Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
As 2008 comes to a close, I find myself reflecting upon how many TERRIFIC guest speakers we have had at our free Inside the Industry seminars this year. As the seminars’ hostess, it has been a joy for me personally and professionally to be a part of them. I have learned volumes, for which I am very grateful!
Delightful casting director Michael Sanford was our guest speaker on November 15 and it was a full house! Over the years, I have always felt that Mr. Sanford is one of Hollywood’s nicest casting directors. Once again I was reminded of that when he took the time to speak with many actors in the parking lot after the seminar was over! That was especially gracious of him, since he told us that the night before he had been up until 3:30 a.m. working on a job.
Mr. Sanford told us that he was currently casting a pharmaceutical commercial and that he had received 2000 electronic submissions for the role of a woman aged 45 to 55! The spot was being directed by Mark Pellington, whose credits include CBS’s Cold Case and the films, Arlington Road and Henry Poole Was Here.
Mr. Sanford explained that casting directors and production companies get hired for jobs much like actors do. He also said that a tremendous amount of market research goes into a commercial before the breakdown even comes to him and gave us one of the most candid and valuable insights regarding any breakdown that I have ever heard: “I have one day to cast this commercial, maybe two. I know that a lot of people self-submitted and I did go through them. I go through every single thing that comes in. It’s a lot. You’d be surprised what a small town it is.”
“It’s very different in the commercial world. Eighty percent of what we do is commercials. They’re thought of now as ‘mini-theatricals’ or 30-second short films. That is especially true of the job that we are working on now. There is a lot of copy and there is a lot going into it with this character. Directors dictate to us how they want to see the session. So far, with the one day we had, if I’m scheduling one person every ten minutes because of what is involved, what is that? Maybe 30 people a day? I’m just trying to get you to see that I can’t always get everybody in for everything.”
Mr. Sanford continued, “After a breakdown goes out that says female aged 45 to 55, it always changes. Within that age range, they give me specifics that I can’t put in the breakdown every time I get a change or an addendum because I would be putting out seven addendums a day! For example, I’ll say, ‘Okay, now we’re leaning more 45 to 46. Now she is Caucasian only and before it was all ethnicities.’ I have to give them different ‘types,’ even in the Caucasian category. If I’ve got an age range of 40 to 48, I’ve got to give them women who are 40, early-40s, mid-40s. Then the ad agency and the client will look at the day’s tape and say, ‘Go older, go more upscale or more blue collar’ or they’ll say nothing, which means ‘We have what we want. Let’s do callbacks’ and never happens!”
“My point is, don’t take it personally when I can’t get you in for something, because from where I sit, I’ve got one day to ‘nail this,’ so to speak. I would love more days to cast a commercial but it really is a process. When I was going out as an actor I used to think, ‘well, commercials are commercials. You do it for the money.’ I don’t think that anymore.”
Mr. Sanford also mentioned that along with director Mark Pellington, “…a lot of film directors are doing commercials now because a lot of what you guys are going through [economically and business-wise] as actors, we are going through as casting directors, directors and producers. But you can’t focus on the negative. I think there’s work out there for everyone. To get a commercial audition these days is like winning a lottery! I hate to say that, but to get the job is amazing! You should go on a cruise if you get it or do something [to celebrate] – take a trip to Europe. It’s a big deal to get a commercial, especially a big one. Don’t blow off commercial auditions!”
When we got to the Question and Answer portion of the seminar, Mr. Sanford made these points:
- “I look at 100 thumbnail photos per page on L.A. Casting. Have color headshots!”
- “Don’t do 3/4 shots. We want to see your eyes. I want to see a smile in your eyes.”
- “Be who you are and trust that. You have to look like your headshot.”
- “It drives me crazy when I don’t get a resume with a headshot.”
- “I read a resume from the bottom up.”
- “When you audition, be yourself and make it about the work.”
- “Be polite and be in the moment.”
- “In commercials, the product is the star.”
- “When you audition and when you have your headshots taken, wear a solid color that you feel good in. Also, women tend to wear way too much make-up.”
- “When you are over 35 years old, play your true age.”
When Mr. Sanford was asked about receiving actors’ postcards in the mail, he said, “We go through everything. The same mailbox that my checks come in, your postcards come in!”
Mr. Sanford also encouraged actors, especially child actors, to be in class and to take workshops. “I definitely have empathy for the actor. I was you sitting out there twenty years ago.”
Thank you, Michael Sanford, for being such a warm, terrific and supportive guest speaker.
Mr. Sanford will begin teaching commercial classes in February. Please check out his website for details.