Catrine McGregor, CSA casting director and founder of ReelGuru, shares with us the casting director’s point of view on the necessity of an agent.
Do I really need an agent?
Oh, you want me to be more specific? OK.
As a human being, I understand the fledgling actor’s need for an audition and his frustration as to how to get one. There is a myriad of internet sites that post castings – some legitimate, some not so much – so it is understandable that someone who doesn’t know better would think it is an acceptable practice to contact a casting director directly for an audition.
There are also more established actors who decide that once they’re acquainted with the local casting directors, they will give themselves a 10% pay raise on future casting gigs by dropping their agent and avoiding the commission. That reasoning seems good, but from my standpoint, you will be making 100% of zero as opposed to 90% of acting jobs. Agents are there for a reason – they do their jobs well most of the time. I can not say it strongly enough – if you consider yourself to be an actor, you must have an agent.
From a casting director’s standpoint, however, it is a nightmare when actors have no agent! If I explain the casting director’s flow of work on a film, you may get a clearer vision of how the whole process works. If a casting director were working in LA or New York, she would use Breakdown Services to accomplish what follows. This is an example of how a regional casting director works. Once the casting director is hired, she reads the script and creates a “breakdown,” or a list of speaking parts in the film. The breakdown for a character may typically read:
JERRY: (co-starring) 40-50 years old, male – African-American or Latino. Large build. Jerry is the Vice President of the AVONI corporation but his job is at stake “…Clean up or get fired, Jerry. It’s that simple.” Standing on the ledge of a bridge, contemplating suicide, Jerry has an epiphany when a stranger stops to help him.
Once the breakdown, listing all speaking parts, is completed, it is sent to all of the agents in the area where the film will be shot along with the sides (partial scripts) that the actors will need. The agents go through their list of talent and make a list of who would be appropriate to audition for each role. That list is sent to the casting director for approval and casting times and dates are set. At that point, the agents give directions, send out sides, etc. I’m going to have you keep track of the math here, so pay attention. When I, the casting director, contact ten agents, I will see about 200 actors, and I know those actors are good enough to have an agent, have a headshot and resume, are the right type, etc.
The math: I send ten e-mails, I get 200 actors. I audition those 200 actors and narrow the callbacks down to 65 actors. Again, I email those ten agents and they contact the 65 people who have callbacks – they give them their times, they give directions to the callbacks, they give any notes on adjusting the performance, they give new sides if there are any, etc.
The math: 200 auditions, 65 callbacks; 20 e-mails and the actors have directions, sides, etc.
Of those 65 actors, 15 get parts. I now send emails to the same ten agents (I’m up to 30 e-mails) and the actor is notified that they have the part, and the agent sends me all of the info I need to create deal memos (social security number, address, phone, e-mail). I have cast a film by writing 30 e-mails (and a few extra with questions here and there). And the whole thing has been done PROFESSIONALLY. That is, I didn’t have to explain the breakdown, I didn’t have to define what “sides” are.
NOW come the actors who don’t have an agent. Instead of realizing that they are pursuing an audition in a very unprofessional way, they make demands. I will receive emails with just a headshot and resume attached, which not only clogs up my inbox, but if the actor doesn’t even have the courtesy of writing a note, that email will be deleted. On a film I just cast, I received an email that simply said “Give me an audition time on…” That actor must have thought that the process was somewhat like making a reservation at a restaurant, though a little dose of common courtesy might warrant a “please” and “thank you,” even in that situation. I am known to be a casting director who is open to giving anyone a chance, but actors need to understand that a casting director has NO obligation to see anyone they don’t want to see.
With all that said and done, there are always a few people who just moved to the area, are still finishing up their actor’s training in college, or for some other reason (maybe a witty, charming, and polite e-mail) will get an audition. Let’s go back to the math. Remember that in the previous instance of working through agents only, I sent 30 emails (with a few extra thrown in) and cast a film. Let’s say that I let 10 people without agents come to an audition. I send an initial e-mail to those 10 actors to see what role they would be best for. The actors respond. I send them an email with the date, time, and location and sides attached. Those independent actors will typically e-mail me three or four times before they come in with questions like: “Can I change the time?” Or “Do I read all the parts or will somebody read the other parts with me?” (No, I didn’t make that one up) or “Can my friend come audition too?” (Nope, not made up either).
We’re now up to, say, 35 e-mails, where I’m spending most of my time not being a casting director, but being the “University of Auditioning” for people who should not yet be thinking of themselves as professionals. If these people get a callback and eventually get a role, where I needs their info, sizes, availability, deal memos signed, I could easily get up to 100 e-mails for only ten actors.
I can see some of you sitting back and rolling your eyes. So how long does it take to send an e-mail? Not that long, but the work of a casting director does not stop at the casting sessions. We also do deal memos and a substantial amount of work for the union (it’s a rare exception when I do non-union films). Should you get cast, I have to explain to SAG why someone with no professional experience was hired over someone who is either already a member of the union, or someone who has professional training.
The more you are professional, the more you will be treated as such.
So, what is the remedy? I hope that each and every one of you reading this article will achieve the dream that you set for yourselves. I encourage you to not give up – don’t get discouraged. I especially encourage you to study your craft and get an agent. Much like it is incomprehensible to me that someone can simply wake up one morning and feel they are ready to audition with no training, you will certainly chuckle at the thought of someone running out to WalMart to buy a guitar and later that afternoon calling Carnegie Hall looking for a job as a guitarist. There are dues to pay, classes to take. Instead of this being a discouragement to you, I hope that you will enjoy every step of the journey in becoming an actor. The “destination” (i.e. getting the role) should be the icing on the cake, with the development of the craft being your primary path.
The more you are professional, the more you will be treated as such.
– Catrine McGregor
Catrine has cast well over 400 projects, including films, TV, IMAX, commercials, webseries and video games. She is a member of the prestigious CSA (Casting Society of America).During her forty year career in the film industry, Catrine has worked extensively all over the US as well as Europe and Africa. She prides herself in discovering and developing new talent, and has done so with many people that you see every day in films and on TV.
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Last modified: August 13, 2017