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How the Disabled Community Wants to Be Seen

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

By Marci Liroff

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Within the acting community, changes are happening every day. The Casting Society of America has been on the forefront of these issues. I spoke to the Equity in Entertainment Committee about their mission. “CSA is focused on amplifying underrepresented actors and empowering our members to cast authentically.  By engaging our members and the acting community alike in training events and discussions, we continue to introduce and advocate for actors in theatre, film, and television. To date, we have held open calls and training events for Performers with Disabilities, Trans and Non-Binary Actors, Native American and Indigenous Actors,  and Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian, and Senior Actors. Creating a rich fabric of representation across storytelling in all media is of paramount importance to our organization and with the current climate, we are more focused than ever on our upcoming initiatives and collaborations that broaden our relationships with underserved groups.”

Tony Winner Ali Stroker (“Oklahoma”, “The Glee Project”) told the NY Times,

“I promised myself that I would no longer accept jobs where I would have to be carried onstage.”

“That was a boundary I needed to set for myself. My feeling is, ‘If you can’t accommodate me, then you don’t get me.’ I believe I’m worth it.”

Oscar winner Marlee Matlin (“Children of a Lesser God”) spoke to the NY Times as well “On this 30th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, we must reaffirm the fight for inclusion. We can do this by creating opportunities for people with disabilities in every aspect of the entertainment industry: casting directors, producers, writers, directors.”

I spoke with Keely Cat-Wells, an entrepreneur and disability activist dedicated to making social, systematic and economical change. Currently, Keely has a management company based in Hollywood called C Talent which represents disabled artists.Keely is currently building a major film and TV studio fulfilling the need for studio space in the UK. Zetta Studios will be the world’s first-ever studio to be fully accessible for people with disabilities, that is carbon neutral, and founded by a female.

It seems that accessibility is one of the hurdles day-to-day. How do you navigate?

Yes, there are so many doors a lot of us cannot get into… (Literally!). Being accessible, in every aspect of the word is vital for this industry to be truly inclusive and authentic. The Disability community often asks for the most basic needs and they are rarely met. Designing with us in mind is an ideal. An invitation to the party, then access to the party, and then the resources to throw our own, is the goal. We navigate hurdles with a sense of familiarity in a world that was not made for us. We adapt to our environment and we get on with it – but imagine what we could do if there was true equity!  

What kind of role would you like your clients to play vs. the roles they get offered or audition for?

I would like to see more characters that are disabled not getting a trophy for going to school, leaving the house, or ‘overcoming’ their disability or achieving through their ableist viewed adversity. Please give us storylines where we get applauded for doing something genuinely brilliant. I would like to see roles breaking stereotypes, not re-forcing the ones the world has already painted of us. I don’t believe there are positive or negative depictions just wrong or right depictions. I would like to see disabled characters playing storylines written by people with disabilities. Roles that were not intended for someone with a disability to be played by someone with a disability – where the disability itself is not what makes the person scary, inspirational, or the odd-one-out. Having a disability is a lived-in experience and not a technical skill one can learn.

With all the information out there, do you ever tire of having to educate people as to your disability?

If who I am and if my disability can change the way people think and allow them to have an epiphany or even slightly rethink what disability looks like to them, then I am satisfied. I will never be tired of using my voice, but I am certainly exhausted of those who do not listen. Education is knowledge and knowledge is power. I am privileged to be able to give people first-person knowledge, what they do with it is up to them, but I will not stop using my experience to shape the future of others. Let’s create to create change. 

Make sure to check out my online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions. Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.

Take That Crap Off Of Your Demo Reel

TAKE THAT CRAP OFF OF YOUR DEMO REEL!

By Marci Liroff

Did that headline get your attention? I hope so. As a casting director, producer, and acting coach, I spend a good portion of my day viewing demo reels. Despite the recent changes in how a demo reel is produced, we still need to see a quality piece of film that shows you off at your best.

In the past, your demo reel would be anywhere from five to 10 minutes, depending on how much great footage you could gather together. The length of a demo reel—along with what is suitable for it—has changed over the years, and our brains have been rewired in terms of the speed at which we get an impression of who you are. When I’m sitting with film and television executives, I’m always amazed when they take a nanosecond to look at your audition (or demo reel) and say, “That’s our guy!”

A few years ago, it was inappropriate to put anything on your reel that wasn’t professionally produced. By that I mean the footage was always from a network television show, a studio film, or an indie. With the advent of inexpensive video cameras, the Internet, and Web series, all that has changed. So much of what I’m seeing now is either footage that you and your friends shot and cobbled together for an “indie project” or literally self-taped auditions edited together. There are also plenty of production houses staging “scenes” in their studios that you can use for your demo reel. Unfortunately, the quality of these productions is not very good. The writing, lighting, acting, and directing are subpar. I’d rather see nothing than see a bad demo reel. That bad impression will take a while to rectify.

There are many different opinions on this topic, but I like to see broadcast quality in picture and sound. Homemade videos look like homemade videos. They look like a scene out of all those Mickey Rooney–Judy Garland “let’s put on a show” movies. I know I’m generalizing here, and of course there are exceptions, but what this footage doesn’t show me (and what is crucial for me to see) is that a studio, a network, or a group of filmmakers has hired you. Along with your great acting, I can see that you have a record of being cast in legitimate projects by other professionals in this business—not just a scene or two that you’ve paid someone to put together for you.

Make sure to front-load your reel with your absolute best work. (And don’t start it with a photo montage set to music; that style went out in the ’90s.) As I mentioned before, most of the people viewing your demo reel have the attention span of a gnat and if you don’t grab them immediately they will click away.

Make sure your scenes feature you, not the other people in the scene. Just being in a scene doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile to show.

I shouldn’t have trouble identifying which character you are in a group of actors. You and your editor have to be merciless in editing your reel.

Monologues tell me nothing except that you can memorize a large piece of material and are probably better for theater auditions. We need to see you interacting with your partner. We need to see you listening. For me, this is the most important part.

In lieu of including everything, you can also post short individual clips of your scenes on various shows. Categorize them under “drama” and “comedy” so that we can view exactly what we need. They are, hopefully, short and concise and feature the best of you.

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Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions.  Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.)

SELLING AUDITIONS: IS NOTHING SACRED?!

By Marci Liroff
UPDATE 2:30 pm PST April 2:

As of 2:30pm PST we have word that the Casting Directors have taken the audition tapes off the auction block and instead are donating them to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. You can read the story first reported on Back Stage Magazine here. This addresses the “for profit” issues on these tapes, but donating them to the Academy still doesn’t address the privacy issues of these auditions. 

The Daily Variety articlequotes SAGAFTRA as saying “Auditions are not public performances, and under SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements performers are entitled to expect them to remain private,” said SAG-AFTRA General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. “Our collective bargaining agreements include protections for performers against exploitation of audition and interview tapes, which must be erased upon performers’ request. Failure to comply with such a request will result in formal legal action pursuant to the agreements.Unauthorized use of audition and interview footage may also result in claims against producers and casting directors under right of publicity and/or privacy laws.”   

I’ll say again: these audition tapes were not meant for public consumption or scrutiny by people outside of the production. Period.

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The casting community has been swirling with outrage the last few days over the news that two of our own are auctioning off several lots of audition tapes they’ve made through the years in Los Angeles on April 4th. Here’s the story.

Personally, I think the audition space is a sacred place and should be treated as such. When an actor comes in to audition, there’s an implicit agreement that the work they do in an audition is a work-in-progress and is only meant to be seen by those directly involved on the production in a contextual manner. It is not, and has never been, meant for mass consumption, sale, or distribution for profit. I have been asked countless times for audition footage – I’d never do it – and believe me I’ve got some doozies! I can only hope, and depend, that actors who come in to audition for me trust my discretion to not sell these work sessions.

 
I’ve spent the last few days alternately nauseated and enraged by this. Talks on Facebook within our casting community largely echoed sentiments of disgust and most were appalled. There were a few, however, who felt that by exposing these audition tapes to the public it had educational value and shows the public what we, as Casting Directors, really do. I agree with the “teaching moments” – just wish it had been approved by all concerned and if there’s profit to be made…then everyone deserves a piece of that pie.
 
Casting Director Matthew Lessall suggested that tapes like these should be archived and exhibited in a museum environment. I love this idea! Again, let’s get everyone involved to sign-off first and if there’s profit to be made everyone should share in it.
  
My contracts say that all work (including lists, videos, everything emanating from my office) belongs to the production and/or studio. Since this is all older footage they seem to be selling, perhaps the contracts didn’t have that clause in it yet? One can only hope.
Back Stage Magazine wrote a piece last night about this. The President of the Casting Society of America, Richard Hicks gave this statement:
“Richard Hicks, president of the Casting Society of America, condemned the auction in a written statement to Backstage, saying the organization “does not condone in any way” the sale or distribution of audition videos. “Actors who audition for the projects on which we work should have the reasonable expectation that their creative efforts during the audition process are treated with respect and used only for their intended purpose,” Hicks wrote. “Legal and rights issues aside, there is an ethical understanding among casting professionals that actors’ auditions are private.” He added that CSA “has always promoted and expected the highest of ethical standards of our members and will continue to do so.” Jenkins and Hirshenson are both CSA members.”
 
Many of the actors I spoke to were furious and worried about the future in terms of what rights they have over their audition footage. Will this be the new normal? I certainly hope not and judging by the CSA’s swift and harsh statement condemning those involved, people will think twice before doing this ever again.
I keep reminding myself that this is (hopefully) a “one-off”. This can’t happen again. I don’t know what the circumstances were that brought this casting team to think this was appropriate. I know there are two sides to every story. As of this time, Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson have not weighed-in yet. I have always held them in such high esteem for the countless movies they’ve cast so beautifully. I’m trying not to be judgemental but I’m losing the battle. I still can’t wrap my mind around this one.
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Marci