Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
Tracy Weisart, the matriarch moderator of LA Casting’s Inside the Industry Seminars, introduces Commercial Casting Director Tolley Casparis as one of her personal heroes to a room full of actors wondering why it’s still so hot outside on an early November Saturday. Tolley, with her youthful spirit, sits on the edge of the stage to be closer to the room; to this LA Casting staffer, it feels as if she is about to share a secret with an old time friend over a couple of ice cream floats… and the room digs it.
TOLLEY CASPARIS: “I want to take the temperature of the room so that I can give you guys the things you need. Who wants to talk about Basic Housekeeping, such as headshots, dealing with agents, etc.?”
[about half the room raises a hand]
“And how about Auditioning Skills, commercial, theatrical, and everything in between?”
[the other half raises a hand].
“That’s usually how it goes isn’t it. OK, so we’ll try to touch on everything.
Let’s start with headshots. I don’t want anyone to take this the wrong way, and I’m sorry if anyone feels like I’m talking down to them, but I just do not understand why you guys don’t take your headshots more seriously. This is the equivalent of your resume when you are trying to get a non-creative job. There’s no immediate personality behind it because it isn’t an interview. People look at headshots like a pain in the ass that they have to spend money on once every five years.
Particularly now with LA Casting, you’ve got one shot to hit me. I do a lot of Target commercials, and if I’m looking at your headshot, it’s probably one in over 2000 submissions for each role. And I can only audition 60 people. As I’m looking at a sheet of 100 thumbnail headshots, I click the mouse very quickly if I like you, which puts you into my “SELECTS” folder, which I then go back to that folder after everyone is looked at, and then I hone it, and I hone it, and I hone it. I never go back to my viewed headshots. You’ve got one shot to get into my “SELECTS” folder.
One of the things that drives me absolutely batty is when your talent note says, ‘If you’d like to see more photos please go to…’ and I’m like “What? You want me to dump out of the project that I’m on and go to a whole new website to look at one person?” It’s not going to happen. But if your photos are on LA Casting, and I can click and see more, I’ll go and look at them.
See, you guys need lots of photos. Your one great commercial headshot needs a smile. I don’t care if you are Linda Evangelista, you need a smile. I need to see casual, I need to see dressed up. Not everyone fits these characters. I know some people have a certain look that they’ve honed over the years, but you early 20s / early 30s folks can show me a lot of range in your photos.
What makes a bad headshot?
Your wardrobe working against you.
Wasted space in the photo.
Horizontal, I don’t mind. A lot of people think it is a big deal, but it’s different than it used to be. It doesn’t hurt you, but, again, it may not be optimum if there is wasted space.
Washed out photos are horrible.
Black and White, I don’t mind, but if you are a redhead, or your skin has a specific color to it, you wouldn’t be doing yourself justice.
You guys have to represent yourself correctly; not just how you think you look best, but how you can market yourself best. You guys are not picking out pictures to put in a wedding portfolio or the one to send to grandma, what I want is the blankest slate I can get so that I can put my job on your headshot. You need to own your space and I just need to know who is going to walk into my room when I call you in.
If you are completely inappropriate for my role, don’t submit. Please don’t get in the way of my job; that’s not going to endear you to anyone. If the role is for a 30-something, brown hair, brown eyed Caucasian woman, and you are a 30-something, brown hair, brown eyed ethnicity, submit. You know, I just may call you in for variation…
And if you see people around you at an audition that look nothing like you, don’t get scared. The client may have said, “I can go this way with it, or I can go that way” and I’m bringing in variation for them.
And, what’s more, you can ask your agent, “Do you like my headshot? Is it working for me.” Everyone here should be able to have the dialogue with their agent “How can we make this better?” After all, who hired who? Who works for who?
[An LA Casting Member raises his hand to ask a question]
MEMBER: If I have a commercial agent, should I bother submitting myself, they seem like the liaison for online submissions; do I really even need to?
TC: It a better situation if you are. I’m a big fan of public submissions. I look at them with the same effort I would agent submissions. I just did a music video directed by Tim Burton – [several “Wows” from the audience] – Yeah! Everyone here knows what that means. Do you know, not a single agency responded? He is casting right now for Sweeny Todd, and he was looking for some semi-name actors to do the music video and it’s only through the management companies that I found anyone. It’s TIM BURTON! You all understand that. You guys are out there trying to kick start your careers. Agents should be about your bottom line, Managers should be more about your career.
But you need these things.
There is no possible way that you guys, from your vantage point, can understand what works for you. You do not know what jobs are out there. You do not know what your agent is submitting you on. You only know what you are being called in on; that’s where your knowledge begins, but in correctly marketing yourself you need the information before that. You need to ask these questions:
Is what I’m doing working? Is who I’ve hired to represent me working? Or is it everything is kind of working, but not where I’d like it to be?
Because that’s the thing; if you have a good rapport with your agent and you are getting out on auditions, are you getting the callback? Now if you are getting the callback consistently but not getting the job, I’m going to tell you right now:
You are very successful! Getting the callback is your job as an actor. Doing well in that callback, regardless of what is asked or required of you… that’s your job. The booking is most often about the right look, the right fit. People get really caught up on why aren’t I booking jobs; in our capitalistic society, we judge success by the amount you are getting paid to do what you do.
That’s great if your Mel Gibson. We’re in a creative industry here; the people who are in the “attachment to outcome” category, more often than not fall out of the game. “I need to book a job; I need to book a job.” Is not the right attitude here.
The callback is all about how well you listen, how well you take direction and how quickly you can turn on a dime. I really worry about the people I see over-rehearsing. If you’ve got your sides there and it’s an hour away and you’re working it all out in your head as a serious piece and you come in and they tell you it’s slapstick comedy what are you going to do? So don’t over-rehearse, and be prepared to take the direction anyone gives you, no matter how ridiculous. Own the piece. Oh, and don’t really trust the people coming out of the room. You never know what they might say.”
Tolley spent the next hour discussing auditioning skills and doling out more much-needed advice on how to represent yourself correctly. She is one of the few people in this town that will tell you EXACTLY how it really is, with all the grace honesty was meant to have. Be sure to join us for our next Inside the Industry Seminar on January 27th as Stuart Stone shows you how to kick-start your career in the New Year!