Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More on Casting Directors

Thanks to Anonymous and OhioProf for their comments on my last post. I'm inspired to throw a few reactionary tidbits together here.

First, about Casting Directors...

I hate saying it, but yeah — sometimes I do wonder whether they really know what's "good." The problem to a certain extent, I think, is that casting is indeed rather parochial — it's easy to think that the talent you call in, and the results you get from the particular way in which you run your auditions, are representative of the larger talent pool (or the best that can be wrung from the talent pool) if you constantly draw your actors from one place and/or you don't provide an environment where the talent can surprise the end-client. And I would even dispute that some casting directors really know what their clients want. If they did, I'm not sure they would do so much directing during auditions. Unless the client is a real dick, the norm by far is to provide a variety of reads within the parameters of the casting specs. Directors, for instance, want to know that an actor's not a "Single-Note Sally" — that they'll be able to go in different directions if need be — so why some CDs practically give line readings to actors is beyond me (especially in a town known for its pool of improvisers). Of course, I can't fault CDs for wanting to follow what's worked best for them in the past, but if, for instance, you only ever pull your talent from edgy, provocative theatres, then you shouldn't be surprised if your client wonders why few people on your casting tape don't seem to have a great deal of comic timing (not to mention camera technique).

Oh and secondly, thanks for the encouragement to go into writing, but the fact is that I decided a while back not to be one of those actors who tries to be a "hyphenate" — a la actor-director, actor-writer, etc. No disrespect towards Sam Shephard, William H. Macy, et alia who can do it (and do it well), but I have enough distractions in my life, and what I really need to do is focus my creative energies more so I can excel in one area, rather than dissipate those energies by dabbling in lots of different things. 'Sides, I generally think one should have a passion for what one does, and while I enjoy writing, my real passion lies in front of the footlights, so thence I go.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Peanut Butter and Chocolate

There's this adage that applies to bite-and-smile commercials — "don't act so suprised." Bite-and-smiles are those spots where the talent bites into a food product and reacts (favorably, one presumes — though come to think of it I once bit into a club sandwich where the food dressers had encouraged the bacon strips to glisten under the lights by brushing Pine-Sol on them; I think the clients saved my "hideous revulsion" reaction for their gag reel).

Anyway, a common mistake many actors make when taking a bite/sip/lick of a food product during an audition is to act surprised. Unless it's written into the copy that the character is outright skeptical about the taste of this thing in front of them (the only example I can think of being those old Reese's commercials, "Hey! You got peanut butter on my chocolate!"), acting surprised that it tastes good is basically tantamount to saying the product looks like sh**, or the Brand Name doesn't inspire confidence, or that this product stands out because it DOESN'T kill you. In other words, if it's that good, what sort of vomit-inducing experience were you expecting and why? (So what you typically see instead during a good bite-and-smile is a look of pleasant expectation before the bite, then a reaction afterwards that says the expectation was happily confirmed or, perhaps, even exceeded because they'd forgotten just how gosh-darned good this stuff really is.)

How this all relates is that this week was, as predicted by a realtor friend of mine, much busier than last week (they predicted that the upcoming Easter holiday would combine with Tax Day to dramatically slow down a lot of different industries), so I actually had quite a few auditions, both on-camera and voiceover. And one of those on-camera auditions was for a casting firm that rarely calls me in and, as I think I've written before, when they DO call me in they always act surprised when I don't fall on my face. Well, that's exactly what happened once again. I came in, the casting director was very business-like and doing annoying things (more on that later), then I did my bit, and afterwards the first words out of their mouth were, "Evan, that was GOOD!"

Gee, don't act so suprised.

Y'know what was different this time though? I think I figured out that it's just the way they are. For whatever reason, they're either cursed with a condescending way of expressing themselves to other people or, more likely, they really DON'T expect a lot from actors. I think it's more of the latter, simply because of those other annoying things they do. For instance, they'll call an actor into the room, then say, "Wait until the camera's rolling before beginning." (Isn't that a bit obvious?) Or, "Stand on the mark to say your slate." (Why? Do most actors slate themselves off-camera?)

But what do I know? Perhaps I just haven't walked in their shoes enough to see the endless parade of actors who can't face forward, find their light, or know where the camera is. Perhaps most of the actors they call in don't know what a "slate" is and respond with an entirely appropriate, "Huh?" (A slate is simply looking into the camera and saying your name — don't say no one ever told you.) All I can say is, it's odd that other casting directors don't act this way.

Still, knowing that it just seems to be part of their nature is comforting somehow. I guess it's easier knowing ahead of time that, no matter how many times they see me, they're always going to find it refreshingly novel when I smear peanut butter on their chocolate.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Happy Easter

It was a slow week for daytime auditions (i.e., on-camera & voiceover), which was actually appreciated since I didn't (and still don't) have my taxes done. The whole week — heck, the last few months — seem to have been about my not being able to get done what needs to get done because something more urgent or infuriatingly distracting inserts itself into my life. Trying to breathe through it, but dang...

Cherokee told me the other day that she really doesn't feel like pursuing acting work anymore. She's said it many times before, but there've been extenuating circumstances that made me think she mght change her mind later. I'm pretty certain now that's not going to happen. Curiously, it really doesn't upset me too much — we both knew when we met that there's a fantastically high attrition rate in the acting biz, and one or both of us might eventually succumb to it. Still, I'd also think something was wrong if I just shrugged and didn't give her leaving the biz a second thought. She's an incredibly talented actor, and it shouldn't pass unmourned that she won't be sharing that talent anymore. At least, not in the traditional ways (i.e., stage, camera, microphone).

Rented the "Chronicles of Narnia" last night. Brought back warm memories of reading those books during my childhood, and I honestly think they did a good job dramatizing it. C.S. Lewis had a British sensibility about analogues (i.e., subtlety goes a long way, less is more), and previous attempts at dramatizing "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" have killed me with how ham-fisted they've been. Hope Disney more of the Narnia series.