The Dead Pile

Every now and then, I do a bit of cleaning up of the casting files. Not the tens of thousands of headshots and postcards (well, I do clean-ups of that stuff too, but usually those days involve a few interns and a lot of trips to the trash bin), but my projects’ admin files. I’ll go through the stacks of scripts and Producer Query Forms I’ve received in order to write up bids for casting services; the files of printed-out email exchanges with producers and directors; and the binders of lists, pitches — work product, basically.

I sort according to project status. If it’s a project I cast and it’s now out of the casting stage (shooting, post, actually out in theaters or available on DVD — depending on how long I’ve waited to do my clean-up since last time), I happily put all of the paperwork into a binder (or two, depending on how much paperwork the gig generated) and add it to my shelves o’ project archives, in case I ever need to pull it down to consult during a future project.

If it’s a project on which I worked but the dang thing eventually petered out (hey, it happens. Investors back out, locations get blocked, actors’ deals go bad, production companies crumble), I’ll either keep the paperwork in a “purgatory” file box (in case the project comes back to life) or move it over to a box labeled “The Dead Pile,” if I’m pretty sure there’s no chance of it getting back in shape (or, if, even if it does come back, I’m not so interested in working on it anymore).

If it’s a project for which I created a bid but was ultimately not hired to cast (for whatever reason — they didn’t like my bid, I didn’t like their style, we just didn’t click about the ideal cast, I was already obligated on other projects during their only possible window for casting, etc.), the script, the Producer Query Form, and any emails I’ve printed out also go into “The Dead Pile.”

And in just under six years of casting, I now have quite a dead pile. The first one in the pile was the one I told y’all about a couple of weeks ago in “The Spiral.” The second one was a film I cast that never shot. No huge big deal, but a disappointment nonetheless. For a couple of years after that one, I would get an occasional call or email from the producer telling me it was coming back. It never did. The third one was the really heartbreaking one. It’s the one that had an IMDb page with a message board hugely active over the amazing cast and brilliant script and buzz, buzz, buzz. And then the money went away. And then the producers parted ways (and it wasn’t an amicable split). And I was left having cast a beautiful film that would never be. And of course I’d never see my last payment for services either.

But that was probably the last one that got me really emotional to lose. Now I get that it happens. There are going to be projects that look good. Their teams are solid, their money is verified, their scripts are amazing, and we get great casts and still sometimes have things go “bad.” Nature of independent projects. (Heck, I guess it’s the nature of studio projects too. They just get the ax with a nice form letter from the head of the studio, rather than due to losing something they thought was a sure thing.)

So, now when a project goes over to The Dead Pile, I sigh, I reflect on the time I spent working on the project, I think about the relationships on which I traded in order to get access to actors who would say yes — only to never be paid to do a job, and sometimes I also think about the pay I didn’t get (although most of the time by now, I’ve gotten really good at protecting against that. Like I said, I get how this works now. I make better deals for my services). And if it’s a project on which I wanted to work, but for whatever reason my bid was unacceptable (like those protections I just mentioned putting into place in my casting deals now scared the bejeezus out of the producers) or the producers hired a different casting director or we simply didn’t click, I sigh, think about “what might have been,” and wonder how things are going on that project without me.

But this is a brief moment of “sigh and reflect.” Very brief. I don’t dwell on any of it. What good does that do? Lessons learned, moving on.

As I did my most recent shift of paperwork from my active casting files to binders (Yay! Completed projects en route to festivals and distribution! Woo hoo!) and to The Dead Pile (Boo! Or at least “sigh.”), I thought about actors and your dead pile. The stack of scripts for projects that never shot. The stack of sides for projects you never booked. The list of electronic receipts for online submissions on projects for which you were never even called in.

Do you sigh when you think of the films that didn’t go? Do you cringe over the pilot that didn’t get picked up? Do you get really bummed when you see the commercial for which you were put on avail airing? Do you watch an episode of your favorite show and see the actor who booked “your role” and yell at the TV? For that matter, do you watch movies for which you shot scenes for two weeks and wonder how all that work ended up on the cutting room floor, leaving your one and only blip of camera time to be only recognizable by you? And what’s your reaction when that happens? A sigh? Something more intense? Or just a shrug and a thought of, “Yeah. That’s how this business goes. Win some, lose some,” instead?

What do you do with your sides when you finish an audition? Do you keep ’em in an active file? Most likely, you do not. It’s my understanding that most actors will keep ’em long enough to be sure they’re not going to need them and then out they go. Many trash ’em right after the audition and know they can get the entire script if and when they are cast (besides, there might be changes to come). And how about those submission confirmations? Do you look at the long list of clicks and think, “Why didn’t I get called in on that one?” or, “Ooh, I so wanted that chance” as you scan ’em on your computer screen?

Here’s my point in addressing this whole thing: “The one that got away” is never fun to dwell on. If we spend too much time doing anything more than having a quick, reflective sigh and a bit of learning, of course — always get a lesson out of it when you can — it can begin to feel like a bit of “wallowing in self pity” going on. And that’s not good for your next audition. Nor does it feel good in general.

When you see “your” commercial on TV and recognize the guy who got cast as the one who sat right next to you in the lobby for final callbacks, don’t think about how it should’ve been you. Think about how close you came! Recognize that you’re thisclose to booking, when it has come down to you and the guy who got it. Realize that you did get cast, even if the project in which you got cast never shot. Realize that you did great work, even if the work you did ended up only in the “deleted scenes” part of the DVD. Realize that you’re landing all around the bull’s-eye on the dartboard. And any minute, you’ll hit it. You’re “booking adjacent” on some really good projects. Any minute now, it’s yours.

Let The Dead Pile be a great reminder of all the things you’re getting the opportunity to be a part of (regardless of whether they ever come to be). Let it help you with a shift in focus from the “didn’t get it” projects to how much cool stuff is even in your world in the first place. Every click of the mouse, every act of highlighting the sides, every YES on a project (whether it happens or doesn’t, down the line) is affirmation of your work as an actor… a pro… a seriously committed individual with craft and business savvy and yet another wonderful opportunity. Good for you!


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000935.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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