By: Randall Gort
I had an opportunity this week to meet Gary Marsh, the founder of Breakdown Services, the parent company of Actors Access, Breakdown Express, Show Fax, Casting About and other actor related service companies. First an explanation is in order about what some of these companies do and how it relates to an actor being submitted for a gig.
Actors Access is a website that lists breakdowns that Casting Directors (CDs) want to have out there in front of actors for direct submissions. Breakdown Express is the website used by talent representatives to monitor projects, submit talent and communicate with the CDs. Breakdown Express lists the breakdowns that CDs want to go to agents and managers only (and they can also choose to send breakdowns to select agents and managers, meaning only a handful of people ever see those breakdowns). CDs can choose to list their breakdowns through either Actors Access or Breakdown Express, or both services simultaneously. This choice based on a number of factors, one of which is the number of submissions a CD wants to weed through.
For example, I saw a posting for a SAG low budget job that was posted at 11:35 AM. Within minutes submissions started coming in. It was like watching the tenth of a mile digit on a car's odometer. It started slowly and then increased in speed. Within less than an hour there were already about 150 submissions for a given role. I was told that within 4 hours there could be a couple of thousand submissions. I am not sure whether this breakdown was distributed on one or both of the services, but in either case, the number of submissions for a good role will be quite large.
Through Breakdown Express the CD can see a display of the submissions. The actors are displayed in a grid like display with multiple rows and columns of headshot thumbnails. And “thumbnail” is an appropriate description since the viewed pictures are quite small. Under each actor's headshot were icons serving as links for the actor's profile and media submissions, as well as a clickable scale of 1 through 6. A CD that I met said she quickly (just like scrolling down a page) scans through the grid, looking for headshots that match her idea of the character. For those that her initial reaction is positive, she ranks them as such using the clickable scale. In her case 1's were a good fit and 2's were a maybe. The other numbers were not used. Different CDs may have a different process.
She then scans the 1's looking at their profile and media (including other photos in the profile) submissions. Through this process 1's can remain 1's or get downgraded to 2"s, or eliminated. Given the project and the time limits she ultimately chooses the 1's to call back, and if she needs more, than she reviews the 2's.
First Lesson learned. Headshots are important. Without a headshot that matches the character, it is likely that you won't even get a second chance. So if the character being cast is a Marine and your headshot shows you in your lawyer pose. It will likely get passed over. The quality of the headshot is also important because the image being looked is almost square and small. It therefore needs to be properly cropped to present “YOU” and let the CD imagine you as the character being cast.
So you learned the above lesson and have a great headshot, but even then your chance of getting a call back can be effected by the order the headshots are displayed to the CD. Is your headshot displayed at the top or at the bottom of the grid the CD is viewing, which she might not even get to. This order is customizable by the CD, with the default being, actors with media samples included in their profile first, and then actors without media. I did not ask the question about agent/manager submissions being given a higher priority, but I did observe that all the submissions on the first page were represented by agents. This could be due to the software since Breakdown Express submissions and Actors Access submissions can be easily separated. It could also be due to other factors. I don’t know. Second Lesson Learned – submit media with your profile.
As far as media submissions, I now have been told by multiple CDs (and Jeff and Jen say it all the time,) and it was confirmed by Actors Access that, while not dead, Demo Reels are somewhat out of vogue. It appears that CDs prefer clips. Given the limited amount of time they have, the CDs want to get to the relevant media as soon as possible. They might only watch the first minute of media. I was told by the CD that she had been called by an agent (whose represented actor the CD had already taken off the "2" list - see above.) The agent said that the actor was perfect for the part and directed the CD to the actor's reel. The CD replied that she had already looked at the reel and didn't see any applicable footage. The agent replied that it was at the end of the reel. This could have been avoided had the actor submitted clips instead of a reel. I was then shown the media submissions of some of the actors remaining on the "1" list. They all had short clips which were labeled to allow the CD to focus on the appropriate med, for example, Drama - Police interrogation scene." A Third Lesson Learned - use properly captioned clips.
With respect to the 2000 or so submissions for a breakdown that I mentioned earlier, I was told that for any given role the CD the CD will typically select around 30 to 40 people for call backs (this depends upon the project and the time allotted.) Of these 40 maybe 10 are actors that the CD knows and likes (the CD’s short list). Maybe another 10 are submission from the production company, director, or the CD's circle of friends/contacts. This leaves only 20 to come from the CD’s review of Breakdown Express. 20 out of 2000.That's only 1%. Yes, talent counts but it's also a numbers game. You have a much better chance of getting on a CD's radar if they know your or have seen you. So workshops - like those offered by AGR give you a leg up. That's also why I (as does AGR) keep talking about social media. You gotta get known in order to be more than a number. A Fourth Lesson Learned –you gotta get known.
Bottom line is that there are only a few things an actor can control, good headshots, good training, good social media and networking, and knowing and focusing on your brand, being some of them. The team at AGR is well positioned to help you with ALL OF THESE. Although the above discusses Breakdown Services, many of the other database services are similar so the lessons are generic. There is a reason they call it show business, because it is a BUSINESS. The more you do to make your product known and worth buying, the greater your opportunities will be.
*For the uninformed minority who have the misfortune of not participating in the AGR webinars, lime soda is a reference to Jen’s favorite drink, as one of her favorite metaphors. If you’re trying to sell lime soda then your packaging better look like lime soda and your contents better taste like lime soda or you’re not going to be too successful.
About the Author
How to Fly Without Fear: Doing Your Best in Auditions!
By Elana Safar
Remember the scene in Clueless when Cher and Dion accidentally drive onto the freeway and totally freak out?
When my mom was growing up, my grandparents used to practice driving to destinations in advance of important occasions. For example, if my mother had a job interview scheduled, they would hop in the car a couple days earlier, head to that very place, then turn around and go back home. They called this their dry run.
I used to poke fun at the idea of driving somewhere for seemingly no reason. Later, I came to realize that my grandparents were on to something, especially given their pre-GPS existence. The fact is that on any mundane day, a wrong turn or delayed train is no big deal. But when the stakes are high, even the smallest inconvenience can throw you off your game.
Airlines have figured out how to incorporate the art of the dry run in order to grow their business. Many airports have developed special programs for people who suffer from a fear of flying. As part of these courses, nervous flyers practice going to the airport, spending time there, and perhaps even sitting on a plane.They are also educated as to the science of flying and receive explanations for any mysterious plane noise that might seem scary. Eventually, the combination of knowledge and behavioral techniques help aerophobics relax and enjoy travel.
The mere act of walking into an audition room can evoke uneasiness. Just the other day, a fellow auditioner confided in me that she was on a Xanax to stay relaxed. The ugly truth is that more and more actors are resorting to pharmaceuticals to get through high-pressure auditions.
Nerves are universal, and plenty of well known stage and film stars get them. Barbra Streisand struggled with stage fright.Broadway and TV star Laura Benanti recently admitted to botching an audition because she wanted the part so badly. My childhood idol, Tony-award winner Daisy Eagan, tried beta blockers.
From an early age, I loved acting and singing and I performed with great ease. But as I got older, I found myself wrestling with audition anxiety. I would be dressed, prepared, and ready to go, and then seconds before entering an important audition or callback, my heart would start racing. If I was singing, my breath support would be compromised, ending me right then and there.
I began to realize that because I was so emotionally invested in a positive outcome, fear was creeping in and triggering my body’s acute stress response, also known as fight or flight syndrome. Yes, that’s right. That rush we feel before an audition is part of our evolutionary design in sensing danger. During the cavemen era, our bodies fired off hormones to give us extra energy in fending off threatening beasts. Auditions may not be growling bears, but our brains can perceive them as so and this fear holds us back from success.
Does any of this sounds familiar? It is essential that you take practical steps to attack this meshugas because the reality is that we performers have to be so on top of our game that no distraction, physical or psychological, impedes us from doing our work-- and doing it very well.
It is helpful to begin by recognizing that you are nervous because you really care, and caring is a good thing! Forgive yourself.
Casting director workshops are incredibly useful because they simulate the audition experience without actually being an audition. They are like a dry run with extra benefits: Participants have the opportunity to ask casting directors questions, try out material, practice working in a new medium (for example, a musical theatre actor transitioning into tv/ film) and overall, absorb nuances inherent to the audition process.
In addition, here are five things you can start doing NOW to curb audition anxiety:
Hopefully, a winning combination of artistic training, practical workshops, and an anxiety-free state will help you fly through auditions and performances with grace!
About the Author