Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
How fortunate we were to have Casting Director, Howard Meltzer, as our Inside the Industry Seminar guest speaker on April 25!!! As the host of these valuable and free events for the past four years, I can say that it was one of our very best, fun and interactive seminars ever! By the way, over 1600actors submitted for tickets and we had a full house of lucky and enthusiastic attendees!
After the first half hour of questions and answers, Mr. Meltzer also did a “mock” casting session where he had three different sets of actors up on the stage “auditioning” while reading a scene. It was easy to tell why casting is a challenging job as each set of actors ALL brought something unique and interesting to their scenes. It was an enlightening exercise for all and showed how the casting process is a difficult one.
In case you do not know who Mr. Meltzer is, he is one half of the partnership in Goldwasser/Meltzer Casting with longtime Casting Director Carol Goldwasser. Mr. Meltzer is currently casting two series. The first being Hannah Montana for Disney Channel which is consistently the #1 scripted cable television show weekly according to Neilsen ratings! He is also working on The JumpArounds (Nick Jr.), The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (Nickelodeon-TV Movie), and Back To Bacharach and David (Theater – Musical Review). Howard cast 5 pilots for Disney Channel and Nickelodeon in 2008; he’s always on the lookout for new talent! Some of his recent projects are – Spectacular! (Nickelodeon-Movie of the Week), Out of Jimmy’s Head (Cartoon Network), The 1/2 Hour News Hour (FOX News Channel/20th-Pilot & Series), The Troop (Nickelodeon-Pilot), Generations (CBS/DreamWorks-Pilot) American Dad (FBC/20th-Pilot), Stroller Wars (CBS/Sony-Pilot), Now What? (UPN/20th), and Untitled
Michael Jacobs (FBC/Sony-Pilot).
Prior to partnering with Carol, Howard was a staff Casting Director with Stuart Howard Associates in New York City. Broadway: The Graduate, Fortune’s Fool, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, Elaine May’s Taller Than A Dwarf, Honour, Epic Proportions, Annie Get Your Gun (Revival), Fosse, Chicago (Revival), Annie (Revival) and Grease (Revival).
When an actor asked if an Agent hadn’t submitted a headshot/resume and what he felt about self-submissions from an actor, Mr. Meltzer said, “Here’s the thing, it is extremely challenging for actors to get past the guards and the goalies to get on my desk for me to look at a picture and resume.”
“There are two things I’m going to talk about. Casting for a project that I have ten or twelve weeks to cast like a TV pilot. When we’re casting a pilot, I don’t want to say we have the “luxury” of time, but they give us a lot of time to make sure we find the right cast. If we put out a Breakdown, there’s not like this quick time limit of when I need to see it [a headshot/resume]. Of course, I want to see things ASAP, but the pilot is not shooting for months and I have ten weeks to cast it, so very often when people self-submit, I will get a chance to look at it.”
“It’s not like that on an episodic. On an episodic, they’re writing [the episode] very, very, very quickly. At the beginning of the season on Hannah, usually I get a script for the episode, I’d say any place between a week to two weeks before we’re going to have a table read. It takes five days to shoot our show. We’re a multi-camera, situation comedy. Monday morning we have this thing called a table read, where literally the series regulars and the large guest cast roles sit around a table and read the script. This is for the writers to hear if the jokes that they wrote, that they imagined…. ‘wouldn’t it be funny if Miley said’ or ‘wouldn’t be funny if Jackson did….’ to see if those jokes fly. And if they don’t, they will continue to punch up the script until the time we shoot. That’s Mondays. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are run thru days. Studio run thru on Tuesday. Network run thru on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday we shoot the show. Cameras are rolling. On Thursdays, we do this thing called a block and shoot and we do everything that might be challenging to shoot in front of a live studio audience. If anyone’s watched the show, you’ ll understand how I’m describing it. We have a lot of pie in the face humor. Sometimes it’s literally a pie in the face. Anything like that would be hard to shoot in front of a studio audience, so we pre-shoot that on Thursdays. On Fridays, we have ablock and shoot in the morning and then Friday afternoon, we have a live studio audience to come in to watch the show and it’s that really great, fantastic…I call it like a curtain’s up kind of feeling because there’s this live response and they know what jokes aren’t working absolutely. They’ll find that possibly the joke that wasn’t really working on Monday, still isn’t working [laughter] …..or we’ll find that now with a fresh set of ears, it’s hysterical and it’s tickling an eight year old’s funny bone and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
He continued, “Getting back to your question, as the season goes on, I sometimes don’t get the script for that Monday morning table read until Friday night at 6:20, so if I’m setting up a session, there’s no way you’ll be able to get it to me humanly possible for me to even see it. So very often, I’ll get things self-submitted and if the roles are already cast, I don’t even open the envelope. I just toss it. I have tons and tons of mail. That’s something that’s already done. That’s the part that’s unfortunate.”
When an actor asked about submissions by hardcopy or electronically from Agents, Mr. Meltzer said, “99% of the time, it’s electronically because things happen so quickly. Electronic submissions have really changed the way I cast because I have been casting forever. I used to rely on paper submissions, so Agencies and Managers would messenger over the hardcopy submissions and there are two parts to this story, so really listen. Casting Directors would ‘cherry pick’ and go open up the envelopes that we would consider being from the ‘good’ Agents first and the others would just sit there. Doing things electronically has changed it because I’m getting things immediately. If I put out a Breakdown and if I put out something even very broad….let’s say I’m looking for Mom#1, co-star role, 32-37, any ethnicity, strong comedy, then there will be some sort of little character description of what’s going on. I can get 1700 submissions in two hours. It’s amazing because there are so many actors in Los Angeles. If I put something out very broadly, meaning with a wide age range and any ethnicity, it’s a huge response. But the good thing is because I get it electronically now, I can look at everything. If I have the luxury of time and sometimes Carol and I have a few hours to go through submissions (Carol is my business partner), I’ll have time to really look at every single submission. If I’m playing beat the clock which happens a lot, I will just scan and look at faces that I recognize…’Oh great! I love her. Let’s set her up’ or ‘Oh that’s nice, I’ve never met her before! Let’s do a pre-read.’ That’s how I do it. I can shoot through so much electronically, so the good thing is that I do open the net way wider than I ever thought and I’m not looking at Agents and who is submitting. I’m looking at the actors first. That’s 99% of the time. When I’m casting a pilot or a TV movie and they give me ten to twelve weeks, I will put on the Breakdown ‘electronic submissions preferred,’ but if you can’t submit electronically, you can hardcopy it and we do go through it. I have a lot of interns and we shoot through everything. I try to look at everything that’s sent to me if it’s within the time allowed. Sometimes, there’s someone great!”
A very funny moment came when a young performer asked, “If you see somebody that you cast and you think they’re really amazing, would you recommend them to other producers?” Mr. Meltzer said, “I’m very, very selfish. No!” [laughter] He continued, “Casting Directors (and this is not a secret), we’re really competitive. Let’s say I’m doing auditions and I meet someone who is really fantastic and he’d be great for a possible Miley boyfriend on the show. If you watch any television show, it’s written with a formula. I know that I am going to need, not this week but in two weeks, a cute guy who looks like he’s 17 years old, who is hysterically funny and be perfect for a Miley love interest on the show. I’m not going to call my friend at Nickelodeon and tell her so they can be on True Jackson. I’m going to keep him all for me. So no, no. I would never tell. The secret’s with me.”
When another young performer asked Mr. Meltzer how excited he was to meet new kids (young actors) from other states, he replied, “Carol and I love doing that. I’m going to elaborate and tell the story. When actors are out of college or high school and they are all over the country, usually at that point if they want to have a professional career, they often will move East or West. They’ll either move to New York or sometimes they go to Chicago and end up going to New York or they’ll go West to Los Angeles because these are the largest markets (for the entertainment industry) in the country. Those are people who are done with school and are not living at home anymore. When we’re casting and a lot of the shows I cast have young adults and kids in it, I’m assuming that there might be some fantastic kid who is living with his parents in Texas because he’s nine and he has homework to do, so that’s why he hasn’t moved to LA on his own. That’s our job to scout all over the country for kids that might be good for projects. A little more than two years ago, Carol and I were hired to do this Disney talent search for the Disney Channel. We went to large cities. We went to Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, New York and Chicago to look for kids, not for a specific role, but who might be right for the types of shows Disney Channel might be casting over the next year to year in a half. Prior to going, we had a meeting with the Execs there and they gave us some idea of the types of shows that they might be working on. So, you meet a lot of kids, you put them on tape and you keep track of them because the kid who was fantastic, who might be great at 11, by the time I’m casting something, he might be the right age. This kid, Logan Henderson, we met in Dallas, actually is the lead of the pilot we cast this year. He is the perfect age at the right time. Demi Lovato who has done the movie Camp Rock and now Disney’sSonny With a Chance, we met on that talent search. We’ve met a lot of kids. Carol and I keep notes and we remember them. That’s what we do.”
Does he do pre-reads? “It depends when I get the script. Seriously, if I get the script a week and a half ahead of time, which happens….not often anymore, I’ll do pre-reads even if it’s a three line role, I can set up 60 people. And the actors in the waiting room are like, ‘Why are you meeting so many people? It’s a two or three line role?’ It’s because it gives me time to meet new people which is my job and getting back to being very competitive. Carol and I want to make sure we are going to be able to see as many people we can for each role and not just rely on five people that we know because we are competing with every other show in town. We meet a lot of people in pre-reads that we end up maybe not casting that week, but I remember them when I get the script at 6:20PM on Friday and I can just set people up straight for Producers. It all depends on how much time I have and how many characters. Some weeks, I can have 13 guest characters on a twenty-two minute show. How is that possible?”
A young actor asked what Casting Directors are looking for (in an actor). Mr. Meltzer responded, “The first thing I look at is what you look at with all the shows you’re watching. The question you asked is very smart. I’m looking for the next Nick Jonas, I’m looking for the next Demi Lovato. I’m looking for the next Miley Cyrus. It sounds so goofy sounding but I’m looking for the next Disney star, I’m looking for a sitcom star. I’m looking for a kid who is appropriate to be on our shows, age appropriate because they usually play around 14 when they start the series, who is hysterically funny, who is disciplined (meaning disciplined with their choices as an actor) that we can give them a script, they know how to analyze it on their own, they make smart choices, they’re very directable, they are easy to work with, their parents are lovely, their parents are lovely. [laughter] Those are the things we look for. It’s a process. There’s not usually an instant ‘Oh my gosh! I met this girl. She’s never done anything. I’m going to put her in this show!’ It’s usually a process. Sometimes actors can come in dozens of times before everyone feels confident. It’s hard work. Adult actors usually forget that they know it, but for kids, it’s incredibly hard work because not only are you carrying a show on your back, you have homework to do! You’ve got to do your homework. You’ve got to take out the trash. “
- “Demo reels are great if I’m asking to see it. When I ask to see it, it’s really important.”
- “The reason I will go to someone’s website, is if I want to find out more about them. If I’m already interested in an actor for whatever reason or if I’m not familiar with their work, I’m following up. They have links to their work on it, they have press….yeah, that’s fantastic! I’ll go to it when I need it.”
- Mr. Meltzer highly recommended doing theatre for all actors especially younger performers.
When asked, should actor headshots look very professional with you at your best or should they just look like you, Mr. Meltzer said, “Yes and yes. It does because the thing I do most all day is say ‘No’. I say ‘No’ way more than I say’ Yes,’ so don’t give people (Casting Directors) a reason to eliminate you before you’ve gotten in the room. Yes, it should look like you on a regular Tuesday morning at 10:30AM. This is the big thing. It shouldn’t look like you on your wedding day. [laughter] Kids will notice. They will look at their parents wedding pictures and be like, ‘Oh Mommy, you look beautiful!’ She never looks like that! [laughter] She doesn’t. First thing, it is hopefully the happiest day of her life, so she’s glowing. She dieted down a few sizes….because she knew her little girl would be looking at the album someday. She’s wearing the most expensive dress she’s ever had in her entire life or ever will, she had a hair stylist, a make-up artist. Of course she looks great, it’s her wedding day! Here’s the thing I don’t like. Sometimes I’ll bring actors in and ask, ‘who is this?’ It’s your audition – just look like you a on a regular, casual day. It should be a good picture because you don’t want to give people a reason to say ‘no’ before they’ve ever met you. “
On a personal note, after Mr. Meltzer gave out the scenes to the actors who were randomly chosen to read in our “mock” audition, I thanked him and mentioned how he really helped me as an actor with his re-direct when I read for HANNAH MONTANA in the past. I mentioned that often with one hour episodics with the success of shows’ like THE OFFICE, we are told to be “real” and almost flat or dry in our delivery. For Hannah, he suggested that I bring my energy up in my read. The scene was more heightened because it was Disney. Every television show on the air is different in style. In the seminar, Mr. Meltzer said, “What every actor should do is watch a lot of television. There are so many actors who come in…. and my show has been on for three seasons. You can’t put on Disney Channel for more than an hour and not see an episode of Hannah. It’s on all the time. Or if you want to, you could download an episode but why spend $2.00? You could go on YouTube for free and watch clips of it. There’s no excuse at all for any actor who has never seen my show. But there are still actors who come into the audition and say, ‘Oh no, I’ve never watched it.’ How would you know the style of the comedy? Every show has its own style. So many actors try to treat their careers kind of haphazardly. If you were a Theatre major, you’d learn the different styles of drama, so if you got a script and you didn’t know the author because it’s a new author, but I said it was in the style of Tennessee Williams or it’s the style of Neil Simon but not Neil Simon the “memory” plays when they were kind of sad but Neil Simon Barefoot In the Park when they were written more in a sitcom style.”
Mr. Meltzer told the funny story of when he had been nominated for the Casting Society of America’s Artios Awards nine times and said, “I was beginning to feel like Susan Lucci,” but when he won his first of two Artios Awards, he said, “It’s going to sound goofy but it was truly the happiest day of my professional life.”
In my opinion, those two Artios Awards were very well deserved. Mr Meltzer was very knowledgeable, warm, candid, funny and engaging! What struck me additionally was his respect and encouragement to the young performers in the Seminar too. Thanks you Mr. Meltzer for a terrific and enlightening morning!