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Don't Look Back in Anger, I Hear You Say?

Don't look backwards... it's not the direction you're going", said the post, from a well-known casting director. The post is aiming to get your attention, to motivate you and encourage you, and then hopefully, you'll want even more tit-bits of generic advice, so you'll be happy to pay for them.

There's nothing new, these days, about people selling their wares on social media- offering their tips and tricks to get you a short-cut to where you want to go, but for someone who has been in the industry long enough to remember when the only time you heard the mention of a casting director, was when your agent told you that they wanted to 'meet' you, it's hard not to look back in anger.

Several changes have taken place within our industry and on the whole, they're great, but there is a worrying trend occurring. One which has placed actors so far down the food chain and the pecking order, that to those of us who can remember decent buyout fees, can't fail to feel angry about.

It used to be your job, as an actor, to prepare for a casting, arrive on time and work, with the casting director (and the director and possibly a producer, or a client), to see if you could help them solve their casting situation.

You were sent the sides and you knew who was going to be in the room. The casting directors that you met, were experienced and skilled and there was a mutual respect for each other. That's because, they contacted your agent by telephone and spoke to your agent- there was a dialogue. You attended the casting and you were given an opportunity to show what you had prepared. Then the casting director, if they had some suggestions for you, would re-direct you (a stage that I always took for granted).

"Ah the good old days! He's harking back to the past", I hear you say, however, although technology has improved much about this process, there's a void being created that will have a damaging affect on the industry.

Self-tapes, love them, or loathe them, they achieve several things. Primarily, one of the advantages for actors is that they allow more of us to be seen for a role, that possibly would not have been invited to meet a casting director. They proved early on, to be a useful first step, in the casting process and although many actors, 'chunnered' at the idea (getting used to how to do them), we did get better at them and we did work it out, collectively, with only sketchy bits of advice, gathered here and there. Some casting directors attempted to be really helpful and left tips on how to do them, on social media and attached to websites.

Fast forward just a few years and we hit a pandemic and as a result, hardly any casting directors bring people in. Some rarely go into their offices, choosing to move away from the bigger cities and work exclusively online. Not all, but some.

No big change there... ...or is there?

Well yes, actually. Post pandemic, more emphasis is placed on the actors doing the work. It's rarely now a two-way street. A brief will be sent, requiring you, to not only learn the scene, but to light it, film it, edit it and send it. You then have multiple forms to fill in and al of this has to be in by occasionally realistic deadlines, in many cases not.

What's the problem? Don't they want the work?

Of course we want the work! It's just that receiving a breakdown and casting request at 6pm on a Friday evening, due in on Monday can, at the best of times, be a tight schedule. Add to the mix, that if you have already made other plans, they have to be shelved. Sometimes there's a desperate attempt to find someone to be your reader and as good as some apps are, allowing someone to be there remotely, it shows a lack of understanding of the craft, to think that we can produce our best work when the person we are working off/with, isn't even in the room.

What about the time to prepare? Some guidelines for some self-tapes are ridiculous, requiring you to shoot a whole range of 'moments', multiple times, in different ways, in different locations. May I be so bold as to say that THAT IS LAZY CASTING AND SHOWS A TOTAL LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF HOW WE WORK and is so 'general' that it often reveals the inexperience of the casting directors themselves.

There are some fantastic casting directors. Really fantastic. They are great at their jobs and fight for the actors and there are those that have little or no respect for the actor.

The problem is, that after working in this business for 35 years, I have been 'in the room' often enough to imagine what a casting director, or a director may want to see from me. It usual starts and ends with my 'interesting choices'. I know how to frame it, shoot it, light it and send it. Many actors still don't. But then, we didn't become actors to sit alone in a room, and act to an iPad, whilst filming on an iPhone.

Casting directors jobs, if they're going to stay at home, have become easier, thanks to the technology. the actors' job description has increased. Our fees have gone down- have theirs?

My own feeling is, that you may convince someone that you can do your job from your sofa, on Zoom, but you can't really. Not really. And neither can we.

What's the legacy?

I've seen it so many times already... young actors not getting the chance to be in the room. I don't need to spell it out, as to what they are missing out on.

Whilst casting directors under-cut each other to offer ridiculous deadlines, to secure the work, they pass the stress onto the actors. It's hard not to look back in anger!

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