• Emlyn McFarland

Meeting With a Casting Director

So as my husband is now working in Washington DC, not the first city you think of when it comes to the entertainment industry, I’ve decided to look into what show business is like in that neck of the woods. So far the thing I’ve noticed most is that it is very different from New York. In New York I have my agent who calls me with auditions which I record on my own and send in or I go into a specific casting office to record there. I can still keep an eye out for work on my own and if I book that job I’ll call them for advice or to make sure it’s ok and they sometimes will offer to deal with the business side of things. I never deal directly with casting directors. I’ve always been taught contacting a casting director directly is a big no no.  There are websites you can go to to see the auditions that are posted directly  by different casting directors but you always submit online or sometimes (but rarely) by mail.  The auditions posted always clearly state NO PHONE CALLS – usually there’s not even a please at the end of that – it’s just a statement , a very clear and concise direction that must be followed.  You don’t want to be “that actor” the one who thinks they are above the law, the one that doesn’t play by the rules and then wind up, as many of the actor legends say, BLACKLISTED. You don’t want the reputation of the annoying actor who will, as the legends continue, have their name spread through casting offices across the land as an actor to be dismissed and avoided. As far as I can tell, from the legends, it is a very fine line you must walk, you want to be a go getter but you don’t want to be too pushy either and you never want to over step that line and, as the legends say, be shunned for pissing the wrong person off because, as the legend clearly continues, it’s a very small world and people talk.  I’m not sure if as you are reading this you are getting the very ominous great and powerful OZ feeling but that is the kind of feeling that I have experienced.  You will be summoned if you are needed until then wait patiently and let fate unfold.

In the D.C. or Mid Atlantic market you really only deal directly and primarily with the casting directors. There aren’t really agents, I mean there are but they all seem to be non exclusive and they are often, but not always, associated with a casting office. How strange, right?  At least for me it is– so different – so foreign – but interesting.  It’s empowering, I think? I’m aware I’m using a lot of question marks, I guess that’s because that’s where I am, I am full of question marks. How is this going to work? Can I play both markets? Heck, can I throw Philly in there too? Should I cruise the northeast corrider and cast a wider net? Maybe they’ll finally make one of those Star Trek teleportation devices or someone will build a high speed cross country bullet train and I’ll get in on LA’s market too! Seriously though, how can having more opportunities be a bad thing?  I suddenly feel this statement coming back to haunt me in a later post.

So I start looking around doing a little research – cool stuff is being done in DC and Baltimore. They have House of Cards the Netflix series, The New Captain America is being filmed there, VEEP the HBO show with my girl crush/I hate her because I wish I was her, the amazingly talented and just awesome Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I heard some Parks and Recreations were filmed there, so stuff is happening there. I start trying to make some contacts and send out my materials directly to the casting offices. It seems scandalous but that’s because I’m a nerd who is always seeing drama in the simplest of things.  Indulge me while I give you an example…

I have a whole thing with this guy in our building because once when I was entering the building I was way off in judging his walking speed and thought he was too far from the door to warrant me holding the door open for him, big mistake, before I knew it he was right on my heels and I had let the door slam in his face. Another thing I paranoically noticed and then added to the imagined drama that I was experiencing was that we were not of the same race and so now we both, from different races, stood there waiting for the elevator. I was sure he was just seething, cursing me out in his mind calling me a racist and a self centered bitch and just hating me to the core. The elevator came and we both got in, “What floor?” I asked, thinking maybe I could make up for my heinous error with this feeble attempt at kindness. “Eleven” he said. Oh crap that’s my floor, “oh, me too” I awkwardly chuckled. We rode silently up the eleven floors and then both silently walked the long hall to our prospective apartments. “That guy hates me now, I’m almost positive he hates me” I think to myself  “he thinks I’m a bratty little racist and he is probably talking about me to whoever he lives with right now”. Later that week I saw him again in the elevator “eleven ,right?” he asked “Yup” I said cheerfully and smiled. Oh maybe he doesn’t hate me, maybe I made up for my faux pas by pressing the button for his floor last time OR maybe he was just trying to rub in how nice and forgiving he is and how I’m still a selfish little racist. Or maybe he wants me to remember he knows where I live. Or maybe he never even thinks of it, maybe he didn’t even realize I didn’t hold the door for him and just remembered I live on eleven too. The point is I find drama everywhere and most times it’s self created but for me it’s drama non the less.

So back to my scandolusly sending my materials, headhsots, resumes, demos etc directly to casting agents.  At first nothing really happened but then I started getting emails asking if I’d I like to come in for an audition. An audition for what? Just an audition, basically I do a monologue and a cold reading and they decide if they want to put me in their data base of talent to call when casting an actual project. Well sure, I’d like to be considered, so yes, yes please.

Huh… What do you know? I’m going to audition for a casting director. Is this a big deal, it is right? Or maybe it’s not. In New York this would be a pretty big deal I think. I mean it only happened twice to me in New York, once when I got called in for a general audition at NBC and once when I got called to audition for a specific role on 30 Rock. Don’t get too excited, nothing came of either of those. Although… hey NBC if you’re reading this you probably still have me on file there somewhere so if you ever want me to come on by for something I’m available.

Anyway… this time I’m meeting with a casting director in DC, I’m thinking it must still be kind of cool so I get excited. The dramatic mind starts reeling, “oh won’t this be hilarious, all my time in NYC and here I come to DC to meet this casting agent and I get my big break – who knew? Life is so wonderfully whimsical like that” that’s what I’ll tell people after I book this big role in whatever it is that they decide I’m perfect for.

I wake the next morning at 9:00 am that should give me the hour and a half to two hours I need to get ready and I would still have plenty of time to get there by 1:30pm, my audition time.

Yes I said and hour and a half to two hours to get ready, it takes me a while. Ladies might understand this better than men, unless your one of those annoying wash and go, I never wear make up and I look great girls – then you have no idea what I’m talking about and I probably have a little jealousy driven hate for you, sorry.

I have to find an outfit that is slimming but not too boring, stylish but not too stylish, neutral but not forgettable.  I have to wash my hair and then dirty it again by applying tons of products, then blow dry, then curl, then brush out the curl so that my limp, thin and baby hair like non textured hair actually looks fresh and somewhat full of body. Then the make up, basically imagine painting a canvas with all sorts of cracks and bumps in it but trying not to let any of the brush strokes show – in fact the viewer should wonder “is that canvas even painted?” The hope is that when I walk down the street everyone will be whispering “maybe she’s born with it?” But let’s face it in reality we all know it is in fact Maybeline or Bare Minerals or any number of the many cosmetics I have in my large makeup bag.

They say for headshots and auditions you always want to go in looking good but natural, “like you on your best day” is the phrase that is always used to inspire you on your look. Well right off that’s not going to work for me because my best day is me in comfy sweat pants and over sized t shirt, pimple cream working it’s magic on the appropriate areas while sitting on the couch with a pizza, a pint of ice cream  – preferably Hagen Daz or Ben and Jerry’s and a “48 hours investigates: True Crime Mysteries” marathon. Actually keep all that but in the middle of the marathon I get a call that says I booked a national commercial or a speaking role on a tv series and that would be my best day ever. I’m guessing that’s not what they are looking for.

So I finish the two hour, process of trying look like it only took me thirty minutes tops to walk out of the house this gorgeous and confident. I gather up all my materials, saying my monologue to myself as I go. I check to make sure I have my phone about six times and then head out the door. I stop first at the Exxon station for a Kashi Go Lean bar and a coffee – they actually have a pretty decent little make your own coffee station there where I can get a great coffee just how I like it for ¼ of the price of Starbucks. Just a little shout out there. Hey Exxon and Kashi Go Lean, I’m available to do commercials for you or I’ll just take a years worth of free stuff for that plug…either way. I also must add that I think that the little guy behind the counter with the pubic hair like moustache kind of likes me and that always gives me that little boost of confidence that says, “hey, maybe I will make it in this crazy old world!”

I drive to the audition while loudly and with conviction singing along to my “power mix!” All the embarrassing songs that I try to hide on my play list that make me feel like I’m a tough, strong broad and that dreams really do come true so ain’t nothin’ gonna stop me now – you know those kind of songs right? Oh fine, I’ll own up and name some… “I Believe” by Fantasia Barrino, “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy, “I am Telling You” from Dream Girls (I kind of like the Jennifer Hudson version), “Firework” by Katie Perry – I think that’s enough, you get it I’m a cheesy nerd. This is also the time when I get all Stuart Smalley/Tony Robbins on myself. “You’re great!”, I say to myself “You are totally going to charm the pants off these people!”, “you are really something special”. I talk to myself like I’m a coach coaching myself the player, I never say stuff like “I can do this” or “I got this” it’s always “You can do it… you got this” I’m not sure why that is exactly. I’ve asked around to see how other people talk to themselves and it seems to be split. Some identify solely as themselves and always talk in the first person others do second person narrative like I do. Someday I’d like to do a study on this. I wonder what the way a person talks to themselves means about them? I wonder if Bill Gates or George Washington were first person thinkers or second person? “Well George it’s pretty cold out there today but you are gonna get out there and cross that Delaware like a champ! Go get ‘em Georgie boy!”

If I were to bet I’m thinking leaders of nations and very rich moguls are more first personers George Washingon was probably always walking around thinking to himself  stuff like “I look great, I’m terrific, I’m unstopppable and I’m about to do some really amazing stuff  today.” But who knows really.

I’ve noticed that when I talk to myself it feels more like I’m parenting or guiding myself, like the actual me couldn’t handle anything so this more responsible and loving character appears in my mind to guide me through tough challenges or even just getting me out of bed. “Hey Listen, if you get out of bed now and get in the shower you can have a half hour of tv time before you start work, how’s that sound? Deal?”

I basically have a caretaker for my two year old inner self that would, if unguarded, eat cake and pizza for every meal, watch tv as long as I want and sleep until I naturally woke up everyday – which given the fact that my two year old inner self doesn’t have a bed time would most likely never be before noon.  I need that caretaker to prevent me from running amuck she is invaluable and she deserves a raise.

I finally get to the audition where I am asked to sit in the waiting room and fill out paper work, my name, phone number, address, union status, agent info and sizes.  Yuck  sizes I hate this part I’m always tempted to fill it in like this

Dress size: not skinny

Pants size: Average real American woman and perfect if you like big butts and you can not lie.

Shirt Size: Large but not because I have the shoulders of a line backer but because I have huge boobs.

Shoe size: 7

Weight: Take a guess, if you are within 5 lbs you win a stuffed animal.

Then they always ask me to list any special skills that I may have and think they should know about. I always chuckle to myself at the special skills question. I generally wind up writing singer mezzo soprano, improvisation and dialects, sometimes I add violin which I can play but am not good at as well as swimming and bike riding just to fill up more space and also in case they ever need someone who plays violin while riding a bike through a pool.  I’ve seen other people put whistling, burping on command, knock knock jokes and other kinds of weird uncomfortably unfunny things and I wonder – does that make them stand out and give the casting director a good laugh or does it just make the casting director roll their eyes and chuck their info right in the trash? So I just play it safe. I figure never try to be funny because there is nothing more horrible and cringe inducing than an actor, or an uncle for that matter, trying to be funny and failing miserably. Those pity laughs they pull out of people kill tooth fairies, I’m pretty sure.

There are three other people in the waiting room with me doing the paperwork as well, two GEORGEUOS girls with long legs and perfect wavy “I could be on Gossip Girl” hair and one very very handsome soap star/CW romantic drama type guy. Immediately I start to feel very small and yet thick – kind of like a potato.  Then the inner self  “coach” rallies me “hey, maybe they have enough gorgeous looking people, maybe they need a potato person, you go get ‘em spud!”

It’s finally my turn, I go in and smile and say hello and shake hands and all that. I explain how I’m from NYC but my husband just got a job in DC and so I’m checking out the scene around here and would “love to get more involved” a very cool and breezy phrase that masks what I really want to say which is “Hire me for something, for the love of god hire me!!!!!”

They have the camera running I slate my name and my height (which I exaggerate by a half inch, I mean who’s that really hurting if it makes me feel a little better) , They make me turn around once, I guess to make sure I have a back and then ask me to show my hands, backs and fronts…I guess they just want to make sure I have regular unmangled hands with the normal amount of fingers. However, I’d like to add a side note and some encouraging words about this part of auditioning. As a side note though if you are an actor with different looking body parts  you can always use this to our advantage add it to your special skills or something, let it set you apart. I guess I’m just taking this opportunity to say to those particular actors that your hands or lack of hands are yours so love them no matter what. Turn your mangled or missing lemons into mangled or missing lemonade, or something. So back to the audition – I do my monologue and read some “sides”, lines from a random show that has already been produced or is no longer on television,  and then I’m done. They stop the camera and the casting director gives me a look for a second and says “Yeah, I like you, you came in here and I just love what you are putting out there.”  Uhhhh ok. “Thanks” I say. We chat for a few more minutes share favorite New York Pizza spots as she once lived in New York City, laugh about how there’s just no good pizza around DC and then I leave.

As I walk away I’m not sure how I feel, I did my monologue well I mean as she said she liked me cause I did go in there and then she just loved what I was “putting out there.” So I guess that’s good? “Yeah it’s great!” I say to myself. “You did great and you never know where this could lead you down the road, right?” “Ok” I say back to my inner caretaker “yeah, you’re right, you never know.”

#actor #comedy #DIY #castingdirector #JuliaLouisDreyfus

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