Digital Production Buzz
October 31, 2013
[Transcripts provided by Take1.tv]
Jeff Gerrard, Owner, Jeff Gerrard Casting
Steffinnie Phrommany, Actress
Jane Jenkins, Casting Director, The Casting Company
Van Maximillian Carlson, Writer/Director, Oddbox Films
Jessica Sitomer, President, The Greenlight Coach
Voiceover: This Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by Blackmagic Design, creators of the world’s highest quality solutions for the feature film, post production and television broadcast industries.
Voiceover: Live from Ralph’s Maytag Museum at Podcast Studio in beautiful downtown Burbank, it’s the Digital Production Buzz.
Voiceover: Production, post production, distribution. What’s really happening now and in your digital future?
Voiceover: The Buzz is live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to The Digital Production Buzz, the leading internet podcast covering digital video production, post production and distribution around the world. My name is Larry Jordan; Mike Horton has the evening off because, well, frankly we didn’t want to scare the children. Happy Halloween, everybody. Tonight’s show is special. We are talking about casting. We’re going to talk with casting agents, actors and directors to see how the world of casting has changed over the years, with lots of advice on what you need to know as either actors or film makers to successful navigate the new world of technology and casting.
Larry Jordan: We’re going to start with Jeff Gerrard. He’s the owner of Jeff Gerrard Casting. He is a casting director of feature films, episodic TV but, most importantly, commercials. He’ll set the stage on how technology is changing the world of casting.
Larry Jordan: Then Steffinnie Phrommany is a working actress, which means she’s figured out how to successful navigate the new world of casting and auditions. She joins us to provide an actor’s perspective on the whole process of marketing yourself.
Larry Jordan: Jane Jenkins is the co-principle of The Casting Company and is legendary as a casting director working on such films as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, A Beautiful Mind, the Transformers, Princess Bride and hundreds more. She talks about how casting directors work with film directors and what actors can do to make sure their demo reel, their resume and head shot catches the eye of the casting director.
Larry Jordan: Then we move to the director himself. Van Maximillian Carlson is a director whose recent project is The Troll. He provides a director’s perspective on how casting works today.
Larry Jordan: Then we’ll wrap up with Jessica Sitomer. She’s the President of The Greenlight Coach who provides a perspective on the whole process of casting. She has been an actress, is a producer and is now a job coach and we leave it to Jessica to summarize everything we’ve learned today and actions that we can take to make our own casting more successful.
Larry Jordan: By the way, if you haven’t taken advantage of this yet, we are offering text transcripts for each show courtesy of Take1.tv. Now you can quickly scan or print the contents of each show, as well as listen to it. Transcripts are located on each show page and thanks, Take1.tv, for making it possible.
Larry Jordan: Also, what we’ve got going on now is brand new. We’ve just starting doing live twittering, live tweeting. There are birds involved and we’re doing it live during the show. We are going to be sending out notes and we want to start a conversation via social media, as well as our live chat, so you’re able to listen and participate in the show. Just check out the #BuZZLive to learn more and say hi to Patrick, who’s typing his little fingers to the bone.
Larry Jordan: Blackmagic Design made two big announcements recently. First, the ATEM1 ME production studio switcher added a host of new features including ten independent 6G SDI inputs, four upstream chroma keyers, three independence auxiliary outputs and a larger media pool for still frame and motion video clips.
Larry Jordan: Second, Blackmagic released the public beta of DaVinci Resolve 10. This major update includes improved project integration for multiple editing systems, upgraded on-set tools, support for open effects plug-ins and the ability to create DCP packages inside Resolve for projects destined for theatrical delivery. Plus DaVinci Resolve Lite now supports ultra HD and additional GPUs and it’s still free. Visit blackmagicdesign.com to learn more. That’s blackmagicdesign.com.
Larry Jordan: From Bud Light’s ‘I love you man’ campaign to Jarhead 2 and the latest Little Rascals, Jeff Gerrard and his associates at Jeff Gerrard Casting have found just the right actors for features and over 3500 television commercials. Welcome, Jeff.
Jeff Gerrard: Hi, how are you?
Larry Jordan: You know, I’m talking to you, I am so excited to be visiting. We’ve got such a great show this week, because we’re talking about how technology has changed the way actors solicit work and the way casting directors, producers and directors find the right person for each role in their project and, as I was looking for people to talk to, your name bubbled up to the top of the list, so congratulations.
Jeff Gerrard: Thank you for that. Thank you.
Larry Jordan: How do you define the role of a casting director?
Jeff Gerrard: You know, we were thinking about this the other day in the office because we were laughing about something and, you know, casting director, no one goes to school for that. It’s just something that you either fall into or you work your way up the ropes. You know, in my situation, I was an actor for 15 years and I just happened to be directing some shows in Los Angeles and some people that used to bring me in as an actor saw the shows, appreciated what I put on the stage there with the talent I had and pretty soon they gave me an office and a window and then an expense account, said, “Come on, pretend to be a casting director.”
Larry Jordan: Well, that explains clearly your incredibly qualified background to become a casting director, but what do you view the role of the director being? What is their job?
Jeff Gerrard: I think basically for me, and this all has to do with how I work and what happens in my office, I’m a weeder. I’m a reader and a weeder, so we kind of just like clean out all the excess stuff that comes into the office and we present the cream of the crop, in our eyes, and that’s why the directors, the studios, the ad agencies, the production companies come back and hire me or my office, because of the certain way I happen to see things.
Jeff Gerrard: You know, we’re all special in life because God gave us something special – our eyes, our heart, our upbringing – so it’s how we look at life and how we perceive stuff that happens in life and how we appreciate talent, you know? And I always look at talent as product, as food, and I say, “I might not be buying vanilla ice cream today and I’m buying strawberry, but guess what – next week I’m buying vanilla and you’re perfect for this.”
Larry Jordan: Well, that just gets to an interesting question. You’ve done 3500 television commercials and some feature films.
Jeff Gerrard: Sure, yes.
Larry Jordan: And Jane Jenkins, who we’re talking with a little later in the show, has done, like, every feature film that you haven’t done.
Jeff Gerrard: Yes, yes.
Larry Jordan: Is it important for casting directors to have a specialty?
Jeff Gerrard: I personally don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why – because I feel a casting director is like an actor. I would never want to pigeonhole an actor and, as a matter of fact, most of the actors that have the best careers are the ones, let’s just take a young guy by the name of Bryan Cranston, who used to come in on every commercial we ever did and booked several commercials through my office. Goes on and a theatrical life now, with Breaking Bad and everything else. He was an actor’s actor. So I think a casting director has to know their craft enough to be a casting director’s casting director.
Larry Jordan: Well, does your process of casting change when you’re casting a commercial rather than a feature?
Jeff Gerrard: It does slightly. It’s only the heightened sense of reality that goes into play in the commercial or if I happen to given, like I just finished doing the latest reincarnation of The Little Rascals, which was one of the joys of my life because I grew up watching it and the fun and the excitement in casting the project was living up to the expectations and these iconic characters that we have to present to a whole new generation who might have seen them in black and white, who might have seen the wonderful Universal project in, I guess it was the ‘80s or ‘90s, of Spielberg’s production of The Little Rascals as well, and now this is another updated version, so you have to find the talent that gives you that iconic feel, personality, as well as look.
Larry Jordan: Later in the show, Jane is going to describe how the casting process worked in the old days, so describe for people who haven’t gone through the casting process how does the casting process work now?
Jeff Gerrard: Well, look, I lived through it all, so it’s great. I’ve been doing this for 30 plus years, so I’ve been very blessed to still make a living doing what I love and the process changes, because now it’s not that hard copy picture and resume and the envelopes opening up and being on the floor and separating, “Ok, you could make a perfect match for this person,” and, “You look perfect for this.” It’s a lot harder now. Everybody’s being presented in a little thumbnail picture on a screen that you’re in front of probably eight to ten hours a day and a lot of things have changed just through the internet.
Jeff Gerrard: We expect more from talent now, I would think, because there’s no excuse not knowing the style of a piece. If you’re going in for a guest star on Hawaii Five-0 as opposed to a sitcom, you know, the style of acting In The Middle might be different than the style of acting in another comedy, so you have to know your genres as well as the heightened sense of reality that goes into that type of comedy that you might be going in for, or that drama.
Larry Jordan: In the old days, if you were looking for actors, you’d go to your file cabinet. Now you just landed a new show, where are you going to go first to look for actors? And I need something more specific than just ‘the internet’.
Jeff Gerrard: Ok, well, first, look, in all honesty, we trust the relationships we have with our agents and our managers that we’ve come to respect. We also do our homework – we watch television shows, we go to movies, we go to theater so many times, especially when you’re doing commercials, because the turnover is so quick and so fast. We want to discover people, we want to find that new talent. I was blessed to be able to, and I didn’t discover this young man, look, who discovered him? His mother and father when his mother gave birth to him.
Jeff Gerrard: But Andy Samberg before he went on Saturday Night Live, he came in and auditioned for us for a Honda spot. He wasn’t even SAG, he wasn’t AFTRA. He was writing with a couple of buddies. I think they had a writing group that they had a deal with, it was called the Lonely Island Boys or something to that effect, but he came in, he had a sparkle, he had an energy. We booked him instantly, we… in the SAG Union and we shipped him off to Japan to shoot a Honda commercial.
Larry Jordan: And then he came back.
Jeff Gerrard: And he came back and literally, I think it was within four to six weeks, I turn on the TV and he’s on Saturday Night Live. So that’s the remarkable thing about this business. You could be selling sandwiches one day and you could be starring in a major feature film or on a television show the next.
Larry Jordan: But I’m hearing two different things. When you’re doing commercials, you’re looking for people that have the right look that are probably not well known; and when you’re doing features, you’re looking for people that have experience. Am I saying that correctly?
Jeff Gerrard: Yes. It’s experience but, you know, the unknown actor, if he has training and he knows his craft, he’s not going to be known and he’s going to come in and he’s going to win that audition over, and that happens time and time again. You’ll meet someone who just came out of Yale or you’ll meet someone who came out of Carnegie Mellon or something like that, or you’ll see somebody in a theater piece and you’ll say, “Ok, well, we have this famous star and we have this person and this person.” Well, obviously everyone’s going to gravitate to the famous star because of what they can bring to the project as far as notoriety. But when it comes down to the talent, a lot of times that unknown person gets the second lead or third lead in the feature or the television show, and I see that happen quite a bit with us.
Larry Jordan: Well, there are two steps here. One is an actor has to catch your eye as you’re doing the initial screening to decide who to bring in for the audition.
Jeff Gerrard: Always, always.
Larry Jordan: And then they’ve got to catch your eye in the audition, so what can they do to catch your eye when you’re looking at those gajillion thumbnails on a website?
Jeff Gerrard: You know what I look for? I look in the eye. I look in the eyes of the person in that picture and I say, “Do I want to get to know you? Do I see honesty and truth coming out of those eyes? A nice warm smile that says hi, this is me, I want to get to know you”? And that’s what I look for, and then you flip over and you read the resume and, let me tell you, it’s a lot harder nowadays because you’re on a computer and, although technology is wonderful because it’s instantaneous, it also has lost a lot of stuff for me in this business. The loss of personal touch and the lack of communication with agents, with managers and people feeling, “Oh, I’ll just do everything through the internet.” I mean, we hear over and over again, “Jeez, at least your office accepts our phone call,” you know?
Larry Jordan: Well, is it possible in the world of actors being, I mean, it’s a global market for actors. You can have actors anywhere in the world. How does an actor avoid getting depressed that they’re competing with 10,000 other people that look just like them?
Jeff Gerrard: Well, it’s the same in any business. It’s not just actors. You go in, and I try to tell this to actors at seminars all the time. I say, “Look, you’re in a very competitive business, but guess what – look at the economic market we’re in right now. You go in for a job as a lawyer, you’re not sitting there with one and two other people that are up for the job. You’re sitting in a room with ten to twenty.” I mean, it happens all the way down the line. What you have to do is know your craft, have it ready and when that opportunity presents itself, be ready to deliver on the goods; and be focused, be in the moment of what’s going on inside you that you could present that to us, whether it be dramatically or comedically.
Larry Jordan: So you’ve found a thumbnail that you’ve expanded up, so you’re looking at a picture. The person’s got the sparkle in the eye that you want and you’ve flipped it over, you’re looking at the resume. What are you looking for?
Jeff Gerrard: I’m looking for something on the resume that intrigues me. Where did you do theater? Are you from Boston or are you from Milwaukee Wrap? Did you do anything in Seattle? What did you do in New York? You’re just out of high school? Great. Were you in any high school plays? What comes down to the wire? You’ve got three things on your resume, I get another picture in and the guy looks just as good as you, but he’s got no resume whatsoever. Well, I probably would lean towards you, because at least you’ve gone the extra effort, you’re trying to educate me to get to know you and that’s what I have to do.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so we’ve looked at the resume. How important is the demo reel?
Jeff Gerrard: I think very important, for me anyway, because it’s got to be three to four minutes. Anything longer than that, we don’t really need to see, because we know in the first 30 seconds whether you can act or not and I don’t care whether you have a lot of littler roles on there that are three to five lines to six lines, but you’ve created a character, somebody unique that comes on the screen and, whether it be a commercial or a TV show or a movie, that tells me somebody invested $250,000 to put you in that commercial, somebody trusts you enough to give you that guest star on that sitcom or that co-star. You came in and I’ll never forget, I think it was a movie, I was a struggling actor and there was a movie called Audrey Rose and there was a woman who came in, she was a waitress, her name was Karen and I can’t remember her last name, I think it might have been Andrews or something like that – this is 30 years ago – and she came on that screen and she did nothing but live in that scene as the waitress and she was great.
Jeff Gerrard: When I got into casting, I brought her in. She said, “You keep bringing me in. Do you know me from somewhere?” and I said, “You know where I know you from? That wonderful performance you did in Audrey Rose,” and she started laughing. She goes, “Oh my God, I was on the screen for, like, 30 seconds.” I said, “But you were there. You were present and you were there for 30 seconds.”
Larry Jordan: How important are personal relationships? Should actors try to meet you at a mixer or a workshop or after theater?
Jeff Gerrard: Oh, always. Always try. Look, I’m saying this from this standpoint and I’m one of the worst networkers there is out there. Believe me, I should have done a lot more of it when I was younger, but I think it’s very important, especially nowadays, because the competition is so strong because we have technology, because we have the internet, and even – I’m jumping back to The Little Rascals – when we did The Little Rascals, we expect so much more of these kids now because of Nickelodeon, because of Disney, because of the technology, because of what’s at their fingertips to see and to absorb.
Jeff Gerrard: An actor’s like a sponge – you have to take in certain things and then discard anything that’s not working for you.
Larry Jordan: What are you looking to happen in casting in the future? A short answer, what trends are you watching?
Jeff Gerrard: I’m hoping that we get more and more littler films that people can invest two to ten million dollars in that can get made, as opposed to a 150 million dollar budget and the star gets 20 million and all these journeymen actors that have been in the business forever have to work for scale plus ten. I want to go back to respect our working actors, our journeyman actors that have worked on their craft and know their craft and I want to respect them and give them the money that they deserve.
Larry Jordan: Well, let us hope that is the case. Jeff, what website can people visit to learn more about you?
Jeff Gerrard: Easy, my name – jeffgerrard.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word jeffgerrard.com and, Jeff, thanks for joining us today.
Jeff Gerrard: Hey, a pleasure.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Jeff Gerrard: Take care, Larry. Bye.
Larry Jordan: Steffinnie Phrommany is a working actress, which means that she has figured out how to successful negotiate the new world of casting, which follows our whole theme for this week’s show. Welcome, Steffinnie
Steffinnie Phrommany: Hi Larry.
Larry Jordan: As a Los Angeles based actor, what kind of projects do you work on?
Steffinnie Phrommany: Oh, gosh, I work on a lot of different projects, from big productions to very small independent productions and commercials, as well as TV.
Larry Jordan: Where do you find the bulk of your work – film, TV, commercials or what?
Steffinnie Phrommany: I would say commercials at the moment, but more film than TV.
Larry Jordan: Do you have a manager or an agent?
Steffinnie Phrommany: I do. I have two agents, I have a theatrical agent, which is Across the Board Talent, and then my commercial agent is Coast to Coast.
Larry Jordan: Why have two?
Steffinnie Phrommany: If you have more people on your team working for you, I think, you know, it’s a better situation because you have more people looking out for you.
Larry Jordan: You’re using the word theatrical in a very specific sense. Theatrical does not necessarily mean stage plays. What does it mean?
Steffinnie Phrommany: No, it actually encompasses films and TV.
Larry Jordan: Let’s shift gears from all the different roles that you’ve played into getting work, because I love talking about getting jobs. Who’s responsible for getting you an audition?
Steffinnie Phrommany: You know, the sole person is me, but I have a team that works for me as well, you know, to get me in the door with a casting agent.
Larry Jordan: But wait, wait, wait. You’ve got agents. Aren’t they supposed to get you work?
Steffinnie Phrommany: They are, but as far as being your own, I guess, business, you have to go out and, you know, have a good relationship with your agent, make sure they are getting you those auditions and you kind of have to stand on top of your game as far as your marketing tools and everything, you know, that you advertise yourself with.
Larry Jordan: So in other words, a significant chunk of your own personal time is spent in marketing you.
Steffinnie Phrommany: Definitely. Definitely, as far as getting head shots, as far as putting a reel together, you have to be, you know, on your A game because there are so many people out there doing this as well.
Larry Jordan: Well, let’s just talk about demo reels and head shots for a minute. In the old days, which sometimes feels like last week, you’d print a head shot and you’d staple your resume to the back. But from what I understand, those days are gone. How do you get your head shot in front of the people that need to see it now?
Steffinnie Phrommany: Well, now everything is all done online, pretty much. You know, everything is digital, which is great because there aren’t a lot of casting directors that require you to bring in a head shot for the audition and that actually saves a lot of money.
Larry Jordan: But if everything is online, it seems to me that people are making decisions based solely on looking at your head shot, which is a frightening thing, if you think about it.
Steffinnie Phrommany: It definitely is frightening.
Larry Jordan: What techniques can you use to get people to pay attention to your skills as an actor, as opposed to whether your head shot photographer had any talent or not?
Steffinnie Phrommany: Well, it depends. I mean, there are two different, you know, casting directors. There’s commercial casting and then there’s theatrical casting. So commercial does just solely look at a great head shot because 90 percent of the time they’re looking for a specific look. Theatrical agents will kind of delve a little closer into your resume and your reel, so it’s a little bit of both depending on what you are going out for.
Larry Jordan: So is the resume still important?
Steffinnie Phrommany: The resume still is important because there are actually a lot of star names that are going out for the littler roles, as you would say, the co-stars, the guest stars, which usually would be open to up and coming actors and now it’s a numbers game. The more you have on your resume, the more probable you can get a chance to get that audition.
Larry Jordan: Well, the other thing that you’ve mentioned in addition to the resume is the demo reel. How important is the demo reel? How long should it be and what do you put on it?
Steffinnie Phrommany: Well, back in the day, the demo reel could be, you know, five minutes long and then they chopped it down to three minutes; and now, since everything is so, you know, about now and about the quickest amount of time, a lot of people are cutting their demo reels down to one minute.
Larry Jordan: It’s got to be frustrating to spend all this time honing your craft and have your entire career judged in a nanosecond on a head shot and a 30 second clip from a demo reel.
Steffinnie Phrommany: Yes, it is. It’s hard to do that because you want to put your best foot forward, but if you want to show them more of yourself, different characters and stuff, it’s really hard to get it down into that minute. But YouTube and everything that’s online is pretty much 30 seconds or maybe even ten second clips where people’s focus isn’t on watching long clips any more, it’s about the ten second funny or the two second whatever.
Larry Jordan: Well, this could get really depressing so I’m going to change the subject.
Steffinnie Phrommany: Ok.
Larry Jordan: How often do you update your resume and how often do you update your demo reel?
Steffinnie Phrommany: You know, as often as I get work, you have to keep updating your resume and your demo reel.
Larry Jordan: And how about head shots?
Steffinnie Phrommany: A lot of casting directors now will look at when the last time you updated your head shot, so you have to keep that current. I would say within a year to six months, because all of the casting websites now have a date under your photo where you uploaded it so you can’t keep it up there too long because casting directors will look at that.
Larry Jordan: So you can’t be 21 forever.
Steffinnie Phrommany: You can’t be 21 forever, yes.
Larry Jordan: What companies do you submit head shots to? Do you send them to the agents and they submit it? Or do you do the posting and, if so, what are typical online companies?
Steffinnie Phrommany: Typical online companies are Actors Access and, like, Casting and Casting Frontier and basically, when you sign with an agent, they have you upload your resume, your skills and your head shot and basically your agent will go with you through your head shot process and they’ll tell you which ones they want you to upload. But the three main casting websites are Casting Frontier, LA Casting and Actors Access, aka Breakdown Services.
Larry Jordan: The head shot, the resume and the demo reel are all marketing tools that you use to get yourself in front of a casting agent in hopes that they pull you in for a face to face casting session, is that true?
Steffinnie Phrommany: It is true. You know, that’s pretty much the gateway to getting in to the casting director.
Larry Jordan: So do you think this is helping or hindering your career as an actor? Or is it just the way life is?
Steffinnie Phrommany: It’s helping the casting director, I believe, having everything digital. As far as being an actor, I think in the old days where you would send in hard copies, it was better for the actor who was persistent, because they would take the time to do the mail outs and pay for postage and all of that; and now, since everything is online, anybody can do it and that’s the thing that’s hard for the actor nowadays, because you’re kind of on the same playing field. And then for casting directors, they get thousands of submissions a day, you know? And they actually have to kind of scroll through all these little digital thumbnails as head shots now.
Larry Jordan: What projects are you doing that we should pay attention to?
Steffinnie Phrommany: Well, I actually have a movie coming out on DVD called The Advocate and it’s a great crime/thriller movie, if you like, and it has a great cast and a wonderful director, Tamas Harangi, and yes, it’s a great movie.
Larry Jordan: And it’s called what?
Steffinnie Phrommany: The Advocate.
Larry Jordan: For people who feel they need to hire you today or want to keep track of your career, where can they go to keep an eye on what you’re doing?
Steffinnie Phrommany: You can go to the IMDB website. Also I have a Vanity URL there. It’s imdb.me/steffinniephrommany.
Larry Jordan: And Steffinnie Phrommany is a working actress and one that we hope has continued success. Steffinnie, thanks for joining us today.
Steffinnie Phrommany: Thanks for having me, Larry.
Larry Jordan: Jane Jenkins and her long time collaborator, Janet Hirshenson, run a company called The Casting Company. Jane is a casting director and a casting director for hundreds of the world’s most successful films, including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, A Beautiful Mind, Jurassic Park, the Transformers and – one of my personal favorites – The Princess Bride. I first met Jane when creating an episode of 2 Reel Guys and it is a delight to visit with her again. Welcome, Jane.
Jane Jenkins: Thank you so much. Nice to visit with you again.
Larry Jordan: On tonight’s show, we’ve been focusing on casting. What are the qualities that make a good casting director?
Jane Jenkins: Well, I think that the most essential quality is that you have to really love actors. You can’t do that if you have hostilities towards actors. I think you have to love actors and you have to love the whole process of film and theater, whatever your persuasion is in terms of casting. There are some people who only concentrate on working in theater and some people who only concentrate on commercials or television, but I think essentially we all need great actors to fill the parts that the writer has written and the director is looking for and so, for me, it comes from really caring about finding terrific actors and encouraging them to do their best work.
Larry Jordan: Describe the process, and let’s just look at a typical film, however you want to define that in your own mind, describe the process of casting a film.
Jane Jenkins: Well, you start with a script, it always starts with the written word. Because Janet and I cast predominantly feature films, most of our relationship is with the director, more so than a producer, but equally, you know, you work with both but I get calls mostly from directors who are asking us to cast their film.
Jane Jenkins: So you start with the written word, and as I’m reading, I frequently go through the script as I’m reading and if there’s a character who is described very specifically, sometimes an actor will pop into my mind and as I read I make little notes. Sometimes a character is described very openly and it could be a myriad of men or women, you know, the parts are not necessarily specific. It could be, you know, the judge could be anybody.
Jane Jenkins: So you sort of make those notes as you go along and once I’ve been hired on the project, I sit down with my director and talk about all of these characters, who are the people that they have in mind, if they have anyone in mind; sometimes in order to get a film made, you know, for example when we did A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe came with the film and then my job was to find actors who would be really terrific and capable of working with an actor of that strength and dynamism.
Jane Jenkins: So, you know, sometimes you start with a leading actor, sometimes there isn’t anybody and you start at the top and you go through all of those parts and you send out what is called a breakdown that goes out to all of the agents in both New York and Los Angeles and the agents will call and say, “What about this actor? What about that actor?” But in the meantime, I’ve already made a list, compiled a list, discussed it with my director and then there are actors who are mentioned who I hadn’t thought of who I think might fit for that part added to the list and have conversations…
Jane Jenkins: Sometimes there are actors, when you say to a director, “What about so and so?” they say, “Fabulous idea,” and they just make them an offer and you check with the agent to see if they’re available and interested. Then, as the parts sort of diminish in size, you go to actors that you are auditioning and bringing into the parts; sometimes there are actors that I am familiar with and know well enough to bring them directly in to the director and sometimes it’s actors that I’m not familiar and they come in to audition for me or for my partner Janet on her projects and then pretty much everything is done on video and that video is uploaded to the computer.
Jane Jenkins: In the case of somebody like Ron Howard, who doesn’t live in Los Angeles most of the time, he can be on the East Coast and he and I could look at the video on the computer at the same time and make decisions about who he would want when he comes back to Los Angeles and we’ve worked on films, you know, in the case of The Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons, we hired actors from around the world and so we could look at those actors and I hired a casting director in England for one and a casting director in Italy for the other and those casting directors put people on video, we watched them on the computer and then when Ron went back to either of those countries, he would meet the actors that we had chosen together.
Larry Jordan: There are three key people that you work with in some regard. One is the producer, one is the director and one are the actors. What do you view as your role as you work with the producer, or your role with the director, or your role with the actor?
Jane Jenkins: Well, my role, I am hired primarily to bestow my director’s vision of the film he is making and I would say that that is the same truth in terms of the producer who has hired me. It’s usually, you know, the production company that is paying me, but it’s the director that I work most closely with and the producer and director are very closely aligned on the project that they are endeavoring to put together.
Larry Jordan: So really, from an actor’s point of view, you’re the director’s surrogate to help channel the right people to the director to minimize the amount of time he or she has to spend, by having you do the search.
Jane Jenkins: Absolutely. Those are the people that hire me, that’s the person that I answer to, that’s the person that I need to fulfill their needs.
Larry Jordan: Let’s take a look at the actual working with actors. How did casting used to be done? And I need a brief answer to sort of set the scene, but how is it done now? Because technology has changed everything.
Jane Jenkins: Oh, it has changed everything. You know, the actual process of casting, making the decisions, has not changed enormously from before we even had film, really. You need an actor, they audition for a part, you like what they’ve contributed to the part, you hire Actor A as opposed to B, C or D that you’ve also seen, you know, because they fulfill your fantasy of what that part should have been.
Jane Jenkins: I feel that the internet and the technology has broadened the ability for actors all over the world, literally, to be seen. I get many more submissions now than I ever did before, but because they’re on my computer, it’s actually a little easier and less daunting. In the olden days – not so long ago – if I put out a breakdown for a movie, I would literally get hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of manilla envelopes filled with pictures and resumes from various agents, from actors trying to submit themselves, to the point where it was a daunting task just to open them and watch them and you looked through as many as you possibly could.
Jane Jenkins: Now, that information goes out through a closed circuit, you know, service of internet and it’s much easier. I don’t have to physically stand and open a zillion envelopes, not to mention the trash that I was creating, slowly filling up all of the landfill. I can see hundreds of actors submitted for each part very quickly. Frequently they have a little video attached to them of previous work, so if it’s an actor that I’m not at all familiar with, I can see a three minute segment from some television show, or even a commercial or a film or whatever, so I can see who they are walking and talking.
Larry Jordan: But if you’re looking at thousands of head shots on the computer and each thumbnail is about an inch in size, how can you even begin to make an informed decision?
Jane Jenkins: Well, because there is a resume attached to that thumbnail, you can enlarge the thumbnail if it’s a look that you think is what you’re looking for, the same way I would have done with an eight by ten glossy. I turn over the picture and I look at the resume – who is this actor? What has he done? Where have they trained? What other films have they worked in? It’s really the same thing, only I don’t have to handle a zillion pieces of paper.
Larry Jordan: Let’s get to that thumbnail, when you’ve flipped it over and you’re looking at the resume. How important are resumes and how are you using them?
Jane Jenkins: You know, resumes have real value, but it’s a limited value. I like to see on a resume where somebody has studied, have they gone to Julliard? You know, it sort of indicates the kind of seriousness of an actor. But that is not to say that an actor who has limited time in a class is not equally as talented, which is why these little video clips are so important and precious.
Jane Jenkins: But I look at what else have they done, do I feel that they’re at a level where they’re capable of a larger part? Because a lot of actors’ growth comes with experience and that confidence that makes them a star comes from, you know, the experience of having done this many, many times.
Jane Jenkins: But God knows, I’ve hired many actors who have very few credits and have given a number of actors their first job in a film and have cast partly to them, which is a process that you go through when an actor is not already a member of the Screen Actors’ Guild or now SAG-AFTRA, so there’s unlimited possibilities. It just depends what the needs of the part are and how I feel that person, that actor, fits the needs of the character that I’m trying to cast.
Larry Jordan: What makes a good demo reel and how long should it be?
Jane Jenkins: Well, a good demo reel need not be longer than five minutes, tops. I prefer to see professional work, even if it’s very small. I prefer to see somebody who’s actually got a clip from a TV show or even a commercial or a film that they’ve done, even if it’s one line, because I want to see them in that professional setting. If there is no professional work that can be obtained – sometimes it’s very difficult. I always tell actors that I think it’s very worthwhile to just do some films so that you have some real footage – but then if you’re going to just put together a little monologue or you own little theme, keep it short, keep it simple, keep it well lit, well directed, so that it looks like you are the film maker.
Jane Jenkins: I think that that is probably the most difficult aspect of this technology, is that actors in some sense have to become their own film maker and whether you are shooting your own audition or you’re shooting a test or shooting a little monologue, you have to watch movies, watch television, see how things are framed, see how they’re lit and try to set yourself up so that you are seen, literally and figuratively, in the best light.
Larry Jordan: So then what should not be in a demo reel?
Jane Jenkins: Oh, performances that you don’t feel show your best work, just because it’s all you have. If it’s not something that you feel is going to further your career, show you in your best light, then it should not be on your demo reel. Just because you had the job and it was dreadful doesn’t mean that it should be there. You’re better off not showing anything than showing work that embarrasses you.
Larry Jordan: What marketing can an actor do to catch the eye of a casting director that would be most useful?
Jane Jenkins: Mmm. Hmm. You know, I don’t know. The competition among actors, especially now that not only has the Screen Actors’ Guild and AFTRA merged and so if not twice as many, almost twice as many, actors as there used to be who are already card-carrying members of a union, but because we now live in a time of truly world cinema, there are actors that come here every day from Scandinavian countries or from England or from Australia or wherever, everybody wants to come to America because this is the land of, you know, the most movies that are out there and that are seen on the worldwide stage.
Jane Jenkins: So I think that the marketing of an actor has truly gotten very difficult. I think that if an unknown actor arrives in Los Angeles, for example, they are best served trying to get into a theater company, because casting directors, agents all go to the theater and you need an agent. You know, it’s very hard to market yourself without a reliable agent to help you along the way, but it is possible. There are so many ways, even without agents.
Jane Jenkins: There’s a website that is supposed by the Screen Actors’ AFTRA Guild called Actors Access that lets you submit yourself on a project and allows you to have a little video reel on that so that you can send it out to casting directors and say, “Take a look at me here, you know, I’d love to come in and meet you.”
Jane Jenkins: There is an app for your Smartphone called Actor Genie that some very smart casting director, who you may want to interview, invented this app that tells actors names of every casting director in both New York and Los Angeles, the agents, the managers, what’s being cast in both film and television, if they can submit themselves or at least alert their agent, who may not be aware of the project. There’s LA Casting, there are all sorts of ways online for actors to get themselves out there.
Larry Jordan: What tips should an actor keep in mind when auditioning for a casting director?
Jane Jenkins: You know, come in and understand the material, work on the material and feel confident that you’re doing your best work. Keep it honest, keep it simple, keep it real. You know, a lot of actors come in because they’re very nervous and if they’re auditioning mostly for a smaller part, they want to give it their all and they come in and they’re so over the top that I have to just stop them and say, “Ok, take a deep breath, start this all over again and stop working so hard.”
Larry Jordan: Jane, I could talk about casting with you for the rest of today and the work that you and your partner Janet have done is just unbelievably great films. I want to thank you for all of your hard work in the industry and for sharing your time with us today.
Jane Jenkins: You know, I’m very lucky. I love what I do and it’s always a pleasure to talk about what I do. And to all those actors out there, tell them just to keep on keeping on.
Larry Jordan: Van Maximilian Carlson is a Los Angeles based director and editor who has worked in documentaries, commercials and several ongoing films. His film, The Troll, won the Best Short Film at the 2012 Los Angeles Independent Film Quarterly Film Festival and, I might add, stars The Buzz’s very own Patrick Saxon. His films have won over 15 awards and, Max, welcome.
Van Maximilian Carlson: Hi, how are you?
Larry Jordan: We are doing great. I mean, your film, The Troll, is stunning. I was impressed with the directing, the acting and the lighting.
Van Maximilian Carlson: Thank you. Well, thanks, it was a big collaboration between all sorts of people, including Patrick as a major role in it, so thank you.
Larry Jordan: You know, tonight’s show is talking about casting. How did you go about finding the right actors for your film?
Van Maximilian Carlson: Well, this really was, like, literally everyone was cast because I had either seen them in something or I knew them. Because I wrote the film as well, I had Patrick in mind pretty early on, I mean probably before I actually wrote it, I had him in mind as someone who I thought was interesting, he was an actor that I had seen onstage in a theater production, I think it was Shakespeare, some sort of play, and I just thought he would be good for it and I think he was, I think he did a really good job.
Van Maximilian Carlson: Petra Wright, who was the lead actress in the film, she was my neighbor, actually, and I had met her and she was really sweet and she said she was an actress and she showed me a film that she was in and I thought she was awesome, so I didn’t go through the traditional route of finding a casting agent or anything like that. These are all sort of people I knew.
Larry Jordan: So you avoided that casting director or you just didn’t feel it was necessary?
Van Maximilian Carlson: It just was not necessary because I wanted to keep it small and I already had these people in mind, so it just came about that way and it was easy, actually. I was lucky.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so let’s put our two leads to one side. You still had other people to consider. What do you look for when deciding what actors to invite to an audition? What goes through your head as you’re casting?
Van Maximilian Carlson: For the most part, I look for someone who just has some sort of resonance with the character I’m casting for and I guess there’s a state of vulnerability that the troll had to have so, for instance, for the lead troll, I had sensed the vulnerability when I saw him on stage or for the older troll, for instance, he just had the ability to, be real I guess there the extension of like reality aspect of it where I can connect with the feeling of it, the emotion of it, and for the most part I kind of like a more subtle, subdued performance, for this at least, so I don’t know, those are things I paid attention to.
Larry Jordan: When you’re running the audition and the actor is there, will you ask them to do multiple readings? Will you give them direction? Or do you just sort of open the room and say, “Do whatever you want and impress me”?
Van Maximilian Carlson: So for this, I only had one person that I kind of had an audition with, because the other two I already knew, so for this I just gave them the material and had them read it in the way that they thought it should be read, but it was the troll, so it’s already like a fantasy genre, so the other actor who played the older troll, he had the ability to do different voices, so I kind of just had him doing different takes on what the voice might be, like a groggy sort of older sound.
Van Maximilian Carlson: But really, I try to keep it simple. I mean, if it’s not working, if it’s maybe too over the top, I’ll say maybe do it a little bit less or this way, but for the most part my direction is kind of simplistic. I sort of choose an actor who I’ve seen do something really great and I just kind of assume they’ll understand it, and so far that’s worked out.
Larry Jordan: Well, you’ve done more films than just The Troll. What are some of the other films that you’ve done? And did your casting process change for those?
Van Maximilian Carlson: The other short films that I’ve done, yes, the casting process did change. We did a casting call for some of the short films. The other short films I’ve done were quite a while ago. Before this, I did a documentary, a feature. But the short films, we did a casting call, people came in to read for us and we just had five prepared for them and basically we let them do it their way, the way that they wanted to do it and if we responded to it, the producer and I called them back and sort of had a more personal one on one kind of meeting, and that’s where you get to dig in quite a bit more. You know, you might ask them to try it a slightly different way or whatever, but yes, the process for the other short films I’ve done was a casting call.
Larry Jordan: So what’s your next film and how are you going to do casting for that?
Van Maximilian Carlson: My next film is a sort of a drama martial arts film set in Chinatown and for the lead roles, I actually again have people in mind for it. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get them, but I think for the majority of the other roles, I think I will go through a casting agent, which is something I’ve not done before.
Larry Jordan: And why work with a casting agent?
Van Maximilian Carlson: I have the feeling that this is going to be such a, up until now I’ve only done short films, which I’ve directed and produced, and a feature documentary. But since this is a feature narrative, and I have a lot of characters in it, I just feel like a casting agent will simplify the process for me, versus me actually putting down a casting call myself and all that, doing it that way, because I am used to being very independent, where you kind of do it yourself type of thing, but for this I really want to reach out to people who are professionals in finding great actors.
Larry Jordan: And for people who want to keep track of you and your films, Max, where can they go on the web?
Van Maximilian Carlson: Sure. Well, my production company, Oddbox Films, they could go to oddboxfilms.com and have information about films that I do and stuff like that.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, oddboxfilms.com and Max Carlson is the director of these films. Max, thanks for joining us today.
Van Maximilian Carlson: Thanks so much.
Larry Jordan: Take care. Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Jessica Sitomer is a job coach and she helps people find work. She’s also a regular on The Buzz and she’s the President of The Greenlight Coach. But what makes her especially relevant to our show on casting was that Jessica started her career as an actress. Welcome back, Jessica.
Jessica Sitomer: It’s great to be here.
Larry Jordan: We’ve listened to a lot of guests talk about the changes technology has made in their casting process. As actors, first, and film makers, how can we make technology more personal?
Jessica Sitomer: Well, the main thing right now is that social media is playing such a huge role in it that you can actually get to know people on social media and they can get to know you in that personal way, whereas, you know, if you’re just submitting online or if people are just looking at your Actors Access, there are specific questions that people ask you to fill in and asking for your blouse size is not going to make it really personal, so it’s important to continue to create those relationships outside of the technical world, but you can marry it – like I said – by using social media, so you can get to know people in the techie world through social media.
Larry Jordan: As Steffinnie told us, demo reels used to run five minutes, now they’re running three minutes and some actors are even cutting demo reels down to a minute. If you’re trying to describe your skills as an actor, what do you put in that one minute demo reel?
Jessica Sitomer: You put your best one minute forward, the one that shows you in the best light and again you share that on social media so that it attracts people’s attention to your social media pages, to your website pages. If you can, embed your website on that one minute so that maybe they’ll go and look and see more, because if they only have a minute of you but they want more, if you have your actor website on your actor’s reel, that one minute reel, then they can go and learn more about you, as well as have your social media site on your website so they can get to know you on a personal level.
Larry Jordan: When you’re putting that minute together, are you worrying about context? Are you trying to tell a story in a minute? What should the content be and how cohesive does it need to be in terms of telling a story?
Jessica Sitomer: Well, I can only speak from a producer’s perspective, because I’ve cast three television shows, and I’m looking to see, I want to see talent. I also want to see what they look like on camera, so you want to make sure that, in that minute, I get to see a bit of your talent as well as the shots that you look great in, because I’m always looking for my television show. I’m looking to see if you fit in there, so your look is going to be important.
Jessica Sitomer: I mean, my advice is always look at other actors’ reels who are working, see what they’re doing and then model their success.
Larry Jordan: Jeff talks about the fact that the websites now have got thousands and thousands of head shots on them. How do we catch the attention of a casting agent with our resume, our demo reel and our head shots when we’re swimming in such a large sea?
Jessica Sitomer: Well, that’s my point. My point is always that you don’t, you really don’t. You have to create those relationships outside and the whole purpose of online is what catches their attention is, “Oh, I recognize that person from meeting them in a workshop. Oh, I recognize that person because I mentor them. Oh, I recognize that person because they’re very active on social media.”
Jessica Sitomer: If you’re swimming with thousands of people, your head shot’s not what’s going to do it, your reel is not what’s going to do it, your resume’s not going to do it. It’s the personal relationships. This is still about being out there, networking yourself, getting industry mentors, getting a brand on social media and getting people to know you, because if they don’t know you, you’re just one of thousands.
Larry Jordan: There are so many people out there. How do we avoid getting really depressed?
Jessica Sitomer: Well, you remember what you’re really extremely passionate about and then you look at how much time and work you’re putting into it. A great metaphor I use is when I first started in acting class, there were, you know, 40 people in my acting class and 20 of them were women, ok? So half of my class was my competition.
Jessica Sitomer: But then you break it in half again, because only half of them were in my age range, and now there’s ten of us. But then you break it in half again – only five of them actually look like me and were my type. Then you break it down again, I was working ten times harder at my craft, I was working harder at my business. So suddenly, you’re not really competing; it’s the other four people are just kind of sitting in that room waiting for something to happen.
Jessica Sitomer: So the competition really isn’t as great as everyone thinks because, like I said, if thousands of people are just submitting themselves online, what can you do for your business to make yourself stand out outside of the online life so that you can create those relationships and then you will be in that top ten percent.
Larry Jordan: Jessica, this is a theme that I’ve heard from you over the years. It isn’t just sitting back waiting for the phone to ring. It’s building personal relationships which are going to get you the next gig. Is that still true?
Jessica Sitomer: Absolutely, 100 percent. People need to know you, like you, trust you and care about you. If they’re going to spent eight days, eight hours, eight weeks, eight months, eight years with you on a show, they need to know that they’re going to like you, that you’re going to be easy to work with, and they can’t tell that just from a picture and a resume online or a reel. They need to get to know you and that’s what makes people top of mind.
Larry Jordan: For people who want to learn more, where can they go on the web, Jess?
Jessica Sitomer: thegreenlightcoach.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word – thegreenlightcoach.com – and Jessica Sitomer’s the President of The Greenlight Coach. Thanks, as always, for your words of wisdom, they are much appreciated.
Jessica Sitomer: My pleasure, as always.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests for this week, starting with Jeff Gerrard, the owner of Jeff Gerrard Casting; actress Steffinnie Phrommany; Jane Jenkins, the co-principle of The Casting Company; director Van Maximilian Carlson; and Jessica Sitomer, the President of The Greenlight Coach.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot happening at The Buzz between shows. Visit digitalproductionbuzz.com and click on ‘Latest News’ for the latest industry updates. Also, check out our show transcripts every week, compliments of Take1.tv – you’ll find them on the show page itself. You can talk with us on Twitter, @dpbuzz, and Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com.
Larry Jordan: Music is provided by Smart Sound. The Buzz is streamed by wehostmacs.com. Our producer is Cirina Catania, our ever handsome engineer, Adrian Price. On behalf of Mike Horton, my name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to The Buzz.
Voiceover: This Digital Production Buzz was brought to you by Blackmagic Design, creators of the world’s highest quality solutions for the feature film, post production and television broadcast industries.