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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.

These 3 Mistakes Might Be Ruining Your Chances of Getting Cast

By Marci Liroff

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

This is the last week of special reduced pricing. Grab your discount now by purchasing one of the steeply discounted packages or single coaching sessions and use it before the end of 2020. Check out the info here.

There are countless career land mines begging to be stepped on by an acting newbie—but that’s where people like me come in. If I can stop you from making these three mistakes below, my job here is done.

You’ve got an audition. How do you prepare? You should read through the script a couple of times or, if you just have the sides, read them through several times. Learn your lines, make distinct choices, and be ready to read for the casting director.

I can immediately tell in an audition when you’ve never rehearsed the scene with another human. I understand that everyone has a different process for preparing, and no one practice is right for everyone. That said, you cannot have a natural conversational rhythm unless you have practiced with another person. That can be done by phone or in person—however your go-to scene partner is ready. Email your sides to your father, girlfriend, whoever; just make sure you’re not reading your lines for the first time in front of the casting director at your audition. And, no, reading to yourself in the mirror doesn’t count.

Another thing I strongly suggest is to learn a scene every day, even if you don’t have an audition coming up. When an actor comes in to audition for me and says, “Hey, I just got this last night, so I’m not quite off-book yet,” I immediately tell them, “So did everyone else.” I’m not saying this to call them out or to be nasty, but to give some perspective to rejigger their thought process. Casting directors love to give you as much time as possible with the material, but sometimes we don’t get the material from the writers until the day before it shoots, leading to a rushed session. Learning a scene every day will keep your memory muscles fresh and get you in the habit of learning something on a quick turnaround.

And you won’t just need this skill for auditioning; it’ll save your ass on set, too. You’ve probably noticed on previous projects that scripts are constantly shifting and changing. Sometimes, you can spend the entire night learning your lines before a shoot, only to arrive on set the next morning and have the first assistant director hand you a set of sides with full rewrites.

If your brain isn’t already in the habit of learning lines quickly, your head will explode.

And, finally, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an amazing audition, at the end of which the actor says, “Ugh! That was terrible. I’m so sorry! Can I please do it again?” Stop talking us out of liking your performance. Admittedly, we all have bad days, and actors can turn in bad performances; if you feel you’re not in the zone at the top of the scene, by all means, stop and tell us you’re going to start over. No excuses, no apologies. Just say, “I’m going to start over,” and do it. Learn to trust yourself and have confidence in your performance. So often, I see actors make great choices and bring authenticity to an audition, just to then show us that they don’t believe in themselves by expressing how much they think they sucked. Sometimes, being vulnerable and showing us your interpretation of a flawed and complex character can leave you feeling uncomfortable. I suggest you try to work through that uncomfortable feeling by embracing it as a natural human reaction to showing us your true heart; don’t apologize for it.

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.

A Step-by-Step Guide on How Your Favorite TV Series Get Cast

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

By Marci Liroff

In light of the pandemic, I am offering special pricing for my private coaching (remotely of course!) You can buy a steeply reduced package now and use it later (must be used before the end of 2020) Check out the info here.

Have you ever wondered how a TV series gets cast? Well, I’m here to give you the 411. This is a long one so grab your favorite beverage and buckle up buttercup!

The casting department is usually one of a small handful of department heads who are hired right after a project is green-lit and goes into pre-production. A huge difference between casting for film and TV is the pacing. Casting a TV pilot and series is like jumping on a moving train and praying it doesn’t run you over. At its very best, between scheduling, writing, scouting, and more, casting for TV is a constantly moving puzzle that runs like a well-oiled machine.

On TV projects, there are many cooks in the kitchen. We have the studio that is producing the project and the network that will air it. Each has a group of executives that weighs in and add to the number of hoops an actor has to jump through to get the coveted role. That means when my deal on a new TV project has just been closed and my butt has barely hit my office chair, it won’t be long before I receive a call from my casting executive at the studio asking me for lists. Lists are the casting director’s preliminary suggestions for the series regulars, along with the availability of the actors.

Early in the process, casting meets with the creatives—usually the showrunner and executive producer who has, in most cases, created the show, along with various other producers. This is a creative meeting to go over the script and assess our needs. Some of my frequent questions are: Do we need a “name” actor for this role? Do we need to do a worldwide search? Should we hold open calls? I also emphasize the need to cast inclusively and with diversity in mind to make sure we are including everyone in our continued search.

After meeting with the showrunner and other creatives to assess the series’ needs, we release our breakdown of characters needed and brace ourselves for impact. My office becomes inundated with calls and emails from agents and managers pitching their clients. As we gather actors who pique our interest, casting becomes the first stop on the auditions trail. During pilot season, the casting time frame is accelerated because of the amount of talent to be seen, but also because every casting director is trying to get “Joe Star-of-the-Week” into their offices first. We’re all competing against one another for the same talent pool. During this time, we move swiftly to gather our ideas and set up auditions for “producer sessions” where the producer(s) and director sit in on the auditions or watch them on our site, where we’ve uploaded the audition clips.

Now, here’s where it gets tricky: If we see someone we kind of like, we immediately have to get a test deal going on them. By closing a test deal for the actor, we have the right to “hold” them for five to seven business days after the network test until we decide whether we will cast them. This keeps them from testing on other projects; we effectively take them off the market for conflicting projects. The reason it’s tricky is that we are usually testing actors way before we have seen all of our choices, so it’s very hard to make decisions. With this process, it’s a miracle that you ever get a cast like those on “Friends” or “Will & Grace” that are so dependent on the chemistry between the cast members.

If the actor makes it through the first testing process at the studio, we’ll then take them to the network to test. This is adding yet another group of executives into the decision-making stew.

Testing has changed so much over the years. On some shows, we test the actor live in the room in front of a small audience of executives and creatives for the show. It’s usually a small screening room or a large conference room that is often very cold and uninviting. The casting director usually reads with the actor, unless it’s a chemistry test audition, where we’re looking to see how the testing actor lines up with an actor we’ve already cast. The tension is thick in the air, and it’s usually a very nerve-racking experience for the auditioning actor.

Actors are left in a waiting room with two other actors faced with the prospect of signing a contract to cover the next seven years of your life. We call you in one by one and you audition, then go out into the waiting room with your remaining competition. Sometimes, I stick my head out of the room to say, “You guys can leave, but we’d like Tim to come back in and do it again.” This is where things get even trickier. Just because I’ve told you to leave and asked Tim to come back in doesn’t mean you didn’t get the part. You may have done very well, and we don’t need to see you read again, but we want Tim to do it with a different pace to the scene. Your goal is not to overthink this disparity in treatment.

Lately, more shows are doing a “work session,” wherein we work on the scene together (casting director, director, producer, and actor) and videotape it. This work session becomes your “test,” and we show that to the studio and network executives instead of hosting a live audition. I prefer this way because we’re finally comparing apples to apples. We’re casting for television; it makes sense to be seeing someone on tape rather than seeing them live and imagining what they’ll look like on a screen. We can also do the scene multiple times until we get it right and then present that at the test.

Another difference in casting a TV series rather than film is that for the series regulars, we have to think of long-term relationships and how they might play out over the years. We’re looking to hire actors who can grow through the coming seasons. We need smart, articulate, hardworking talent who can withstand the grind of a TV filming schedule week in, week out. I said before that casting for TV is like managing a moving train and you don’t want to get run over—but that’s essential to the process. It must run like a train schedule or it’ll fall off the rails; we need multi-taskers across all departments because we are simultaneously in pre-production, production, and post-production every day.

Once casting and creative have made a decision on an actor, we have the pleasure of informing them that they’ve got the role!

Calling their agent or manager and then getting the actor on the phone to tell them they’re joining our project is the best part of my job.

Then—oh, you thought we were done?—there’s one last hoop to jump through in casting the pilot: The table read. The table read is where we get all the actors we’ve cast together to read through the script while all the creatives and studio and network executives watch. We use this time to see how our full cast looks and feels together. Unfortunately, some actors don’t make it past the table read and can get replaced on the spot. Here’s a cautionary tale of a table read I did for a feature film I cast.

It’s an exhilarating process when we finally get the whole cast in place and start shooting. Then, we wait to see if it gets picked up!

During network pilot season, there can be as many as 100 pilots produced. After that, the advertisers and networks decide which shows will go to series. Casting is always anxiously awaiting the upfronts (where the advertisers and showrunners announce their yearly pick-ups) to see if their shows will go to series and they’ll have a coveted weekly job. It’s at this point that we see if our entire cast will be going forward. A show can get picked up to series, but the network can ask for recasting. In this situation, the casting director comes back to work before the series casting begins and brings in actors to replace the actor who’s being recast. Sometimes we have an obvious second choice and sometimes we start auditions all over again.

Once we’re officially back to work on the series, we meet with the creative team to talk about the show “bible,” which outlines the storylines for the show and each character. We talk about new recurring characters being introduced and the needs for each, along with the upcoming shooting schedule. The schedule is key, because it lets us know when we have to have actors in place for those roles. TV is more of a producers’ game than film, and the director is usually the guest for each episode.

Each week, we meet with the team to talk about the upcoming episode and brainstorm about casting. Casting will pre-read roughly 30-50 actors for each role (depending on the size) and usually bring the producers and director up to seven options. Then we discuss our top picks and come to a decision on who we’d like to cast. Casting receives the pages as they are written—sometimes up to the last minute.

Then, we run these choices up the flagpole at the studio first with the casting executive, then at the network. We even have to get network and studio approval on actors who only have one line. At first, I thought the level of studio and network oversight was a bit much, but I soon realized that these executives are casting about 30 shows each season and they have hired several thousand actors each year. They have a bird’s-eye view of actors who are doing great work and actors who gave them trouble on set or didn’t quite perform as expected. They also can see if a particular actor is getting a little over saturated within their network. I have come to depend on their advice and guidance.

Then we go back to our line producer and get their sign-off on the schedule and the days each actor will work. We negotiate the deal with the actor’s agent and get their paperwork underway. Once the deal is closed, we pass off the actor’s info to the wardrobe department, and they take it from there.

Once we’re cast, we go to the weekly table read for each episode. Again, it is here that an actor can be replaced, we have to recast, and the whole thing goes around and around again. Lather, rinse, repeat!

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.

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