Day 9 of our 10 day countdown…Wouldn’t it be great if the Academy Awards finally included a category for casting directors? The best actors are only able to perform at their best with a stellar cast to work alongside, the best picture would rarely be the best if the whole cast wasn’t amazing, and they say a large portion of a directors job is selecting the right cast. So… for the ten days leading up to the Oscars, lets tip our hats and give kudos to every casting director whose project was nominated for an Oscar for acting, directing, or best picture… today let’s check out who it was last year… in 2014…
When a writer comes up with an amazing idea for a TV show and wants to pitch it to a network, a ‘Show Bible’ is created, which includes the following materials:
• Overview of the show
• Target demographic
• Style of show
• Intended network
• Intended timeslot
• Intended number of episodes per season
• Intended budget per episode
• Series lead character breakdown
• Series regular character breakdown
• Intended cast or character prototypes using existing celebrities
• Full ‘treatment’ for each of the episodes in the first season
• Pilot script for the show
• Marketing plan
• Financial figures from comparative shows in the genre or style
• Full scripts for additional episodes are occasionally added
These items are combined with a few additions that may be specific to the project. The writer’s agent, manager, or producer (or anyone who knows the right people) sets up a ‘pitch session’ with executives from each of the TV networks for which the show may be appropriate. The writer and/or producer attend each meeting, show bible in hand, and pitch their concept.
Each major network only has enough time slots for a certain number of new shows each season, but will finance several times that number of pilots. For example, a network might finance fifteen TV pilots for a given season. Those fifteen pilots are cast, filmed, edited and viewed by network executives and test audiences. Of the fifteen, the network may only select three or four shows to ‘pick up’.
A TV show being picked up means the network agrees to finance additional episodes of the show (usually in blocks of 12 for network TV and 13 for cable), and allocates a time slot for it to be aired. The creator(s) of the concept and the writer(s) who wrote the pilot episode almost always become executive producers or consulting producers of the series. Modifications are made to the show according to the results of test audience screenings and network input. Storylines are changed (if necessary), and some characters may be removed, added, or re-cast.
Unfortunately, pilots that don’t get picked up are rarely ‘saved’ for another season. This is partly because the cast and crew move on to their next projects. With a different cast and crew, the existing pilot episode would no longer be an accurate ‘sample’ of what the show could be like. Sometimes, however, a show will sell a TV series to another network after not picking the show up themselves.
When a TV show airs, the ‘ratings’ (number of viewers) it gets on American TV determine whether it stays on the air. The ratings are called ‘Nielsen Ratings’ (named after Arthur Nielsen). Shows can be taken off the air after as few as one episode, or after many seasons, depending on how the show is rating at the time.
The pilots that are ‘picked up’ are announced in May each year. A week later, the ‘upfronts’ (meetings where many TV commercial timeslots are pre-sold) take place. ABC and NBC each shoot an average of 20–25 pilots and pick up around ten. CBS, FOX, and CW each shoot between ten and twenty, and usually pick up around five.
If you can’t get to LA yet, there are many things you can be doing right now to prepare:
• SAVE AS MUCH MONEY AS POSSIBLE. Think of every fifty dollars you don’t spend as one more day you can survive in LA.
• STUDY YOUR CRAFT. Take the best acting classes you can find as often as you’re able.
• Learn a PERFECT standard American accent.
• GET ON STAGE. I can tell whether an actor has a substantial theatre background within moments of watching them perform. It will add tangible depth and layers to your work. Do community theatre, school plays, whatever you can get your hands on.
• Learn how to do as many accents as you can. This skill will aid you for the rest of your career.
• Girls should learn how to do hair and makeup to suit different roles.
• Fix your teeth. Make sure they’re straight and white, unless your type is ‘creepy homeless guy’. This is more important than you’d think for lead roles in LA.
• Fix your skin. Eat less sugar, drink more water, eat well, exercise, cleanse, tone, and moisturize your face twice a day … and if that doesn’t work, see a specialist. Clear skin is a must for American TV and film.
• EXERCISE! You need high energy and great stamina to stay alert on a film or TV set for twelve hours a day. If you want to play lead roles, get your body looking healthy and toned for your body type. Do not simply try to ‘get skinny’.
• Find two great two-person scenes from films. One comedic and one dramatic. Memorize and prepare. These will be your showcase scenes.
• Find two great monologues: one comedic and one dramatic. Memorize and prepare. You will use these in the rare instances a director asks you to audition with a “monologue of your choice”.
• Film yourself performing scenes as often as possible.
• Go to AS MANY AUDITIONS AS YOU CAN. Think of every audition as a free class on audition techniques.
• Do LOTS of short films and indie features to gain on-set experience.
• Read scripts of great films online at Scriptapolooza.com or InkTip.com to become familiar with what a good script looks like.
• Watch every single one of the ‘top 250 movies’ listed on IMDBpro and observe who cast and directed them.
• Select a top director and watch a selection of their films. Become familiar with the top directors in the industry.
• Watch every movie that has ever won best picture, actor or actress at the academy awards.
• Watch American hit TV shows and learn the CD and actor’s names.
• Join every casting website in your area.
• Improve your cold reading skills by reading dialogue into a mirror for fifteen minutes a day.
• Get some friends together and shoot a web series for FunnyOrDie.com or YouTube.com.
• Get your resume, headshot and demo up to a professional standard.
• Practice memorization. Memorize one page of a character’s dialogue from a two-person scene every day. Aim to be off-book in ten minutes.
• Go to every film festival close enough for you to get to.
• Try writing a film or scene. Writing helps you understand more about what goes into creating characters and stories.
• ‘Follow the top filmmakers and actors on Twitter and Facebook. Watch how they market themselves and interact with their fan base.
• Write a business plan for your acting career. Write one for the next 1 year, 2 years and 5 years.
As with any other un-moderated industry, the staffing structure varies a great deal between casting offices. Following is a breakdown of the various job titles in the field of casting.
CDs (Casting Directors) as Film producers / Executive Producers
It is much easier for a producer to find investors to finance a film if name talent is attached to the project. Sometimes a CD will work on an un-financed project ‘on spec’ (for free) or for a small fee, to attach celebrities. Due to the fact that the majority of projects in development will never be green-lit, the CD may be given a ‘producer’ or an ‘executive producer’ credit. This credit is to compensate for the risk the CD is taking by spending time on a project that may never go into production.
Powerful CDs in Hollywood are often able to negotiate producer credits even when they are being paid their full rate. This is simply because the filmmakers are lucky to be working with CDs of this caliber and to have access to the celebrity connections they bring to the film. A producer credit is also often given because the CD actually did produce the film.
President or VP of Talent or Casting
Each studio and network has an in-house casting department. That is, a team of casting executives who hire, oversee, and work with outsourced casting offices to cast the various projects being produced by the network. Although the hired office is the one officially casting the show, the casting executives will still suggest actors for roles, watch the audition tapes, and approve the cast that has been selected. If there is a particularly large guest cast or for some reason the outsourced office can’t run a casting session, the in-house executive CD may run auditions.
Owner / CD
Most CDs own the casting company for which they work. This is made clear by the fact that most casting offices are named after the head CDs. In larger offices, there are some CDs who are not the owners of the company. An example of this is one of the largest casting offices in LA. The three owners (after whom the company is named) are working CDs and owners of the company, plus they have several other casting directors and associates working for them as employees.
Casting Director (CD)
A CD is in charge of sourcing and auditioning actors for a project. Most CDs are members of the CSA. CDs decide or collaborate with the pro- ducers and director on which actors are called back, and are often part of the decision making process regarding who gets the part (though ultimately the director and producer decide).
CDs remember and re-use talented actors they meet and like. They have both the authority and motivation to find new actors because most CDs truly enjoy finding undiscovered talent.
CDs working in TV or working regularly in film will usually have a casting associate working directly under them. The associate aids the CD with organizing and running the sessions, delegating work to the assistants, and dealing with paperwork when actors are booked. Casting associates are generally more accessible than CDs, so getting to know them can be the easiest way to get an audition for some of the impenetrable big offices. Associates are usually only a few years away from becoming CDs, so develop a relationship with them early before they get that big promotion.
Associates are often assigned the task of finding much of the talent for supporting roles in projects, which is one reason many of them attend showcases or workshops. Just because they are paid to be at a workshop (they usually are) doesn’t mean they aren’t actively looking for talent. On many TV shows, the associate is responsible for selecting almost all of the actors for the co-star audition sessions. Associates frequently do the initial selection from the submissions received online. Out of a thousand submissions an associate might choose a hundred actors from which a CD then selects the final thirty who are invited to audition.
Casting offices in LA often don’t have a specific ‘receptionist’. The person you meet at the front desk is often a casting assistant, though it can sometimes be the associate or even the CD. A casting assistant is usually a paid employee. Assistants help the CD with sessions, answer phones, and work with the interns sorting through the piles of mail received on a daily basis. They don’t usually make selections, but if an assistant finds an amazing actor, you can bet she’ll pass that actor’s info to her bosses.
Interns are usually university students, people wanting to get into casting, or actors who are looking to learn more about the casting process and hoping to network with the CDs.
An internship is an unpaid position with little power beyond possibly having the ear of the people in the office and VERY occasionally suggesting an actor for an audition. Interns sort through mail, make copies and coffee, and anything else the paid office employees are too busy to take care of.
Interns may not have much influence, but they are people who care about their goals enough to give their time freely for their career, which means they deserve your respect just as much as any other staff member in a casting office.
Extract From: The Hollywood Survival Guide - For Actors