It’s About Respect

My question to readers on the topic of “How We Can Make Your Job Easier” has provided so much material for these columns! None of the emails have been so passion-filled as those about the need for respect. Having worked as an actor the majority of my life (between the ages of 6 and 30), I can absolutely understand the level of frustration actors feel about the lack of respect in so many auditions. That said, I’ve been earning a living as a casting director for the past three years and, in that time, I’ve put actors in more roles than I ever filled in my life as an actor, so I may come across more as a CD than a former actor in my responses to your emails. My hope is that I help demystify things, rather than coming off as defensive. You’ll let me know, I’m sure!

One reader’s email really summed up how it is that actors can begin to believe they don’t deserve respect:

For a second there, I was speechless (which is a rarity). I’ve been so focused on how to make everyone else’s job easier, with the hope of eventually making my job easier; that I forgot it’s a two-way street. We need each other equally. Actors often forget that important fact, because we tend towards desperation, and thus give up our power in the room and in the presence of the high and mighty CD.

Another reader was quick to point out that most rooms have been filled with wonderful casting people. I thought it would be nice to share that bit of perspective too.

I have been actively pursuing my career for a little over a year now. By active I mean, I can go on four or five auditions a week, for leads in television and film. Yes my agent is amazing! Contrary to popular belief almost every casting director I have ever encountered has been nothing but sweet and understanding. Only on the rarest occasion have I ever been spoken to rudely or treated unprofessionally. So a BIG thanks to all the casting personnel out there.

On to the rants! Perhaps the most frequently-mentioned respect-related issue is that of timing. From several emails:

I hate waiting. I am sure this is often out of the casting directors’ control. I guess sometimes when it is a smaller low pay or no pay project it seems very disrespectful to make actors wait for long periods of time.

Some CDs run late, which is fine, but not fine when you are the last actor on the list and they rush you out because they need lunch or have another meeting. I would rather be given a second chance to come in if possible. At least apologize for rushing us out after we drove through traffic on the 101 and waited 45 minutes to be seen for two minutes.

Start the casting session on time, or within a reasonable time. I’ve been in sessions that started 30 to 45 minutes late.

Schedule appointments reasonably, so that we’re not waiting for more than an hour.

I know CDs have no control over the shirts’ punctuality but when things are running late in producer sessions it would be great if the assembled actors waiting could be given a head’s up as to what is happening.

I’m going to agree that making people wait (in any situation) is just about some of the rudest behavior on the planet. I am chronically early for appointments and I always bring work with me, so that I can write a column, return some emails on my handheld, break down characters in another script, or edit a chapter in a forthcoming book while I’m sitting around “doing nothing.” I absolutely hate being unproductive, so I’ve learned just to have work with me, always. It makes me resent less being made to wait.

Of course, sometimes tardiness cannot be helped. Sessions will get off kilter for any number of reasons (ranging from legitimate emergencies to inconsiderate network executives knowing all parties will continue to wait no matter how long they make them do so) and that’s part of the tough life that is the actor’s. I remember a CD telling me, years ago, “I wish there were a better way to know who’s best-suited for the role than having to go through auditions. Sadly, I can’t think of what other method we would use.” So, since auditions will always be a part of the role-getting process, and since waiting will always be a part of the larger calls (prereads, commercial sessions, EPAs), it’s best to come up with coping strategies for such times.

If you’ve done what I’ve recommended in previous columns and begun to keep track of which CDs run late, which CDs provide feedback, which CDs inform you to the best of their abilities prior to your auditions, then you can begin to know how much time each audition you have in the future will take up. Some CDs are legendary for making people wait. Others have a well-earned reputation for being on time and having no tolerance for actors who show up after their window. Keep records. You’re in this for the long haul, right? So, once you’re at a level in your career that allows you to decline auditions for which you’d have to wait more than an “acceptable” (to you) amount of time, you’ll know which CDs you’ll no longer be seeing!

I’m talking about chronic situations, here; not the occasional emergency-related late session. Please make sure you, too, note the difference. Also, know that most CDs don’t mind letting folks know the status of the room. I’m always sure to have my assistants inform those in the waiting room of any delays, also giving them the option of leaving and coming back, if that’s a better choice on that particular day. Obviously, the more “suits” involved, the less control the CD has over how anything goes in the room, so over all, be flexible. Always be comfortable asking the assistant for status updates and don’t ever be afraid that you’ll lose your chance at ever getting into the room with us again, should you choose to head out because you can’t wait any longer. As long as you check out with the assistant to be sure your status is communicated, you’re going to be okay.

From emails sent by parents of young actors:

Value our time and money. Consider that most kids are being coached for significant roles, which is an expense. Most kids don’t live right in LA, so with gas prices now that’s a significant expense. All of which we happily do for an audition we realistically have a shot at!

Realize that a professional actor has prepared for this audition and has incurred some significant expense to do so. Don’t send out four scenes if you are only going to do 1/2 of one (maybe we wouldn’t get that coaching). And run your sessions on time. Require that your actors are on time, as well.

There is nothing worse than having us schlep into NYC on a rainy, cold day after spending money on a private coach for a role in a feature film, gas and parking, only to discover that you REALLY were looking for 18 to play younger.

Why are 50 million little kids called in at one time and expected to wait for an hour or so? They are expected to be very quiet so they don’t hear them in another room. If they want it to be quiet, then why are so many called in at once?

Call in fewer kids. So many times, I see every shape and size; and casting goes on for weeks. Pick the ones you think really have a shot at it.

These are excellent points. And with young actors in particular, I am always careful to schedule as few candidates as possible per role. Obviously, with no-shows averaging about 20-30% for most casting directors, we really do have to overschedule sometimes, and I know that that is most frustrating where young actors are concerned. Imagine if it’s tough to ask a 40-year-old to wait for an hour how impossible that task must be for a toddler!

I didn’t become aware of how many parents were spending money on audition-specific material until I became a regular visitor to the PARF message boards. Once I learned that hundreds of dollars per audition, at times, are being spent by most parents of young actors, I knew I’d better be real sure about the young actors I called in.

Issues such as the 18-to-play-younger point a reader made above, fall into the Information Please column I wrote last week. Obviously, you shouldn’t be driving all over for auditions when the very basic requirement isn’t met, and I do fault the CD for not sharing such information, if it’s available prior to auditions. This is why I try to put as much information as I can into my breakdowns. That said, I will still have submissions from actors who are absolutely inappropriate for the roles’ clearly-stated requirements. It’s as if the submitting agents, managers, or actors think, “Well, you never know. They could make a change.” And, of course, that’s true. *sigh* But that sort of thing does add to the frustration level of all parties involved.

Again, I would make all of these notes a part of the “rate the CDs” process you go through, as an actor. When you’re deciding which auditions NOT to accept, it becomes quite easy after you notice a particular casting director’s inability to give you the respect you deserve (by whatever means you define that).

Have access to reasonable parking at casting facilities. There’s nothing worse that being stressed out because I couldn’t find parking, or there’s restricted parking, or having to walk five blocks in the rain right before an audition.

Also, don’t have such thin walls that all the actors in the waiting room can hear each auditioner’s reading; that’s the worst! Either move the waiting area further, or move the room where actors are auditioning further.

Unfortunately, these issues just aren’t something most casting directors can control. The majority of us cast out of temporary spaces which vary from project to project. Certainly, those CDs who operate out of their own free-standing offices should choose office space with a bit of consideration for those who will be in and out of their space every day. That includes having parking, restrooms, wheelchair accessibility, soundproofing, and a wonderful waiting area. But when we’re at the mercy of the producers who’ve hired us, that often means we take the space we’re given and do our best to make it work for our basic needs.

Don’t ask us our age or our ethnicity, which are illegal questions. Most casting directors know it’s illegal to ask those questions, but they still ask. And it makes actors feel very uncomfortable. SAG and AFTRA are trying to address this discrimination.

Actors can help with this by being sure to report to the unions when such questions are asked in audition settings. You are absolutely right that people ask such questions. I’ve even informed producers and directors at callbacks that they are not permitted to ask an actor’s age, yet they will go right ahead! I even had one director ask an actor, point blank, “Are you a Christian?” I was appalled! Some directors and producers just don’t see the audition session interaction as a “job interview.” And, because it is a job interview, that’s exactly why those questions are off-limits. Still, I know I’ve inadvertently asked actors inappropriate questions without even thinking about it (and I know the deal). Sometimes, we just find ourselves curious about an accent or a look, and we say, “Wow. Your accent is gorgeous. Where are you from?” It’s not anything that has any influence on your ability to get the role as much as it’s something about which we’re curious, personally. So, even those of us with the best intentions sometimes slip up on this point.

Again, I’d advise that all actors keep a record of which CDs are chronic abusers of rules of all kinds, eventually deciding to no longer attend auditions put on by those CDs whose values don’t mesh with yours.

You could try and be in a more pleasant mood, even if something horrible has happened. I mean, I have to come in and be all nice and friendly, I leave the outside world behind. I don’t let it show in my audition that my girlfriend of two years just broke up with me, or my father was just diagnosed with cancer. If I have to pretend to be the happiest little person in the world, you could try too.

Courtesy! Since some CDs feel powerful over the actors and think we are all hungry for any job and to be seen, they treat actors like cattle. Hence “cattle call.” They run late auditions, they treat actors badly, they are disorganized, and if an actor complains, they are the “bad guy” and they are banned from coming in again.

Treat us as professionals. For the most part, this happens. But I’ve seen a few casting directors who are just simply unpleasant, seem like they hate their jobs, and are just rude when they talk to actors.

My take on this is simple: If you hate your job, do something else. Period.

By the way, this would be another reason to keep notes on each CD you meet. There are hundreds of us casting tens of thousands of roles per year. You absolutely do not have to meet with a CD who just rubs you the wrong way. Why would you want to? I have directors and producers for whom I will not work again (unless the money is simply out-freakin’-standing). I like a pleasant work environment. Why would I subject myself to working with people I knew to be abusive or obnoxious or otherwise unpleasant? There’s only one reason I’ll work with a handful of difficult people again: if they pay me such an obscene amount of money that I can afford to pay someone else to help keep me sane during the process, to take a long vacation afterwards, and to bankroll my next few projects on my own.

Think this doesn’t relate to actors (since there are so many of you, all hungry to work on a finite number of projects)? Wrong. It totally relates. I have to compete for casting jobs just like actors have to compete for acting jobs. And I’ve worked “copy, credit, meals” gigs because I’ve loved the material or the people so much. I know it’s scary to consider turning down work in the field you love, simply because you can’t “take” the people. It’s also really empowering.

Next week, I’ll cover more reader-submitted issues of respect (including making callback notifications within actor earshot, use of nonunion actors, brutal honesty about actors’ chances, CDs who leave town to search for talent when there’s plenty close to home) and I’ll bust the myth that prereads are a sign of disrespect.


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/000339.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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