Frequently I'm asked about the difference between an agent and a casting director. To help answer I asked Media Casting Group,the company that casts most of the S.A.G. commercials and films that come to our area. After three weeks of phone tag, we finally got together for the following interview.
Q: You sometimes hear people refer to "casting agents". Isn't that like calling someone a "defending prosecutor"?
Media Casting Group: Right. There's no such thing. Agents represent the actors and negotiate on their behalf, and are paid by the actor. A casting director is somebody who is not biased, and is paid by the production company to cast the project. There should never be any money paid by actors to the casting director, with the exception of a small registration fee for non-union talent.
Q: So the real function of a casting director is . . .
Media Casting Group: To create the characters with the producer and director, conduct the interview and call-back, negotiate within the budget from the production company (that's a biggie!) with the agent, or with the talent directly if there is no agent. Most of the time we do the actors contracts and cast clearances , and the Taft-Hartleys when needed. Basically, we sit on the fence between the production company and the actor, but we work for the production company and the agent works for the actor.
Q: Now describe the casting process, from your initial contact with the producers, to contract signing.
Media Casting Group: Once they decide on this region, most of the time on those projects that we've brought up out of San Francisco, we've done something that no one else has ever done anywhere. We've moved studio zones around, and although it's not normally the casting directors place, we've negotiated S.A.G.'s union deals on behalf of the production company to give them some lee way as far as mileage, drive-time, and per-diem, so that it's less expensive for the producers to hire locally versus .bringing their cast up from L.A. If the unions leave it the way it is, a producer up here would have no incentive to hire any local actor at all. It would be more expensive for him to hire a local actor outside of the San Francisco region than to bring one up from L.A. After that, we break down the script with the director and the producer, and we try to climb inside their mind and figure out exactly what they're looking for in each role. We try to figure from past projects what kind of actors they like. Do they like Theatre actors, actors with more credits, not as many credits, what are they looking for? Or is their importance on actual skill? If they're going to play an FBI guy, do they want an ex-Marine versus just a really good actor that knows how to play with guns. We balance all of that. Then we go over how creative can we be. Sometimes they'll give us full rein and say "run with it", and other times they'll be very specific, down to the eye and hair color. Usually the larger roles are cast in L.A., but part of the deal with S.A.G. is that in exchange for giving those concessions to the producers, S.A.G. has told them to give the opportunity to read for the starring , co-starring and supporting roles to the Northern California actors . If the producers can save money and still get the quality of actors they want, then they'll listen to that. What they are interested in is the bottom line.
The next step is to start pulling up types; and faces from the headshots we have. At any one time we would have probably three to four hundred pictures spread out on the living room floor. It looks like somebody's 8 by 10 machine threw up. Nowadays almost all initial submissions are done on line. The first place we look for talent is on our website, www.MediaCastingGroup.com because people pay a couple of bucks a month to be registered with us. the next place is at Charlie Holliday's students, because we know their work. After that we go to the open submissions. Then we create a cast. The families have to match; they've got to look like they're relatives. If there is a co-star and a star they can't look too much alike. We have to deal with height, ability, etc. So we start by laying out some of the actors that would work. We start with our first choices then work down. We have to give preferential treatment to the union members first. Once we've exhausted our choices there, we go to the non-union actors to fill the remaining roles. Then we start the reading process. We bring people in for initial reads if we don't know them or if we know their work well enough we sometimes bring them straight in for the call-back. Most of the time we tape the auditions, then we sit with the producer and director and decide who's in the running and who's not. After that we put the pictures of our top four or so choices for the roles up on the wall and begin to mix and match. Sometimes the production company will change their mind on what they want and we'll have to go back through the tapes and pictures, or even call new people in and re-cast. After the casting decisions are made, they'll tell us to check availability on the actors or set them for the specific dates of the shoot, negotiate the rates, draw up the deal memos and send them to the producers to be approved. Once the deal is approved we send it to the agent, who tells the talent "You got the job; here's the rate, here's the date, do you want to take it?" If the talent approves the agent calls us back. The agent's job at that point is to beat us up as much as possible to get the best deal for the actor. Our job is to stay within the budget and still get the best actors for the role.
Q: Just a couple more quick questions. Your pet peeve?
Media Casting Group: Not being prepared. Not coming in without an 8 by 10 and resume', not knowing the dialogue, and the lack of professionalism that talent brings to an audition. If you're coming to read for a banker and you show up in shorts and tennis shoes, you're not going to get the job most of the time. One thing the talent up here doesn't understand is that they aren't competing among themselves, they're competing against the L.A. talent, so they need to walk, talk, behave, and read just like L.A. actors. The producers don't know that local actors can do it.
Q: What's your best advice to actors?
Media Casting Group: Be honest when you read. If you're asked to read cold, ask for time to look it over. Ask questions about where the character is coming from and where they are going,; don't assume, you can kill yourself that way."
Q: Thanks. We're very grateful for your generous allotment of time. By the way my agent's number is . . .
For information about up-coming projects and the excellent seminars Media Casting Group conducts, visit their website, www.MediaCastingGroup.com.