By now, I’m sure most readers have heard that top commercial casting director Melissa Martin has passed away. These past couple of weeks have been tough, for we lost Melissa, plus casting legend Sylvia Fay, as well as the busiest voiceover artist on the planet Don LaFontaine (with whom I shared an episode of BBC Breakfast shot last year, in which we were both interviewed about aging and working in Hollywood). However, if I am the one breaking the news to you about Melissa, I’m sorry to report that we’ve lost a gifted and amazing casting director and friend.

Melissa died on August 29th after a motorcycle accident in Maui. Reports are that she crossed over the center divider and collided with an oncoming truck. She was not wearing a helmet, but there are no reports as to whether that would’ve made a difference. She died doing something she loved very much, with people she loved very much.

I was called in for her a few times as an actor, but more importantly to me was the impact Melissa had on my casting career. She was one of the first CDs I interviewed for Casting Qs back when I wrote for Back Stage West (and later for my book). Melissa invited me into her office as I showed an interest in becoming a casting director (letting me copy sides, help sort headshots, sign actors in, sit in on the post-session conversations with clients — talking me through what she was doing all along the way). She participated in panel discussions I moderated over the years and was always one of the most actor-friendly actor-turned-casting-director-types I had ever met. What better way to pay tribute to her than to let her words (which were always a tribute to actors) come to life one last time?

As an actor, there are times you sit across the desk from a casting director thinking, “You have no idea what I’ve gone through to get to this audition.” Turns out, Melissa Martin does know. She made a career out of acting before becoming a casting director, casting ad campaigns for Coca-Cola, Visa, and Sony. She knows what it’s like, she feels for you, and she also has some pretty good advice, having been on both sides of that desk.

Advice for Actors

“I have a lot of advice! Your picture is the only thing — the only thing — you have to buy. Make it the best it possibly can be. This is where you should spend some money,” Martin explained. She added that you could spend all the money in the world on photos, but if she can’t call you, it’s money poorly spent. “Put your phone number all over everything. This guy brought his headshots by and dropped them in all the commercial casting director bins here and everywhere else in town and there was no contact information at all. What a waste!”

Martin recommends that you pay special attention to the detail you put in your resumé. “Get very specific with your skills. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to get in front of me. Leave off the goofy, cutesy stuff.” Martin is also interested in the training section of your resumé. “I look for people who are studying and not just staying with the same instructor for five years. It gets cultish. I want to see you working with a bunch of different people. I want to see you doing improv. It makes you quick on your feet and that really pays off. If you don’t have credits, you’d better have a lot of training.”

“If you’re new to Los Angeles, go to Samuel French and buy agency and casting director guides. Circle the agents you think you would like to be with. Circle the casting directors you want to target based on what specific shows or types of casting they do. If you are a very new actor, you must, of course, get yourself into acting classes. There are many types of studies and methodologies. Hopefully, if you are coming to Los Angeles to act, you have done your homework so that you are not a green actor, just agentless. If you can come to Los Angeles with your SAG card from another city, all the better.”

“Put together your postcard or headshot and resumé with a teeny-tiny cover letter that says you’re new in town and seeking representation, or to casting directors saying, ‘Please feel free to call me directly at this number.’ Be brief. We already know what you want. Use your circled names from the guide you bought at Samuel French to do your mailers. If you are overwhelmed and not normally a good businessperson, do ten mailers a day. Try to go to some of the commercial casting offices that are in town. You can drive your headshots around to the offices that have multiple casting companies in them. Put your headshot in the bin of each casting director. Do it once a week. It will help alleviate any intimidation you might have when you become familiar with each space and see fellow actors inside. Also, if the casting director happens to be casting a project that you are right for at that moment, you have as much a chance as anyone else to be considered and selected. Casting directors do not always keep headshots on file, so keep making the rounds. You will feel proactive and professional. Hard work and talent always pay off. Success is nothing but hard work recognized.”

“Have your agent submit you. There is a difference between the smaller agency and the larger one, where commercials are concerned. The smaller the agency, the later we get the submissions, sometimes even after the job is done. You have a better chance of getting in front of me when you’re with an agency that uses a messenger service and gets your headshots to me right away. If you’re with a smaller agency, you’d better be helping them with your marketing.” How does an actor go about that? “I’m a proactive person from my acting days. It’s a numbers game. Make the rounds. Go to all of the commercial casting facilities where more than a handful of casting directors work. Do not walk in the door and say hi. Just drop your stuff off and go! Do this once a week.”

“I do not look at emailed submissions and I don’t have time for postcards, so save your money. I know some casting directors respond to them, but I do not. If you’ve only got so much money, spend it on your pictures, full-sized.”

“Having come from a theatre background, I am a gigantic believer in stage work. I have looked for actors at theatre. A good casting director will always make a mental note of interesting talent. My biggest beef with watching some of the theatre in Los Angeles is that the evening is used primarily as a tool to get an agent. The bio will even suggest to the audience that an actor is in need of one. I’ve seen some pretty sloppy work with half-hearted commitment and generally very green acting skills. Theatre is a worthy medium and should be treated as such.”

Pet Peeves

“Actors who don’t look like their headshots. Men will use the same headshot for ten years and they’ve gone bald. Women will gain 20 or 30 pounds and not change their headshots. Eighty-five percent of the actors I see come in not looking like their headshots! You must do your hair and makeup the way it was done in your headshot. Clients cannot imagine what you might look like with your hair and makeup done if you show up sloppy.”

Trends in the Casting Process

Diversity. “If you’re in an ethnic minority, your time is now. You’d better be ready. You’d better be properly trained and ready for the opportunity that’s here now. You may not be used to getting out frequently, but every breakdown is saying ‘submit all ethnicities’ and you’d better be ready to go! We’re ready to hire you. Be ready.”

Most Gratifying Part of Her Job

“I love the people. I love to help people make a lot of money. I don’t let anybody screw anybody, since I come from acting. I will negotiate a deal and try and get as much money as possible for my actors. To reward someone — someone who wants nothing more than to act — with that big job, that’s amazing. So much of it is timing and technical work and I’ll ask actors to take an extra beat somewhere or something. It’s all about getting people work, so if they just need their performance tweaked, I’m going to make a suggestion because I want to see them get the job.”

In Closing

I adored Melissa. She was a friend to actors everywhere and a mentor in my young casting career. She will be missed as much as she was loved, and that’s a great deal.

Services for Melissa Martin (AKA Melissa Zander) are on Saturday, September 13th at 9:30am at the First United Methodist Church of North Hollywood. This public memorial service will take place in the Wesley School Chapel at 4832 Tujunga Ave.

The family has established a scholarship fund for Melissa and Erich’s daughter Beatrix Zander. For information about contributing to this fund, contact Toby Vargas at 818.995.8629 or toby@vargasbiz.com. For more information on Melissa, her memorial services, and the family’s plan to continue Melissa’s casting work in her honor, visit melissamartinzander.com.


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/000920.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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