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How Easily Can You Pivot?

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

By Marci Liroff

We are going through unprecedented times. There is no playbook. The global pandemic has killed scores of people, and even more are sick. Our infrastructure is bursting at the seams, and the economy is being tested daily. The unemployment rate is at a historic high in the U.S. and around the world. What has become apparent to me at this moment in history is who can pivot easily and who cannot.

Are you going with the flow and turning a desperate situation into a workable one, or are you digging your heels in because you not only hate change, but won’t change? How you react right now is the litmus test of whether or not you’ll make it through.

I remember sitting with actor Marilu Henner years ago, and she said something so profound, it’s stuck with me to this day. We were having a “big life” discussion when she said,

“Life is about how easily you can slide into Plan B.”

Marilu Henner

This struck me as wise, because, as we know, life doesn’t always go the way you planned. Her whole life concept got me thinking that not only should I have a Plan B, but a Plan C is also crucial.

Then I started thinking about actors. In my opinion, no one is more prepared and equipped to pivot than actors. By virtue of their chosen path, they always have job insecurity. Many of the rest of us work nine-to-five, five days a week. For actors, it’s normal to not know what’s coming next, where you’re going to live, or how you’re going to pay your bills. Their training teaches them to be on their toes in every situation—to respond in real time to whatever is thrown at them. (Hello, improv!) Yet this profession is still sought after. Why? For many, the answer is, “Because I have to.” I would venture to say that actors are hard-wired to pivot.

As an independent casting director, acting coach, and intimacy coordinator, I am also used to my work ebbing and flowing. Sometimes I feel like a walking contradiction because I absolutely hate change. I like to know what’s happening next; I’m not the most spontaneous person you’ll ever meet. I sure don’t like it, but that’s the path I’ve chosen. I’ve become an expert at the pivot because I’ve learned fighting it does not help. 

I’m certainly not suggesting you concentrate on perfecting a professional pivot while you or your loved ones are sick; this article is directed at those who are well and able to do some work on themselves during this complicated time.

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.

Here’s What’s Happening Behind the Scenes After You Leave the Audition Room

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

The ins and outs of a casting director’s process can often be a mystery, but I’m here to break it down for you.

As CDs, our job is to collaborate with the filmmakers to bring their project to life by finding the perfect ensemble of actors. Sometimes, projects are simply offered to me directly; other times, I have to do the same dance that you do and audition for the job! I read the script, research the filmmakers, and come up with a few lists of casting ideas to give them a concept of how I’d cast their project. There are so many talented casting directors out there; in the end, it comes down to who you want to spend the next three months with going into war, tied at the hip.

For films, I get a script and break it down by the characters. I sort out which are the leads, and which are the day players. Those determinations are usually made by the size of the role and how long they work in the schedule. Because so many movies are shooting out of town due to various states’ tax incentives, I usually cast only the leads and co-stars out of Los Angeles, New York City, or London. The supporting cast and day players are cast on location. I used to go on location and do the casting myself, but it’s become much more cost-effective to hire a local CD, whom I oversee. They do their auditions in their town and upload them to my website. Similarly, when I’m doing a talent search for a role, I can have up to 10 CDs working in various locations and reporting to me.

When casting leads and co-stars out of the major markets, I go through my database and come up with a list of possibilities: wish lists, reality lists, and thinking-outside-the-box lists. Then I meet with the filmmakers to assess their needs and wants. For the larger, “star” roles for which we want a name, I make lists of suggestions and edit them down based on availability, salary, and interest. From there, we start to make offers to set our lead actors. Simultaneously, we start having auditions for the remaining cast.

To set the auditions process in motion, I send the project’s script out to all of the agents and managers around town to ask for their submissions. Immediately, thousands of ideas flood my inbox, and my staff and I meticulously go through each one to narrow down our possibilities. Actors we’re familiar with and like will go straight to producer sessions, and others whose work we don’t yet know will have a pre-read with my office. In the pre-read, the actor auditions for the role and we work with them to direct them toward what we’re looking for. I like to read opposite the actors so I can get a feel for their process and see if they’re listening to me and truly interacting authentically. These days, we’re solely seeing self-taped auditions. Meanwhile, my office is besieged by agents and managers with pitches and suggestions. (It’s a symbiotic relationship, and we need to maintain good relationships with the agents and managers as much as they do us!)

The audition process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Those we like will get a callback with producers and the director. We also tape all of our sessions and upload them to our website, so the creative team can weigh in.

Depending on the project, between my team, the filmmakers, and studio and network executives, there can be as many as 20 people viewing the auditions.

After auditioning, we narrow down our choices and have final callbacks or tests. For most tests, we negotiate the actors’ deal ahead of time. Business affairs usually does test deals, but the CD usually negotiates the actors’ deals for the project, depending on how big the deal is. We work with the production manager to learn the schedule of the actors and the needs for the deal.

Once we’ve done all the testing, we begin the process of setting the cast in stone, which consists of trying to get 20 people to agree on one ensemble. It’s not just a single person who has the ultimate casting decision, but a group of people coming together. Our job as CDs through that process is to oversee the final selection of talent to make sure the cast comes together in a cohesive, organic, and authentic way.

No project is the same, but as you can see, there are a lot of moving parts! Casting is a team effort; hopefully this gave you a peek behind the casting table’s curtain.

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.

How to Market Yourself

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

By Marci Liroff

We’re living in a wonderful time for actors. Back in the day when I started out, they’d anxiously call their answering service (this was a live person btw!) to see if they had any messages from their agent for auditions. Essentially, you would have to wait to be asked to the party.

Now, you have the opportunity to market yourself without hiring a publicist. There are so many free and/or inexpensive ways to get your name, and more importantly – your work – in front of casting directors and filmmakers. Here are some essential marketing tools.

Website

Having a website is like owning your own storefront. The basics are: your headshots, resume, and demo reel (you can also use clips). If you don’t have a proper demo reel with professional produced footage, you can use a self-tape but make sure to label it self-tape so as not to be seen as your demo reel, which is isn’t!.

If you don’t have a website yet, make sure to get your domain name as a placeholder to secure it so that no one else gets it. Personally, I stay away from GoDaddy (bad service, expensive, and the former CEO was game hunter). Other domain name sites are Google Domains, Square Space, and Name Cheap.

Social Media

There are many social media platforms to use to promote yourself, but you have to remember the proper social media etiquette. My article from Backstage was written a while ago, but my advice still stands.

Instagram – social media platforms come into fashion and others slide down the popularity list. As of publication of this article, I’d have to say that Instagram and TikTok are the clear leaders in this pack. That said, make sure you’re using these platforms to your advantage and not your detriment.

Twitter – Twitter has many uses. Here again, there’s a right way and a wrong way which will cause people to block you. Do a little research like I did when I started out to find out how to be a superstar on this platform.

Facebook– you can have your own person profile page for friends and family, and also create an acting page so as to provide some privacy along with

LinkedIn – a great way to connect with executives.

YouTube – get your own channel and post your own content. Do not post auditions here unless you’ve gotten clearance from the producers. Remember that their scripts are not ready for publication until after the project has been released. No spoilers please!

Be consistent and use your name for all your social accounts. You want filmmakers and casting directors to remember your name. Once again, if you don’t have accounts yet using your name, secure them now as a placeholder for when you’re ready to make the leap into social media.

Post cards and email campaigns

Many actors are still using postcards to send to casting directors to alert them to upcoming projects that they’ve been in. My unofficial poll concluded that most CDs throw them in the trash. Postcards have morphed into email campaigns.

Sending an email blast newsletter to CDs and filmmakers is a good idea but keep them to a minimum.

You don’t want to be clogging your potential employers’ inboxes with emails every week. If you haven’t used it before, check out Mailchimp for future campaigns.

Business cards

Business cards are still a good way to make a lasting connection once you’ve met someone. Remember that it’s not just you giving them your card, you are receiving their card as well. Make sure to follow up on that connection. You can print your headshot on the card along with a QR code to lead them to your website.

Email signature

Your email address should have your name in it – not a silly random name. Be professional – remember this is a business after all. You can get a free email signature account at WiseStamp.

Picture and resume

These are the most basic tools that you must have. Remember that your photo will most likely be viewed online on someone’s device or a small screen. Your thumbnail has to really pop so make sure it’s cropped correctly and features just your face. Your headshot should show us your essence – it’s you on your best day. Pick the right photographer for you through word of mouth, seeing their portfolio, and chatting with them ahead of time. Your resume must be accurate, formatted correctly, and updated regularly.

Subscribe to the various audition platforms:

These are but a few of the “must do’s” to subscribe to:

Actors Access, Breakdown, Casting Networks, IMDbPro

Work begets work

At the end of the day, the old adage that “work begets work” is true. When you’re starting out this is never truer. When I see a great performance I want to hire that actor, or at least bring them in for a chance to get a job.

 One of the most important elements in all of this is to always remember that you will find greater success by giving than receiving. When approaching a filmmaker you should have the attitude of “how can I make your life easier and richer”,  rather than, “What can you do for me?”

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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