Last week, I put out a breakdown for a series of very cool industrial vids for the doctor on whose method the hit show Lie to Me is based. This is gonna be awesome, because the actors involved will do multiple emotional “reads” of each scene so that the interactive users can have a “Choose Your Own Adventure” type experience. Awesome.

Well, even though this particular casting gig is unlike any I’ve had before, I realized as I went through the thousands of submissions from agents and managers on Breakdown Express and from actors on Actors Access that I have a very systematic way of creating the first list of “selects” for the producers to review. As I was doing the bulk of the list-cutting, I began tweeting a few tips for actors. After receiving a bunch of thank-yous for the tips, I decided, voilà, a column! Between the tweeted tips and the demystification of my process in cutting down submissions into something manageable for the producers (and then further manageable for actual sessions), hopefully there’s something to help inform you submission choices, going forward.

First, I should say that I’m pretty sure very few casting directors actually use this method. So, don’t let this become a guide to “here’s how they do it,” but instead a reminder that we all have different ways of going through submissions and getting down to the handful of actors we’ll invite into the room. And just like you should never prepare your audition with a mindset of “what do they want” but instead “how do I see this,” let this remind you there’s no one right way to submit, but instead a good reason to read instructions and understand that everyone has a different filtering process (and you can’t possibly serve all of those processes at once, nor should you ever try to do that).

I never put out a breakdown without first knowing that I have a good six to ten hours stretched out before me to go through submissions as they come in. Probably 90% of all submissions we’ll get on any project come in within the first 48 hours of the breakdown’s release (and probably something like 70% of the submissions are in by the 24-hour mark), so I want to stay on top of the submissions rather than logging on a day later and having an overwhelming number of headshots through which to sort all at once.

My first click, about ten minutes after the breakdown has gone live, is on whichever of the agents or managers who’ve submitted that’s my most favorite. Lemme back up. One of the sorting mechanisms we have in the Breakdown Express interface is “by submitter.” So, I always start with my favorite agents and managers, rather than going role by role. Here’s why: I know I love dealing with these favorite reps. So, as I see who they’ve submitted, I can mark the actors (1, 2, or 3), knowing I already have “in the bank” these actors as repped by the person I most want to deal with.

As I go through submission groups from other agents and managers over the course of the day, I continue to start with the people who are my favorites, and then work through to the agents and managers with whom I have less of a relationship (or none at all). Let’s say your headshot came in, submitted by a favorite agent of mine, very early on. Awesome. You’re already marked as a 1, 2, or 3 (I’ll get to what that means, at this stage of the process, in a moment). And then your manager submits you. If I just don’t happen to remember you’re already in the mix, I’ll again go to rank you with a 1, 2, or 3 and the system will pop up an alert to tell me that I already have you selected, as repped by agent so-and-so. At this point, I can decide to stick with the agent or switch to the manager, and this will be based on — again — where I have the best relationship, most awesome previous experiences, etc.

The takeaway from this is: Never worry about being submitted by both your agent and manager (and then again, a third time, by yourself at Actors Access), because we’re always going to call you in via whatever “path” we like best, if you were someone we were going to call in anyway. It’s not like — if you were a frontrunner — you’ll be someone we take out of the running, if you’re suddenly in front of us via multiple submitters.

One of the main reasons for this tactic for me — aside from wanting to work with the people I most enjoy working with (duh) — is that I hate seeing actors submitted on multiple roles. Hate. If you keep a show bible, like I’ve recommended before, note that about me (and also note that I’ll always have you doing paired reads, even from the very first preread). I only want you to submit on the role you’re best for, and then use the notes section to list the other roles for which you’d like to be considered. Now, I know this is very different from what many CDs do. But because I never want to inconvenience you by scheduling you for an audition on a Tuesday for the role of DAD and then also scheduling you for an audition on Thursday for the role of BOSS — and I may miss that I’ve done that, since I use the electronic scheduling system rather than rolling out calls for appointments — I would rather have you in for DAD on Tuesday and then have you do the BOSS sides while you’re there. Why have you make another trip? Just a pet peeve of mine, so this method of screening and selecting actors helps me see when an agent or manager has missed my huge, all-caps note in the breakdown requesting NO multiple-role submissions. By reviewing their entire set of submissions at once, I can sort alphabetically and choose for them which role is the best fit, among the two or three they may have selected for a single client. That is, if they missed the submission instruction (which not a ton do, thankfully).

This method also allows me to discern which agents and managers to call my A-list folks. I can see with one click who is very picky about submissions (no “the little boy who cried wolf” or behaving as if every client is right for every role) compared with which agents and managers just sling their whole damn roster at me and expect me to be their filter for best fit. No thank you. That’s your job, spaghetti-slinging rep!

(While this stuff may not be at all important to how I do my job when I’m casting, it’s vitally important when I’m asked by an actor what I think about this agent or that agent. I can safely say something like, “I like their roster, but they rep at least 30 of your type, and submit all 30 of them on every project, every role within a huge chunk of roles that could be considered that type,” and that helps actors know what their experience with that rep might be, should they sign with them. The agents and managers I love are picky! They’re selective of who they sign and they’re selective of who they submit. I build a lot of trust with folks who treat breakdowns that way, rather than signing hundreds of actors and submitting their entire roster, every project, hoping something will stick.)

All right, so let’s say it’s now 24 to 36 hours after the breakdown has been released and I’m not working on a super time-sensitive project (and seeing as most of my work is on low-budget SAG indies, pilots for webseries, or the occasional industrial, we have time — unlike commercial casting directors who are churning out sessions within moments of submissions coming in — to review submissions on this timeline). Now I’ll open up all of Actors Access. Yep. All of the Actors Access submissions for all roles, sorted alphabetically, all at once.

This allows me to do that same “reading comprehension check” on whether actors noticed my all-caps submission instructions about NOT submitting on multiple roles, but instead making use of the notes section to list the additional roles after submitting on the one best fit. It also allows me to see an actor who chooses a headshot for one role that makes her look very young, then another headshot for another role that makes her look much older. That right there helps me know that (in addition to the actor having missed reading my submission instructions) this actor — if I don’t know her — could show up at the audition looking anywhere from 15 to 35 in age, and that’s not going to help me. She won’t get called in. Because no matter what you’ve been told, you do not have a 20-year age range. (And even if you do have an age range wider than four years, in Hollywood, you’d better zero in on those “best four” within your range and target those most. We’re a town of specialists and we don’t believe you if you tell us you can do everything. In other markets, you can be broader in type range and age range, but not here. Until we know you, there’s way too much risk involved for us to give up a valuable session slot for an unknown when we’re seeing she may have no concept of her actual age or best-fit type. And because so many actors don’t look like their headshots, it’s all about us minimizing our risk by calling in people we know… or people who show us they know how to target their submissions.)

Further, I can see, let’s say, five submissions by the same actor (again, not pleased, since this is exactly what I asked not to have, via submission instructions) and see that only one of the submissions includes a demo reel. That one will be the one that stays in the mix (if any — I tend not to reward actors who miss the all-caps submission instruction about not submitting on multiple roles) because it allows us to get a sense of the actor’s work before bringing him or her in, assuming we don’t already know the actor’s work. If an actor has submitted with a reel but his or her agent submitted without a reel, this is where an Actors Access submission can bump out a repped submission, because the reel is more information, and we want that! Oh, and let me just state that having an Actors Access profile is a no-brainer (I never understand actors who don’t bother having one), having a resumé with your profile is a MUST, and giving us homework like “reel upon request” is a no-go for us. The call to submit on this project was a request to see your reel. Don’t give us an extra step to ask for it. We’re looking for anything to help us “cut the numbers.” You giving us homework rather than providing us with your marketing tools is a very efficient way to get cut from the running, because your competitors are giving us less work.

I can also see copy-and-paste notes that are useless. Stuff like “Dear casting director, I am a talented actor and this project looks great.” Bullshit. That’s a copy-and-paste and you’ve used it on all five of your submissions. You’re a spaghetti slinger. I want to meet a focused, on-target pro. Yes, even for a nonunion industrial, because I like to work with professionals at any level. So do the people who hire me.

Good notes include quick (because we only see the first little bit, so you want to show us it’s a GOOD note from your first few words, so we’ll click to read the rest) mentions of how we know each other, similar work you’ve done before, experience with the producer, referral from the director, a special skill that is exactly what we need, that you have your CHSPE, that you’ll work as a local hire, whatever! Lots of good stuff can go in those notes, and you really should use notes when the CD gives you access to that little field. And don’t bury the lede.

If an actor has done exactly what I’ve asked (submitted on the best-fit role and used the notes to tell me other roles he or she may like to do — and not “all appropriate roles;” get specific) and I believe he or she is better for another role, I can, at this point, use a pull-down menu to move the actor to the better role. And the system will retain information on the original submission, so I can always reference what the actor’s original submission was, as well as having those notes stay attached to the file. Awesome! Efficient! I love this!

Over the course of a half-dozen hours or so, I’ll have all submissions reviewed and ranked, hopefully with only about a third of the submissions actually staying in the mix at this point. For example, on this industrial, we’re at 3499 submissions and there are currently 1322 selects. The producers and I are reviewing the notes, reels, resumés, and additional photos to decide who should be upgraded and therefore who will stay in the mix when we get to scheduling in the next week or so.

Ah, so about those rankings. Here we go. For me, actors I’ve cast before and adore (meaning, I got great feedback from the set about them, their deal was easy to negotiate with their agent, they were just all around awesome and consistent from submission to preread to callback to booking) get a 1. So do “name” actors we’d consider doing an offer to on the project, with no audition. (Oh, and in case you think there are no name actors pitched on nonunion industrials, catch me over cocktails sometime and I’ll tell you about the former child star who was pitched for this project. Everyone wants to work.)

Actors I rank as 2 are ones whose work I know well, who always do a good job when I bring them in, who I’ve cast before but am less enthusiastic about than my 1-ranked people, who have outstanding reels, or whose agents or managers have such dang awesome taste I cannot not call the actors in. So, in that last case, that’d be an actor I may not know, but one who has an agent who has never steered me wrong, whose clients are always consistently professional and talented, and who is a blast to deal with. When an actor is totally right and on a great team, I’ll start ’em off with a 2.

The 3-ranked actors at this point (which are the bulk of the “selects,” now) are actors I don’t know but who have a great look, whose reels are strong, whose representation is decent, or whose notes are somehow compelling. There are also 3s I select because when I ask the question, “Are you our MOM?” the headshot seems to say, “I am!” (Note that this is nothing you can control. It’s just that your authentic type lines up, via your headshot, with what we’re seeking.) I keep a lot of 3s in the mix at first because I want to get the producers’ take on what’s working for them. And even though I know I’ve been hired for the eye I have in casting, and the relationships I bring to the experience, I need to get a sense of what sort of actors I don’t know may be of value to the producers. So, this is where I’ll put all the wild cards. This is where a great headshot, a decent resumé, a spot-on reel, a good pitch from a representative, or a fantastic note can make all the difference.

Once I get this list of selects down to a manageable number to show to producers, I do so. This usually happens within 48 hours of the breakdown’s release. I get feedback from the producers based on their level of interest in even being involved at this stage of the process (which ranges from very interested and eager to see every submission, watch every reel, really comb through those notes to very disinterested and hopeful that I’ll just get the numbers down to the final dozen or so actors per role we’ll eventually bring in for prereads). This is when the producers will tell me whose look they’re excited about, whose reel gets them enthused, who comes with a referral that I may not have been aware of (because it was direct to the producer), and so on.

I’ll begin to get a sense of what’s working for the creative team and that helps inform my rankings of the new submissions that continue to come in over the next several days. Even if I put a submission deadline on the breakdown, I’ll continue to get submissions sometimes even months later, if someone gets the link from a post I made long ago. But for the submissions that come in on time, I’ll continue to rank them, as well as re-rank the selects I’ve sent to the producers based on their feedback.

Oh, and a note about submitting early: Do it. Here’s why. If you’re the first balding, middle-age, ethnically ambiguous male who submits on a role, you’ve got a much better shot at being selected than if you’re the 347th. Basically, you’re trying to knock someone else’s dart out of that position on the dartboard, when you submit late. And if we already have our top twenty selects for that role, you’ve got to convince us to unfavorite one of the existing selects because you’re so much more awesome. And it’s harder to make us change a select than to be an early one who gets selected.

Once we’re at the stage where I’ve gotten producer feedback and re-ranked some folks based on that, I un-select every 3-ranked actor who didn’t get promoted by producers. They won’t be making it into the room on this one, so out they go. This takes our numbers down from over a thousand to the hundred or so we’ll bring in for prereads on all roles. (Keep in mind this is down from the total number of selects, which can be many thousands, depending on the number of roles we’re casting.)

Next, I’ll do a re-ranking of the existing selects. Now, our 1s are our “must sees.” We will do whatever it takes to get these folks into the room (or we’ll make offers, if we’re dealing with name actors on any of these roles). If the actors can’t make it during the window for that particular role, we’ll figure something out. We’ll add a window on another day. We’ll have them go on tape. We’ll set up a separate meeting with producers and the director if possible. Whatever. These are our musts and there are only a handful of them.

The new 2s are actors we’d really love to see, but if they can’t make it, we’ll ask them to go on tape, rather than bending over backwards to work it out for them, schedule-wise. And the new 3s are actors who we’ll only be adding into the session day if there’s space available after our 1s and 2s are confirmed. These are folks we’re happy to see, but if we can’t get to them all, it’s a matter of which roles we’re “heavy on” and which ones we still need more choices to consider. Again, I must stress that this is what the numbers mean at Cricket Feet Casting, at this stage, and other CDs are likely to have a totally different value assigned to each of the numbers.

Next comes the scheduling process, which is another column for another time. Suffice it to say I always try to give actors a little wiggle room with the schedule, but I’ve noticed over the past eight years that it’s always the actors you do the most adjusting and rescheduling for who end up being the least worth it (they show up and blow the audition, they flake altogether, they end up showing up some other time than what we agreed to, etc.) and it’s the actors who make it work, get there, rock it out, and go who we’re most crazy about, almost every time.

I hope this overview of my order of operations is helpful or at least somewhat interesting. More than anything, I hope you make sure you take advantage of all the tools at your disposal. Have an Actors Access account, have great headshots, have a resumé (even a very brief one, if you’re a beginner), have a reel as soon as you can get that together, READ THE SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS, and if you’re given the chance to leave a note for the CD, do so if it will help you stay in the mix a bit longer. Don’t stress about trying to figure out what each casting director’s system is. Just know that there are tools you can use to stay “selected” longer and that is a huge part of the battle in a town where the numbers can be so overwhelming.

And if you get called in, celebrate! You made it past a lot of people. Prep well. Be early to your appointment. Then have fun; don’t suck.


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/001279.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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