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Is Your Agent One Of The Good Guys?

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By Marci Liroff

My relationships with agents and managers are essential to my business.

Since I’ve been casting for several years, some of these relationships go back over 35 years, to the days before cellphones, fax machines, and (gasp!) email. Back then, agents would stop by my office to sit in the lobby, read the scripts, and submit clients by going through their book of photos. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Nowadays, communication is lightning-fast and a lot can be lost in translation when we take the “face-to-face” out of the equation. As an actor you need to make sure that your agent is representing you with integrity and precision. From my years-long relationship with an agent or manager, I learn whether I can trust them to have good taste and honesty when I’m negotiating a deal or checking a client’s quote (what they earned). If an agent lies to me about an actor’s salary I know I can’t trust them—at all.

When an agent or manager tries to go around me and deal directly with my director or producer, I realize they don’t respect me or the process. The other day an agent said that his client needed to read with the director, not me. I pointed out that I’ve worked with this director for the last 12 years and no one goes straight to him unless I know their work intimately or I’ve read them before. I explained that the casting director isn’t a hurdle to be jumped over, but a relationship to foster. That actor got to come in and work with me beforehand and get the bonus of all the inside information I had before she read for the director.

When I release a Breakdown or put out the word to the agency and management community (through Backstage, for instance) that I’m casting a project, the submissions start to flow. Actually, it’s more like a barrage. Many times agents use photos that are 10 years old and black-and-white (which we don’t use anymore), or résumés that aren’t updated. Or they’ll call or email with a client suggestion and not include a link to their demo along with a photo and résumé. Lazy? Careless? Overworked? I’m not sure—but it’s not effective in the least.

You’ve got to “police” your agent (and his or her assistant) to make sure your most up-to-date information is being sent.

When we go through the Breakdown we view it in the order it’s submitted. Many other casting offices will view it by agency—viewing the “biggies” first. I don’t play favorites by representation. I make my choices of who I want to see by the photo, résumé, training, and video clips, not by my favorite agents. That said, if an agent with whom I have a longtime relationship calls me and says, “You’ve got to meet this kid!” I do it because I trust them.

Some agents submit what we call a “laundry list” of their clients. I hate this. Instead of actually reading the screenplay, they just read the Breakdown character description (the equivalent of not reading the book in college and only reading the Cliff’s Notes). Because they haven’t read the script they don’t understand the tone of the project and their submissions are usually off. Instead of suggesting a small handful of handpicked clients, they send all their clients in that age range. I truly appreciate the agents who go the extra mile (which, frankly, shouldn’t be extra) and read the script and send me well–thought-out choices.

After over 35 years as a casting director there are only a couple of agents and managers I won’t deal with. This is due to their lack of integrity and professionalism. That said, if there’s an actor I need to see, I don’t hold it against them that they’re represented by these asshats. I find a way to get them in anyway.

When signing with a potential representative, you need to do the groundwork to check their reputation within the industry. Ask around and make sure you’re with one of the good guys.

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.

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Learn The 4 Phases of TV Pilot Testing

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By Marci Liroff

In my Audition Bootcamp classes I take my students through what it’s like to test at the network level. It usually scares the crap out of them. They sit there, agog – their faces in a state of shock and fear. I’m one of those people that like to know everything about an upcoming situation before I jump into it – typical type-A personality. I figure if I have all the Intel, I can deal with it easier. It seems to take a lot of the “what if” anxiety out of the equation. I hope this exploration of what testing for a pilot helps you too when you get the opportunity.

The Preread
First, you read for me. No one meets the creative team (producers, director, studio and network executives) unless I know their work or I’ve auditioned them before. If I like what you did in this audition, I’ll bring you back to read for the producers and the director.

The Callback
If I like what you did in the preread, I’ll bring you in to read for the producers and director. First, though, I’ll have worked with you and given you notes based on my meetings with them (and with the network and studio) to ascertain what we’re looking for. If you do well in this audition, we’ll test you.

Testing for the Studio
Most pilots are produced by a production company (the studio) and aired on the network. First, you test for the studio. (Some studios are also networks, such as Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu.)

Since we want you to succeed we usually schedule a “work session” with our creative team to go through the scenes and make sure you’re ready.

Meanwhile, business affairs will be negotiating with your agent. For the test, the contract states that you are on “hold” with the studio and network for the next seven to 10 days until we either release you or pick up your option. This puts you in “first position” with our pilot; you can’t test for other projects because most networks won’t let you test in second position.

Speaking of signing a deal, when you get to the studio test location you’ll be met by a business affairs executive and about four pounds of paperwork (your contract) that you’ll need to sign before testing. You’ll be in a waiting area with three to four other people also testing for your role. It’s all nice and congenial and there’s a thick fog of tension in the air. While you’re meant to be prepping for your big opportunity you have to sign your life away (well, only the next five years!).

You’re asked to come into a small theater (think small screening room) or a conference room where the 20 or so executives are assembled to watch your audition. I’ll be sitting at the front of the room to read with you. Or, the actor you’re playing opposite will be there to read with you so we can see your chemistry. Even though these people want you to get the role, don’t expect a lot of warmth emanating from them.

At this point you’ll probably feel as if you’ve left your body and are looking down at your puny self. Resist this at all costs.

Remember what I told you about nervousness having the same physical sensation as excitement? Check out Jack Plotnick’s superb video on YouTube to get back on track.

You read, you say thank you, and you return to the waiting room and your fellow actors. At this point I may stick my head out of the room and say, “Hey, Johnny, we’d like you to come back in again. And you two can leave.” Yeah—it’s that blunt. But don’t overanalyze it. We might have loved what you did and want to see if Johnny can lighten up in the scene.

Testing for the Network
After your studio test, we narrow it down again. It’s a similar situation—a different room plus even more executives. You need to stay calm, not choke, and do exactly what you did for the studio test. From this point we have however many days your agent negotiated to pick up your option.

Some TV networks and studios are taping their tests, which I think is better and less stressful for all concerned. Instead of coming in and testing live in the room at the studio and network, we’ll tape your work session, get the perfect audition and take that in to the executives on a DVD. This way it’s comparing apples to apples. We tend to do this for single camera shows, and still do live auditions for multi-cam shows.

If you make it to any of these tests and don’t get the part, know you did your best and move on to your next audition. Pat yourself on the back that you got this far. It truly is amazing.

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My New Year Prayer For You

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By Marci Liroff

Here comes that time of year again. New Year’s Day brings with it a time of reflection on the past year. For many, it’s a time to restart programs, habits, exercise, and things we let slide during the last several months. It’s time to take stock of our lives and plan anew.

For an actor it’s a great time to reassess what’s working for you and what’s not. If you’ve been keeping a daily diary or spreadsheet of your auditions and meetings this year (as I suggested in my article “How Keeping a Diary Can Help You Book the Job”) you’ll be able to see your progress in black and white. This little trick will show you that this year you had 25–30 auditions and last year you had only 15. You’ll be able to track your callbacks and feedback.

Perhaps it’s time to let go of old precepts and thoughts and shift your mindset. I always come back to this. Your perception is the one thing you have control of in this business.

So much is out of your control (how you look, you’re too old or young, you remind the director of his ex-wife), but after you’ve sufficiently trained and prepped for the role you are the only one who can control how you’re going to let it affect you. You have the choice of how you’re going to view your audition and how you view it thereafter. Are you going to kick yourself time and time again after each audition when you didn’t do what you wanted to do? Or are you going to learn from it — specifically what went wrong or what sent you off the rails? Are you going to continue to let that voice inside your head say, “I’m not right for this. I always screw up in comedy — I’m no good,” or are you going to master that voice and banish it not only from the room, but your head forever? You have this choice.

You also learn from what you did right — those times when you feel comfortable in your own skin and you come ready to play. You’re prepared, you’re flexible in those moments when you get a director who wants to work with you in the room. You’re there to have fun and get the job done. You come in as a collaborator rather than someone who just needs to book a job. Once again, it’s your mindset. We pick up on the energy you bring into the room.

Reflection can also take another path. In my article “Why Do You Act?,” I talked about Will Smith being asked by Jimmy Fallon if fame can ever be scary. His reply was right on the money. Smith replied that it could be, especially now that his kids are coming into the business. “But I tell them…keep loving people. The thing is to make sure with your art that it is a gift to people to help their lives be better and brighter. What happens a lot of times when you see people fail in this business is that they’re in it for their ego, and they start doing it for them. It’s like, no, you’re trying to help people get through a day.”

As this new year begins, I urge you to keep loving, be mindful, be good to yourselves, and be of service to those around you. You are artists and you have a story to tell.

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.

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