Howard Metzler was recently the guest speaker for LA Casting’s monthly “Inside the Industry” seminar.
Howard Metzler is certainly a veteran casting director in commercials, TV and stage, but he has foundations in Broadway rarely found in the L.A. scene. Howard partnered with Carol Goldwasser three years ago to form Goldwasser/Meltzer casting and have been working on television pilots and series, including their latest, Disney’s “Hannah Montana”. Howard joined us on June 24th for our Inside the Industry Seminar and jumped right into the fray.
Hello! I’m Howard Meltzer. I’ve cast Broadway Shows, TV Pilots, and billions and billions of commercials. I’ve done lots of theatre. Right when I left about 3 and a half years ago, we had The Graduate on Broadway, with Kathleen Turner and Jason Biggs… Currently my partner Carol and I are casting a Disney series right now, “Hannah Montana”. We are the number one tween show right now, which is amazing. “Hannah Montana” is a typical ½ hour sitcom, so the age range of our characters is anywhere from 8-80.
Q. I’m from New York and it seems like there isn’t a lot of respect out here for even accomplished theatre actors. In your opinion, how do you feel about actors with a theatre background?
A. Personally I think theatre training is the best. It was the same for me when I came out here. I’ve got 13 Broadway plays on my resume but some people would look at my resume out here, and say, “oh, that’s nice… you worked on ‘Unsolved Mysteries’?” To cast “Unsolved Mysteries” all you have to do is find people who resemble the people that were in the actual situations, but make them look better, so that when people watch it they say, “Oh, that’s what I look like!” It’s like having Julia Roberts playing Erin Brockovich. I can’t change how LA perceives theatre casting. Some of them perceive it as being very quaint and old fashioned; but not real casting. There are lots of wonderful theatre actors who have Tony awards and they come here and can’t even get arrested; they just don’t transfer to television. Good training is great, a firm classical background is fantastic, but if the camera doesn’t like you, if you are not photogenic, if you don’t know how to take your training and bring it to a television audition then it’s not going to work. In television there’s a lot of self directing. You are often expected to do most of the work yourself as an actor; to make the choices, to be ready at the table read to work and know how to direct yourself for that episode. You are expected to show up on set and know your lines and what the character should be doing. There are some actors that just don’t do that well, they need more direction, they need notes, they need coaching, and they don’t always transfer very well to television. In theatre, it is so much easier. With a theatre, we’re all at the table at the same time coming to the decisions. In a theatre audition the director wants to see how directable you are. They ask themselves, “Do I want to spend the next six weeks working with this actor? Do I want to have a long run with this actor?” When you cast for television, you have so many people to please and make happy, and you might have to audition over and over and over again for the network and the studio and the producers, etc. Each step eliminates actors because that’s how each entity is empowered at that point. Because it’s casting the only way to empower someone is for them to say “no”. And you as an actor have to be able to do the audition again and again. There’s a lot of pressure on everyone.
Q. Why did you move from New York to LA?
A. Even though there is more production work coming to New York, and more television coming, the reason I moved is because there is a small amount of work in New York and a huge amount here. And even when it’s dead here, there’s still something. If you want to do theatre, move to New York, not that there’s no theatre here, and a lot of good theatre, but everything is about New York, and people respect New York.
Q. How did you get started as a casting director?
A. I wanted to work in production. My first job out of college was in casting. I thought I was going to work in television production, I was a theatre major, and I never wanted to be an actor. I thought that casting would be a stepping stone to something else. What ended up happening is I realized that I have a memory for names, faces, and credits. I was a kid who sat and watched tons of TV, and I was a musical theatre geek, and knew all the songs and trivia… and you think how would this ever serve me in my future life? It did. My knowledge of the casts of all the Daytime Dramas started when my sister was babysitting me after school watching soap operas so I knew all the actors. I’ve been watching “All My Children” since high school and “One Life to Live” since I was 8. So how does this all come into casting? It’s all this material that’s up in my head, which has helped me in my future life. I went to see the original Broadway production of ANNIE when I was a teenager, and it had a huge influence on me. Many years later when I was casting the Broadway revival of ANNIE, I was working with original creators and I was in awe of them! ANNIE was one of the reasons why I wanted to be a theatre major. I love musical theatre, so having things come full circle. Casting the Broadway revival was one of the most exciting things that has ever happened in my professional life. Casting here in LA, I love the pace of television shows. I just love it. I love the fact that on Monday you start with the show and on Friday you shoot it and then you start back over on Monday. That’s brilliant, because I never want to hear “Tomorrow” again. And if you think I’m kidding, I’m not. It was wonderful to have a show with a really long run, that means that you have a job. But listening to the same song for almost 3 years can wear you out.
Q. When you are casting for a pilot, I’m sure they tell you what particular look they are looking for and what type of person. But how do you know what they are looking for as far as facial features or body type?
A. I don’t know. I have to figure it out based on who I’m working for. We read the script, and come up with ideas. CBS loves movie stars, big names, and they will bring their checkbook to hire these people. Each particular network has a different type of taste and style. The former WB had a specific look that was influenced by their target audience, women 18 – 35. A FOX mom usually has sexier look than an ABC mom.
When I was doing New York casting for “Days of Our Lives”, the first thing they would tell me how they wanted the actors to look, opposed to what they are looking for in actor. That’s the biggest thing for NBC daytime, is the look. The second most important thing is the look. And then the third thing is that they are hot. And the fourth, is the look.
Q. Is there a “big” difference between an actress that is a size 0 and a size 6?
A. What you’re asking is a small question. When I was doing NBC daytime casting, I knew what the producers wanted. Let’s say an in her early 20’s actress came in to audition for an ingénue role and she’s a size six. Now if you put a size six next another actress who is a size 0 she looks like a blob. I don’t create the rules, I’m just going by what I know they want to cast, what they are looking for. When an agent calls for feedback, I say she was great, really good training, a wonderful look, she probably needs to go down a size, because she’s just a little too large for what we are looking for. I never enjoy giving such brutal feedback.
For more of Howard’s thoughts, please check out part 2 of the “Excerpts from the Inside the Industry Seminar, featuring Howard Metzler” in a future edition of The Networker.