I recently received a missive of misery from a reader. It's not that he/she was whining in woe. No. The misery was more germane to just how the game of getting past (or to) the barbarian gatekeepers—re: casting personnel and/or agents—is often as frustrating as getting a NYC subway train that doesn't reek of urine (or that is the one-man-tour coach for someone loudly sings a cappella in between harangues to fund their "art").
The reader's query of grief began:
"Hey Paul: Why is it practically impossible for non-represented actors to get seen for roles they could be exquisitely appropriate for?"
Well there are a number of rea-... oh, you have another question. Please go on.
"Is it because no casting director wants to be the first to take a chance on a self-submitting actor and possibly be proven wrong?"
Man, you give most casting directors way too much credit for having synapses that don't constantly misfire. But in answer to your questions... oh, sorry. You've got more quandaries:
"Is it because a represented actor has some sort of 'seal of approval' which makes him less of a risk?"
Short answer; yes. Long response, is that ris-
"Is it because this whole casting director/agent thing is like a high school clique: You have to be popular to get to play? Is it because a resume full of respectable productions, directors, and training doesn't mean diddly if the casting director hasn't seen you in anything?"
Well, as I was about to-
"Is it because calling in familiar represented faces induces a comfort level that can't be beat? Is it because casting directors are too busy to waste time on an actor without a represented seal of approval? Is it because 'long walks on the beach' is in the Special Skills section of a resume?"
I happen to enjoy long-
"Or is it just because that's just the way it is? Pray tell, Paul."
Uhm. My turn now. Ok. Let's get started.
In answer to your questions, starting with number two through eight:
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And...... yepper. "That's the way it is."
Now for some detail.
The unrepresented actor—particularly the non-union, non-championed actor—has the highest wall to climb to get past the gatekeepers to the auditions. It's as if you live on Long Island and want to get anywhere else in the world (or the remaining U.S.): You have to break through the forbidding chaos of congestion and construction that is New York City.
Each casting director is different about whether they are open to considering non-represented actors who submit themselves for projects. That's even if the casting director has had the time to review the multitudes of mailings that come in daily—which is very doubtful. (That's why, folks, I put in my book that little trick to help getting your envelopes open.)
We all (and by 'we,' I'm including you and me) go for the path of least resistance in our labors. For casting directors, that means agents. They act as our filter. We know that a number of them will have talent that has—for lack of a better cliché—"cream that has risen to the top."
Now, hold back your anger on that statement. You may well be cream, but unfortunately timing, numbers, and luck have prevented your rising. Nothing is overnight.
The path of least resistance for doing a job quicker is also made easier by calling in actors who are familiar to us. Plus, it's easier to give appointments to actors who have a track record represented on their resume that matches the casting person's tastes and/or project's requirements.
As to the high school clique? Uhmm... This may be hard to believe, but we casting directors don't talk to each other that much. We communicate the most with talent reps. If we do reach out to another casting director, it's because we're stumped on finding a solution to a casting problem.
To the reader who sent me the questions. They were smart inquiries. But they were mostly rhetorical, for I firmly believe by your queries that you are intelligent enough to know how the game of life is played.
As a director, author, teacher and casting director, I myself face many of the same challenges of getting attention for potential work. Your frustrations apply to any industry. We just believe it's harder in the game of entertainment to get to and past the gatekeepers because—for better or worse—our hearts lead us in our careers. We're ever hopeful and almost always altruistic.
My best advice?
Never give up.
Network as if your life depended on each connection.
Keep banging at the barbarians at the gates.
Paul Russell's career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. He is the author of "ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor." For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.