Half a lifetime ago, I believed my acting talent would open doors for me. I had grown up in an environment where I had plenty of people applauding my juvenile impressions of Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, and Jim Carrey. Looking back, it's hard to believe every bit of praise was sincere, but there were a few people that I know weren't blowing smoke up my formerly toned behind.
In the last 20 years I received further validation of my talent by being cast in a variety of roles in feature films, commercials, industrials, and a handful of live theater gigs. I can call myself a professional actor. And a good one at that.
I continue to train and study and practice my craft at every opportunity. I want to get better. And better. And better.
But with the big 4-0 looming, I can't simply hone my craft and wait for the bigger doors to open. I have to get in front of the people behind those doors who can get me the gigs that pay more than a tank of gas.
I recently got in touch with kind-hearted Scott David, Casting Director of the CBS hit crime procedural, Criminal Minds, and the spinoff, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. He graciously answered some questions I had as a recent small-market transplant to Los Angeles. More than anything, he confirmed what I already suspected, which isn't bad or good. It just -- is.
Scott emphasizes the importance of acting classes before one arrives in LA and also to take classes once relocated to LA. "Acting classes and studying your craft are of utmost importance," he says. I agree, and I've taken many classes over the years, most of which have contributed to my craft -- some better than others. I'm surprised by some of the excuses actors contrive to avoid taking classes. Even the most successful stars take classes.
Scott also highlights the importance of learning audition technique and how to do self-taped auditions. There are audition classes, but in small markets, the audition techniques are usually focused on commercial auditions which differ considerably from film and television auditions. A good starting point for learning how to audition is to read Casting Qs by Bonnie Gillespie and The Actor's Encyclopedia of Casting Directors by Karen Kondazian. If nothing else, the books give insight into what casting directors are looking for in auditions. (Hint: they're looking for you to be you!)
|Casting Director, Scott David|
Now for the tricky part of this blog entry. I asked Scott David, "Once in LA, what are the first steps one should take to get noticed by casting directors?"
He answered, "The BEST way to get noticed and to start making relationships and networking is to invest in Casting Director Workshops on a regular, consistent basis at The Actor's Link."
Why is this tricky? Because Scott David owns The Actor's Link.
My cynical side can't help but wonder about the nobility of such a suggestion. Pay my company $30 to $50 and you'll get to perform a short scene in front of a casting director who may or may not call you in for a real audition based on the impression you make.
My pessimist side wonders, "How else can I get in front of these casting directors?"
And my practical side pries, "I'm out here to make connections and build relationships with the people that can get me work. Suck it up and pay the money."
And here's the thing. I really don't think Scott is a swindler. He's been as accessible as anybody out here and I've heard first-person accounts from actors who got called in to audition shortly after meeting a casting director at a workshop. While certainly not a guarantee of booking gigs, Casting Director Workshops are a legitimate way to get in front of the people who can get actors work.
Aside from workshops, the only control one has over getting oneself on the radars of casting directors is to directly communicate with them. Sure, it would be nice to know our agents are pitching us and fighting for us to get called in to audition, but the reality is that nobody is going to be more passionate about finding acting gigs than we are.
With resources like IMDb Pro and Backstage, it's generally easy to find contact information for nearly every casting director from New York to Atlanta to Austin to Los Angeles. I've personally sent out almost 50 postcards and nearly that many e-mails to the casting directors and associates who cast the shows for which I feel best suited. Considering most of these people receive hundreds, if not thousands, of unsolicited messages every week, the chances I'm being noticed are pretty slim. Still, if I want to win the lottery, I have to buy tickets.
I asked Scott his thoughts on the line between tactful self-promotion and becoming a nuisance. "That is a fine line," he said. "It's like dating. Rejection is the hardest aspect of life, and most of the time actors are rejected."
Ouch. Most of the time actors are rejected. I mean, I know that. But it's still tough to swallow.
"Don't push too hard," he continues, "and try to make relationships with professionals IF they are open and accessible to doing so."
That last sentiment is perhaps the most difficult for us creatives to accept. In our minds, we know we have so much to offer and that anybody who isn't open to getting to know us and our work is truly missing out. Right?
Well, if our work is that good and we are truly worth knowing, eventually the wall will crumble and we will have access to those that are currently inaccessible. The trick is to find those who are accessible and (patiently) prove your value to them first. Then, who knows who will eventually give you access to their inner circle?
In Minneapolis I accumulated a lot of credits, from features to commercials to industrials. I asked Scott if my long resume of mostly unrecognizable credits means anything out here or if I would be better off having one credit from a recognizable show like Criminal Minds or The Big Bang Theory. "Being able to show that one has TALENT and is a good actor is much more important when the actor does not have many legit credits, if any at all," he explained. "TRAINING... is very important, and marketing oneself is KEY."
Bottom line is this: Keep training. Keep working. Keep finding new connections. Do as many casting workshops as the budget will allow. Eventually, all the hard work will pay off. For me, it's been fifteen years of hard work. I gotta believe I'm due. You are too.
If you've stumbled across this blog and any of the above information is new to you, I encourage you to check out The Actor's Link. If you're in Los Angeles, you can start workshopping immediately. Of course, it's best to make sure you're good before spending the money, but that's obvious, right?
*** More About Scott David ***
A member in good standing of the Casting Society of America (CSA), Scott David has been casting everything from small Equity Theater to Studio Feature Films since 1996. He is currently Casting Director of the long running CBS hit TV series, Criminal Minds, and also the new spinoff series, Criminal Minds Beyond Borders. Scott also consistently works on indie films throughout the year.
Scott enjoys meeting all sorts of actors from all sorts of places. He has an appreciation for actors and is totally passionate with his efforts in helping out newer actors. He admires their hard work and diligence in pursuing their dreams.
Check out Scott David's iOS app on iTunes: Scott David Casting