I love Hollywood. It’s a place of magic and make-believe, of smoke and mirrors. And it makes me crazy. I have come to call the place home and the people who I work with family, and much like the Corleone Family, every time I try to leave, they keep pulling me back. So I give up. I’m here and I’m here to stay.
I’ve worked in almost every area of film production, with the exception of putting the film in camera, when they put the film in the camera. I’m not so sure they do that anymore.
But out of all the people I have worked with, in all the different departments there are on a film set, my favorite list of unsung heroes are (in somewhat order):
- Casting Directors
- Boom Guys
- The Entire Transpo Department
Casting Directors are at the top because I think what they do is magic. I know this for a couple of reasons. Once I had to step in to cast a very, very low-budget film because our Casting Director found a last-minute better job. I knew I couldn’t get anyone else to step in, for timing reasons but mostly because as Line Producer, I had set the budget and I knew no one else would work for that kind of change.
It was the most difficult job I ever did and I never wanted to do it again.
Casting Directors love actors and working with actors, something I found tiring. They had to work with Agents, which I found aggravating and they have to work with Directors, who can be very difficult, even when they think they aren’t. But even more than that, Casting Directors just seem to know, the minute you walk in the door, before you slate, before you even hit your mark, if you have a prayer of booking the job.
When I last worked as an actor, some 15-20 years ago, before things got really crazy, there were a lot of what were called Casting Director Workshops. Most of them have gone away and the few that are left seem to have been indicted on some kind of criminal charge. I don’t know the specifics but back in the day, before it got crazy, I thought Casting Director Workshops worked for both Actors and Casting Directors.
Way back in the day, when Movie Studios ruled, they had Talent Scouts who were charged with running around the country, going to Vaudeville, Variety & Legitimate Theaters, Live Radio Shows & Plays (because there was no television) and Nightclubs to find talent that could be polished up and placed on the Silver Screen.
When Movie Studios started to dissolve, Talent Agents, a small part of the hierarchy back then, more or less pulled up the slack. But nowadays Agents are just busy trying to promote or keep the talent already on their rosters to run around looking for the next boy or girl wonder appearing in that thing in that place near that city not far from Chicago.
They do have Agent Showcases, at least I think they still do, but there really is only so much time in a day, so the brunt of finding new, great talent has fallen on the shoulders of Casting Directors, whose time is even more limited, because they spend most of their time in small stuffy rooms auditioning actors they think have a chance in hell of booking the job.
So these Casting Director Workshops were a win-win for both the Actors, who would like the opportunity to possibly be called in by the Casting Director for a role on a show they might be currently casting and for the Casting Directors, who could make a little extra money instead of spending their own coin to travel around Los Angeles watching marginal plays by marginal playwrites featuring Actors of various and mostly marginal talent.
I know this because I used to go to these plays to “support” my friends who appeared in some of them. I no longer go because I truly believe that what ever you are appearing in should find its own audience without the system of papering the house with friends and relatives, who may or may not be comped for their attendance. Time is the stuff of life you can never get back, and no amount of cheap wine in a paper cup during intermission is going to change that.
With these Casting Director Workshops, you signed up, paid 20 or 30 bucks, brought in your headshot and dropped it on the pile and went out into the hallway with the other 20 or so actors and waited.
We do a lot of that.
Meanwhile, the Casting Director would go through the headshots and match them up not only with another actor, but with a scene from the piles of scenes they brought with them. In about 10 minutes.
Then we would troop back in, get our scenes, meet our scene partner, troop back out to the hallway, rehearse for about 10 minutes, come back in and, two by two, perform.
What was so amazing was that every single time, the Casting Director not only matched up the best scene partners but they matched them up with the best scene for both actors.
I never saw a bad performance in any of these Casting Director Workshops. Ever.
We might have been good actors, but we weren’t so good that we could be good in everything ever written. That’s just not possible.
And these Casting Directors knew it, but they managed to find the best scenes for us from our headshot alone. The back of those headshots might have given them an idea in what roles we had been previously cast, but quite frankly I just don’t think they had the time before the workshop to study our credits. I think they knew, just from our photos, what we could do well and what we couldn’t.
That is more than a skill, it’s a gift.
There’s a bunch of other reasons I think Casting Directors are the unsung heroes of our industry. They have to find good actors, they have to understand what the director is looking for and why, which is a lot harder, they have to sit in that little, stuffy, hot room for hours and hours while we walk in and out, bringing with us our nerves, our various levels of talent and the aroma of whatever we’ve been eating in our cars.
They hear the same lines over and over and over, with various intonations, reflections, accents and accuracy. And because usually they are casting to type, they are watching replicas of the same face, take after take after take.
It is a thankless, thankless, thankless job.
There is no Casting Director category at the Oscars, but there should be. The reason Films win Oscars are due in no small part to the Casting Director.
I know they get Emmy’s, which is why your favorite show is your favorite show, no matter who wrote it or directed it. We watch, either week after week, or binge by binge, to see our favorite Cast Members.
I know the Clio Awards are for Advertising and Commercials but I don’t think Casting Directors get any of those either. Sorry, Charlie.
Anyway, I have a lot of respect for Casting Directors and I think they have a lot of respect for Actors. Most of them, most of the time.
And if you are wondering where all of this is going, stay tuned, you’ll find out.
When it comes to the rest of my list, if Directors are the heart of a production and Producers are the head, then the ADs are the Carotid Artery. They serve two Masters and are priceless to both. Also a thankless job.
Boom guys (and they are usually guys because they have to be tall and most guys are taller than women), just amaze me. How they can hold those things high over head for hours and hours is incredible. Why anyone would want to do that mystifies me.
Transpo is also a thankless job, although they are paid well and when I ran productions, I would always start the first day of production by giving the entire Transpo Department a box of donuts. On the last day I gave them a bottle of Jack. Anything that has to move on a film location is under the jurisdiction of the Transpo Department and you should know that everything on a film location moves. How fast and how safely is their magic. Those trucks are big and there are a lot of them.
For me, working in Hollywood, where ever on the planet that may be, in whatever incarnation I have worked, has been a wonderful experience. The talent and the skills of every person in every department (and there are a lot of people and a lot of departments) is truly astonishing. We appear, coming together to create a universe and tell a story and then vanish, leaving empty sound stages and lonely locations.
How cool is that!