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Casting Advice

Veteran Casting Director Cami Patton on How Casting Has Evolved

Cami Patton may have been born to be a casting director. As a child, she spent a lot of time with her mother at the Town Theatre in Columbia, S.C. At age 6, she would sit next to the director and give notes after rehearsals. "I'm sure it was incredibly obnoxious to the actors in the play, but they all were very sweet about it," she remembers. Though theater fascinated her, she was a premed student in college. Before she could finish, however, she moved to Los Angeles to be near her ailing mother. Through a friend, she got a job ushering and selling tickets and T-shirts at the Westwood Playhouse. She was back in the theater. Her sister, actor Sherry Hursey, was also living in L.A., and Patton would accompany her on auditions. "In the waiting room," the CD says, "I would always recognize all the actors there and tell her who they were and what they had done." Hursey told her she should get into casting. Patton didn't even know what that was. She sent out résumés, and Eileen Knight at Lorimar hired her. "Eileen had been a registered nurse, so she loved that I was premed," Patton says. She stayed at Lorimar for eight years and never went back to medicine. She had found her calling and has been casting since 1980, partnering with Deborah Barylski for a while, then serving as head of talent at Witt/Thomas Productions, then partnering with Meg Liberman for nine years, before opening her own office. Cami Patton Casting, in North Hollywood, Calif., currently casts "Parenthood," "Justified," and "Awake," among other projects.

How Casting Has Changed Since 1980

Back at Lorimar in the 1980s, agents would literally come and sit in our outer office and read scripts and hand us their submissions. We got to know everybody. Back then everything was very personal. It was such a great place to work and meet people.

Even just in the last three or four years, the changes in casting have been overwhelming. Everything is digital, and people are used to watching auditions online. We thought it was a big deal when we had to burn DVDs. We had these big banks of DVDs and we would just be burning like crazy, trying to get it done and deliver to everybody. Now, within minutes of somebody reading, we can have their auditions uploaded and have everybody that needs to see it weigh in, send it to the studio and network for approval, and move on.

There are benefits and tradeoffs to the changes. We can certainly cast faster, but because of that there's an expectation out there that everything happens in five minutes. It's a little bit of a double-edged sword, but I think for the most part it's been positive, especially for the talent. For example, if someone comes in and they're really good, but two hours later someone who's weighing in says, "Well, here's what we didn't see," you can actually call that actor back, get them to do whatever it is that they didn't do, repost it, and address it almost immediately.

In Her Office

Basically, I am the lead on the project, and Christal Karge and Jennifer Lare are my co–casting directors. I try hard to be in the room, but often we need to split up. Either way, I'll see everyone's tape. We work really hard to make auditions a very actor-friendly process. It doesn't serve the actors or us not to do that. It should be a place where people are comfortable doing the work they came to do and feel good about it when they leave.

It's really critical for actors to pay attention to what the tone of the show is. Not just for me, but for any show. As an example, when we were doing "3rd Rock From the Sun," people would come in and they would be absolutely huge, because they thought that's what the show was. The aliens were huge, but the people around them were grounded and real and a very different kind of comedy. With "Justified," it can get dark and be really gritty, but there's this underlying twisted humor that's always prevalent. There is a very specific tone to it that's hard to explain if you've never seen the show. With "Parenthood," you walk a fine line, because it's grounded and real, but they tend to also have a fair amount of humor. So for any job that you're auditioning for, you should see an episode of it. And know how to pronounce the characters' names. The dead giveaway is when someone comes in and mispronounces a character's name. Watch, learn, and know the show.

Favorite Casting Experience

I loved casting "Pushing Daisies" and a show called "Pasadena," but the experience of casting "Band of Brothers" with Meg Liberman changed my life. HBO sent us to Paris for the premiere, and we were there with all the remaining vets of Easy Company and their families. It was so moving. I remember this woman came up to Babe Heffron and asked, "What is it like to be a hero?" And he instantly said, "No, ma'am, the heroes are the ones who didn't come home." Meg and I just burst into tears, because he meant it with every cell of his being. It was a week I never dreamed of having. Who knew a job in casting would lead to an experience like that?

Cami Patton Casting (4640 Lankershim Blvd., Ste. 511, North Hollywood, CA 91602) prefers postcards with updates instead of headshots and does not accept emails.

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