Has the trust and understanding between agents and casting directors eroded?
The quick answer is NO.
Casting Directors and Agents
Everyday, your auditions, avails, and bookings are based on the communication between Commercial Casting Directors and Commercial Agents. We don’t talk to each other much any more, due to e-mails, and we don’t see each other face to face either.
From the astute recognition that tensions, contention, and misunderstanding between agents and casting directors were building up and the relationship was breaking down, recently the Commercial Casting Director Association (CCDA), which I am a member of, and the Association of Talent Agencies (ATA) had a meeting with a huge turnout to meet face-to-face and discuss issues that are misunderstood between the two groups.
The meeting was informative and friendly. It started out with plenty of time to meet and greet each other and then continued on to a facilitated discussion group.
The Agent Point of View on Avails
Some of the agents’ feeling perturbed at the casting process came from them not knowing and understanding the inner workings of how casting receives their breakdown information, including timing and avails. It turned out the biggest feeling of contention and misunderstanding was around the subject of avails.
When we put you on avail for an on-camera commercial (if you also have a career in print, VO, film, television, and theatre), there are a number of other agents and/or a manager that has to OK/clear the avail dates; this can get rather complex. The agents felt that putting talent on avail was being taken lightly and thought of frivolously on the part of casting. The big questions was, “Why do so many people have to be put on avail?” and “Why is an avail so important to you, anyway?”
The Importance of Avails
Avails are very important because at the time you are put on avail, you are being presented/sold to approximately eight layers of people to agree on your being booked. Those people are the Ad Agency Producer, Writer, Art Director, Creative Supervisor, Creative Director, Account Executive, Director at the production company, and finally the Client.* It would be stupid if our team chose you and went through the approval process, only to find out you were not available for the shoot. The availability includes final check of shoot dates and conflict if there is one. Would any other business “sell” someone or hire someone and go through many layers of an approval process without knowing the person is available for the job? Of course not! The selection process follows the same set of organizational rules as any other business who goes through a selection and hiring process.
*If you want to know more details about who the creative team is click here for a complete listing. Understanding the creative team.
Actors and Avails
Usually, for multi-character spots, three people are put on avail for each character. There is a first choice and two back ups. When we put out the avails we do not tell the agent who is first and who is backup. The reason we do not do that is that many, many times the first choice is not chosen by the client, the second or third choice ends up being the pick. So if there are ten characters and three people are put on avail for each character, then there are thirty people put on avail for that commercial, but actually only three people per character.
The agents walked away from the meeting understanding the process behind the selection and avail process. Then, of course, the contentious subject came up regarding releasing the avails. YES, we (casting) should release your avail. It is disrespectful and thoughtless if we do not. There are times that I know my office releases avails through e-mails to individual agents and also a general release through the breakdown service we use. We do get calls from agents’ offices, sometimes a week later, asking if the person is released yet. I don’t know where the communication breaks down in these cases, but it sometimes does.
I think the important thing is that actors understand avails and know that commercial agents and casting directors are meeting face-to-face in the spirit of a better working relationship, so that YOU, the talent, experience auditions, avails, and final bookings as smoothly as possible.
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