Lessons from a Casting Favor

A week ago, I popped in at the SMFA Ninjas Facebook group to post a vague — but very effin’ cool — casting notice.

Why not call my favorite agents and managers? With whom I have history and relationships and shorthand? Why not post at Actors Access? Where I’ve been posting casting notices for award-winning feature films, groundbreaking pilots, and Academy-qualifying projects since 2003?

Because this was a quick favor. I’d had dinner at the home of an Emmy-winning showrunner friend of mine and he’d hit a snag on casting a couple o’ roles in this hugely innovative project he’s shooting in a few weeks. “Lemme see if I can help!” I offered. And on to my Facebook group the post went.

I shared very little about the actual roles because this was going to be an invitation-only self-tape directly uploaded to the creative team. I was hoping to see a few of my very favorite people who HAPPENED TO BE RIGHT FOR IT pop in on that thread so I could quickly email them the sides, the specs, and the private link for uploading their self-tape — something I would know they would NAIL because I was going to have either cast these folks before, coached these folks before, or done enough vetting of their work to know there’s no question they’d make me look good with what they turned in.

I specifically didn’t share details about TYPES because I didn’t want anyone to try and lean toward something they’re NOT daily bullseyeing in order to try and fit into these roles. More on that specifically where AGE is concerned in a moment. (It’s… interesting.)

Now, let’s back up and think about the whole “they’d make me look good” thing as it relates to all casting you may intersect with in your acting life: How good are you making the casting director look, in the eyes of the showrunner, the producer, the director, the network execs, the studio suits?

‘Cause here’s the thing: I recommended these actors WITHOUT WATCHING THEIR SELF-TAPES FIRST.

Think about that.

I so trusted these folks to nail it that I didn’t even say, “Please send me your link and then *I* will decide what to send to the team.” I simply trusted my gut, my picker, my ability to let ACTORS FILTER THEMSELVES OUT if left to their own eagerness… and off they went into the process.

What sorts of things helped me FILTER the hundreds of actors who responded on the Facebook thread in just a few hours? ASIDE from just not being the right TYPE, of course. So, I mean, what would make me totally discount someone who is otherwise RIGHT for the role?

  • DMs
  • phone calls
  • text messages
  • platform jumping (messaging me at Twitter or Instagram when the posting was at Facebook)
  • tagging me (um… it’s my thread; you think I need MORE notifications there’s a reply?)
  • reaching out long after the thread was closed WITH A MESSAGE FROM ME that we’re all set… just to check

Because we had a super easy system in place in this thread. Pitch yourself. Right there. If I don’t already know you, show me something that helps me GET you. We went and looked. I invited total strangers to self-tape for this based off how confidently I felt their rightness for the role was clear from their online presence and our interaction in this thread.

What sorts of things made my confidence in anyone WIGGLE after they’d received the sides, the specs, and the private link for uploading their self-tape?

  • ignoring the instructions in the email about how to submit
  • pelting me with questions
  • missing the deadline
  • (basically, Actor Darwinism)

Other totally unavoidable things that I figure I should take this chance to mention in case you could use a quick check of your own protocol when submitting on things.

SUBMISSION TIP: If your social media presence doesn’t clearly show you have a life as an actor (meaning, your profile photo isn’t your headshot and your website or casting profile are not THE LINK available when I check out your social media “about me” area), reconsider. At least give us SOME breadcrumbs to lead us to your actor identity.

SUBMISSION TIP: When sharing a link to your demo reel, don’t make it password protected. Giving us extra hoops to jump through when we’re moving quickly to assess whether you’re right for a role pretty much guarantees we’re gonna move on to someone else.

SUBMISSION TIP: If you’re sharing a vanity URL to your IMDb page or Actors Access profile, please double-check the link. Have a FRIEND double-check the link. More often than you’d hope, we receive a link to your Actors Access profile dashboard (which is useless to us, as we’re not logged in as you and can’t see what you’re seeing when you grab that link) or to a “file not found” page at IMDb because you use .com rather than .me in that vanity link you’re sure you’ve memorized. Eep!

SUBMISSION TIP: Provide contact info with the submission unless it’s abundantly clear on your website. Make it easy for us to contact you if we want to cast you, please!

SUBMISSION TIP: Take advantage of your Web of Trust! It’s relationship-building you’ve invested in *so that* when things like this happen, you’re plugged in and have a shot others don’t have!

Finally, here’s a fun fact about our #1 rule at the Self-Management for Actors Facebook group (NO PROMOS): Approximately ZERO people who have violated our self-promo rules in the Facebook group bothered to post in the casting thread to actually be considered for a paying union series regular gig in an innovative interactive pilot from an Emmy Award winning showrunner. Hmm… they’ve been so eager to ignore our big rule and try to promote themselves as castable — so self-involved they can’t be bothered to read the rules when they’re doing all that promoting — that perhaps they’re also too self-involved to even notice when there’s an opportunity right there in front of them.

Casting these roles via Facebook was such a great filter for so much whactor nonsense. When I tweeted about something that was truly baffling to me — how VERY many actors with headshots of the look, vibe, feel of “I’m 40” submitted for roles waaaaaaaaaaaay outside of their castable age — I got pelted with some very defensive replies about what’s wrong with casting (um, okay… glad you could vent at me about too many actors going to callbacks on projects I have nothing to do with), how the industry regularly casts outside of true age (yep… we also cast non-superheroes to play superheroes… crazy how this whole world of make-believe comes together, huh?), and how they’re SURE they actually DO still play 15+ years younger than their actual age (okay, good! Then I’m not TALKING about you; I’m talking about a ton of people who have to be NUTS to believe that the flirtatious bartender meant it when he said you couldn’t be a day over 22, lady-who’s-older-than-me. And hey, even if you DO decide to believe it, to base your business decisions — like how to submit — upon something someone who’s working for tips said to you once?!? That’s not good business, honey).

*ahem*

People get defensive.

It’s really not necessary. It’s not an INSULT when I say you look *any* age. It’s my assessment. When my job is to assess. On behalf of the production. I am casting.

Your age is not an insult. Ever. That YOU turn it into one is how you give away a lot of power. (So I really hope you DON’T turn your age — or any age — into an insult.)

Thing is, something happens at some point — your Age 28 Epiphany, your quarter-life crisis, your Saturn Return — that makes it impossible for you to play under 25 anymore. You’ve now experienced something in life that — except in rare cases — makes it challenging to believe you haven’t seen what you’ve seen, felt what you’ve felt, been where you’ve been. Sure, let ’em tell you that you have a youthful energy. Let them say you look GREAT for 30 and could still play a teenager. Let your bookings prove you play younger than your actual age. No problem!

But you’re gonna agree with me, I bet, there are more than a few photos in this thread that look to be submitted by people a decade or more past the playing age we were looking for.

Save your stories about my beloved Beverly Hills, 90210 or any other specific example you want to share of how people are cast outside their actual age all the time. I know that. I’ve written about that. Multiple times. Talked about it on a Facebook Live and put it up over at the YouTubes. I know. I’m not talking about playing outside your real age. I’m talking about the people who — at ANY age — look too tired, too lived-through-it-all, too parent-of-college-kids even in the photos THEY chose to use in a pitch for themselves as 16-18 or 22-25. See it? Even seeing it a few times is enough to make a person gun-shy.

And that’s *not* an emotion you want us to have about you.

Let’s chat about this!

Comments are open just below and I’d love to continue the convo!

PS — London SMFA ninjas! Details are filling in on the time I’ll be spending with you in November. I’m sharing more about two events on the books already. Don’t miss out!

PPS — Get in Gear for the Next Tier LIVE participants! Our Day 20 Q&A call is tomorrow! Catch us live for all the joy and support you know we have for you! You’re doing GREAT and you’re right where you’re meant to be. <3 PPPS -- SMFA ninjas of LA! Our summer day-long intensive is now open for enrollment! These always fill up so be sure to grab your spot for so much badassery packed into a Saturday!

PPPPS — Keith and I are packing up to head to Upper Limit Camp this week. Don’t know about upper limits? Oof! Please grab your copy of The Big Leap so you never again have to wonder why you shoot yourself in the foot just when things are getting really good.

I’m sure I’ll have lots to share from my time with the Hendricks Institute in the next BonBlast. ’til then… stay ninja!


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

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31 Comments

  1. Sarah Carey June 19, 2018 at 1:22 am

    Those who get defensive are those who refuse to love their truth or just don’t read information fully. Either way, assess yourselves. It was definitely a hard day when I realized I can no longer play a 20something, but man 30 somethings are way more interesting.

    Reply
  2. Vanie Poyey June 19, 2018 at 7:44 am

    Oh man does this resonate. I have to save this blog and have my clients read it especially when they are with me wanting me to shoot them outside of their age range, usually ten years younger. Thanks for writing!

    Reply
  3. Ninja Erin June 19, 2018 at 7:47 am

    Totally agree, Sarah! No reason to get defensive. Self-acceptance makes you castable! <3

    Reply
  4. Rhianna June 19, 2018 at 8:04 am

    In the past when I’ve had trouble following instructions on a casting, it’s because I got so emotional about the opportunity. Like that level of reaction, whatever it was, fear, excitement, nerves, etc., clouded my ability to actually hear what was being asked of me. I think this is a great place where both the bulls-eye and content creation come in handy. There no breakdown besides age here so there’s no way to know what they are looking for. Submit and move on.

    Then there’s this idea that every opportunity is the one to make the difference. Which it could be but putting that pressure on it often pushes the possibilities further away. It’s like that old gag when the guy goes to pick up the hat and he kicks it away at the same time. I have done this before so I know of what I speak. If I can focus instead on what I’m in charge of ‘booking the room’ and finding ways to tell the stories I want to tell, aka ‘content creation’, I can mentally detach from the ridiculously high expectation input on one opportunity from one Facebook post and look out towards all the other ones that are still coming. This focus shift helps ground me into what I am in charge of, which I believe makes me more castable.

    I think I am reminding myself with this post. While I knew this casting was out of my age range, I have been guilty of many of the things Bonnie described in this blog. So yeah, let’s shine brighter, ninjas!

    Reply
    1. Destiny Faith June 19, 2018 at 4:17 pm

      I love this personal insight that you’ve shared! Ever since joining SMFA, I’ve felt more empowered with “Booking the Room” and it reminds me that the audition process is apart of this career path that I enjoy so much. One of my additional mantras i use now is that of Bryan Cranston: “I’m not here to book a job. I’m here to do my job.” Soooo empowering and my audition process has become less stressful and more fun! Even when I don’t book a job, understanding that I’m cultivating a relationship in every audition makes me feel good as well. I can’t believe it took me so long for this to click. #TalentIsAHabit

      Reply
      1. Ninja Erin June 21, 2018 at 9:40 am

        Ooooohhhh that mantra from Bryan Cranston is SO good!

        Reply
      2. Rhianna Basore June 21, 2018 at 3:42 pm

        Destiny, love that mantra too, thanks for sharing! I have been mulling over one from Keith and our GIGFTNT call yesterday: they give me words, I say words, I leave. If you add a little dazzle with your sparkly personality, I think that’s a winning combination, no?

        Reply
  5. Ryan Kolbe June 19, 2018 at 8:10 am

    A great reminder, Bonnie. It’s hard, a lot of times, to NOT submit for a role that I’m 85% right for because I want to audition all the time! Seeing your examples and reading about your experience with this project reminded me why it’s best to NOT sometimes…Also, I’m admittedly not terribly active on social media, and when I updated my look, I worked on my website, a postcard that I’m going to send out this week, and worked on all of my actor-related sites – but I hadn’t updated my social media photos to match the new look. With the technology as it is, it’s nice to be reminded that casting doesn’t JUST look at the audition…they look at the person as a whole. As always, I appreciate the insight!

    Reply
  6. Jaye June 19, 2018 at 10:49 am

    Well! The age range for your project was so in the rear view mirror for me! Therefore, no submission!

    I had an agent in Dallas who used to send me on auditions where I was the only short (5’3″), dark haired young woman where every other person on that audition was TALL – at least 5’6″ and BLONDE!! When I asked my agent about it, she said she just wanted to have the CD get to know me…OOOPS!! Major waste of time for everybody!! Switched agents not long after that!!

    Reply
  7. Aaron Haber June 19, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Loved this email! Really helpful.

    I’ll admit I had some FOMO when looking over your posting. “But, but what am I missing by not submitting?!” But yeah, I’m glad I didn’t.

    Eventually you’ll be looking for a middle aged bearded dude and that’s when I’ll strike!

    – Aaron Haber

    Reply
      1. Aaron Haber June 19, 2018 at 2:08 pm

        Oh and just grabbed a spot for your August 25th LA retreat. So excited!

        Reply
        1. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie June 21, 2018 at 11:00 am

          Yay! So glad! 🙂 And definitely, you’re on my bearded weirdo list!! 🙂

          Reply
  8. Diana Gish June 19, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    to “casting ourselves” in a bad light. When all is said and done we want to end up looking GOOOOOD!

    Thank you Bonnie!

    Reply
  9. Diana Gish June 19, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    If I just cut off the first half of my comment, please disregard~
    Thank you, Bonnie. I hope you are well. You really made me laugh!

    Reply
    1. Diana Gish June 20, 2018 at 8:42 am

      Ha! Ok… that comment & correction did not work at all. Cheers!

      Reply
  10. Marissa Kate Wilson June 19, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    Hi Bonnie!
    I just wanted to thank you so much for your BonBlast today.
    I have to admit, I was disappointed not getting chosen for a self-tape, but what you said made a lot of sense.
    I tend to change my profile pic depending on the events in my life, but I really should stick with my headshot. I’m also going to put a link to my IMDB page directly from Facebook. I hope by promoting myself better I’ll get more opportunities in the future. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie June 21, 2018 at 10:53 am

      Even if your profile photo is not your actor headshot, having that URL to your actor profile prominently available or your banner photo being something on-brand CASTABLE you will help! 🙂 It’s all about balance!

      Reply
      1. Marissa June 24, 2018 at 5:40 pm

        Thanks for the advice. My banner photo is a still from The Handmaid’s Tale which is definitely on brand, but I added a link to my IMDB page and I have a headshot now as my profile photo 🙂

        Reply
  11. Sean June 19, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks for the reminder that my social media accounts are there to promote me as an actor and, so, should have SOME breadcrumbs that would lead others to conclude that I am an actor. Like a headshot and an IMDb link. Making the changes too all of approximately one minute and thirty seconds. Okay, maybe two-and-half minutes at the outside.

    Reply
  12. Katrina Morris June 19, 2018 at 10:36 pm

    While it would be GREAT to have a request come from you (and especially you) for something in my wheelhouse, this was obviously not one of them. Therefore, no submission! When you’ve done the work, have confidence in your abilities and talents, while also leading a pretty darned fulfilling life outside of acting, it’s much easier to let something not right for you slide on by. Also, when you have respect for the person doing the casting work, you realize that by submitting something you’re obviously ill-suited for, you are just adding work for them, even if it’s an extra 15 seconds to say, “Nope. Not in a million years.” Those seconds add up.

    I’m confident you found the right actors.

    Hugs!

    Reply
    1. Ninja Erin June 21, 2018 at 9:51 am

      SO true, Katrina. Love the perspective of not adding work for the casting person. Makes the decision to submit (or not!) so much simpler! 🙂

      Reply
  13. Sean June 20, 2018 at 3:35 am

    Katrina,

    Love, love, LOVE your point about having a fulfilling life outside of acting. A one-faceted diamond, if there is such a thing, doesn’t seem very interesting. 👍🏽

    Reply
  14. Tara Leigh June 21, 2018 at 5:36 am

    I’d love to talk more about the issue of providing contact info. I didn’t fit/submit, but when reading the thread I felt a little concern for all of those posting their email address along with their link which has so much personal info on it already. Especially since some may have been minors. I know this is a closed group and of course Bonnie and most here are trustworthy, but as evidenced by those shameless self promoters and also just the huge number of members, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable myself posting my email publicly in the thread or even on a site since the info was “out there” and not going directly/privately to the CD. I wondered about this and feel bad if anyone else had this concern about privacy and therefore didn’t get sent th sides even if they fit. Comments? I know there’s a balance between being accessible (and making it easy for the buyer) and being private/safe; this felt iffy to me due to the semi public posting nature of it (and the ages…and due to the ages possibly many newbies).

    Reply
    1. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie June 21, 2018 at 10:50 am

      Sure thing, Tara. If you scour the thread, you’ll see an example of one person I was into and I had clicked through to his website, poked all around the CONTACT page, and found no email address to which I could send the sides and instructions for self-taping. Eventually, he saw my reply and emailed me so we could make it happen.

      It’s not the INCLUDING of an email address that makes someone more castable. It’s if we have an abundance of options already and someone makes it ONE STEP HARDER to get them the details vs. someone else, we may not try too hard to figure out how to get them the details. Obviously, I reached out, I tagged people, I replied, I even tweeted at someone I really hoped would pitch himself.

      But this is why Google Voice numbers exist. This is why you can have a form at your website. This is a great reason to have an email address that’s nothing but a filter for self-submit opportunities. I mean, it’s not like we’re asking for a Social Security Number or a home address, right? I have a Gmail address I use for nothing but “randos” — then *I* can filter what comes through to my REAL inbox after someone has proven themselves not to be a creeper.

      There are lots of ways to be reachable and not soooooooooo totally locked down. And of course, it’s all about Web of Trust. If you don’t trust me or my casting notice, OMG, don’t submit on it! Totally fine! 🙂 There are endless opportunities out there!

      Reply
      1. Sean June 25, 2018 at 10:34 am

        Bonnie, thanks for the tip about Google Voice and a special email address. Very empowering to know ways to protect yourself from randos but still remain easily accessible to those who are legit. As the inimitable Tonya Kay said, “Those who really need to reach me know how to do so.”

        Reply
  15. Tara Leigh June 21, 2018 at 7:32 pm

    Mmm great response! I’m glad to hear that not having an email in the thread wasn’t an automatic “no!” Great tips on google voice and web forms too!

    Of course I trust you and your casting absolutely but honestly maybe not everyone who could read the thread and perhaps exploit the info. That was my concern but again I’m glad to hear that anyone who shared that (and fit) still had a shot. Thanks!!

    Reply

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