Throughout my career so far in the entertainment industry, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with many wonderful men and women. A number of these individuals have left a strong and lasting impression on my life, and one of these awesome individuals is Amy Reece. I had the pleasure of meeting Amy Reece several years ago when I became a student in her acting class - a class which has helped me to grow tremendously as an actor.
Amy Reece has worked in numerous areas of the entertainment business - as an actor, a casting director and acting coach. It is a true honor to feature Amy in this interview, and I’m certain that my fellow actor friends (and all readers!) will benefit from Amy’s insight and advice about the entertainment industry and about life in general.
Amy’s Background and Path to Entertainment
I asked Amy if she would share a little bit about her background and what led her to working in the entertainment industry. Amy explained that she comes from a family which is very involved in the business:
“My background is in the industry. All [my family members] are creative people who have worked for other companies in the industry as well as independently. I was encouraged to express myself and be creative.”
From a young age, Amy was exposed to entertainment and the craft of acting. Her father, an actor, would take her along to his acting classes. And her mother, a casting director, would frequently have Amy in the casting office with her. As Amy grew older, she realized that she, too, wanted to be involved in the industry and she decided to pursue a career as an actor:
“I always wanted to be an actor and was encouraged to study and really take it seriously. I was allowed to study acting, but I was not permitted to work professionally until I was 16 years old. After I turned 16, I worked quite a bit and helped put myself through some of my college. I went to Boston University and majored in theatre.”
After Boston University, Amy decided to return to Los Angeles to be in the middle of where everything in entertainment was happening:
“I graduated, came home and [booked] a pilot. That was pretty exciting! I was doing the acting thing and studying with many teachers, which I found much more vibrant than a university acting program. I felt the teachers had more freedom and less structure. it was more realistic to me in terms of what the industry was going to be made up of. And these are people who professionally worked in the industry recently. I had a wide range of different teachers who taught me lots of different ways to access myself and were very supportive of me over the years.”
Transitioning into Casting
Amy eventually began to recognize a desire to shift from being in front of the camera to working in casting:
“There came a point where I decided to focus on casting because I was feeling like I wasn’t giving 100% of what I felt needed to be given as an actor. I felt like - if I wasn’t going to do that - I needed to focus on something else. I wanted to learn a different part of the trade, a different creative medium. It allowed me to still pursue my love of acting through other people and support all the actors coming to our office. I love actors. Whether or not I like their work, I love people that are trying to share in this way.”
Amy brings up a fantastic point about focus. It is crucial in the entertainment business (and in any business for that matter) to give total focus and commitment to our goals. When we focus on our passions, much success can and usually does occur. Amy Reece is a perfect example of this, and due in large part to her focus and determination, she’s had a very successful career in casting! Her passion for casting and working with actors is very apparent, and she explains that she has been casting for essentially her entire life:
“My first casting job was really when I was a kid! The school bus would drop me off at my mom’s office and I’d answer the phones. I grew up working around a casting office, just because that’s what my mom did. I was around her working all the time, so I was being trained from a young age.”
Amy’s mother, Penny Perry of Perry/Reece Casting, has operated the very successful casting company for years, and ultimately Amy and her sister began working alongside their mother casting countless projects. Amy worked at Perry/Reece casting for 15 years, primarily casting movie-of-the-week projects for the Hallmark Channel and Pixel, and she loved the experience. (In fact, Amy continues to cast projects for the Hallmark Channel, and she just wrapped up casting of a Hallmark movie titled, “Enchanted Christmas”!)
Amy said of working with her mother and sister:
“One of the reasons I wanted to work there was that it gave us a chance to work together, which was great fun! We laughed a lot, we fought a lot and I’m sure we made many people uncomfortable! In fact, I used to say that the actors aren’t nervous when they come into our office! We kind of take the pressure off the actors by fighting with each other!”
When I asked about her favorite aspect of her job, she replied:
“The thing that I enjoy most about my job is working with the actors - creating a safe space and playing and encouraging actors to play. I really love period pieces, so I enjoy casting that as well. I think you can get wonderful actors who enjoy playing in a different time period. I loved our “Love Come Softly” series, which was a Janet Oke series of books. It had a very “Little House on the Prairie” feel to it, and I was a big fan of that show as well. And it was great to see lots of actors through that perspective.”
Because of Amy’s extensive experience as a casting director, I asked her what she believes is the most important thing that she looks for from an actor who comes in to audition for a project.
“They have access to themselves and they’re present: that’s really how people can introduce their best selves to you. When I introduce myself to anybody - if I’m connected to myself and if I’m present - I’m going to be offering something that’s real, instead of just pushing through with an agenda. I know many actors who are successful, solid, successful actors who don’t audition well or don’t handle that kind of pressure well. It’s very hard; you know you’re nervous, and you have all that energy going through you. If you can learn (it takes practice) to harness and focus that energy into a place that can actually be of service to you, then that’s going to benefit your reading and your work. That’s what we try to work on [in class] as well.”
As a student in Amy’s acting classes, I can verify that Amy provides students with a supportive and encouraging atmosphere which allows actors to be free to learn and grow. I asked Amy if she would explain a bit about her teaching style.
“I’m trying to introduce the actor to different techniques based on what they need to work on for their scenes. A majority of the work focuses on the Meisner Technique of acting, because I think Meisner exercises get actors connected to each other and teaches actors not to push to be in the moment - to not have an agenda. I believe that class is also important, just as a gym is helpful for staying in shape. It’s a place where you can fall on your face and work on roles that you’re not going to be good at because you just don’t have any connection to them at all, or working with things that are not going to be confident with. Whether [it be] accents or your sexuality or whatever it is where you have weakness, you can always find areas to work on. It’s nice to have a space that’s safe that encourages exploration. If you’re a working actor, exploring these things while you’re getting paid is not often a great idea. Actors who are used to exploring these places are more willing to jump in; they have more freedom. They’re less likely to get caught in their heads when they’re in shape and when they’ve been in a good class environment.
“I’m always learning and growing as well, and I think that’s really important for any teacher. There are many things that I don’t know. Every teacher should admit that to themselves, because I think teaching from an ego-place is not where you get the most fruitful work. You always must be confident in what you’re sharing, but you shouldn’t be a bull about it.”
Be True to Who You Are
A major topic which I often cover on my blog and on my YouTube Channel is the importance of embracing one’s individuality. I asked Amy how important is it for an actor to be who she/he is:
“The most important thing that you have to offer is yourself. You have worked for it your whole life; you’ve lived it, and you’re the only one who has experienced life through your own uniqueness. I think it’s the most important thing that an actor has to offer. And that is what I hope people get from my class: learning how to celebrate themselves and what’s special about ourselves but also what’s NOT special about you - where you feel your insecurities and your pain and all of that - because that’s really interesting, too! We all have those things that we can relate to, and when someone’s willing to open up, we all respond to that.”
Considering an Acting Career?
All this amazing and helpful information from Amy Reece might have you feeling rather excited about jumping into an acting career! It’s important to consider if you’re able and willing to dive into such an incredible, yet very difficult industry. If you’re thinking of becoming an actor, Amy shares some advice for you:
“I would say: don’t be an actor if you’re undecided; be something else that’s more reliable. But if you can’t do anything else and you have to be an actor, then throw yourself into it 100% and take responsibility for doing all the things that help you and give you the tools to achieve your goal and support you. You can never rest on your laurels in this business. Nobody can. You have to keep working at it, you have to keep yourself stimulated, keep meeting new people, and it’s difficult to do. You have to keep on keepin‘ on!”
Don’t Give Up (and join Amy’s class!)
I believe that Amy Reece is spot-on with her advice to bravely move forward and “keep on keepin’ on.” The entertainment business is difficult, but when you surround yourself with good people, it is a truly magical industry. I can personally attest to the fact that Amy Reece is an incredibly knowledgeable, humble and inspirational individual, and it is people like her who help to make the entertainment industry as amazing as it is.
To conclude this piece about Amy, I wanted to include a statement that Amy made that sums up her work ethic and attitude about coaching and helping actors:
“I’ve been really fortunate. I’m really grateful. I’ve been very fortunate [to teach] the students that I’ve had the honor to teach, and they’ve had a lot of potential. I’ve enjoyed them!”
We enjoy you, Amy! And anyone who would like to sign up for Amy’s class, send an email to email@example.com.
Artist Gabriel Campisi has worked in numerous areas of the entertainment industry and has a plethora of helpful tips to share with anyone who is interested in this business. I was compelled to reach out and ask if he would be willing to share some of his knowledge after attending the premier of “Little Dead Rotting Hood”, a fantastic film on which Gabriel recently worked with “The Asylum” production company and director Jared Cohn. Gabriel graciously agreed to an interview, and it’s an honor to introduce him to you, reader friends!
Admittedly, it was difficult to choose one “title” for Gabriel for this interview, as he has worn many hats in the entertainment business. Through all of his work as a creative individual, he has acquired a tremendous amount of experience in our industry. In fact, Gabriel has been interested in film and the entertainment industry from a young age. He explains:
“I watched ‘Star Wars’ for the first time when I was 8 years old in 1977, and that movie literally sparked something magical within me to want to take off on great adventures like what I had just seen up on the screen. Coincidentally, I found my father's Super8mm film camera around the same time, so I remember shooting my first films around that age. I certainly had no idea what I was doing at that time, but that's truly where it all began. My father was always my biggest supporter, and he taught me how to use the camera properly, and even taught me how to do stop-motion animation.
By the time I was in high school, I was shooting elaborate short films and winning national film festivals. My first win came from Chicago's Photographic Society of America's Teenage Film Festival, and this was definitely something that inspired me to continue filmmaking on a professional level.
I continued to shoot short films after high school, but I also started worked professionally on national commercials, music videos, industrials and independent as well as studio films. I started on the ground level as a production assistant, but quickly moved through the ranks to learn as much as possible. I did grip work and lighting, special effects, props and pyrotechnics/stunts, then moved onto script supervision, production supervision and cinematography. Soon enough I was producing, writing and directing.
I spent about ten years in motion picture finance, working with hedge funds and private equity investors, and got to meet some of the biggest players in the industry as a result. I wrote a book (which is now in its second edition from McFarland Publishers) on film finance and business plans for independent filmmakers during this time.
Several years ago I decided to go back to my passion, which is actual hands-on filmmaking. My partner Jared Cohn and I created Traplight Pictures, and I've been producing full-time ever since.”
I, too, had the pleasure of working with Jared Cohn when he directed “Bikini Spring Break” several years ago. I portrayed the character of “Craig” in the film and loved every minute of it! Networking is extremely important in the entertainment industry, and it always amazes me how people are connected to one another! I asked Gabriel if he plans to work with The Asylum and with Jared Cohn again soon - possibly for a “Bikini Spring Break 2”?! Gabriel replied:
“Well, there's a fun coincidence! Jared Cohn is my partner-in-crime. We're business partners at Traplight Pictures. So the answer to part of your question is yes, Jared and I will be working together on many more projects in the future. We're actually in pre-production on a ghost movie at this very moment. And we're overseeing the final post-production details on ‘The Valley Drowner,’ a movie we shot last year with actor Randy Wayne.
I'll definitely be working with The Asylum again as well. I've known those guys for many years - from my days working in film finance, actually. They're very close friends, and all their production people are amazing in every way. The three partners are some of the coolest producers in the industry.
‘[Bikini] Spring Break 2’? I'll have to ask them about that. If they do it, we'll definitely have to get you back in front of the cameras for that one! I do know for certain that ‘Jailbait 2’ is in development, so keep your eyes out for that one.”
Filmmaking, Writing, Producing, Directing: Different Ways of Making Magic
As we can see, Gabriel is a “jack of all trades” in the entertainment industry! I asked him if there is a particular area of the business that interests him the most. He said:
“I find all aspects of filmmaking fascinating, but I'd have to say writing is my first passion. That's where you find creativity at its purest and rawest form, where you get to play God with the world you create out of your imagination.
I also enjoy producing, because it's the next step in taking that screenplay and making it come to life. There is so much involved in the production of any motion picture, that it can be very intimidating to someone who's not fully prepared and experienced. But I've been doing this for a long time, so I enjoy the challenge and want to make sure the movie gets handled properly from start to finish.
I love directing, too -- the ultimate form of creative expression. I've been busy working on a number of projects that have been overlapping, so I have not had the opportunity to get back into that particular saddle lately. But it's coming.
At the end of the day, all these disciplines are just different ways of playing "make-believe" like we did as children. They allow us to explore our imaginations, and try to make magic happen. From that perspective, I'm happy wearing any one of those hats.”
Each individual whom I have had the pleasure of interviewing for acting.about.com has had to overcome numerous challenges in order to become successful. Gabriel Campisi – who has become very successful in many areas of entertainment – shares some of the challenges that he has faced, and how he has overcome them. Gabriel said:
“Making movies is a challenge at every level; from writing to acting, to producing, directing and financing -- and everything in-between. I think getting a project green-lit is always an interesting adventure. Whether you're trying to convince a production company or an investor to give the go-ahead, you have to go out of your way to provide what is necessary to make your project get approved or funded. And it's definitely a lot easier said than done.
What's always helped me overcome these challenges is my approach to the matter. I think of the projects I want to get funded as one giant jigsaw puzzle. There are endless pieces to the puzzle, and it's my job to find all the pieces and bring them to the table, then put them together and make sure they fit.
The problem is that not all investors are the same, and not all production companies are the same, so not all "jigsaw puzzles" will work. Different companies or investors will employ different finance and production strategies, which means you have to be very flexible and adjust to their requisites.
Knowing how investors and production companies work is the key to overcoming these challenges, and it's helped me immensely over the years. Having a sense of humor has also helped, as well as knowing to not take rejection personally.”
The constant rejection that comes with a career in entertainment is one of the most challenging aspects of working in this industry. As I often point out on my page, learning how to handle and deal with rejection as an actor is very important. “Knowing to not take rejection personally” as Gabriel said is extremely important, and it’s something that new actors should understand in order to avoid becoming discouraged. Gabriel shares more advice for actors who are starting out, and specifically in the area of independent film.
“I've produced SAG movies, as well as independent non-union features. One of the things I've noticed with some actors over the years is - they're so eager to get into SAG - once they get in they find it difficult to work on smaller non-union features. SAG, of course, won't let them.
I think actors should take advantage of the smaller movies before trying to join SAG, especially if they're just starting out. They'll gain real-world experience working in front of cameras with other actors. This will help them build a resume and allow them to put together a cool demo reel. And this in turn will contribute greatly to finding a good agent or manager."
Booking Work as an Actor
Gabriel goes on to explain three wonderful pieces of advice in order to book more work:
“As for getting cast in any movie, my first piece of advice goes without saying: study hard, and practice hard. Find the best drama teachers and acting coaches. Commit to going to their classes. Surround yourself with other ambitious and serious actors who share the same passions and goals as you. Support one another, and keep honing your craft. Allow the teachers, coaches and movie directors to give you creative criticism, so that you can become the best that you can possibly be. You should always allow yourself to ‘learn.’"
The second piece of advice is to go to as many auditions as possible and network. Make it a habit of going to a few auditions every week - without fail (kind of like going to the gym -- just do it!). This will allow you to meet other actors, as well as casting agents and directors. And this leads to networking.
I can't stress this enough: network, network, network! Get out there and meet people. If your friend is acting in a movie, ask if the production will allow you to come along to visit for a few hours. Sometimes you'll get to meet the casting people, or the producers or directors.
With independent films especially, the more people you network with, the better chance you'll have of getting in the inner circle, landing an audition and getting cast.
And my third piece of advice is: never give up. Succeeding in Hollywood is often a war of attrition.”
“Dust Yourself Off and Keep Going”
Gabriel points out that success in Hollywood requires that we never give up. This is certainly true, and although it’s not easy to always keep moving forward, it is completely necessary to do so. I often mention in my column that Hollywood is an intense city. It’s an incredible place, but living here and working here can be tough. Gabriel shares his take on Hollywood, including a motivational piece of advice involving not giving up.
Gabriel said, “You need to understand that Hollywood is set up to make you fail. This means if you do everything right, you'll never make it in this town. That's because doing everything right is simply not enough.
What makes the difference is your attitude, your dedication, and your resolve to keep going every time you get knocked down. And believe me, you will get knocked down in this town -- a lot.
Dust yourself off and keep going. Wipe away the tears. Hold your head high and go to that next audition. Write that next screenplay. Put together that next business plan. Keep going. Don't allow your dreams to slip away from you, even when life gets in the way.
If it's truly in your heart to pursue a career in Hollywood, I encourage you to follow your dreams with unbridled passion, but be smart about it. Be prepared! Study, learn from your mistakes, practice, rehearse, and then study some more! Keep honing your craft.
If you want to make it, you're going to have to be willing to sacrifice. No one is going to make it happen for you. Only you can do that for yourself.”
Thank you, Gabriel, for your insight and for reminding all of us to never give up!
Learn more about Gabriel and his projects here:
I had the wonderful pleasure of interviewing casting director Arlie Day for Acting.About.com awhile back, and it is an incredible honor to now feature her on Behind the Sign for a follow-up interview! Arlie responded to my questions thoughtfully, and as you will see from this interview, her insight is certain to be very helpful to anyone pursuing a dream in the entertainment industry!
I asked Arlie Day if she would update all of us on what she’s been up to since our last interview. Arlie replied:
“Since our last interview, I’ve been working steadily on a few TV pilots and some really cool independent features. I also had the pleasure of working at a cable network as the manager of casting for a few months while the existing exec went on maternity leave. It’s been fun to see the other side of casting. My thought on this is similar to my thought that everyone should take a stab at waiting tables at least once in their lives. It helps with having empathy for those in that position.
Arlie mentioned that it has been “fun to see the other side of casting.” This brings up a fantastic point: the importance of working in and experiencing multiple areas of the entertainment industry. Much can be learned simply by trying something new. And now, with the immense power of social media/new media; there are many opportunities for actors and other entertainment industry professionals to obtain all sorts of work! Arlie explains about new media:
“It’s crazy how much the industry has changed due to new media. This past year alone, we’re seeing a good portion of TV watchers pulling the plug on their cable subscriptions to rely solely on streaming sites. We have more content to choose from than ever before, and with viewers being constantly on the go, it makes more sense to save the money while also having endless options at our fingertips. Because of the seemingly endless content, it’s a fun time to be an actor. There are more opportunities to get in the room and get hired, since there are that many more roles to be filled. I think a lot of newer actors have felt that these past couple of years have been an uphill climb. This is partially due to the fact that film stars who weren’t previously interested in doing television were hopping on these limited series and filling the roles that were normally cast with actors who would come in to read. Now there’s enough content to go around. It’s an exciting time and I’m anxious to see how it all plays out.”
While on the subject of social media, I also asked Arlie if she believes it is important for an actor to be on social media in order to find success. She said:
“Luckily I’ve only really worked with producers who care about level of talent rather than number of followers, so I can’t personally speak to how important it is to have a lot of followers. Social media is cool in the sense that there is now an interactive quality to a lot of these television series, so fans can interact with the stars of their favorite shows and feel like a real part of the process.”
Impressing a Casting Director
Actors often wonder about the best way to make a good impression on a casting director. Finding success in this business (and pretty much every business for that matter!) has a lot to do with simply being respectful and doing the best job possible. I asked Arlie if she would share her thoughts on how to impress a casting director at an audition. Arlie’s response was:
“As for impressing a casting director, my opinion is that it’s just about being prepared, being confident, and being kind. If you’re prepared and informed, it will help you make bold choices to help you stand out. Confidence is the key to auditioning and this also comes with being prepared. I always tell actors that, if they have an opportunity to read the full script before their audition instead of just the sides, they should do so. Also, if you’re going in for a show that’s already airing, it’s so simple to watch an episode online to get the tone of the show. I’ve had actors come into the room and ask “Is this a drama or a comedy?” These are questions that you should already know the answer to. It may seem obvious to most, but you’d be surprised. It’s also a learning process and everyone has to start somewhere. We should remember to be kind to one another during this process.
As Arlie explained, preparation is extremely important in order to impress casting. Preparation is a major component of success in general, and another key aspect to success is motivation! I asked Arlie what she believes is the best way to stay motivated in the entertainment industry. She replied:
“The best way to stay motivated, in my opinion, is to keep the momentum going. It’s easy to fall into a slump during slow periods, so I find it important to always be doing something to move the needle. I’m not advising staying busy just to be busy, but to always be creating. There are a wide variety of things that actors can do to keep the momentum going if they aren’t working or auditioning as much as they’d like to. There are numerous acting classes and improvisation classes, which I feel every actor could always benefit from. Many actors take a shot at creating their own short films, web series, and independent films that allow them to tap into a different side of film making. There are always showcases and local theatre looking for talent. The list goes on. Just keep the creative juices flowing.”
I have consistently maintained that “being you” is one of the most (if not the most) important aspects of becoming successful in the entertainment industry – and in life in general! In my first interview with Arlie, she said the following about being who you are:
“I think it's important to be yourself when you come into an audition. Actors often ask what we're looking for in the room, and we just want you to be yourself and bring the best interpretation of the character with you. We want you to be comfortable and feel safe so your creative juices are flowing and you can do your best work. Outside of the audition process, it's important to be yourself and be real. It's the best way to get ahead in this industry. People are transparent, and everyone appreciates authenticity.”
I asked Arlie if she had anything to add to this topic for this follow-up interview and she responded:
“I’ve always felt that being yourself and staying true to one’s self is so important. Actors are most comfortable in the room when they are just being themselves. Obviously when the audition starts, they are jumping into a character but aside from that, sustaining authenticity is crucial in all aspects of the industry and life.”
Keeping Up with Arlie!
As we can see, Arlie is keeping very busy, and I asked her about her future plans and goals! She said:
“I wrapped my position at the network just before the holidays and just in time for pilot season. I just hopped onto a comedy series, which I’m really excited about that will air later this year. I’m also casting two comedy features as well as one drama. My goals are to continue having the opportunities to cast both comedy and drama, series and features. I just love the balance of doing both. I’m excited about finding discovery talent since that has always been my passion and what I love most about casting. There is so much untapped talent out there, and I’m thrilled to be casting in a time where more actors will get that opportunity to fulfill their passions.”
We actors are thrilled (and are very fortunate!) to work with casting directors such as Arlie Day! Thanks for all of your insight, kindness and advice, Arlie!
I have had the privilege of previously meeting and interviewing casting director Danielle Eskinazi - a genuine and kind individual. And it is an absolute pleasure to feature Danielle a second time for a follow-up here on “Behind the Sign”!
My first interview with Danielle Eskinazi for About.com took place over 1 ½ years ago. Danielle provided lots of important information for actors and members of the entertainment business, including discussing her background and how she originally became involved with casting. Since our last interview, Danielle has been very busy, and I asked her if she would update you, my awesome readers, on some of the things that she’s been up to and what she’s been enjoying most about her work!
Danielle’s response: “I’ve been up to the continuation of my career that I love and am so passionate about. I’ve been casting tons of commercials and sneaking in a few short films which are always fun for me. No real changes have happened in the process. What I enjoy? Every single part of it. When you find the perfect job for yourself it’s a joy going to work every day. I love the whole process from soup to nuts. My favorite part is giving a hard-working actor a job.”
It is evident how much Danielle truly enjoys her work, and she shares this love of her career with everyone around her, including through the use of social media! Social media/ new media has become an important part of the entertainment industry, and Danielle shares her thoughts on the usefulness of this powerful tool. Danielle said about social media:
“Not only has it impacted my role as a casting director, but I can also help actors on a daily [basis by sharing a] positive message on Twitter to keep their spirits up and to never give up and to motivate themselves. I remind them to be patient and not worry about the end results, but to enjoy the process as well. When I have positive actors walk into my session, it’s a whole different [environment]. I don’t want them to feel defeated before they walk into my room. Social media should be an important part of their business life.”
Danielle goes on to share more advice for actors about how important and helpful is it for actors to be involved with social media in terms of networking and creating their own projects, such as a YouTube Channel or a web series. She said:
“Social media makes them speak out loud about what they’re going through at that moment. My timeline is very, very special and everyone on my timeline is so supportive of each other and I remind them to not compare themselves to other actors. Everyone has [unique] DNA, and why we want to hire you is because we want you [specifically] to represent our product. If you don’t book it and someone else books the job, it wasn’t your path yet. Yours will come. Continue the work and continue the passion that drove you where you are right now. Social media is a kind of branding. You can create your own content - what you’re especially good at - and that’s something we didn’t have 10-15 years ago.”
Be You and Impress!
As Danielle points out, “everyone has unique DNA,” and it is incredibly important to be you. (Your individuality is the key factor that sets you apart from every other actor! Read more here!)
Danielle elaborates on the importance of being you: “Being authentic and grounded is what we look for. Honesty in your audition is what sells the product. No showing off, no overacting. Be yourself without over-compensating. [And] if it’s a character piece, be that character in your own way. Meryl Streep once said, ‘Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.’ I love that quote.” (I absolutely love this quote too, and I include it in many of my articles!)
In addition to being yourself, in order to impress a casting director it is vital that when we audition, we actors need to be prepared. Danielle explains:
“The way to impress a casting director is easy - it’s a no brainer. Come in on time, be prepared and do the work. It’s a 15 minute audition at the most. There’s no excuse to come in late and ask if there are any sides. When you come in prepared and happy to be there, we will remember you. We want you to book the job. We’re on your side.”
Finally, I asked Danielle what she believes to be the most important piece of information for an actor to remember. She replied:
“Never give up and be patient. If this is deeply what you want to do, then work hard for it. Don’t wait for the phone to ring; go out and get it. Don’t derail when you get those 'NOs.' those 'NOs' eventually will turn to 'YESs.' And that’s your time of glory.”
Thank you again, Danielle, for another wonderful interview. You are an inspiration to so many!
Halloween is almost here, and for many of us, that means that it’s time to watch some of our favorite horror movies! This year, you can add one more great horror flick to your list: “House of Purgatory,” set for release THIS Friday, October 21, 2016 on multiple entertainment platforms! (See below for information on where to watch the film.)
“House of Purgatory” is a chillingly awesome film with an exciting plot line, written and directed by Tyler Christensen. The film includes multiple talented actors, several with star names, including Anne Leighton, Laura Coover, Aaron Galvin, and one of my all-time favorite actors, Brian Krause, best known for his role as “Leo Wyatt” on the hit TV series, “Charmed.”
From the moment that the film begins, the viewer is brought into the story of a typical Halloween night that becomes anything but typical. Throughout the course of the film, each character’s journey represents and highlights just how paralyzing fear (in many forms) can be. (Be sure to check out what happens for yourself, reader friends; I can promise that you’ll enjoy it!)
I had the amazing privilege of interviewing writer and director Tyler Christensen, and it’s an honor to feature him here on “Behind the Sign!”
I asked Tyler if he could tell me a little bit about his background and what originally motivated him to pursue a career in entertainment. Tyler explained that ever since he was young, he loved to scare people, which is ultimately what has led him to his career path!
“I grew up in Green Bay Wisconsin, and from a very young age became obsessed with scaring people. My poor younger sister can attest to that, as she took the brunt of it for years. I have always loved telling stories - whether that be writing or making little movies with action figures and dad's old video camera. But it wasn't until high school that it really clicked with me that telling stories in this capacity was a viable (if difficult to obtain) career path.”
Tyler brings up a great point: pursuing a career in entertainment can be difficult. However, it is absolutely possible to achieve success in this industry if you do something every single day toward your goals, and if you do not give up. It requires a lot of effort and self-motivation to make your dream your reality. Tyler elaborated on this when I asked him how his work on his horror film, “House of Purgatory” came to be. He said:
“’House of Purgatory’ came about after I had been living in LA for about five years. I was working regularly in television, but realized that I wasn't truly happy with what I was doing. I had moved away from all my family and friends to pursue this crazy dream, and I felt myself getting stuck in the monotony of reality TV. That wasn't what I wanted to be doing, and nobody was going to hand me my dream job on a silver platter, so I decided to quit my job and make it happen for myself. It was those early days after I had decided to take it all on myself that were some of the most challenging. As anyone who has ever made an independent film will say, it is more work than you even realize you're capable of doing. The other side of that coin, however, is that it is that same work that is the most rewarding.”
Tyler points out that some of his most challenging yet most rewarding experiences occurred after he had stepped out on his own and decided to pursue his passion independently. He goes on to offer the following advice for anyone who is pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, which can be very challenging at times:
“I can't even count how many times over the course of this project I said to myself, ‘Well, I don't know how to do that.’ But I never let that be an end-all. There is nothing you can't learn from just doing it or talking to people and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. You have to be willing to work your ass off and be a problem-solver. I always remind myself that if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”
In terms of upcoming projects, Tyler is very busy! Regarding his future projects, Tyler explained:
“There are a couple [of] projects I have written that I am looking to get produced in the near future. I've been lucky to work and make friends with a lot of great people throughout my time in the industry. I feel like you're constantly building this team of like-minded people around you, and eventually all the pieces come together and we will be back in the ring, making more stories on film!” (Tyler, I’d love to be one of those people that you work with on one of your future projects!)
Finally, I asked Tyler where “House of Purgatory” can be seen!
“’House of Purgatory’ is available on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Vimeo, Google Play and YouTube. Later in the year, we will hopefully spread to include Netflix and Redbox and all those platforms. ‘House of Purgatory’ has a Facebook page, and can be found on Twitter @PurgatoryMovie. And for the little ones, I have also written a children's book entitled Bryan the Scarecrow Who's Scared of Everything that is available on Amazon!”
Thank you, Tyler, for your wonderful insight and advice! And congratulations on a wonderful film!
My awesome reader friends, many of you are well aware by now that the men and women who are featured in my interviews are fantastic individuals who have lots of wonderful advice and insight to share. Casting Director Geralyn Flood is one of these individuals. I have had the pleasure of knowing Geralyn for several years now, and it is an honor to introduce her to all of you here on “Behind the Sign”!
Geralyn Flood has had quite an interesting journey into her work in entertainment, and she’s worked in numerous areas of the business! I asked her if she would tell me a little bit about her background and what led her to working in the entertainment industry as a casting director as well as a producer. Geralyn replied:
“I was raised in NY and actually worked in art galleries and in higher education before I moved into casting. I’ve been surrounded by actors my whole life- one of my older sisters is an actor and I would help her learn lines for plays; I would go to rehearsals with her and sometimes even classes. My first husband is an actor and I would help HIM get ready for plays and auditions and now my best friend/brother-in-law is an actor. I’ve always loved the alchemy of acting-bringing a role to life. I met Cathy Reinking, a casting director/writer/producer and she introduced me to Jeff Greenberg, and I was lucky enough to get my first job with him and work on the last two seasons of ‘Frasier,’ among other projects. I became a producer when I started working with writer/director David Jackson Willis on two films. At first I was just the casting director, but then I would share my thoughts about the script - ideas to make it better - and we both realized that was heading more into the producing side of things. And so David suggested I be made a producer, and I happily agreed.”
Casting and Auditions
As is evident from her explanation, Geralyn has loved working with actors throughout her life. In fact, Geralyn brought me in for an audition and hired me for my very first speaking role on a television show back in 2012 when she was casting “Big Time Rush,” and she was always very kind to me! Geralyn recalled my audition: “Ah yes, I remember it well. You were very sweet and so excited to be in the room.”
And I certainly was excited! It was apparent during my audition with Geralyn that she truly enjoys her work in casting! I asked her about what she has enjoyed most about her job in casting, and if there is a project that she considers to be a favorite that she’s worked on. Geralyn replied:
“Gosh, where do I begin? I love everything about casting - truly. Reading a script for the first time, thinking who would be right, giving people their first jobs (like you!), and getting the chance to show actors in a different light - l just love everything about it. I know I’m a lucky gal.”
(We actors are also very lucky to work with someone who is as passionate about her work as Geralyn!)
I went on to ask Geralyn about what is the most important thing that she looks for from an actor who comes in for an audition. She explained:
“I look for preparation first and foremost. If you’re prepared (as in off-book) you can pivot much faster when I give you direction in the room. But a very close second would be collaboration - someone who comes in ready to play, not so engrained with their choices that they can’t hear the ideas I have for the role.”
On this subject of what actors can do to impress a casting director, Geralyn offered the following advice:
“Doing good work should always be an actor’s prime objective. Good work begets more good work and that hopefully gets you in front of the right people who move your career along. Also in this day and age, making your own work is entirely feasible. I have many friends who have done web series on shoe-string budgets that have gotten them attention. Find outlets to bring your creativity to light.”
Being the best actor that you can be has much to do with knowing who you are as an individual. I have written time and time again that your individuality is the key factor that sets you apart from every other actor.
I asked Geralyn if she could offer advice regarding the importance for actors to embrace their individuality and be who they are. Geralyn replied:
“It is 100,000,000,000% the most important thing. I can’t stress that enough. I always say that the very thing that makes you unique is what I want to see. Don’t worry about what I want to see. Show me what you bring to the role. The life you’ve lived, the experiences you’ve had make your take on the role unique and interesting. Show me that!”
Success in Entertainment: “This is a Marathon”
Creating success in the entertainment industry is difficult. We actors work in one of the most demanding industries in the world, and it is important to remember to take one step at a time.
I asked Geralyn Flood what she believes is the most important piece of advice that she could offer to anyone considering a career in the entertainment industry. Geralyn said:
“It’s a cliché, but it’s the truth: ‘This is a marathon not a sprint.’ Yes, some people become overnight successes, and good for them, but most actors are working on their craft, taking classes, getting co-stars then guest stars, getting leads in plays and building a solid resume, so that when their ‘big break’ comes, they are totally ready to show what they can do. I hate to use another cliché, but here I go: ‘Success happens when preparation meets opportunity.’”
Geralyn is continuing her work as a casting director on numerous projects today! She explained:
“I’m currently working on an MTV series, ‘Sweet/Vicious,’ and in the fall I’ll start back on season two of the MTV series, ‘The Shannara Chronicles.’ I’m also working on a few independent features. Lucky me!”
Lucky us, Geralyn! Thank you for your wonderful advice and insight!
Feeling motivated and inspired is one of the most important aspects of a successful career. As an actor – in an industry that is extremely difficult and is filled with rejection – motivation is arguably the most important part of the entertainment industry success equation.
Those of us who work in show business are fortunate to work among passionate individuals who are motivating, caring, kind and insightful. Casting Director Lisa Pantone (of Pantone Casting) is one of those individuals, and it is an honor to introduce Lisa to all of you here on Behind the Sign!
I asked Lisa Pantone how she originally became involved in entertainment and how she started working as a casting director. Lisa explained that she began her work in show business after overcoming certain personal challenges in her life:
“Show business, I believe, picked me. I didn’t pick it. It came at a time when I needed an escape. I had a wonderful aunt who said, ‘Lisa, you should do theater - you’re so quiet and you’re so introverted!’ I thought, well, let me try!”
Lisa gave it a try, and she went on to work in productions at her high school plays – involving herself in acting, directing and casting – which were her first experiences working in the world of the performing arts.
The entertainment industry certainly is an escape from “normal” life. Anything and everything is possible in this business! Enjoying the creative “escape” that show business offered her; Lisa continued to pursue work in the industry. After briefly working in the fashion industry in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and New York City, New York, Lisa’s work took her to Florida where she became a talent agent for a modeling agency. This experience allowed Lisa to see “the other side of the business” from what actors typically see. Lisa said of her time in Florida as an agent:
“I became an agent for a couple of years. I saw the other side of the business. It really opened my eyes to the other side. [I saw] that actors and models put their careers into the hands of other people. I started to feel very emotionally attached to the actors, saying that if there is anything I can do to help them – even if it’s just a kind word – that’s what I’m going to do.”
Helping actors and sharing kindness is exactly what Lisa has been doing since starting her work in entertainment and working as a casting director. When I asked Lisa if she could tell me about some of her most favorite aspects of being a casting director, she talked about her enjoyment of working with people:
“One [of my most favorite aspects of being a casting director] is sharing love and kindness for other human beings, because this is a human being business. We don’t sit behind a desk and clock out at 5 o’clock and just talk to the people in the next cubicle. We are constantly around humans in every aspect of the business. When I started casting, what I really enjoyed about it were the people [who were] allowing me to absorb their story and get on board with it. Casting directors really need to take time to absorb the story. I really take it very, very seriously, and I bring in actors that I believe in my heart are right for the role. It is the love of the process. I get chills when I see that an actor is so attached to the story.”
Lisa’s “hands on” approach to casting has allowed her to connect with individuals in a business that is largely based around social interactions. (As I pointed out in an article for About.com, it’s more about who knows you, rather than simply “who you know.”)
Lisa credits casting directors Judy Henderson and Joan D’Incecco with showing her what the true definition of “casting director” meant:
“A casting director directs the casting. Every project depends on the casting director to bring that story to life, to find actors that will breathe life into those words. I’ll never forget that. And to this day, I’m always in the room [directing sessions and with the actors].”
Acting is Being
One of the most important lessons that I have learned as an actor is that acting is being. Being fully present, being in the moment and being natural. Still, many actors unnecessarily worry about their lines and memorization rather than focusing on staying completely in the moment. Lisa Pantone points out that it is much more valuable to focus on listening and remaining fully present rather than worrying about lines. Lisa Pantone advises that actors focus less on the words, and more on telling the story. I asked Lisa if she would discuss the importance of fully listening. She said:
“It’s all important. If you’re not emotionally moved and if you’re there waiting for your line, that’s not acting. That, my friend, is not acting. [Acting is] reacting to what someone just told you on an emotional level. I can’t look inside of a human being and tell what they’re thinking. Acting is the ability to absorb the story and to react to what is going on in a story.
If an actor would take time to watch the performances of other actors and go, ‘That was fabulous - I have chills watching it!’ Or, ‘Wow, ok, they got all the words right.’ You see the difference? It’s a big difference to absorb a story and be so engrossed in it.” [The best actors] are into that moment. They’re never out of it; they’re responding to what each one is saying, they’re shaking their head, they’re doing what human beings do. Acting is done by humans. If you cover your human emotions, what are you going to do?
Lisa sums up the idea of “acting is being” perfectly: “Acting is being. What that means is being in that moment, being present. Jumping into the story and saying it with such conviction.”
In addition to being fully present as an actor, I have written countless articles about the importance of being who you are as actor. Lisa offers the following insight on the importance of being who you are as an actor:
“I think you have to bring yourself to the table. I believe that you must bring your emotion and yourself to the part. Christopher Walken is a perfect example of being true to who you are. You watch him and you’re mesmerized by him, but that’s HIM!”
Lisa adds that the only exception to this rule is if you’re asked to portray a character who already has lived. “If you’re playing a living, breathing person, we are going to study it a totally different way. Actors need to understand that they’re not going to be right for every role. They are going to be right for the roles that they fit in visually, age wise, emotionally.”
Next, I asked Lisa what is the most important thing for an actor to remember when coming in for an audition? She replied:
“Stay fully present in what the story is about. The emotional attachment to me is all important to the story. Whether it’s a comedy, whether it’s a dark comedy, whether it’s a death scene – whatever - if you are not emotionally attached to what is going on in that story and you’re just in there reading the lines with me, I’m just like ‘OK - next!’ Because it’s so obvious. I think giving 100% of yourself - not in any other thought, like thinking about this appointment, that appointment, your parking situation, picking up your kids - giving 100% when you walk into that casting room in front of a casting director, giving 100% into that story is the most important.”
Business: “It’s Quick!”
Auditions – especially commercial auditions – are typically very quick: in and out! It’s very important for actors to remember that once an audition is completed, we must learn to let it go. We will be right for some jobs and wrong for others. The best that we can do is to be the best versions of ourselves as possible, try our best and not take anything personally. Lisa explains:
“That’s the way business is: it’s quick, it’s either right or wrong. And that’s what I tell actors: ‘Please don’t be offended; you’re either right or wrong. Or, you’re right, but they have an allegiance to someone else and they’re going to hire them regardless of how right you are for the part.’”
Finally, I asked Lisa if she would share what she believes to be the single most important piece of advice for anyone who is considering a career in the entertainment industry. Lisa replied:
“I don’t know if there’s a single thing. Do not let anybody make you feel bad. Don’t allow anyone to rain on your parade. If this is really what you want, and if it’s a driving force within you, you might not book the first one, and you might not book the hundredth one. But if this is the path that you’re supposed to be on, stick with it, do your best. It’s a people business, and people get in good moods, bad moods. Don’t let anybody else’s emotions affect your career – and especially in your auditions. Really be true to who you are, really know that acting is reacting – acting is being – that being means being in the moment, being present, and being involved within the story.”
Lisa added about her career, “I’m blessed that I am hired by some wonderful people that trust me with their projects, and I’m super blessed by the actors that come in for me.”
Lisa, the entertainment industry is blessed to have you! Thank you for your wonderful insight and your helpful advice!
Be sure to check out Pantone Casting at PantoneCasting.com.
I had the pleasure of meeting casting director Darya Balyura at “Casting Access,” an event for actors organized by The SAG-AFTRA Foundation which allows actors to have the chance to take a class with casting directors as well as talent representatives. During her workshop, Darya Balyura shared lots of helpful tips for actors, and she graciously agreed to share more of her advice with us here on Behind The Sign!
Darya Balyura, who has seen lots of success in the entertainment industry – including working as a casting associate on ABC/Freeform’s hit show, “Switched at Birth” – has had an interest in the industry ever since she was a child. She explained:
“My dad was a producer and I got bitten by the acting bug as a kid. I remember being on the set of the Russian movie “KING ARTHUR AND THE ROUND TABLE” and seeing these magical real peacocks and trained tigers on set along with amazing costumes, and it made me believe anything was possible.”
In this limitless industry, anything truly is possible, and there is room for everyone! The rewards that come with working in the entertainment industry are also limitless, including having the immensely rewarding opportunity to meet and work with many incredible artists. As a casting director, Darya Balyura is in a position which allows her to witness the unique work performed by actors on a regular basis! I asked Darya if she would discuss her favorite part about her work as a casting director, and she explained that she loves to see the ways in which actors bring a character to life:
“My favorite thing is when ‘sides’ make no sense as to the character's purpose, and then that one actor comes in, and it is so amazing to see how their choices and imagination give the character life. I also enjoy the freedom of ‘indies’ and anything with kids, since they just make the day more fun.”
Darya points out how amazing it is to see how an actor’s “choices and imagination give the character life.” One of the most wonderful aspects of being an actor is that each one of us is completely different, and we all have something totally unique to offer! At the wonderful workshop where I met Darya, she expressed her support of actors’ being themselves. For this interview I asked her if she could explain why it is important for an actor to be who she/he is, rather than being someone that they think a casting director wants them to be. She said:
“I have witnessed ‘against type’ actors [actors who may not have originally fit a certain role-description] getting cast all the time - meaning producers loved them so much that they rewrote the role just for them. I think some of the greatest actors bring a bit of themselves into a scene, and that is why we love them. It is tough to portray something you know nothing about. You are playing a role, but you are still you - performing as if you were you in another world.”
As an actor, it is very important to embrace your individuality. Don’t do what everyone else is doing; be unique and be you! When asked about what qualities she looks for when casting a project, Darya responded that she looks for “someone who is interesting and different. After seeing the same thing 30 times, it is refreshing to be woken up!”
Most actors would agree that auditioning can be an awkward experience. However in order to enjoy the experience as much as possible, it’s important to let go of anxieties and simply do your best, be confident and have fun! Then once an audition is completed, let it go.
Darya offers the following advice for actors coming in for an audition:
“Go in and do the best you can without worrying about the outcome. There are many politics and other circumstances behind the scenes that you have no control over. If you do your best, then you will be remembered, and you never know what big things can come from the smallest of opportunities.”
After you’ve completed your next audition, actor friend, try not to worry too much about the reasons why you booked (or did not book) a job. As Darya points out, much is out of our control. If you simply do your best, you can take comfort in knowing that in that you tried the absolute hardest that you could! Then, focus on working toward your next opportunity or your next audition! (Focus is extremely important for actors. Here’s why.)
And regarding advising actors on ways that he or she might be able to obtain more auditions, Darya replied:
“Network and do your homework, because you are your own biggest manager and agent. Be ready when opportunity knocks. Don't be snooty, because no job is too small and work breeds work!”
“You are your own biggest manager and agent” - this is a fantastic point. It is absolutely possible to obtain work as an actor on your own! Personally in my own career nearly every project that I have booked – on television, in films and commercials – has been accomplished without the help of an agent or a manager. If I can do it, you absolutely can too! In fact, check out my article about 7 suggestions to help you to find more auditions.
Interested in Pursuing a Career in Entertainment?
Finally, I asked Darya Balyura what she believes is the single most important piece of information that you would provide to anyone looking to pursue a career in entertainment. She said:
“Do it because you can't see yourself doing anything else and not to be famous, because it is a career where you can go from one extreme of success to the opposite before you can blink.”
As Darya said, this is a career that can change very quickly! An acting career is comparable to a roller coaster ride with many ups and downs, but if you enjoy the journey, it will all be worth it! (Always follow your dreams, friends!)
Thank you, Darya, for your wonderful advice and for your kindness toward actors! Your positive attitude is truly an inspiration in our industry!
Click here to read more interviews I conducted with top casting directors!
Jesse Daley is an actor and a writer who lives and works in Hollywood, California.