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Learning How to Play the Game How Actors Cope With Casters

When it comes to commercials, the actors who book consistently understand the importance of building relationships. They also know that managing stress and understanding human nature is as important as anything else when working with casting directors. In short, the actors who book frequently have simply learned how to play the game.

Another World

"Casting directors have their own world," says actress Carol Gun, who is fluent in Spanish and frequently crosses over between her work in both American and Latin markets. "You have to know that they have their own idiosyncrasies. You have to get to know their worlds."

Gun has auditioned extensively and has done spots for such prodicts as Downey, Olive Garden, Crisco Oil, and Metropolitan Life. "They [casting directors] have certain rules and regulations," Gun adds. "With some of them, for example, you can't be any more than 15 minutes early. With others, if you're late by just a bit they call your agent and say, 'Where is he?' And it's possible that you get along with one casting director and not with another."

"One of the coolest things about casting directors can be their willingness to work with the actor," explains Doug Kleiman, a New York-based actor-comedian. Kleiman was a member of The Groundlings East in New York, which became Gotham City Improv and remains closely linked with The Groundlings in Los Angeles. He has done commercials for Snickers, Kool Aid, AT&T, and Reebok. "Casting directors get the best out of me when they're encouraging and helping me to do my best," Kleiman says. He adds that the best casting directors are also patient, and he appreciates it when "their explanations are accurate regarding what the client wants."

Communication Is Key

Flexibility can be important to the process and goes a long way to making actors more comfortable. "Casting directors are essentially filters," Kleiman says. "They filter actors out in their attempt to get the right one to the client. A casting director can help you or hurt you. Sometimes he can help you by 'burning a take.' Say you do take one and you both agree that it's off, maybe he'll burn the take, which means to erase it, and you can start over." That said, Kleiman notes, "It's always the actor's responsibility to do his best within the guidelines he's given. But it sure is nice when a casting director helps you. It also helps when a casting director gives you detailed information about what the client wants. Some casting directors go out of their way to present the storyboard and print out the directions.

"A good casting director knows how to 'let you go,' " Kleiman says. "You can go too far, but they can always bring you back. Sometimes the casting director's interpretation is different from the actor's and it's nice when he lets you experiment, providing it's not opposed to the client's directions.

"I come from a strong improvisational background," Kleiman adds, "But, you know, there's a fine line between improvising and rewriting an existing spot, or actually creating a new one. Technically, if you are asked to improvise, you should be paid for it." According to AFTRA's Ralph Brown, who works in the Commercial Department of the New York local, Kleiman makes a good point.

"If you have a script and you give it

some inflection," Brown says, "or you move a few words around or add other small nuances to 'make it yours,' that isn't necessarily considered improvising.But, if you go to an audition and they ask you to improvise, or there is no script, or they have you you put the script down and improvise, then you may well be improvising." If you do end up improvising, according to the SAG and AFTRA contracts for radio and television commercials, you should be paid for doing so.

"Sometimes they blatantly disregard the rules," Kleiman continues. "I remember one union audition for a root beer commercial where there was no written copy. Every actor who auditioned for that spot was asked to improvise. Evidently, some actors were unhappy about this and, to my surprise, a couple of months later, I received a check for improvising at that audition."

Really Letting Go

"To understand how to deal with casting directors and casting, you have to understand that, as an actor, you are a tool," says Nicole Pelerine, who lives in Los Angeles and makes her living doing commercial work. Pelerine books often and has done national spots for Budweiser.

"It's hard to let things go when you are rejected, but the most successful people in commercials are those that can walk out of an audition and leave all that emotional and psychological stuff behind. You can't carry it around with you. Successful actors realize that maybe they made a mistake, or that the casting director was unorganized, or that they weren't right for the part, or maybe there was just something wrong with the process that day."

Actors can drive themselves crazy obsessing about what they could have done or should have done in an audition, but it's a waste of time. "The truth is, it's kind of a crap shoot," Pelerine says. "You have to be careful not to attach your sense of self-worth or strong personal feelings to commercial work. In commercials, you really are a bottle of milk. When you book something, you have to think, 'Hey it's good luck, it's unexpected, I like this!' You also have to accept that actors have no real control in the casting process. You hope that the other people involved are doing their jobs, and that those who should be looking out for you, are looking out for you."

This isn't to say actors are necessarily living at the mercy of everyone else's whim, because there are important choices that actors can make.

Pelerine says that one of the few things actors can do is be honest about their strengths and weaknesses and what they want to pursue. "From there," she says, "You can make certain choices, and that's the control you do have. With luck, you'll have agents and casting people and friends who will support you."

"When I was 21," Pelerine recalls, "I did auditions that called for swimwear. You had to be revealing and you were competing with women who cultivate themselves for this type of work. I was pretty comfortable with it for several years and then I looked around one day and I thought, 'You know, I can't really compete with these women anymore.' I knew it was time to change and I spoke with my agents. It took a lot of guts to go in and speak with my agents, who are the ones that represent me and send me out for auditions. I had no idea what their reaction would be, but it went well, and I told them where I wanted to go and what I wanted to work towards, as well as what I wanted to move away from. They took it in and gave me advice and started sending me on different kinds of auditions."

When Push Comes to Shove

Just as in every other area of show business, commercial actors and voice-over talent can be typecast. A casting director may see you as one type--say, a rough-tough guy--but not realize that you can look great in a business suit, because he hasn't seen you in one.

Kleiman believes that one of the ways casting directors can be influenced is with the "push." That means your agent goes to bat on your behalf beyond submitting your name in response to a call. "It's the salesmanship of the agent, selling his client," Kleiman says. The casting director wants someone in a suit and the agent says, 'Well, hey, how about Doug Kleiman?' And the casting director says, 'Nah, he's got a cute look, but isn't he a comedian?' Well, the push comes when the agent says, 'No, no, no, you just haven't seen him in a suit; he looks great!' So, hopefully, the casting director will say, 'Well, okay.' "

A Smile Goes a Long Way

There are moments when you are tested by the process as much as by the audition itself. Pelerine says one of her least-favorite situations is driving 40 minutes in Los Angeles and arriving at a casting office to find "Someone behind a camera, often an actor, and the casting director isn't even there. Basically, you just do a video slate; 'Hi, my name is blah, blah.' And he says, 'Turn to the left, turn to the right.'

Although that situation seems relatively

bearable, the more difficult aspects of casting situations, can be stressful. It's important to deal with your feelings and, if necessary, channel your complaints carefully.

When it is time to express grievances, Kleiman suggests, it should be done through the agent or the union. No matter what your relationship is with a casting director, when it comes to professional business, "an actor should always go though his agent."

In fact, he continues, "I called a casting director once to say I was running late and I learned it's not good to call directly because it can become a logistical nightmare when lots of actors do that. They prefer to deal with the agents."

At the End of the Day

"I like the casting directors who remember you," says Carol Gun, who points out that casting directors in the Latin markets can be more laid back, making it easier to establish that all-important relationship. "When someone remembers you it feels like a million bucks," she continues. "Even if you don't get the job, you know you're making progress."

Although the actors we spoke with agree that actors should avoid personalizing the process involved with getting commercial work, they felt it was important to be professional and open to building some kind of rapport or relationship with the casting directors.

But even that is not a guarantee: "It really has nothing to do with who you are, or your talent, or how hard you worked on the piece," says Nicole Pelerine. "The director or the exec from Campbell's may think you're too short or your hair's too blonde or maybe they don't like the way you say 'soup.' "

At the end of the day, an actor's take on casting directors speaks to his particular philosophy on the casting situation. The successful commercial actors seem to grasp the idea that they have to work hard, not let it be personal, and be prepared to stick with it. "In commercials," says Nicole Pelerine, "I've heard that you should expect 20 auditions before you get a callback and 50 auditions before you get a job." q


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