The Emmy-Nominated CDs of Netflix’s ‘Dead to Me’ on Casting During COVID-19 + Self-Tape Advice

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Sherry Thomas and Russell Scott of Bialy/Thomas & Associates are part of the Emmy-nominated casting teams behind some of TV’s most acclaimed shows, including this year’s Emmy nominees “Dead to Me,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” (which they’re also nominated for casting), as well as fan favorites like “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead.” Speaking to Backstage via a live Zoom Q&A, Thomas and Scott shared what they look for in an actor’s approach to a role in the audition room and how self-tapes have become an even more crucial part of their process during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How to get in the room with Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas

Regardless of genre, connection to the character is always most important.
Sherry Thomas: “If you’re a good actor you can most likely ‘act something’ but the beauty is when you don’t see that happening at all, when it truly is the soul of the actor meets the soul of the character and there’s very little in between that takes you out of what they’re doing. That’s what you look for, that’s the dream.”

Casting directors constantly share information across their office.
ST: “Where Sharon [Bialy] and I really get protective, if you will, or irritated or upset is if an actor comes in and they have an attitude because they’re in the room with Russell or [fellow Bialy/Thomas CD] Gohar [Gazazyan] and not one of us. That’s a problem. They have to respect the process and that we know what we’re doing. They can be disappointed, but we all share information. There isn’t any way that any casting director can know every single actor so what we do is we strengthen the knowledge of actors across the board because we share so much information. It strengthens, I think, the world around us.”

In spite of the current circumstances, much of their casting process still feels familiar. 
“We have a couple of shows that are gearing up and really trying to go back before the end of 2020. It’s all kind of touch-and-go based on the surge here in L.A. and in other places. One of them shoots in Atlanta, one of them shoots in Austin, one of them shoots in Canada. I think the one that will likely start is Canada. All of the shows that are shooting in L.A., most of them have been pushed to 2021 and you’re kind of going with the flow on it.”
Russell Scott: “Almost none of our shows shoot here so we would do a lot of self-taping of people from across the country. It’s still getting in self-tapes for “Walking Dead” and “Better Call Saul” and “Handmaid’s Tale” and everything. We have been working on a Netflix show called “The Society” and we’ve been watching a lot of self-taped auditions for the new season of that show. We haven’t gotten to the stage yet where we start doing Zoom callbacks and readings, it’s just kind of like a regular process where just the people in L.A. are also now having to self-tape instead of coming in.”

When doing a self-tape, keep it simple.
ST: “I feel like we all watch every single self-tape that comes in. People put their work into it, so to not ever watch it feels disrespectful to the actor and the process. For me, the basics are you want to shoot from right about under your chest up and be framed in nicely, you don’t want the reader to overpower. If you can have a good reader, that’s great, and they don't need to act, they can just facilitate what you’re doing. Make sure the lighting is good, make sure you have a plain background. I think even more so with self-tapes, you should always do one normal and then one throw-it-away and speed it up because what tends to happen with self-tapes is there’s nobody in the room to do that, so keep it moving. Watch it back from different perspectives. Don’t watch it back from your ego, watch it back from, Are they going to watch the whole thing? Sometimes, it’s not out of disrespect or not having the time, sometimes we do see 20–30 seconds and we really get a sense that they’re not necessarily right for the part. So try to just watch it back without any ego and make sure the reps are watching it too because sometimes they have already had conversations with the casting directors.”
RS: “You shouldn’t send in three or four takes of a scene, don’t do that. [When] you get one that you like, send that one. But a lot of times, when people are self-taping, the tendency is to do too much so then just do another take, so there’s two takes total, where you’re just very simple, you feel like you’re not doing anything.”

The best way to get discovered is to keep doing the work.
ST: “We’re digging and if you’re right and if it feels right and with the research that we can do now on the internet, we’ll find you. That doesn’t mean stop doing the work, keep doing the work.”
RS: “People will try to tweet at us and be like ‘I’m an actor, how do I get started?’ You act. You do short films, you do theater, that’s how you’re going to get found.”

Watch the whole interview here:

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