Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
On March 28, we had the privilege of having veteran casting director Valerie McCaffrey as our Inside the Industry Seminar guest speaker.
From 1985-1994, Ms. McCaffrey was a casting executive at Universal Studios. She cast James Cromwell in BABE which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination. She also cast John Woo’s first American film HARD TARGET along with Sam Raimi’s first studio feature DARK MAN among many others. From 1994-2000, Ms. McCaffrey was the Vice President of Feature Film Casting for New Line/Fine Line Films. Among many highlights of her career, she cast Edward Norton in AMERICAN HISTORY X which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
Speaking of her studio experience, the warm and personable Ms. McCaffrey began, “It was a fabulous opportunity. Then in the year 2000, I became independent…I was independent before that! [laughter] I have been working on independent films luckily for nine years. It’s so great and I’m so happy because I can use the training that I had at a studio level to cross over to independent movies. I always say there’s no deal I can’t make as long as both sides are willing to talk and compromise, there are always ways of making deals. I have learned that a lot at the studio level and I also learned the politics of being in a studio. You carry that across wherever you are because it doesn’t matter whether you are the President of the United States or working anywhere in my business and your business, there are the politics of it. We all recognize that, I’m sure as actors, you also recognize that this is a business. And that yes… they go to the ‘names’ (for roles) because they have to because there are private investors writing checks out of their accounts and they want to make sure at least they have a 50% chance of getting their money back. Nowadays I find it kind of refreshing that people are actually more willing in some weird way to write a check for making a movie because they know where the money is going. You know what I mean? It’s not some ‘bonus!’ [laughter]”
An actor asked with the electronic world of casting about the need for hard copy headshots at auditions. Ms. McCaffrey replied, “Believe it or not, even if they say submit electronically, you need to bring a hard copy (headshot) because that’s what they have. They’re not that sophisticated yet. Depending on how many people are in the room, bring more than one. Let’s say you hand it to the director or the casting person, if there’s another person in the room, wouldn’t it be nice for them to look at your resume as well? Be generous with it. And always keep your headshots in your car. Always keep them at arms’ reach because my goodness, we live in Los Angeles! You never know. You’ll be at a market standing in line and someone might be there! Remember, you are your own marketing person.”
When an actor asked about preparing for a period film audition, Ms. McCaffrey sited the director of a current film she was casting, “He comes heavily from theatre. Now…we all have to think about being versatile and doing different accents and being able to spread our craft. I think he is willing to see or willing to listen to anybody that can A) actually handle the material, and B) be able to do that with or without an accent. What would you do to prepare for that? (a period film audition) You would probably watch a lot of movies in that period and gain a lot of insight into that. There is a certain rhythm of language. There are certain things you do to prepare for something like that because obviously we don’t have a lot of these auditions here in town. So that’s actually a very good question. But I think like anything if you want to learn something, you go out and research it by watching movies that can help you with the preparation. As far as the audition, the audition would be like any other audition.” Also, if you don’t have an accent mastered at 100%, don’t do it.
When asked about building acting reels with our various work, Ms. McCaffrey said, “Where’s that student film that you did incredible work on? Where’s the footage for that? You guys are doing student films. Are you signing those agreements that within six months that you actually will get footage and you’re guaranteed to get footage? You’re not getting paid but my goodness, you should be able to get scenes from these movies. I meet a lot of actors that say ‘I did a lot of student films but I don’t have any footage and the reason I did the student films was because I wanted to have something for my reel.’ Make it very clear to whomever you are speaking with of these directors because listen, they’re desperate to make their film. They want to make their thesis movie or they want to make their graduate film…say ‘Listen, as long as I get my scenes within a certain period of time, I don’t care what you do with your movie but I want to be able to have my scenes on a reel so I can use it for my work. That’s the whole point.” She also suggested to have actor reels be professionally produced and to smartly edit scenes with other characters to make the clips as much about you as possible. Ms. McCaffrey would prefer DVDs with clips of actors’ work or links that go straight to the work, so she doesn’t have to surf the web to find it.
When asked how an actor gets her attention, Ms. McCaffrey said, “I am always admiring an actor who has read the script. Who has not only memorized the material but has gone beyond memorization. Someone who prepares and has put a lot of thought into the material. That’s what is going to get my attention.”
When an actor asked about paying an agent commission on self obtained work, Ms. McCaffrey said, “Again, we’ll go back to ‘it’s a business’….if you are making an agent money, guess what they’re going to be doing for you? Let them get the money and cut you a check. It is a reminder that first of all, you are doing good faith by paying them because they’ve worked hard for you and even if they haven’t been the one who booked the part for you, it doesn’t matter. The fact is, that you need that agency in order to feel like you’re out there and someone wants you and is representing you. So be very nice to your agents and let them handle the money. That way, they don’t feel like, ‘Oh he didn’t pay me for this and what’s going on?’ It’s like this bad taste in your mouth. ‘I’m working for this guy and even though he may not get in on as many auditions as I put him in on, but at least I’m trying.’ The trying part is what you guys don’t see, so I would be very nice to my agents. What about going in and handing him a check and saying, ‘Thanks a lot for all your hard work.’ Politics my friend!”
Doing theatre? “That’s great training and good experience.”
“How many times have you had an opportunity you weren’t prepared for?”
“I usually don’t do electronic submissions.”
“I am not a postcard person.”
“Everything you do (as an actor) is a presentation.”
“Pilot season is a terrible time to get representation obviously.”
An actor asked how much influence Ms. McCaffrey had in the final casting decisions with her directors. She said, “A lot. I’m very opinionated if you haven’t figured it out! I am opinionated because if someone wants to hire me for being a ‘yes person’ then they can hire anyone to cast the movie. I’m really very particular because it’s my work. I want the movie to be good and sometimes choices are made for other reasons and not based on their craft. I’ve worked with a lot of different personalities and they always, I think, appreciate the fact that I do care.”
Ms. Caffrey said, “I studied acting when I was younger and I always knew I wanted to be in the business. I did a little bit and realized that I was too dark and that if they wanted to cast an Armenian girl they weren’t at that point yet…they might be at this point now. I also like to kind of be in control of my life. You guys are angels doing what you do.”
Hosting this seminar was a joy! Thank you Ms. McCaffrey!