Inside the World of a Casting Director – 3 Part Series

By Marci Liroff

People always ask me, “What does a Casting Director actually do?” Well, I’m here to tell you all about it! Joy Wingard wrote to me from college saying she’s interested in being a casting director and wanted to know what really goes on in the world of casting.  Since I was crazy busy, I asked her to jot down a few questions and I’d answer them over the ensuing weeks.  She asked quite a few insightful questions that I wanted to share with you all.

Q: I’ve heard that casting for films is a lot of budgets, negotiating, and handling contracts.  Do you feel the position is mostly business or is there an equally creative side to it?  How about for a Casting Associate?

A: It is the CDs job to (sometimes) put together the casting budget.  It is sometimes done by the line producer, but they want our input (i.e. how much do you think it’ll cost to get a good actor in this part).  The CD negotiates all the actor deals (not the extras).  It differs from studio to studio, but some studios have the CD negotiate everything up to a Schedule F deal ($65,000 and under) and Business Affairs does the deals higher than Sched. F, and Warner Bros has the CD negotiate everything up to $250k.  The CD (and associate) need to know how to read a Day out of Days (the shooting schedule) and formulate a deal.  In television the deals are standard.  Business affairs negotiates the test deals for pilots and series deals, thank the good lord. There’s so much to do on a pilot, at least we don’t have the added pressure and time-suck of having to negotiate and paper (do the contracts) for all the test deals and series regular deals. The CD does the weekly/daily deals on the series, but like I said it’s a standard “top-of-show” formula for guest stars and SAG-AFTRA scale for co-stars.

The creative side comes in when you are assembling the cast and coming up with ideas in terms of putting together the perfect ensemble.  I try to think of creative ideas that are unexpected and outside the box.  There is a LOT of psychology involved in handling the large groups of the creative team (producers/writer/director/executives at the studio).  You want them to hire “your guy” and you have to get them to feel that it was their idea in the first place! The CD is part of the team that makes the final decision on who gets cast.  It is ultimately up to the head of the studio/network to approve our choices.  The CD is an invaluable part of this decision making process.

Some jobs are more creative than others.  Some jobs you feel like you are just a glorified taping facility. I try and stay away from those situations! Depends on what you’re working on and who you’re working with!

Q: This pertains a bit to the prior question, but what is a typical day like for you – and for a Casting Associate?

A: ME when casting a pilot:
Up at 6am. Read and answer as many emails as I can that came in throughout the night and early morning. Remember, we’re a global casting community now. Submissions are coming in from everywhere around the world via the internet. Check submissions on Breakdown. View TONS of demo reels and self-taped auditions. Return calls. Exercise (very important) and walk the dogs.
9am-10am – get to the office and continue the above.  Check-in w/producers/director/network execs and answer questions and get answers to questions! Pre-reads and general meetings for upcoming auditions.
Sessions w/producers for several hours. Return calls/emails throughout. View MORE demos and auditions. Negotiate deals. Go over the budget. Meet with producers. Talk to studio execs and network execs.  Keep everybody informed and on the same page.  Go over more submissions. Try to be creative and come up with people to flesh out the cast.  LUNCH – usually in the office – working lunch trying to catch up.  Afternoon – more of the above.  Leave work around 7or 7:30.  Come home, walk the dogs, make dinner, return calls/view submissions/demos/return email while eating dinner until 11pm go to bed.  6am…wake up, rinse/wash/repeat.

Associate: get into office 9am, check messages, return calls/emails.  View demos and auditions.  Upload anything that wasn’t uploaded last night to our website so the team can weigh in. Go thru submissions.  Schedule auditions.  Check avails. Check $$ quotes to give to biz affairs so they can negotiate series test deals. Fill out test deal forms for biz affairs. Maintain and update master lists on ALL roles (meaning who we’ve seen, who we’re thinking of, who we’re getting tape on, who’s pre-read….and ALL their avails. This is an incredibly tedious process and must be kept up-to-date for the studio/network.).  Field calls all day long.  Take agent/mgr pitches.  Schedule Marci’s pre-reads and general meetings.  Negotiate co-star & guest star deals.  Videotape auditions, edit, and upload them.  Working lunch and catch-up. Clearing actors w/front gate to get drive-ons. Go over submissions w/Marci and pick who’s coming in to our next session.  Brainstorm new ideas.  Leave around 8-9 pm.

As you can imagine, trying to be creative during this process – not easy! I think it’s nothing short of a miracle to get a brilliant cast during pilot season. Imagine that there are probably 60 other pilots all trying to get the best actors for their show simultaneously. It’s like a giant race trying to get the actor you want into your office before the other guy gets him!

Do you have any questions for me? Feel free to ask them here!

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To Be(off book) Or Not To Be(off book) – That Is The Question: 4 Hot tips For Success


By Marci Liroff
Many of you ask me if we expect you to be off book. For the first audition, we expect you to be completely familiar with the material, have read the script if available, and have made distinct character choices. You can look down at your sides for reference. But, as you come in for call-backs 2 and 3 times, and certainly for any test at the network or screen test on a film – yes, be off book.  You can still hold your sides if you need to, but be off book.  As you know, competition is SO stiff, and if the next guy is more prepared than you, then it doesn’t make you look very good.  For us, your behavior in an audition is indicative of how you’d be on the set.
Why would you NOT want to be as prepared as you possibly can? I always say, THIS IS YOUR JOB PEOPLE! Why would you come in and do a “sort of good” attempt at the material when you can be GREAT?! You’ve spent years training, you’ve done the work, you’ve studied, now go out there and be as fabulous as you can.
Being off book allows you to connect to the person you’re reading with. It makes your audition look more authentic because you are PRESENT in the scene. When the actor is continually looking down at his sides you sort of break the spell that you are trying to create. As the viewer or reader, it takes me out of the scene when an actor is reading off the page or continually looking down at his sides – usually at a crucial moment in the scene.
Being off book means you are going to be on your toes when that rare moment comes along and the director actually gives you notes in the room and asks you to do it again. Yay you! It means that he/she actually SEES something in you that makes them want to see the scene again with their re-direction. It means they want to see if you actually CAN take direction. Because you know the material like the back of your hand, you’ll be able to LISTEN and weave those notes into your already fine-tuned and thought-out performance because you’re not struggling with the lines. Currently I work with a director who is very articulate in “actor speak” and he’ll give you 10 notes on a scene and expect you to integrate them into it. Try that if you don’t really know the lines? Your head will explode!
Hot tip #1: Hold the sides in front of you. Turn the pages along with the flow of the scene so that if you do get lost, you can easily dip down and find your place and continue along, with ease and grace, and we don’t have to stop and start over. If you get lost – how you get back on track is also something we look for. If you have a total meltdown and start apologizing and freak out and dissolve into a puddle because you got lost or have to start over – that gives us pause because we wonder how you will be “on the day” if you aren’t handling things well in our little office when the meter isn’t running yet! We’re all human, we make mistakes. How we handle them is the key.
Hot tip #2: Holding the sides also shows the executives (network and studio) who are watching this audition outside the room, that it is a work in progress. It’s not a finished product. You can’t imagine how much they all scrutinize your performance. Since they’re removed from the work space (our casting office) they sometimes forget that we’re still playing – this is not a finished performance. When they catch a glimpse of the sides, it plays subconsciously into their viewing skills and reminds them that – oh yeah, these aren’t dailies. It’s subtle but it works.
Hot tip #3: Your memorization skills also come into play when you’re actually shooting. I cast a tv series last year and I couldn’t believe how often lines were flying-in as we were shooting the scene. Both producers were writers on the show and they were changing-up dialog while shooting. If you don’t have this skill-set now, go get it! Develop it. It’ll be the sharpest tool in your bag that’ll take you a very long way in this business.
Hot tip #4: Have you ever been given a scene and the other person in the scene has a long speech and they skip over the whole speech and just read the last line?! You’re all prepared to be listening and responding to the speech and they’ve jumped ahead and you’re totally thrown. Ask FIRST before the audition starts if we’re going to be doing this whole speech or all this dialog within their speech – then you’ll know whether they are going to skip over it or not. I usually advise my coaching clients to ask the CD or reader: “Can you please read the whole speech as it’ll help with my reactions?” Good idea, huh?
For me – one of the key elements in an audition is whether an actor is LISTENING. Whoever these CDs are that are skipping over large chunks of dialog so that they can get to your lines are SO missing the point here. I love to see the look on the actor’s face as he’s comprehending and reacting to what the other character is telling them. 
There are many ways to memorize lines – you have to find the system that works for you. Practice. You can learn a scene or a monologue every day and it’ll help your brain start to become comfortable with this process. Here is a long list of ways to learn lines. There’s also a great app called Rehearsal  which is great for memorization along with other wonderful bells and whistles. Figure out which one works for you and start sharpening your skills. 
In closing, please know that we’re not just looking for the actor that can memorize all the lines. That’s just one very small part of your performance. How you interpret the scene and the character and make it your own is what we need to see as well. Along with knowing the material well, you’ve got to be able to change things up if/when the director gives you adjustments. I see some actors get so locked-up in the way they’ve rehearsed it that they can’t make any changes. We need to see that you will be able to adapt to any changes that come along. 

You can read a version of this article on BackStage Magazine.

Want more tips and general thoughts on life? Be sure to bookmark my blog and follow me here!
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What Everybody Should Know About Twitter’s Dirty Little Secret

By Marci Liroff
Oh, you’re gonna thank me for this one! If you’re a Twitter freak (read = addict!) like me and you don’t already know this, you’re gonna love this one.
When you use twitter usernames at the beginning of a tweet it will ONLY appear in the twitterfeed (of your followers) to that person you’re tweeting to AND all those that are following BOTH you. OK, read it again because this took me awhile to actually grok.
Example – if you tweet:
@marciliroff you are such a great social media teacher thnx SO much 4 2day!
The ONLY people (of your followers) that will see this tweet in their twitterfeed are ME and all the folks that are following BOTH you and me.
BUT – if you want ALL the people who are following you to see it (so that it helps ME – because social media is all about connectivity and helping promote thru tweets and this is a form of promotion; it also shows what a smart person you are by thanking someone publicly and letting your followers know that you are a good twitter citizen)….you’d tweet:
Thanks SO much @marciliroff 4 being such a great social media teacher! Loved our session 2day!
You can also say:
.@marciliroffyou are such a great social media teacher thnx SO much 4 2day!
If you put a “.” BEFORE the @username, everyone who is following you can see it.
Now, here’s the important part, if you and I were just goofing around back and forth and bantering – I’d reply to your initial tweet and put your name FIRST so that it wouldn’t end up clogging all my followers’ twitter feed with mundane crap. It drives me absolutely crazy to see people using Twitter like their email or IM and having a chat back and forth. If I’m following BOTH of them, I have to see their ENTIRE conversation which should be reserved for their personal space.
I see a lot of people lately, responding to people and RTing the original tweet with their comment first – thus we get to see every friggin’ thing that they’re responding to while they’re doing their “replying housekeeping”. Oh joy!
It was great! RT @JoeBlow so @MrRockStar how was your show?
Get it? Got it?! Good!
I’d love to hear your comments!
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