Chad’s ode to the actor, part 2: the art of meeting people
there’s a controversial saying in basically any business, but it’s particularly contentious in show business, that’s “it’s all who you know.” while i’d love to say that that saying is a bunch of hooey, there is unfortunately some truth to it. of course it isn’t ALL based on who you know. if you happen to know every studio exec in town and want to be an actor, but have zero talent as an actor, it’s still going to be difficult to get any of your friends to cast you. it won’t be impossible, but it won’t be easy. on the other hand, if you’re a really good actor, but you don’t know anybody in town, all you have to do is meet them! meeting people is a lot easier than developing talent that you don’t have.
the sad truth is that some of what i’m going to be discussing here is common knowledge in every other segment of business, but since actors and writers tend to see “business” as a dirty word (i used to myself actually, so i kind of understand how that happens), these super basic ideas are ignored or even outright rejected! but, i digress.
if you know your casting, then you know what you have to offer a production. that’s your calling card. that’s your edge and the reason other filmmakers, agents, managers and casting people are going to want to know you. you’re not always going to be right for the particular role we’re trying to fill, but if you know what roles you ARE right for, you can help us solve our problems. we agonize over filling certain roles – it happens all the time – so if you’re exactly what we need, it definitely helps us to know you’re out there so that we can give you the job instead of settling for the closest approximation.
another saying is that it’s a “numbers game” – that every ‘no’ brings you closer to a ‘yes’ and in one sense that’s true, but only insofar as every time we see you, it’s helps us get to know you even better – and even more importantly the more we see you, the more likely it’ll be that THIS is the role for which you are the very best actor. i will always try to cast the very best person for the job no matter how well i know or how much i like the various actors who come in to read. the amount of times i’ve already read you for other roles really won’t matter to me. if i’m the one making the final decision, i will always cast you if you’re the best person for the role hands down. if i’m running a casting session for others, i’ll try to provide a selection of actors whom i think are the best for the role – all great choices on their own, but with slightly different interesting or intriguing variations. that’s because i don’t know the exact qualities that the director finds most important. it’s extremely helpful to recognize however that the director always has a particular element or two in mind which are more important than others – either consciously or subconsciously.
for example, i had to choose between a more seasoned actor and a less seasoned actor on a project a few years ago and the two producers on the project wanted me to choose the more seasoned actor, but the less seasoned actor had the exact quality i needed most in that role. i went with my choice and when the film was finished, both producers agreed i’d made the right choice. we’ve since use that more seasoned actor on two other pieces and plan to use her much more, but for that role i made the best choice for the piece.
the one very important exception to the above is that i will almost never cast somebody who seems difficult to work with. i won’t even bring them in for an audition. no matter how good you are for a role, if you’re a complete diva or a A-hole on set, i won’t use you. at the indie level of filmmaking, time really is money and we don’t have a lot of money to blow. divas and A-holes end up wasting a lot of time on set by de-railing production and making people run around doing their bidding. if you’re not a diva or A-hole, you don’t have to worry about that though. you just need to audition as much as you can for roles that you’re right for.
in my humble opinion, it is vital that you make sure you’re spending your time auditioning only for pieces that you’re actually right for, particularly because you have little to no control over creating or changing the particular quality that the director deems most vital in casting a particular role. but if you make sure you’re going out for roles that are in the right ballpark – and only those types of roles – then your odds of having that exact quality are good. also though you can’t control whether or not you’ll have that exact quality or not, you have some ability to control the amount of times you get read for roles like that, and every time you get to read, is a chance that this time you’ll be perfect.
which leads back to getting to know people.
i call in cool, helpful and outgoing people as often as i can because i like to work with nice people, but also for pieces i’m just casting i don’t want to bring in somebody who’s going to make me look bad later by being a nightmare on set. i’m just as helpless at knowing off the top off my head if an actor will “get” a particular character – will understand that vital element of the role which the director feels he or she needs most -, but if i call them in to read for it, they’ll at least get the chance to demonstrate that and to perhaps book that role. i keep a kind of rolodex in my head of the different actors i know well and have a couple different databases of actors that i know less well, and the truth is that the actors who keep me up-to-date with the different plays they’re doing, send me their reels and make sure i know that they’re still around generally stay at the top of my actual or mental list.
Google Drive is a free service that you can use to keep a database of filmmakers, reps and casting people whom you’ve met, and emailing them on occasion is obviously free as well. going out and meeting people at events and showcases and classes isn’t always free, but We Make Movies writers’ workshops are donation-based and the $5 suggested donation is extremely reasonable. you need to be mixing with people in your industry, meeting them every chance you get and finding all the free and inexpensive opportunities in town to meet other people in the industry, such as the WMM writers’ workshops and Tuesdays@9. the other wonderful benefit of attending such writers’ workshops is that it gives you the opportunity to read in front of people and show them what you can do without the pressure of them having to fill a particular role. in some ways, this is even better than auditioning for them because they’re not so focused on a particular thing or tired from seeing so many people in one day.
also if filmmakers and casting people are at an event like that, they want to meet actors and writers. just go up to them and introduce yourself. you should be constantly developing relationships and turning those relationships into other relationships.
“name dropping” gets an unfairly bad name in my opinion. particularly because you never know how one contact would benefit from an introduction to another contact. people who mention their famous friends just to make themselves look cool are one thing, but providing opportunities for your contacts to benefit from meeting some of your other contacts, is something else entirely. contact hoarding is pure silliness in my opinion. providing a free flowing line of communication amongst all your contacts, making introductions whenever you feel there’s something that both people can gain from such a meeting, sets a precedent that later allows you to have the favor returned whenever you’d like to get introduced to one of your friends’ friends or contacts. and in a nutshell, that’s one of the easiest ways to expand your contacts.
so to re-cap, these are the super-basic business principles that will help you develop and maintain friends and contacts in the industry:
- dont’ be a dick, diva or A-hole.
- know your casting.
- make sure you’re hanging out where other filmmakers, reps and casting people are hanging so you can meet them.
- keep some kind of database of your contacts so you can maintain them.
- audition as often as you can and read as often as you can in front of filmmakers, reps and casting people.
- make introductions between various disconnected contacts and don’t be afraid to ask for introductions to contacts of your contacts.
so there you have it. it’s not rocket science and i’m sure i’m not the first person you’re hearing this from, but i wish somebody had sat me down back when i was in my early twenties and told me that business can be an art too and should not be neglected or scoffed at.