ‘Oh, it’s a buyer and not a seller. I get to work with actors and the money. I like that’. That’s how I came up with casting, so I started looking for casting jobs. I interviewed with a man by the name of Ramsay King. I did not get the job and did not know why. Of course, I had no education for it, no training, no nothing. I just thought I could do it. Six months later, after working in soft porn distribution [laughter] … I was the front office girl only! There was nothing to be embarrassed about. I was paying my rent. We all know that job. Then I saw the Ramsay King job come open again and I called his assistant who was named Kevin, a female and I begged her. She said that he didn’t want to see anybody who he saw before and I said, ‘I want this!’ Somehow I convinced her to get me in the door with him. I sat down in front of him, yet again six months later, and he goes, ‘I’ve seen you before.’ I think I became like an actor at that moment because I said, ‘I guess I’m going to keep coming back until I get it right.’ Because that’s what we do as actors, right? One of these days, it’s going to hit. So I walked out because he didn’t give me any inkling, so I called over and told Kevin that I had gotten fired from my other job because I was released that job that day. It was a temp job. I said that I would work for free until they got someone else. He called me up that night and he goes, ‘So I hear you want to be a casting secretary.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ He said, ‘That’s all I want. I don’t want a Casting Director. I want a casting secretary.’ I said, ‘That’s exactly what I want to be in my life!’ [laughter] He asked, ‘How much are you making?’ I was making $150 bucks a week. I said, ‘$175’. He said, ‘Okay, you’re in. Start tomorrow.’ I was shocked. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never even been a secretary before other than answering phones at the soft porn place. So I show up the next day, open the door and Kevin says, ‘Okay, now you’re pissing me off. You’re stalking us.’ I said, ‘No I’m not! I got the job!’ [laughter] That was a start in a career in casting. Three weeks later, I got a raise because I came in extra early and left extra late. That’s before FedEx, Xerox, and fax machines. It was a wonderful job and I learned a lot. I worked for Ramsay for about three years.”
She went on to cast her own After School Special and went on to work with other well-known Casting Directors and said, “I was involved with Johnny Depp getting 21 Jump Street because I was the coach in the room and for the screen test.”
Ms. Burrows continued, “I’ve been an independent (Casting Director) for at least 20-something years. That’s real scary. Like you guys, we work from job, to job, to job. We have to interview just like you do and make an impression. We have to do all the things that make them (the Producers) feel that they are being taken care of. For your job, it is us figuring out where you fit for our work. So that’s me. I’ve been real lucky but of course it has its ups and downs. I’ve just gone through a six month dry spell. It’s one of those things that we alldeal with, so we’re all on the same level.”
She said, “One of the things I think is the most important is your picture is your best agent. Unfortunately right now, the old form of handing out your picture or sending it out in the mail is not as helpful as it used to be. Now it’s all through the computers, electronics and email, so there’s a fine line there. When people ask if they can send me their picture and resume, you can send it and I can look at it, but for the most part, unless I am looking for that role or something that you fit in at that time, your picture ends up in the trash. That’s hard because it’s like throwing away a dollar of yours every time that happens. If you send it out to 100 Casting Directors, that’s $100 and if it doesn’t affect them at that moment, it’s going to go away.” She mentioned her use of theCast It electronic database that Casting Directors use and also said, “IMDB (www.imdb.com ) is wonderful.” If you have a photo on IMDB, she can download it to her files electronically.
Ms. Burrows said about Agents and Managers, “In terms of the Agents, you want to make sure that you have someone who actually believes in you. You have to ‘court’ your Agent and Manager. An Agent basically throws as much out to see what sticks. A Manager is there for grooming a career.”
“You have to be specific on what you’re looking for and for what you feel you need. You also need to figure out who you want to be out there. If you’re saying to us, ‘Oh, I can be anything,’ then we are clearly getting the fact that you just are more desperate. You want to just do something just to do something instead of defining who you are because you can’t really be a chameleon. No one is really a chameleon in acting. You do something well. Figure out what it is, then market it. Then, use it once you get a little bit of popularity or fame, then you transition it. It happens all the time.” Ms. Burrows then sited Suzanne Sommers’ and Farrah Fawcett’s careers and then said “Think in terms of what you do well. If you ‘give good rapist,’ [laughter] then be the best one out there, then transition it or the best bimbo, then do that….it’s all a plus. It’s all good. We’ve had actors in recently that have said to us that ‘I keep on going out on all these prostitute roles’ and I’m looking at her outfit because it’s supposed to be Prada because our show is called Prada Tonada and I’m thinking, ‘Well you’re dressed like a hooker! It’s Prada.’ It’s sometimes thinking that and you’re there. It’s believing the character that you are. We see it when you come into the room and you are. If you don’t believe yourself in the role, you’re not going to convince us.”
She continued with a story, “I called an Agent yesterday and this is a good example also for you guys because it just came up for me. It’s a brand new agency that I’ve seen on the meter. They had submitted some actors for Prada Tonada. Now both of the female actors’ roles are lead roles in the films. It’s a dramedy which is drama and comedy. I am one of those casting directors who does not worry about the credits. If something affects me by a picture, I will pull you in and you will have the shot. Now this young girl’s picture, I thought there may be something there. She came in and wore her little Prada dress and she sat down. She said she was okay sitting and she basically read the scene. No emotion, no nothing! She read the scene. She didn’t even look at my partner, the Casting Director. So….why is she here? Why does she think that she can actually be a lead in a feature film? That’s what you need to protect yourself with is if you aren’t ready, don’t embarrass yourself and your agency going out for that. Have that conversation. Say ‘Do you really feel I’m ready for a lead? Do I feel I’m ready for a lead to carry a film for two hours?’ Because that’s what we ask. I looked at my partner and said, ‘I don’t want to look at her for two hours!’ It happens. That’s what this business is. It is a visual business. That’s eye candy. That’s character. I called the Agent after my session and said, ‘I want to know why you sent her in’ and he really didn’t have an answer. He said, ‘Well, she’s done two reality shows. I said, ‘I don’t care. I was the star of a reality show and I am not an actor. The problem is that I don’t understand why you as an Agent are thinking in your mind that this woman can represent your company and all the other actors in it, to come in and read for a lead in a film and she has no clue! He said, ‘Well, I only went by her resume. I said, ’You really need to check that because at this point in time, I, Victoria do not trust one person that you submit to me at all, so now everyone suffers in your agency because of that.’ So in that, there’s a responsibility and that’s why I share that with you guys, is that, you’ve got to know who your Agent is, you’ve got to understand what he’s sending you out for and you’ve got to make sure they know where you are as an actor, whether you put something together on tape and show it to them and then discuss it. If they aren’t into that, then you’ve got to be pro-active with the way you are going to make choices. His response to me when it was all said and done was, ‘I hear what you’re saying.’ I said, ‘I’m so thankful because that really changed my life.’
One of the things I most enjoy with our seminar guests who are Casting Directors, especially the caliber of Ms. Burrows, is to have them do a “mock” audition with our attendees. We had all the actors interested in reading for Ms. Burrows put their names in and we had two lovely young actors draw the eight lucky actors’ names and read them aloud. I particularly liked the way Ms. Burrows did it because she treated it like a real audition. She did not pair people up like in many cold reading workshops to read their scene together but instead read each actor individually up on the stage with another actor “off camera” as the reader. It was fascinating to see the great, although different, choices each actor made and to hear Ms. Burrows direction and redirects. Again, it gave us an idea firsthand of how challenging the job of a Casting Director is.
Ms. Burrows also did a fun “show & tell” demonstration of various actors’ headshots she had collected over the years to suggest some do’s and don’t’s. Some of her headshot comments were-
“Your picture is your best agent.”
“Eyes are the window to the soul. What makes you stand out?”
“I still like black & white headshots.”
When Ms. Burrows held up a photo of a scantily clad male actor, she said, “This is not a good photo. I am not focusing on their eyes and talent!” Equally, with a scantily clad female’s bikini shot she said, “She’s a brunette!”
When submitting to and reading for a Casting Director-
“Don’t submit yourself for a one-line role AND a lead role. Guess where I’m going to put you? I’m going to put you in the one-line role because that’s what you’re looking at, both. Obviously, you’re not qualified to do both, otherwise you would never submit yourself for one liner if you are a lead.”
Pet Peeves- “Don’t touch us. We don’t want to hear your life story. I don’t want to hear excuses. Come in prepared vs. unprepared. It is pretty obvious when somebody is unprepared.”
“Use the room and take charge of the room.”
Ms. Burrows is also an avid advocate for animal rights, rescue and adoption which is a longtime Ms. ion of hers. To find out more, please visitwww.starpawsrescue.com. Thank you Ms. Burrows for a most enlightening and entertaining seminar!