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January Seminar Speakers

By now you’re probably used to Lindsay’s ‘5 Lessons’ from our monthly seminars in Los Angeles, but I wanted to touch on one topic our guest speakers Emma & Marcus Nelson spoke about in January: working for a casting director.

As actors, it is extremely easy to get caught up in the art of your craft. It can be hard, especially in commercial casting, to remember that this is a business. A business designed to make corporate clients a lot of money, not for you to share your inner artistic truth with the world. (Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a time and a place for you to do that but it probably isn’t in a commercial audition for cold medicine.)

The actors that go out of their way to learn the business of casting will generally have a leg up on those that don’t. They will have a fundamental understanding of the marriage between art and commerce. If you consider the fact that most of the people you see managing the lobby and running the camera for your auditions are actors, you’ll realize how many opportunities there are for you to do the same. It doesn’t matter if you try it for a day, a week, or an ongoing freelance basis; Marcus believes everyone should have the experience working in casting or production to some degree. Emma added, “If you can get into working in casting, you can see what the people who are booking are doing right.”

So what are the people who are booking doing right? According to Emma, they’re taking the time to be thoroughly prepared when they walk in on time and in wardrobe. They’re researching the style of the brand and/or director as much as possible to better anticipate what to expect when they get in the room. They care enough about themselves and the process to be in the moment and think, This is my job today. I get to play at something for a moment. They are able to put everything aside and quiet the thoughts that often spring up like, Why don’t I get out more? or I HAVE to book this job. They have used classes and training to build up a community of people who are supporting what they do. (As Emma says, “Don’t be on your own in this little bubble.”)

By getting a behind-the-scenes look at the business of casting, you will learn not to let things like changing explanations at callbacks fluster you. (You know, when you’re waiting at a callback and you hear the session runner come out and give three different explanations of the role you’re auditioning for and confusion/panic ensues.) If you’ve got the experience of working a callback from behind the camera, you’ll realize that the clients are still figuring out the spot and trying different directions throughout the day to see what works best. Having this kind of knowledge in your back pocket allows you to be more present at your auditions and to stop worrying about everything going on around you that is out of your control. You’ll learn to give yourself a break when you don’t book the job because you’ll realize just how many factors are in play when it comes to deciding who will be hired. (I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times, but there is something about experiencing a situation first hand that helps it stick and become more real.)

Emma stated, “Once you figure out where your role as an actor fits into the whole thing, you will come more into yourself.”

Now you might be thinking, This is all well and good, but how do I actually go about becoming a session runner or lobby assistant? Most of the casting studios keep a list of cam-ops and assistants that they call on an as-needed basis. (When I worked in casting, our office had its top 5 cam-ops that we knew, trusted, and always called first. If they were unavailable, we’d work our way down the studio’s list.) If you’re interested in running camera, find out from the studio (or from a casting director if the time is right) if you would be able to train with them. If the answer is yes, be prepared to volunteer your services for training; they’re not going to pay you and a regular session runner to be there for the day. As far as working as a lobby assistant, I’d suggest asking the person working your audition or the casting director (again, IF the time is right). Many of the lobby assistants I hired were actor friends that I knew could handle stress (because trust me, the lobby can be stressful) and might want some extra income every now and then. (My humble opinion: every actor should try running door for an audition at least once. It’s like working retail over the holidays; you’ll become much more patient and understanding of the people regularly in the position and will be remembered for remaining calm and friendly – even if you have been waiting 20 minutes past your timeframe.)

Marcus said, “Being an actor is challenging every day.” By gaining some experience in the business of casting, you’ll be able to better manage many of the obstacles in your way.

Erin Jennings is a human person with bangs. She used to work in casting and was abducted by Casting Networks in 2010.