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Synopsis by Erin Jennings

We were fortunate to have a guest from across the pond for not one, but TWO Inside the Industry Seminars in January. Casting Director Mark Summers brought his energy and enthusiasm to Hollywood for back-to-back “Master Classes,” the first for adults, and the second for teens/parents. This synopsis will include topics covered in both seminars.

Here’s Mark’s bio –

Mark Summers began his career as an actor, training at the world-famous Barbara Speake Stage School before moving into casting for Advertisements, Music Videos, Film, and world tours in both the UK and the US. He won the British Advertising Craft Award for Best Casting Director in 2003 and has since been nominated four other times. In 2010, he became an Honored Friend of LIPA (The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts), Sir Paul McCartney’s school, and in 2011, was made Mentor & Patron of The Royal Academy of Dance.

Mark has worked with some of the world’s most famous directors, and credits include feature films “East is East,” “The Boat That Rocked,” “Neverlake,” and “This Is It.” Corporate clients include: Aussie Hair Care, Boots, Dove, Haagen Daaz, IBM, Macy’s, McDonald’s, Mercedes, and Virgin, to name a few.

In addition to casting, Mark is the Creative Director of Mark Summers Dance, one of the leading dance and choreography agencies in Europe.

Mark started off by introducing himself and providing a bit of his history before jumping into his “Master Class.” His goal for the seminar was to provide helpful audition tips that could translate into more callbacks/bookings, in addition to discussing the need for marketing and networking in the career of an actor. The seminar was not intended to “teach anyone how to act,” but share common sense skills that often seem old-hat but are forgotten.

Long before you get an audition, it is important to “know your business.” As Mark said, “You are your brand…artists who get the jobs understand the business and who the players are.” A key element of this is knowing your “Unique Selling Point (USP).” Mark went around the room and had attendees stand up and share what they thought their “type” was and then get feedback from the rest of the room. He reminded us that no one is the same, and that actors often “forget what they look like.” He encouraged actors to see themselves for who/what they can play, and let go of ego. Mark went on to add, “Unless your name is Meryl Streep, you’re not going to play any role unless you fit it…If you’re fat, enjoy being fat. If you’re a camp queen, enjoy it…all of the great character actors embrace who they are. Use being different to your advantage.”

Once you have identified your USP, it’s important to apply it to relevant submissions. Mark reminded attendees to submit for roles with purpose, not for EVERYTHING you see, and to follow submission instructions from the casting director exactly. Never send ridiculously large media attachments via email to a casting director. Additionally, when submitting, know your conflicts and don’t submit or audition on any “gray areas.”

He encouraged our attendees to make sure they researched current trends in advertising and casting, including paying attention to who the big names in directing are. He put up a list of world-renowned directors who work both theatrically and commercially, and asked, by show of hands, who knew 15 of the names…10 of the names….5 of the names…down to zero. He stressed the importance of knowing who the players are in order to facilitate better networking. Mark encouraged everyone to network, and not just with other actors. He suggested going to events/locations where casting directors, directors and producers are, but cautioned, “be chill. Be normal…networking is NOT about what someone can do for you. It’s about what you can do together.”

So you got an audition? Great! Mark reminded the room that casting directors are gate-keepers, they don’t hire actors. He encouraged actors to follow these basic principles of audition etiquette:

  • No phones

  • No attitude

  • Don’t overdress

  • Be prepared

  • Fill out required forms properly and completely

  • Don’t shake everyone’s hand

  • Use additional time to prep/review sides, especially if given new material

  • For children’s casting – parents, don’t bring the entire family

  • Don’t suck up

  • Be aware of what you’re doing and who you’re talking to

  • Take direction, even if it seems stupid to you

  • Forget about the casting when it’s over

When you come in for your slate, be relaxed…be yourself. If the session director asks you about you, Mark said to talk about something other than acting. Be engaging, look directly into camera, and answer what’s asked but don’t ramble on as people are waiting. Mark reiterated the idea of being yourself and not trying too hard, saying, “sometimes what you think might be ‘cute’ is so creepy and weird on camera. A casting is a job interview—make sure you’re giving good eye contact and energy. People will make up their minds about you within seconds.”

Mark went on to say that sometimes decisions are completely out of the casting director’s control in terms of who gets callbacks. If you leave a casting feeling good about what you did, let it go – you did what you could do. If the same casting director calls you in for other jobs, you know you’re doing something right. Mark said, “I don’t believe in nepotism. If you do a good job for me, I’ll call you in again and again…If you make me look good [to my clients], I’ll make you look REALLY good.” He reinforced the idea of following the guidelines above and added, “sometimes casting directors cannot take risks. You cannot be a person who is a risk. Be a casting director’s safe bet.”

Additionally, Mark offered these valuable reminders and tips:

  • Don’t shun “small” jobs. A casting director may be doing a small job to keep an important director or client happy.

  • Pick the right classes. Sometimes smaller ones can be better and provide more individualized feedback.

  • If you have special skills (dance, sports, etc…), maintain them by doing one class per week or even per month.

  • Have standard, color headshots that look like you with minimal makeup & retouching. Carry copies of headshots and resumes with you, just in case.

  • If you’re going to have a voice reel, get it done at a proper studio, otherwise don’t bother having one.

  • Only send emails/postcards when you’re suitable for something the casting director is working on at the moment.

  • Showreels should be featured clips of you. Don’t bother with a reel until you have the credits.

  • Get a .com of your name.

  • Keep your private life private! Don’t broadcast personal details on social media.

Thank you to Mark and to all of the actors that attended the seminar!

Follow @MarkSummersCast on Twitter