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Advice

CD Donna Rosenstein on Being in at the Beginning of a TV Series

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Donna Rosenstein is a huge fan of casting pilots. "I love being part of a project from its inception," she says. "I become close with all the producers and all the people I work with. Casting a pilot is like starting a new family. It's also like childbirth; you forget the pain."

Rosenstein has seen the birth of many television series. Recent ones include "Castle," "Grimm," "Necessary Roughness," "Ghost Whisperer," and "October Road" (all of which were cast by her office after pickup). She is also casting the half-hour pilot "Save Me" for NBC. 

She attended Binghamton University, originally thinking she wanted a career in film and TV production. Because her university didn't have a film and TV department, she created one. She also created the TV station at Binghamton, which still exists. After college, she worked at a talent agency and in development and production jobs until the early 1980s, when her friend, casting director Rhonda Young, asked if she would help her cast a project. "I kind of fell into casting," she says. "I learned to swim by jumping in the pool."

Rosenstein found her calling in this new line of work. She was at ABC from 1984 to 1999, and during her last 10 years there she was the head of casting. After the Disney merger, however, she left to start her own company, Donna Rosenstein Casting. "I was a single mother raising a child," Rosenstein says. "I liked the independent casting lifestyle, and I've been doing it ever since."

Rosenstein loves the matchmaking element to casting: "It's finding the perfect person for the perfect role. Even though television has cast many established stars, it's still a medium of discovery and making stars. That's the best part of the job." 

Piloting the Season

The best way to get on her radar is to "be out there, doing plays and getting whatever work you can." Although she doesn't typically conduct workshops, she thinks they are helpful. "Both my co–casting directors, Kendra Castleberry and Marlo Tiede, do workshops, and they bring people in," she says.

She's not a great fan of drop-offs or self-submissions during pilot season. "There's just no time for it," she says. "I'll get 2,000 submissions on a role. The time to get on our radar is before pilot season."

When auditioning for a pilot, Rosenstein advises that you be as prepared as possible, even if you only get the script a few hours beforehand. "Be as off-book as you possibly can," she says. "Then come in and do your work. If the people in the room want to chat, great, but don't make it about you—make it about the work. If you don't get an adjustment, it doesn't mean they didn't like you. Just be professional and know your stuff."

A challenge that actors often have when auditioning for a pilot is figuring out the tone of it, since they have no frame of reference yet. Rosenstein says it's perfectly okay to ask questions in the audition room, although it's preferable to have your agent call and ask ahead of time. If you couldn't get the information before the audition, try not to get thrown if you're asked to do something completely different from what you've prepared. "You can even say, 'I prepared it this way, but I can re-adjust. Tell me what you think.' Be up-front."

Besides being a good actor and being professional, Rosenstein stresses the importance of looking confident. If she likes you for the role, she'll be sending you to a callback with the studio and then to the network after that. "I need to believe that you have that capability and that strength to keep up the level of work," she says.

"The thing actors have to realize," she adds, "is that we want to cast the pilots as much as they want to be cast. We want you to be good."

Rosenstein advises actors to be on their A game during pilot season by staying healthy and being ready at a moment's notice to become a new character, to do an audition, to walk into an office and roll with the punches. "There's a lot of rejection," she says. "There are a lot of things that move very quickly. Just understand that everybody—even the president of the network—everybody's in the same boat. Everybody wants to make good products. Everybody wants to have hits. Everybody wants to try to find the next great person. When you look at it that way, it really is a very even playing field for talent. If you have the talent, it can shine through."

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