From her second-floor office in a modest production complex, Lila Selik gestures passionately as she speaks. "I'm an ex-New Yorker. I've got a big mouth. I shoot straight from the hip. I don't play the game. Actors appreciate it. Agents do, too. I won't bullshit. I'm a maverick. I always have been. Why change now?" The sassy, classy Selik is a former actor, starting out as a Spa Lady on General Hospital and making an appearance in the cult classic Kentucky Fried Movie. "I was a waitress, serving what turned out to be real beer to all these Hari Krishnas from early in the morning, carrying this tray that probably weighed 70 pounds. I had an arclight on one side, a camera three inches away, the table with the Hari Krishnas, and was asked to turn around in this tiny space. I was like, 'What the fuck am I supposed to do?' Turns out it was all a big joke on me," Selik recalled, laughing. "You can rent the movie. The only thing you won't see is my humiliation."
Selik is in on the joke, to hear her tell it. Her forthcoming book East of Glendale: The Life and Harrowing Escapades of a Hollywood Casting Director (Yeah, Yeah, I Know Hollywood Is West of Glendale, but East Sounded Better) shares all the juicy details of her work as Angie Dickinson's stand-in; casting director for hundreds of commercials, industrials, infomercials, feature films, and television shows; and as a founding member of the Commercial Casting Director's Association. Selik survived a serious pedestrian vs. auto accident in 1988 that left her with three years' recovery from a brain injury. "I couldn't remember any of the funny incidents that had happened in my work," she said. "Then I sat at the computer and started typing. Automatic writing took over. The stories just flowed from my fingertips. It all came back at once. I would look at the [computer monitor] and say, 'I remember that. And it's funny.'"
First casting job: Extras casting for the 1977 film The Amazing Howard Hughes. "In addition I was the on-set casting coordinator, 3rd AD, babysitter for the background, wrangler/ strangler," joked the veteran casting director.
"My ex-boyfriend got me into acting. I went to a cattle call. He said it wasn't a cattle call, but there were 60 girls. That's a cattle call. It was for a German champagne commercial, and I was the first of five girls selected," she recalled.
"My forte, however, was behind the cameras. I told Pearl Kempton—who was the first casting director in this town to ever cast a non-union extra—that my background was business, finance, and in-charge coordination. I said, 'I'm used to taking charge and I can help. If you need any help, just give me a holler.' And she did."
Kempton called Selik in to help on the set of The Amazing Howard Hughes. Selik was met with the challenge of helping 250 people appear authentic for the 1930s. "That was Day One. Skip McNally was doing the hair, and suddenly there was all this chaos to get styles ready for the period. The director was yelling, 'Where the fuck are my extras?' Finally I yelled, 'Girls, turn and do the hair of the person standing next to you. What we don't like, we'll put a hat on.' Skip said, 'I don't know where you've been all my life, but I want you on the set every day.' This was the first of 150 feature films for which I was on-set coordinator."
Currently casting: "I cast anything that breathes," Selik joked. "In addition to the [human] talent, I was once asked to cast a period dog. The setting was 1947 and they wanted a period dog. What the hell is a period dog?" Selik is currently casting commercial projects, as well as negotiating the final terms for an episodic project she's been asked to cast.
Challenges in casting: "Casting is a matter of opinion," she declared. Selik worked with the DGA workshops for four years, casting projects for directors such as Alan Rafkin and Jay Sandrich. "I'm a frustrated director," she revealed. "I teach actors how to audition from the director's point of view, which is different from the casting director's.
Best way to get seen by her: Be pitched by your rep. Selik uses her relationships with agents, Breakdown Services, and CD Express to get the word out about her casting needs. "I have to put out a Breakdown in order to see who's available now," she explained. "I may have put a Breakdown out a week ago, but the spot's been held or whatever and now I need to know who can work two weeks later. Of course, I'm not allowed to just run the same Breakdown again, so I have to make some little change or something so that I can get the word out again about the spot."
But the agent is truly the key to Selik's ability to tap into Hollywood talent. "And I need to talk with agents who don't just clean out their files for every submission. I need them to be selective." Selik then recalled a particular commercial client who "loved looking through the photos. We got 2,000 and he looked through every single one. It was a pain in my ass, but he loved it," she said with a laugh.
Advice for actors: "Don't believe everything you hear. Don't believe what actors say on the set or in the waiting room for auditions. The rumor mill is crazy in this town. And actors believe it all."
Selik also explained the disservice actors do themselves by self-submitting without having all the information available about a role. "I told Gary [Marsh, owner of Breakdown Services, Ltd.] that there's this whole underground network that gets the Breakdowns. Gary can't stop it. But if actors would just read and know when to submit, that would help. They just submit to everything, to anything, hoping something will work. It's a waste of money—all those pictures—and a waste of my time. I'll put out the word for unusual types, and people who have nothing unusual about them will submit. They just don't read."
The rest of Selik's auditioning advice involves leaving things behind: "Forget everything out there when you come in to read for me. Don't bring me your problems. You have 30 seconds to show me what you can do. Take a chance. Be yourself. Don't try to act. Don't go on an audition in a bad mood. It reads in your eyes. The camera picks that up, even if you think you're over it. Don't come in. Your agent will thank you. The casting director will thank you.
"And, beyond that, remember to leave everything that happened in the room in that room. Your world will continue tomorrow whether you get the role. You need an 'I don't give a damn' attitude. If you carry everything with you from one audition to the next, the camera will see that. Sure you could've done better. Sure you fucked up. But the worst thing you can do is keep saying that. We want the best that you've got, and you have to shake it off if you're going to show me your best."
Insider tip: Become a reader. "If clients like my readers, they'll write in parts for them," said Selik. She uses working actors as readers and feels strongly that SAG, CSA, the CCDA, or all three together should work to provide a pool of qualified readers who are ready to work in casting offices. "It should be a requirement. Any actor would want to do it—and I'd have to see an actor's work before having them work for me as a reader—but I don't understand why it's not just part of the union's job to provide readers for casting offices."
The two-martini lunch: Selik debunks the theory that computers will revolutionize the casting process. "This 'go online and get all these actors' pitch is bullshit. You're taking away schmoozing between casting directors and agents and managers. That's communication that we do. Why would you need an agent, a manager, a casting director if you could do this business without communication, without pitching, without schmoozing? What have you got without that? The insurance business. And no one gives a shit about that. 'Can we do lunch?' has to exist in this business.
"We become a family when we put together a project. I always say, 'my actors,' 'my directors,' and that's because for those weeks we work together, we are family. Computers will not change that." BSW
Lila Selik, CCDA
Lila Selik Casting
1551 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 202
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Casting Qs is a weekly column by Bonnie Gillespie focusing on the casting directors behind the projects. Suggestions for Qs are welcome via e-mail at [email protected]