Posted in Acting, Agents+Managers, Casting, Classes, On set
Answer: My friend, the late Bob Fraser, has been working in the business for a long time. The phrase “show runner” was first used… (continued in David’s answer below)
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Answer: My friend, the late Bob Fraser, worked in the business for a long time. The phrase “show runner” was first used to refer to Bob when he was running the legendary sitcom, Benson. His site, http://www.showbizhowto.com, is an amazing resource for actors, and I value his opinion. He and I have had healthy and vital discussions about the realities of working in show business, sometimes disagreeing, but most in lockstep, about treating your career like a business. Here’s his take on the business of whether or not to attend casting workshops.
Well, I’ve been getting a lot of email from my subscribers asking me to weigh in on this casting director workshop discussion.
Most of the actors writing to me are asking whether or not I think casting director workshops are of any value.
With that in mind, here’s my ‘take’ on the whole CD Workshop question.
(Before I begin, let me say that I think Bonnie has some of the best career information in the business – and expresses it better than anyone out there, including me. I say this up front because Bonnie is a casting director and some of the things I’m going to say about casting directors – in general – might be thought to be a bit negative.)
As I said to David at dinner the other night (before his website went up); the most important thing actors need to understand about these ‘workshops’ is that casting directors are mostly former actors.
That word “former” is very important inasmuch as it points us to something that a lot of new-ish actors are overlooking – “you are trying to get good career information from someone who did not succeed at a career where they claim expert status.”
This is a huge disconnect when it comes to the idea that you will actually get good career advice at a casting director workshop. (By the way, you probably won’t get good career advice from most acting teachers either – unless they happen to be successful actors.)
What you do get from CD workshops is some ‘face time’ with the casting director in the workshop. (What you get from acting teachers is an ‘outside eye’ – to help you improve your craft.)
Another point I made with David is that there seems to be a large number of actors who think that they are dealing with ‘decision makers’ at some of these workshops – and nothing could be further from the truth.
Do you seriously believe that a television series producer, film director or any combination of producer and director – allows a casting person to decide who is cast in the project?
Believe me, that never happens.
(In fact, Spielberg – famously – is involved in choosing extras for his projects.)
To jump on an analogy that was used earlier – you are not paying to see the CEO … you are paying to see someone in the personnel department (and in some cases you are paying to see an assistant in the personnel department).
Back to the question – do I think it’s worth paying for a casting director workshop to gain access to some casting directors?
Sure, why not?
In many respects, as David points out, it’s advertising, promotion … dare I say, a business expense.
So, go ahead and sign up, pay and go – as long as you realize what is going on in these ‘workshops’ … you are simply paying to be seen by a casting director.
By the way, with that in mind, be sure to check to see if the casting director actually has a current assignment before paying to see her (him) – because paying to be seen by someone without a job is sort of silly.
Now, I know that there will be those who say “you cannot get in to see the decision makers without first getting by the casting director” – and, yes, this is true.
That’s why we hire casting directors – to winnow down the applicants for each acting job to a reasonable number. In other words the real job is to say ‘no’ to a lot of actors – most of whom fall into Bonnie’s on-the-nose category, “What Were You THINKING?”
As I say in my workshops – the casting director’s main job is to keep the crazy people away from Spielberg.
Finally, I agree with David’s overall point (made at http://www.befreetochoose.org/) – the government should not interfere with legitimate business opportunities, simply because some intelligence-challenged hoopers can’t tell the difference between a legitimate opportunity and a scam.
In fact, a better plan (in my mind) is to prosecute the scam artists using current laws having to do with unfulfilled contractual obligations (what is said is just as important as what the written contract says – ask any car dealer).
That’s the way to stop ‘talent scouts’ from proliferating.
Am I right about all of this? I don’t know – it’s just my opinion based on 50 years in showbiz, enjoying some success as an actor, writer, producer and director.
In the end, you each have to make up your own mind and decide for yourself.
Deciding is the most important skill you can develop if you hope to make a living in the ‘arts.’
(And, yes, that’s another opinion – but I know I’m right.)
What’s your answer to this acting question? Let me know in the comments below.
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Nice to get some insights from an industry veteran. For me personally, I attend casting workshops only when the CD attending is involved in a project I am absolutely dying to be seen for. It is just too expensive, with too much uncertainty, to simply attend them all and hope something sticks. Just my 2 cents.
Bob, you say:
“Back to the question – do I think it’s worth paying for a casting director workshop to gain access to some casting directors? Sure, why not?”
Worth it? To what end?
Every single argument you make is exactly the reason that laws protecting actors exist – including AB1319.
You go on to say:
“So, go ahead and sign up, pay and go – as long as you realize what is going on in these ‘workshops’ … you are simply paying to be seen by a casting director.
By the way, with that in mind, be sure to check to see if the casting director actually has a current assignment before paying to see her (him) – because paying to be seen by someone without a job is sort of silly. ”
The system as it is now, as you’ve succinctly detailed above, pretty much allows casting directors (and mostly associates) to get paid by the same people who they may consider for employment. Yes, it works – actors can certainly influence the casting people with money. The law was created NOT to shut down workshops, but to stop the pay-to-play scenario that permeates the workshop industry. If you think that government should not be involved in making sure that actors are treated fairly, where do you draw the line? Do you think that actors should just send a check along with their headshots to casting directors? Should eager young actors and actresses be able to trade their virtue for a chance at a part? According to the logic that I see displayed on David’s site, should actors be able to do whatever they can, no matter how unlawful or unsavory, to “market” themselves to the casting community and influence their casting decisions?
By the way, Ive read through the posts on the site, and I’ve read the law, and there seems to be a misconception of the law as it is written. The law does not say that actors can’t participate in workshops and learn from casting directors. The law doesn’t say that workshops must shut down. The law strives to take the quid pro quo dynamic out of the equation, as well as add some very standard safeguards that consumers should expect of any business; things like contracts, advertising, refunds, a bond. Personally, I think that’s a good thing.
By the way, the law has been lauded by major actor advocacy groups in Hollywood, has been heartily endorsed by the Screen Actors Guild as well as by the Casting Society of America, the organization that represents most working casting directors in Los Angeles. It’s also supported by the L.A. City Attorney, the State of California, and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. Even the Governator likes it!
Is everybody else wrong, and David Lawrence right?
I challenge David (and you) to tell me where in the law it takes actors’ rights away? It doesn’t. If what you and David are supporting is an actors’ right to “be free to choose” to pay a casting director for access, that’s not in the law. There are already laws which make that a crime.
Thanks for looking.
I just approved your comment, and will continue to allow all sides to weigh in.
But please, this isn’t about me being right or wrong. This is about me watching casting directors, casting workshops and actors get worried about doing paid workshops, reading the letters that were sent out by Mark Lambert and puzzling over some of the language, as well as my own belief that to consider casting workshops a paid audition isn’t completely correct, and to consider paid casting workshops the same threat to our well being as modeling, representation and management scams is also a misstep.
Actors influence casting directors not with money, but with talent and auditioning acumen. No amount of money paid to a casting associate is going to get an actor past the people that actually do the hiring.
I actually disagree with the notion that we should only be taking workshops with people who currently are casting projects. I believe in workshops as a long term relationship builder. Some of CDs that have called me have done so long after I took a workshop with them, for projects that hadn’t been conceived when we met.
You see the law as clear cut; I do not, and in fact find it dangerously ambiguous. The LA City Attorney is bound by law to support state laws, the State of California is the governing body we will lobby to fix the ambiguities, and as a National Chair of a SAG committee, I have had opening talks with SAG staff and directors about taking paid casting workshops out of the Section 11 admonitions, because i believe that casting workshops are far more than you give them credit for, and are far more valuable that you perceive them to be.
The law abrogates the rights of actors, as business people, to spend their marketing and education dollars as they see fit. No other line of work is treated like this, and no other businesspeople have a special law to protect them from themselves. Again, we disagree on some fundamental assumptions.
By the way, I’m curious about your email address. It’s very close to firstname.lastname@example.org (inviting a possiblity of mistaking you for the woman whose email address that is, an advocate of paid casting workshops, not a critic). What does your email mean? What actors’ rights are you interested in? Also, I couldn’t find a Mimi Jensen on IMDB – I’m assuming you’re an actor, but haven’t yet gotten your first credit. Could you tell us further about yourself?
Well, it’s clear that I’ve made myself sufficiently unclear in my response to David’s ideas that I must back-track and clarify.
A. I don’t think that it’s ‘right’ for casting directors to charge money for access – but I also don’t think it’s right for acting unions to put together contracts that allow producers to profit while paying actors zip. Which means that when SAG, AFTRA, EQUITY et al are in favor of something, I tend to look closely … inasmuch as they’ve proven themselves to be largely uninterested in looking after the welfare of actors. As far as the attorney general, the DA and the employment people – they’ve proven themselves to be eminently unqualified to run so much as a bake-sale, much less the departments they are supposedly running for our benefit. Wake up!
B. I don’t think that you are going to ‘learn’ very much from casting directors – who mostly spend ‘class’ time talking about their pet peeves, their prejudices, and their incredibly cynical point of view about an actor’s chances for employment in our business. Seeing as how most of them are actors who gave up acting to go into casting, these points of view are largely unimportant to professional actors – whether they realize it or not.
C. Casting directors do not make hiring decisions – they are simply there as a fence – to keep out those actors we don’t want to waste our time meeting with, seeing, or auditioning.
D. Is it worth it to buy your way around that fence? I have no idea whether it’s worth it to any individual actor – which leads me to think that most government entities (and other political types) have no idea either. So, passing laws to make it more difficult (oh, sorry, FAIRER) seems to be a big waste of time and taxpayer money – to protect people who are apparently unable to look out for themselves. As I said, enforce the laws that already exist – stop passing more laws about the same ‘iffy’ educational opportunity – with no intention of enforcing anything.
E. As far as it being illegal – so is speeding, texting while driving, bribing office holders, crossing the border into (name of any country) without ‘checking in’ with the government of that country, making contractual promises that you have no intention of fulfilling – and on and on. But all the laws we’ve passed against those things are clearly not effective (and as I have pointed out, not enforced at all – which, by the way, is also illegal).
F. Actors who feel they are being ‘ripped off’ by any of the necessary expenses of doing business, are precisely the actors we are hiring casting directors to keep away from us. We’re not interested in ‘FAIR’ – we’re here to make a show and make a buck. Get into THAT frame of mind yourself, and you won’t have to pay to see anybody. We WANT to do business with other business people.
Hope that clears up a few things I apparently did not make clear in my earlier post.
Bob! Now some real honesty, and some true agreement from this camp on many issues.
At least we both agree that casting director workshops are a generally worthless educational endeavor. It’s no secret why actors pay and why CDs charge, so it’s silly to play games with reality. If the casting person wasn’t working on a current project, do you really think that’s where an actor would put his $50 – for 5 minutes (max) of a casting assistant’s time? I mostly agree about your assessment of casting directors, too. Most are secretaries and list makers and have so little input into the casting decisions, it’s laughable. But they can bring actors to producers and directors for consideration, and while I’m not a big “law” type person, I think that actors can be pretty dumb, so basic guidelines should exist. You can’t take all the red lights out of LA because you trust that everyone will stop. Actors (like many consumers) get ripped off in this town. I think we need some rules; some think we should just let the free market run things. Just depends on who you’re talking to and what they’re stake in the matter is. :)
The CSA has just issued a bunch of new guidelines for its members which are probably stronger than the new law in “protecting” actors as well as the integrity of casting profession, if there can be that. The rules make sure workshops hire real teachers and provide a curriculum (which is not “I prefer 2 staples in your headshot instead of 4” or “Do it again, but funnier”). The “education” thing may be tough when you’ve been opening envelopes at a casting office and have never even been in a casting session! These new guidelines will probably piss off a lot more workshop actors than the law will. Hey, it’s never been easy for actors to get in the door. The new rules don’t make it harder; they just make actors have to work a little more diligently to get in. And if the law and the rules, as intrusive as some think they are, allow the good workshops to stay open, then I see it as a pretty fair trade-off.
I get the impression, Bob, that you are NOT a lazy man, and don’t tolerate lazy people – actors or casting people. I think everyone will have to do their job a little harder instead of just buying and selling access, and I think that brings things up a notch in my book.
Thanks, Bob, for the smart and enlightening response.
Real honesty, indeed, Mimi. Thanks for your contributions, and best of luck in your future endeavors.
The only thing i learned from doing a few CD workshops this year is that I need to focus on my writing career at this point, :)
Are you saying that you need to become a better actor? Or that the material you worked with was crappy? Elaborate, please.
Just happened upon this posting about casting directors (and maybe I’m getting to it a little late) but I feel compelled to comment.
I was a voiceover casting & dialogue director for many years in NYC. As someone who was never an actor (I came to VO casting via the world of animation production), I used to get frequent invitations to be the industry guest at workshops, and on occasion I would agree to do them. I found them quite enjoyable, and would also typically come away from each one with at least a few CDs from really talented actors whom I later called in for VO auditions. Granted, not everyone who gave me their VO demo was polished enough to be considered for an audition, but I met some wonderfully talented actors over the years by doing these workshops and was able to add them to my “roster” of people I’d keep in mind for auditions.
Apart from that, my purpose in doing the workshops was not to “air my pet peeves,” but rather to give my perspective on issues like how to do a great audition, differentiate yourself from the pack/get noticed, and give pointers on what I considered to be good audition practices.
I was also always happy to give whatever other advice I could, whether answer questions about union/non-union issues or how to put together a solid VO demo.
I hope my comments help to add another perspective!
I have to say that I wish I saw article this while Mr. Fraser was still alive so I could have a conversation with the guy. I feel like a bit of a shit-heel disagreeing with a man who cannot answer or respond to my statements.
That said, with all due respect to Mr. Fraser and his opinions on this matter, I feel compelled to address his statements regarding the job of a casting director.
I am not going to get into the “should I do a CD workshop” discussion – because that’s not what outraged me here.
According to IMDb, Mr. Fraser has not been a show runner since 1989. The business has changed a lot since then. His statements reek of a dated and outmoded way of doing business. Clearly he ran his shows by hiring people to bring him the talent, and then he and the network execs made all the decisions.
I have cast both television and film since the early 80s.
Along the way, I have gotten to know many of the casting directors around the globe. Mr. Fraser’s claim that “casting directors are mostly former actors” is simply untrue. False. I’m not sure where he got his statistics from, but I can assure you he is in error in making this claim. Yes, there are a few that are former actors…but not “most” as he claims. He goes on to say that “you are trying to get good career information from someone who did not succeed at a career where they claim expert status.” Again, this argument doesn’t track. At CD workshops, actors are (supposedly!) getting advice from CDs who are in the room, day in and day out, working with studio and network execs, directors, producers, and writers. A good CD knows what our team is looking for and how to get it from your audition. Should you pay a CD for face-time and for that knowledge? That’s another discussion I’m not going to get into here.
Mr. Fraser’s claims about CDs not being “decision makers” also shows great naïveté or just a dated filmmaking approach. As far as I can tell, there is not ONE PERSON who is a decision maker when it comes to casting. It is the filmmakers choice based on many weeks and sometimes months of discussions with the CD, along with the studio and network executives who make the casting decisions. Again, we come to those decisions as a group.
I have sat in many a room and taken part in many heated casting discussions with my team of filmmakers, studio and network executives. It’s a group discussion with a lot of passionate people. I recall sitting in a room deciding who should play the part of “Marion Ravenwood” in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. It was Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Mike Fenton, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, Lawrence Kasdan….and me. We all went around the room and voted who should get the part. I have literally hundreds of these stories.
By the way, I have worked with Steven Spielberg on 5 projects and I do not recall him ever casting the extras. Ever.
Do you really think that the Coen Brothers didn’t listen and revere Ellen Chenoweth when she says she found the girl for them (True Grit – Haillee Steinfeld); Martin Scorsese doesn’t work side-by-side and value Ellen Lewis’ contribution when casting Boardwalk Empire (Shutter Island, The Departed, The Aviator to name a few); Woody Allen thinks Juliet Taylor is someone who just “winnows down the choices” on his films? By the way, she has cast his last 21 films; J.J. Abrams just thinks the über talented April Webster just “brings him actors” for him to say yes or no to? It just doesn’t work that way folks. It’s called collaboration.
I am not naïve enough to think that the CD has the final say…but the CD is as much a part of the filmmaking process as is the costumer, set designer, and the writer. Yes, that’s how important the role of the casting director is. The filmmakers that I work with believe this as well and treat the casting process with the respect that it deserves.
Casting directors are not merely “someone in the personnel department”. If you think of us this way, you are certainly missing the boat.
Thank you so much for clearing that up may I ask what does it mean when a CD tells you that a role was actually holding you back and that you have a big personality! Is that good feedback?
Maybe! It depends how genuine the feedback was. But I would wean myself off of asking for feedback from CDs – they tend to be nice, not radically candorous.
Thank you and I didn’t ask for the feedback she just said it after a reading and she was very sincere
I am an actor in LA and have attended several workshops over the last few years. I get 90% positive, favorable reviews from the CDs I have seen, but I never hear from them again. I has issues with paying to see a casting director, especially since it seems so many of them are at these workshops are “between jobs” or according to IMDB, haven’t casted one single solitary TV show or film. Now, you have managers and agents getting in on the act. In my opinion, this is just milking actors out of more money. I know so many actors and NONE of them who went to workshops ever got called in for anything.
My assessment of CD workshops: BS. Total BS. Casting directors and those who host these workshops are making some nice spending money on the side, while actors are left doing more and more of them, wasting their money when it should be spent elsewhere.
I attended CD workshops for awhile. I saw perhaps close to 100 casting directors over a 15-month period. In the end, I got called in to audition for two 5 lines or less gigs on network television series, a couple of indie films and few non-union internet projects. Whether or not an actor has “success” in a casting director workshop is based on so many factors. Are you seeing a casting director at the time he or she is casting a part you fit? That is the key. That is the biggest beef I have with workshops….you may know what shows or films they are casting for, but you never know if they are looking for a part you fit.
You must remember, the average CD sees anywhere from 100 to 500 actors a week, whether it is at their office or at a workshop. No matter how stellar an audition you give for these folks, they are going to forget about you within 48 hours of seeing you just because of the sheer quantity of actors they are seeing. And sadly, if you are not standing in front of them when they are casting a part you fit, your headshot and resume lands in their file cabinets where it sits for five to seven years until they dump it in the trash.
I wholeheartedly agree with the fact that these people are not teachers, nor are they the real decision-makers. However, everyone has to start somewhere by making connections. Hollywood for the most part is nothing more than a lottery. It isn’t the most talented who make it, but those who are in the right place at the right time. End of story. So I say this, cast your net as broadly as possible. Do not rule out CD workshops, nor should you put all of your eggs in one basket. CD workshops are one of many tools actors have to network, make connections and strengthen his or her audition skills. End of story.
Okay, I’ve read through all the postings on this subject and my opinion hasn’t changed one bit.
Look, as an extremely “green” actor I take every opportunity I can get to perform in front of someone. Whether it’s a CD, Director, Producer, my family, friends or strangers, I am using that time to hone my craft. Now maybe I look at this just like I did playing sports. You don’t progress or get better without consistent hard work and training. With that being said, a workshop is first and foremost, a MARKETING tool. Next, it can be an excellent TRAINING tool, as long as you take the right mindset into it. We as actors SHOULD know what we are spending our money on and for what. For me a workshop is nothing more than a marketing tool mixed with a little acting “gym” work. If you pursue it that way, I believe good things will happen. Buy hey, that’s just my opinion and I’m not anybody….YET! :-D
Great points, Justin. And with an attitude like that, you won’t be “not anybody” for very long!
I love the variety of arguments in this comment section. I for one agree that CD workshops are (and should be) a marketing tool for actors. It’s up to the actor to do their research and have a strategy with them. Like a business person! Whether CDs help make casting decisions is arguable, but they most certainly are the ones that allow you into the ‘room’. Any actor that doesnt know the difference between getting hired, and getting into the room, has far Far to go. But even getting in the ‘room’ is not what’s being promised at these workshops. I actually don’t know why CD workshops are not advertised as ‘Relationship-Building Meetings’, because that’s what they really are when it comes down to it. I have yet to see a credible argument of how CDs would go back to only doing one on one generals?? Nor have I heard of how a non represented actor would get a general. Should we advocate throngs of actor groups to form and hold their own free showcases? Is that readable? I doubt it…but I’m open. Opponents of CD workshops should have a viable alternative if my opinion is to be swayed. I don’t like spending money unnecessarily, but I also know it’s smart to be efficient. So, show me how I can reduce my cost AND be as efficient…..and you’ll peak my interest. Otherwise it just comes off as another hurdle for ambitious actors.
I will add that I only do workshops occaisionally now, but I know for a fact that I would not have some key acting credits nor my agent…..if it were not for the use of CD workshops years ago to build the relationships I have.
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