Wow! I can guarantee that the young performers, their parents & others who attended our free Inside the Industry Seminarwith guest speaker Sharon Lieblein on October 27th, will be more focused, disciplined and all-around better actors and business people because of it. Heck, so am I now!
I was impressed that Ms. Lieblein, who is Vice President of Casting and Talent Development for Cartoon Network Studios, pulled no punches and was very direct with the packed room of young actors and their parents. It was dynamic and enlightening! Here is an overview of the many important items Ms. Lieblein discussed and her biography –
Sharon Lieblein, CSA, serves as vice president, casting and talent development, for Cartoon Network Studios. In this newly created role, Lieblein oversees live-action casting for the Studio and serves as the executive liaison between talent and the different divisions within the studio and network. She is responsible for identifying, casting and managing talent appearing on Cartoon Network Studios scripted and alternative live-action projects. She reports directly to Rob Sorcher, chief content officer for Cartoon Network, and is based at Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank, California. Lieblein came to Cartoon Network in May 2011 following a 12-year tenure with Nickelodeon, where she served as vice president of talent and casting since 2005. In this capacity, she oversaw all live-action casting for Nickelodeon Networks, including pilots, TV movies, specials and promos. Among her projects were such signature Nickelodeon shows as iCarly,Big Time Rush, Victorious, Zoey 101 and Drake and Josh and she helped discover such talent as Emma Roberts, Lily Collins, Miranda Cosgrove, Victoria Justice and Drake Bell. She also oversaw animation casting at the network for two years. Prior to joining Nickelodeon, Lieblein worked as a freelance and in-house casting director on various feature and television projects including the Witt-Thomas Productions of The John Larroquette Show (NBC) and Pearl (CBS). Lieblein has been a working member of the Casting Society of America (CSA) since 1995 and an active Television Academy member since 1999. Additional affiliations include serving as vice chair of the Advisory Committee for “Looking Ahead,” a division of the Actor’s Fund of America, and treasurer and vice president for the CSA.
Ms. Lieblein- “I’m going to start by talking about me just so you have a little of my history, so you know where I come from. I started acting as a kid when I was 13-years old and I lived in New York. Back in the day… it was a long time ago, acting was a lot different. We didn’t have all this online stuff and we didn’t have all the production in New York that there is now. I did a lot of commercials, industrials which there were a lot of back East and some soap work (daytime drama) and definitely theatre. That was really the crux of what I did. Then I moved out to LA at 17 to go to college and while I was doing that, I was auditioning, taking acting classes and I also ended up interning at a casting director’s office because I thought that it would help me as an actor. I ended up interning for six months. Then they fired their assistant and I was still interning and I was said, ‘You know, you can pay me now.’ [laughter] I was pretty much doing the job already so they offered it to me full time and started paying me. I took the job and I did leave college. Now… just to say, I’m thankful for the career that I’ve had, but go to college. Go to college. There is not a day that passes that I am not sorry that I missed that experience. Honestly, I’m not just saying that because I am a Mom now or whatever. Honestly, I miss it. As an actor, you need all those life experiences, you know? College? How many movies do you see where it is about the college years and the TV show where they’re in college? How can you truly portray something, that is that simple really, without having all that in the back of your head? It’s something that you absolutely should experience. It’s just important. Honestly, if you think… ’Oh, but I need to act now…’ Guess what? This business has been around for over a hundred years. It will be around for a hundred more. Do not worry about it. Go to school and you can start later. You can continue while you’re at school like a lot of people do, so that’s my plug for college.”
She continued, “So I was an intern, an assistant, an associate, then I became a casting director and I did TV movies… that’s when TV movies were still a big deal. Then I got a staff casting job at Witt/Thomas Productions for several years which was one of the preeminent studios producing television with shows like Blossom, The Golden Girls and the show I worked on, The John Larroquette Show among others. Once I left there I freelanced for a while and then I ended up at Nickelodeon. Before Nick, I was honestly going to leave the business. I was a freelance casting director which is very much like an actor. You never know where your next job is coming from and I said, ’You know… it’s too hard… I am going to go back to college.’ I was going to get into hotels or something… I don’t know what I was going to do. [laughter] Then I got an interview for this job at Nickelodeon and I went. I ended up being there for almost 13 years. I originally was hired to cast all their pilots. Starting with The Amanda Show. I cast or supervised casting on every one of their pilots and eventually series until I left. I was there for 13 years and now I’m at the Cartoon Network. It was time to make a change and I was offered an experience at Cartoon Network I couldn’t turn down– to start a department because they never had a casting or talent department. I also now cover Talent for Adult Swim which is our adult programming block in the evening that is very different than Cartoon Network and none of you should be watching it! [laughter] That is what I do now but everything started from me being an actor and I think it makes me a stronger casting director because I kind of ‘get it.’ I don’t have readers in my auditions. I read. It just works better for me. If I’m doing a scene with you and if I’m looking in your eyes, I can really tell if you’re listening and truly there. That just works better for me… then I know if you’re an actor. It makes a difference.”
Ms. Lieblein brought two scenes– a boy scene and a girl scene as sample exercises. She then chose three boys and three girls randomly from the audience to read up on the stage. She said, “The concept I have is to have the three girls do the exact same girl scene and three boys do the same boy scene and let’s just see what I see in an audition– to see how people do it differently, what works and what doesn’t work.”
The first question that was asked was about Ms. Lieblein’s likes & dislikes to which she replied, “Things that I love or hate? My pet peeves… I could write a book on my pet peeves. Okay, the obvious ones.
‘Chewing gum. When you walk into my office you should not be chewing gum… ever!’
‘Perfume. [then she made a funny choking sound] Please don’t. Just bathe in the mornings. [laughter] That’s good enough. You never know when you’re walking into a casting director’s office how big it is. Most of my office spaces that I have cast in, are these tiny, little dungeonous holes with no windows & no nothing. You walk in there with cologne, there are times that I’ve had to stop the session and just air out the room. I couldn’t physically sit in the room and it would bother the other actors that came in. So don’t do that. Gross.’
‘Girls, no makeup please. I mean I’m almost forty and I don’t wear makeup. It doesn’t make you look older and it kind of makes you look ridiculous. It doesn’t make you look real. Honestly, at the end of the day, we’re going to hire a wardrobe person, a hair person and a makeup person. I don’t need to know you can do that. I want to know what you look like and who you are and be honest and truthful with who you are. The key is to be prepared with your audition. As long as you are prepared to do the best audition you can do, that’s all you need.
Ms. Lieblein added, “I will tell you that for a series regular role in the kid world, I see at least 300 kids for a series regular role on a show. So, do you think that eyeliner is going to make you stand out? [laughter] No.”
‘Clothing? Don’t go crazy. Again, just be a kid. T-shirts, jeans, whatever. If the character is a little more stylish or a little more something, a little touch, fine. Please don’t go crazy honestly. There are some people who live in the world that ‘If I got a callback wearing that outfit, I have to wear that outfit for the callback.’ Okay. It’s totally fine but believe me, if you were wearing a t-shirt to the first audition and you wore a different one to the callback, we’re probably okay.’
On that same thought, Ms. Lieblein continued, “There was this one young actress when I was casting Zoey 101 who came in to audition. She was fantastic but different and quirky. There was something about her and she wore this outfit. She looked adorable in it and it happened to be the same outfit she had in her headshot. I brought her back to producers…wearing the same outfit. Then the producer loved her but she wasn’t right for the role that was written. He kept bringing her back. Every time that girl came back, she wore the same outfit. [laughter] She came back five times. It finally became a joke. Like we’d say, “Oh we weren’t sure you were going to wear that today. We’re glad you did.’ Now she was a very talented girl and thankfully, the Producer ended up writing a role into the show for her and she became a series regular. But… it wasn’t because of her outfit. That was just a funny thing. Believe me, she could’ve worn any shirt or any skirt. You know, don’t come in like a schlub. That’s just silly. Bring in the best you. This is what you’re selling. This is your tool. This is all you got, so you want to put you forward but at the same time, you’re not going to a party. You don’t have to be all dressed up for that. Seriously, I’ve had people go and wash their faces before I audition them because I can’t handle the makeup. I’ve had girls come in with heels… you don’t need them. I’ve had girls that I’ve asked to take off their shoes and audition. Just because, how can you be grounded and be in your character especially if that’s not true to your character? You don’t need the heels. Be okay being your age. Let me tell you, we all grow up. You’re going to get there eventually. Enjoy where you’re at. Really do.”
Ms. Lieblein added, “If you’re 13-years old, I’m not calling you in most probably for the role of an 18-year old. I’m just not. I’m calling you in for a 13-year old. The roles that you’re going to go out for as a kid are really going to be a touch off of you, right? It’s a character that is just a little to the left or right of you. That’s it. They’re going to probably be your age.”
‘Being Prepared. As far as being prepared goes, there are many different levels of being prepared. The basic level of being prepared is you have a 3:30 appointment; you should be there by 3:15. That’s on time for an audition especially in LA where there’s traffic and it’s crazy. By the time you get out of the car, up to the audition, sign in and find out where you’re supposed to be, you need 15 minutes to chill. So if you have a 3:30 audition, 3:15 is when you should be walking in the door. 3:30 is late. That just should be your mantra.And then, always, pictures and resumes in the car. If I ever hear, ‘Oh… I left it at home…’ ‘Oh, I thought they emailed it to you…’ ‘Oh, can’t you get it off the online service?’ …No! I’m asking you for it when you walk in. That is just what it is. I’d say if you are eight-years old or older, I do not want to hear, ‘My Mommy said…’ ‘My Mommy did…’ You’re old enough. If you want to be in this business and it is a business, you are old enough to handle stuff yourself. When my kids go out for auditions, I print out their picture and resume for them and I leave it on the dining room table. I wouldn’t usually take them to auditions because I’d be a nightmare! [laughter] I tell them to make sure to take their stuff, be prepared and that’s it because you’re old enough.’
‘Special Skills I do not want to see on Special Skills: anything you can’t do. Don’t waste my time. Don’t tell me that you play tennis if you picked up a racket once. That just isn’t true. There is a story that an agent told me once where she sent a client out for an audition for a commercial and they said they rollerbladed. They had it on their resume and that’s what they told the agent. They got the job. They went and were on these rollerblades for this commercial where they had to rollerblade down a hill or whatever and broke their leg. And it wasn’t like, ‘Ooooo, accident…’ and they were really still rollerblading. They did not know how to get up on rollerblades. What was the point? It’s just pointless. I remember when I was a kid actor, I did the same thing. I put everything down. ‘Mom said that I could go learn it. It’s fine. If I get the job, I’ll learn it.’ No…I don’t care about that. What can you do because the reality is, if I really like you as an actor….well, there’s two different things. If it’s a commercial and they want people who have that skill, that’s really what they want. They want people that have that skill. Not somebody that says, ‘I can learn how to do that.’ They don’t have time for that in the commercial world. In the theatrical world, if you’re coming in and auditioning for me and you’re really awesome and you don’t have that skill, I’m going to probably cast you anyway and teach you. I did a TV Movie once where all the kids had to skateboard. Two of the kids I cast had no idea how to skateboard. We got a coach and taught them how to skateboard. You know, it was about the acting. That was what was important but lying about it, it’s a waste of time.’
Ms. Lieblein then continued with a funny story about Special Skills. She said, “Now there are things that you could put in Special Skills that could be interesting that are conversation starters, but again, only if they are true. I’ve seen people put, ‘Bazooka Bubble Blowing Contest Winner of 2003’ or whatever, and ‘Like seriously, how big can you blow that bubble?’ What was that experience like?’ and I’ll ask you about it. But I will call you on your Special Skills any time you come in…. [laughter]…especially if they look wonky. ‘Huh? You really do that?’ There was a kid that we cast in the pilot of iCarly and saw on his Special Skills that he could shoot milk out of his eyes. [the audience gasped!] I mean, how do you do that? ‘Come on. You can’t do that!’ I made him do it for me. He said it on his resume. He went and got a glass of water and did it! It was the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life and I don’t know if I’ve quite recovered from it. [laughter] But he said he could do it and he did it. That is just what it is. Do not put things down (on your resume) that you cannot do. Waste of time, waste of space.”
Other things Ms. Lieblein said were–
- “I never want to hear, ‘I just got these’ (referring to sides) That’s what people use as a cushion.”
- “You never want to re-write the writer’s words. Never, ever change the words. Comedy is the hardest thing to do. It’s about timing and beats.”
- Braces? “If you need them, wear them.”
- Social media & the Internet? “Anything you put out there is there forever! If you can’t say it to your Grandmother, don’t say it.”
Ms. Lieblein also took a poll of the audience and told us a startling statistic. She asked how many attendees were in an acting class. She was pleased that most of the young performers (and the few adult actors there) in the room were currently in acting classes. She said, “If you’re not in an acting class, you’re already 20% less prepared, at least. Again, this is a business and it’s a numbers game. By the time kid actors become adults, only 2% of kid actors transition to being adult actors. 2%. These are the reasons. These are the factors. How prepared are you? When you get an audition scene… now some of them are less than others. Some of them are meatier than others. Some of them are one line, but let me tell you something… you better know that line. [laughter] You’d better do it in your special way and you’d better have a character when you walk in that room because when you go to audition, you’re not you. The character can be exactly you but it’s still a character. You’re not you so you need the tools, and hopefully the acting class you’re going to is giving you the tools to figure out how to build a character. If you’re really dedicated to what you’re doing, the more you do, the easier it becomes. When I was a kid actor, at all times, I had a comedic monologue, a dramatic monologue and a Shakespearean monologue. I had my pop song and my Broadway musical song in my head… ‘You want me to perform something for you? I’ll do right now.’ Youhave to have that. These are your tools. Why do you do a monologue? What are the reasons to do a monologue? You do it for the most part to audition to get an agent or you use it as a tool not for auditioning for television or anything because we give you sides… maybe for generals. The real reason as an actor that you should be constantly working on monologues is so that you can build a catalogue of characters to pull from. When you’re done with one character and one monologue and you really get it down and you figure out who that character is, you put that character away. You get another monologue and you work on that. That’s so when you get that audition scene, you say, ‘You know what? That’s like that Betsy character from that monologue I did.’ It’s your foundation to start from.”
Ms. Lieblein added, “When you come in and audition for me, I want to see a character. I don’t want to see you but the beauty is, I don’t want to know it’s a character. Come in and do the job. It has to be real. It has to be truthful. I have to believe you are just really there. It is so much easier for me with kids because you guys come in, I see it or I don’t see it and that’s it.”
Ms. Lieblein also shared with us information and brochures about the free program for professional young performers called “Looking Ahead,” offered as a division of the Actor’s Fund of America which she is vice chair of the Advisory Committee.
What a great morning! Thank you Sharon Lieblein for a truly informative and fun seminar!