Somewhere along the actor’s journey (between the days of “submitting and hoping for a preread” and reaching “offer only” status), actors will do something called “taking the meeting” in order to get cast. This is when you aren’t yet a “name actor” but certainly have enough credits that your work speaks for itself. Once you’re at this stage, you can assume that producers will know your abilities (or will view your demo reel to get caught up to speed) and that the questions become: “Is this actor right for the role?” and “Is the actor interested and available?” and “Do we all want to work together?”
In order to get those questions answered, you’ve got to take the meeting.
Since there’s very little I can explain about how you GET to the level at which you’re being offered meetings (well, very little I can explain about it that doesn’t involve the comprehensive overview of pretty much every column, book, or essay I’ve ever written), I’m going to focus on what to do once you’re facing the meeting stage.
If you’ve read a lot of scripts, you know that it isn’t always easy to tell which ones will go on to be successful finished products and which will be dogs. Since so much of the fate of the written word hinges on the director’s vision and the producers’ level of commitment to the project, the meeting can make a big difference in helping you know whether a particular role is worth taking on at all. But just as some writers are better at “the pitch meeting” than others, some directors and producers are better at “the actor meeting” than others. Frankly, some people just don’t know how to chat with actors comfortably. This is where your expertise with the spoken word and your ability to improvise can make all of the difference. You’ll get to set the tone for a successful meeting. We’ll follow your lead.
Find out who will be at the meeting. Your agent should be able to nail this information down, and an agent asking a CD: “Who will be in the room?” is very common. So, even if you’re not used to asking your agent about that element, your agent probably already has a list. Get it.
Do your research about each of the people who will be at the meeting at websites such as IMDb-Pro, CHUD, The Futon Critic, Filmmaker Magazine online, PRS, Production Weekly, and of course in the trades (Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter). What have these folks done? What projects have they developed that have stalled out? What is the status of their various “babies” and where does this particular project fit in? Any printed, audio, or videotaped interviews with the folks who will be in the room that you can find in advance will help, as you can get an idea of personality, passion, and priorities right from the source.
Read the script. Read it twice. And if you don’t have time to read it, ask your agent to send you the coverage that was done (by someone on staff at the agency, usually) on the script, as the agency was determining whether this script would be a good fit for you. Ask an assistant at the agency to flag a couple of scenes that are “key” for your potential character. At the very least, skim those.
Don’t worry too much about trying to impress anyone. You’re not being asked for a meeting because you AREN’T what we’re looking for. Obviously, we’re interested in pursuing you for the project or we wouldn’t ask for the meeting. So, go ahead and release any angst you have about what we could possibly see in you. You’re someone we like for this and now we just need to meet up and see if we want to work together on this project at this time. If you’re a working actor who has taken a break to go to college, raise a family, or do theatre somewhere out of town, we may just want to meet with you face to face to see what you look like these days. While your demo reel may look fabulous and your headshot is stunning, if we can see the injection points from your last Botox, we may be very glad we took the meeting before casting you outright to do those extreme close-ups!
Sometimes your meeting will take place in a room at the production office or on the studio lot. Sometimes, in a conference room or at the casting director’s office. And sometimes the meeting will be held over a meal. Your agent already has a great list of restaurants to suggest, and so do we. You can assume that, if your meeting is a meal-meeting, lunch is on us. Don’t order anything too outrageous (and don’t booze it up). Definitely keep your “working the room” with other movers and shakers to a minimum. This is the type of party where you dance with the one that brung ya. Obviously, be polite and say hi to others, but try to stay focused, even if Bruckheimer is at the next table in the commissary.
Don’t have something scheduled for a couple of hours after the meeting. Of course, it’s fine to be busy and have other things going on (auditions, table reads for current projects, fittings, shoots, etc.), but when you’re doing the Hollywood meeting, you never know how long it’s gonna last. If you have a jam-packed schedule, you could excuse yourself from the room just as things were about to get really good for you. Far better to choose a day for the meeting when you have very little “other stuff” scheduled, just to be on the safe side.
In the Room
Don’t make it all about you. Don’t make it all about the other guy either. Definitely involve “you” and “them” moments, but also be prepared to talk about the work of those you respect, coaches under whom you’ve learned the most, plays you’ve seen, your thoughts on the award-winners at recent festivals, viability of various shows presented at the Up Fronts, anything that shows you’re keeping up with the industry and that shares your POV about it all!
Be ready to read from the script. It won’t always happen. But sometimes it will. If you’ve received a copy of the script from your agent in advance, bring it with you along with your notes and the breakdown (which you can get from your agent). Far more likely, you’re going to talk about the script, the storyline, the character arc for the character you’re hoping to portray, films of similar genre and style, and of course the previous projects the folks in the room have worked on (and how this script is similar or different, etc.).
Be enthusiastically passionate about whatever turns you on. In a meeting we held with a former child star for a project I was casting last year, we learned he’d gotten deeply involved with a very cool hobby. Turns out that hobby directly related to the script and that gave us something else to talk about in the meeting. Not just, “What have you been doing since your show went off the air?” but, “How does your new hobby translate into your understanding of this character in our script?” Had this actor not been so passionate about his interests, we may never have seen that particular connection. Remember, we want to get to know you better and see if you’re the right match for this project. Don’t worry about going off on tangents. If we’d wanted a straightforward audition for a particular role, we’d not have scheduled a meeting. We’d have scheduled an audition.
Often the meeting is as much about stroking the egos of the guys in the room as it is about the director, producers, casting director, and/or execs “getting to know you” as a person. If you’ve done your prep work and know enough about the background of the people who will meet you in the room, you will easily be able to have a conversation about their work and your thoughts about what their strengths are. Y’know how good it feels when someone says to you, “Oh, I saw you in that film! You were excellent!” Well, we love hearing that sort of thing too. Writers like to know you like their writing. Directors like to hear you commend their use of a particular direction to make the most of a moment in a scene (a detail most won’t ever notice or acknowledge). Casting directors like to know you appreciate being thought of for the role and that you value their taste in casting past projects. Producers like to think they have impeccable judgment in what they choose to back, fund, or otherwise be a part of. Share the love. Stroke an ego or two. As long as you know what you’re talking about and genuinely mean what you’re saying, that sort of thing can’t hurt.
What to Ignore
Verbal commitments. I know that in “real life” a verbal contract is often binding, but you need to prepare yourself for the Hollywood truth: Producers and directors will say things in the meeting that they have no intention (or perhaps no ability) to carry out. Case in point: We had a meeting with a name actor for a film I was casting last year. There were two roles for which he would’ve been appropriate. The meeting was wonderful, we all liked this actor very much, and he was quite enthusiastic about the project. We were also in the process of meeting with another half-dozen name actors for various roles (including these two for which this particular actor would’ve been well-matched) as well as scheduling auditions for non-name actors within the weeks that followed these meetings. The director said to the actor, as he was leaving the meeting, “Yeah, so take a look at the script, decide which of those two roles you like best, and let me know!”
The actor thought he’d been cast and had his choice of two roles. The director, of course, hadn’t cast the actor. He’d just ended the meeting in a very, “That was a great first date. I’ll call you!” kind of way. Fast-forward to the week before shooting begins. I’m getting angry calls from the actor, wanting to know where the shooting script is. Now, I’ve already spoken with this actor’s agent about the fact that the meeting went well and we have another month or so of casting before any official offers will be made, but somehow, that information either never gets to the actor or the actor chooses to believe what he heard from the director over what the casting director is saying. Bottom line: All formal casting offers come — in writing — from the casting office. We email or fax over an offer and then spend hours (or days, or weeks) hammering out the details of the deal memo with the agent. Certainly, there are cases in which verbal contracts have been found binding, even between talent and production companies in Hollywood, but the majority of the time, until you have a SAG contract in front of you with a producer’s signature on it, you shouldn’t assume you’ve been cast, no matter what the director or producer has said during the meeting.
Definitely have your agent make contact a day or so after the meeting, to relay any thoughts you were left with about the project, shoot dates, possible conflicts, your enthusiasm for being a part of the project, etc. That phone call from your agent will also serve as a “temperature check” on the producers. When an agent calls me after we’ve done a talent meeting, I can let the agent know the disposition of the producers, director, and anyone else who was at the meeting. I can let your agent know if we’ll be moving forward with a formal offer or if we have more meetings to get through. I’ll share a bit about our timeline for making decisions and also come up with a date by which we should talk again.
Typically, at this time, if the actor with whom the gang had the meeting is really eager to do the project, I’ll get this sort of line from the agent: “What do we have to do to get him cast in this film?” That’s usually code for, “Do we have another actor you also want? Maybe we can do some packaging. Should we talk about how far below quote the actor will work in order to be a part of this?” That’s also when I’ve had agents pitch actors as producers (we’ll work out a side deal so that the actor can do the role for SAG scale and then make money on the back-end as a producer. That saves the production money up front and also ensures the actor will get paid more if the film is a success). Sometimes, we’ll schedule a follow-up meeting just between the director and the actor at this time. This is especially useful if the director is having creative-level decision-making issues with the producers, who are only looking at the bottom line, financially. If this happens, consider it a great opportunity to pitch yourself as a viable commodity. Talk about your existing fanbase and the types of marketing your publicist will do on your behalf, as a cast member on this project. Make it clear that you love doing junkets and interviews. That sort of thing really makes the number crunchers happy, in terms of knowing you won’t have to be paid huge bonuses in order to do press tours or to show up at film festivals.
Obviously, if you would prefer to have your agent, manager, or publicist do all of this sort of follow-up, that’s fine too. A lot will depend on the size of the project and your level of interest. On smaller-budget indie films, I’ve seen an actor’s personal commitment and enthusiasm make all the difference, in the final casting decision. People like to work with people who are going to be excited to be at work every day. If that comes through in your initial meetings, you’re already higher on the list than an actor with a “bigger name” who won’t even read the script.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000362.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.