I once was a member of the now defunct, yet prestigious The Actors Network also known as TAN. Kevin E. West, actor and founder, created and ran the brick and mortar space for 20+ years. It was his way of paying forward resolute information about the entertainment industry, notably, Hollywood. He would tell us how he’d made every mistake a young actor could make, moving to Hollywood, and how he was conscious enough to recognize his mistakes, learn from them and put structures in place that would allow him to make better choices and strides as an actor. Thankfully, he was compassionate enough to share his vast knowledge with the members of The Actors Network.
Kevin would have, top-notch, industry heavy hitters, come to speak to us, almost nightly. They’d demystify all that happens behind the scenes, valuable and priceless information. I learned a great deal on how to navigate Hollywood, how not to squander my time and energy and how to focus on what served me best, as an actor and in my life. That place was a plethora of knowledge and insight, I must admit, I miss it, but I’m grateful to have spent 4 years soaking up the information that I still use to this day. His motto was “Help Me, Help You, Help All Of Us.” Tan was a tightly knit community of, camaraderie, focus, and passion. Kevin just released a book called “7 Deadly Sins – The Actor Overcomes” I’m purchasing my copy today.
One of the things, out of hundreds, that I learned at TAN was, asking agents or casting directors for an internship. Interning can the best on-the-job training for an actor or anyone really. Interning allows us to see just how much is out of our hands and it takes away the neurosis of the “I Shoulda, Coulda, Wouldas.” Most importantly, you build a rapport with the agent or casting director that allows you to forge a long lasting relationship and if you’re lucky enough to be a reader, you get to see the high percentages of people who are not well prepared or allow nerves to ruin their audition. It’s baffling. But, you also get to see the actors who are profound experts at their craft and auditioning.
Last year, around May, I had a lot of time on my hands and I was using it to binge watch television, unapologetically, my favorite pastime. The month of May is typically an industry wide slow month, due to Upfronts. Upfronts are presentations where the major television networks preview their upcoming fall and midseason series for advertisers, the press, and the other networks. For TV development, they are the ceremonial end of pilot season, where the year’s works are displayed. When Upfronts take place, broadcast television and commercial auditions become sluggish until the Upfronts are complete and all the of the ad dollars have been spent. In a nutshell, studios spend millions of dollars wining, dining and entertaining the ad agency and corporate brands to have them return the favor by purchasing commercial time slots, up to billions of dollars.
Since I didn’t want to remain idle, I thought why not ask for an internship, but with whom? I made a list of casting directors that I had access to and who was still casting during Upfronts. Typically, cable shows are not affected by Upfronts because they have no advertising between segments and therefore, are still casting. I decided on a casting director and reached out to her via email. I’d known her, loosely, since the late 90’s. She had casted actors for outstanding films and TV shows. Over the years, I had followed her success and congratulating her at every benchmark. She is a muse for me, although we do different jobs, we have similar backgrounds. Witnessing her trajectory over the course of 20+ years has proven to me that work ethic and perseverance can allow for grand experiences and tremendous growth in one’s career. She’s the proof in the pudding.
In the email, I explained, that someday I want to be an executive producer, which is true, also that I wanted to learn all the aspects of the business. I asked her for the internship, laid out my terms, meaning availability and length of commitment, then pressed send, with no expectation of a yes. I had made a bold ask. The bold action was in sending the email, that alone was a victory for me. I’d say probably, about a week later, she responded and told me to contact her associate for an interview. I was thrilled by the response. This is one of those things where getting people to say “Yes” to me strengthens autonomy, I become more confident in asking for opportunities.
After emailing the associate, we set up a meeting. During the interview she explained that I would be solely assisting her. In the course of the internship, I learned that the associate casting director carries the brunt of the responsibility, paperwork, phone calls, studio approval, checking availability, sending deal memos, etc. I made it a point to tell her that when I had auditions I needed to be able to do that without any backlash. Accepting this internship was contingent on being able to pursue my career as usual. Thankfully, she understood and asked that I stay in communication and tell her as soon as I knew of an audition or booking. We had a deal. I began interning for this network show the following week. I had conflicted feelings though, I was excited but also felt my roller coaster car had just climbed to the top of the track and the only thing to do next was to plunge down a steep hard angle. I am petrified of roller coasters. I wondered what had I gotten myself into?
On my first day, as I walked to the sunny bungalow, feeling aglow with what I was about to encounter. Wondering what the day would entail, what insider information would I hear. What actors I would see, was quashed, as soon as I walked into the door, the associate scurried over to me in a state of anxiety. There had been a major change in the episode they were trying to cast. One of the roles, which they had already begun auditioning for, had been revised. For whatever reason, the creators of the show changed the casting breakdown at the last minute. The nature of this industry is constantly in flux. One must be flexible, and grounded because anything can change at a moment’s notice and you have to stay clear minded to solve problems.
The episode in question, was shooting relatively soon and outside of California. They needed to set up new auditions, get an offer out and accepted in under 7 days. This left the casting associate in a scramble because she had several other priorities that required completion. This shift would need her to stop and redirect her focus, possibly causing her to miss deadlines. Well, she must’ve viewed me as a competent person. Instead of doing it herself, she chose to give me the responsibility of making a list of 10-20 possible actors who fit the description, find their agents contact information so that phone calls could be made that day. I’ll admit, I was a bit distressed, this was a huge undertaking and I was the new girl. I thought I’d be opening mail from other actors and stealing ideas on how to market myself to casting directors. Nope, I was in the fire, becoming the extinguisher, and we had a deadline, no time for fear, I had to get to work, immediately.
I didn’t know where to begin. I started brainstorming all the shows I was a fan of or had recently watched. I asked the associate if she watched Boardwalk Empire, (remember earlier, when I said I had been binge watching television shows? well, I was on season 3 of Boardwalk at this time.) she replied yes. I asked her if I could reach out to a certain actor from the show, she said absolutely, that he was the perfect type and to find more guys who matched that actor. Great, now I had a prototype and knew where to start, only caveat, I didn’t know the names of most of the actors I watched on TV. That’s where IMDbPro became my best friend.
For the most part, I had free reign, but I hit some stumbling blocks. This is where I learned the importance of pictures on an actor’s IMDb profile. I compiled my list of men strictly from IMDbPro. Any actor I thought of, I’d look up the show I knew them from, scrolled the page of the show, until I found the actor went to that actor’s page where I jotted down their name and agent’s contact info. For the most part, it turned out to be an effortless task. The challenge came when an actor didn’t have a picture. See, I wasn’t just compiling a list of names, I had to download their picture to make a visual list for the head casting director. The final decision to audition these fellas would be left to her.
There were several men who didn’t have pictures. One guy had only one picture of himself, it was a 3/4 profile photo of him looking at the water on a beach. I couldn’t see his entire face and therefore, he didn’t go on the list. For all I know, he could’ve been a Harvey Dent type from The Dark Knight, how was I to know that the other side of his face wasn’t burnt. Yeah, I exaggerate, sure, but the clock was ticking and I needed to see a full face. There were a couple of gentlemen who had conflicting pictures. One guy had a blond haired photo and a brunette haired photo, the other had shaved head photo along with a long haired photo. They didn’t go on the list. If we called them in to audition, what would they look like. I couldn’t take the risk. Audition time slots are precious, we needed to strike gold with every actor we brought in. A colleague of mine was on Modern Family the night before. He’s a strong, handsome actor. I showed the associate his picture and reel and asked if I could add him to the list, she declined, but only because of his hair color, however, she told me to have him send her his materials for future consideration. This experience informed me that our auditions can come from random places and that old adage, “work begets work,” is quite true. This was a high profile role, and I was able to suggest a colleague on the strength of my merit and his recent work.
Once I compiled the list, I was instructed to call the actor’s agents to check for their possible audition and shoot availability. Okay, I despise making phone calls, especially cold calls. It takes me weeks, months even, to call and make my doctor appointments. I’d rather mop my entire apartment or wash my blinds by hand then to make a cold call. This task made my underarm pits itchy and sweaty. Had I known “I” would be making the phone calls, I would’ve stretched out my list making task for the 4 hours my shift took. But no, I’m efficient and effective so I still had 3 more hours to kill. I made a little script on a post-it, learned that from Dallas Travers, I couldn’t be stammering and stuttering on a call to agents at William Morris, plus I was in ear shot of the associate and the head agent, I needed to sound like a professional.
I pulled myself together, aired out my armpits, reminded myself I was calling from a place of power. I’m Tiwana Floyd from XYZ Casting at So and So Network… they’ll want to hear from me, right? Okay, let’s make these calls Tiwana. I call the first office, I get transferred to the person and EUREKA!!! It’s a voicemail, I learn that from one to two pm, agencies go to lunch. I think, I can just leave a bunch of messages and I’m safe. Nope, it’s 1:45, nearing the end of lunch. The associate tells me to hold off until lunch is over because we needed to speak to a live person to speed up the process. Once 2:00 hits, I muster up my courage, again and I’m back on he phone, and guess what? I was right, my calls were accepted with ease and grace because I was calling with possible work for their clients and I only talked to the agent’s assistant, therefore it felt like peer-to-peer. That day, my job ended with completing phone calls.
I go in the following week, its audition time. I thought I would have missed this part. Now I get to see who got called in from my list. Unfortunately, the guy I suggested from Boardwalk Empire was unavailable, probably best for me, I didn’t want to fan out on him. These handsome fellas walked in one by one, they were being held in my office, okay, the foyer. I was able to see how they behave under pressure, overhear their auditions and witness who got cast. The gentleman who booked the job was the most charismatic in the office, I’m sure he brought that charisma to his audition. He was confident, self-assured and good looking. Not to say the other fellas weren’t good looking or talented. It is said you can tell who is good just from how they enter a room. I got first hand experience of that, because I was able to tell who’d be the top contenders.
The show was at the end of its season. I didn’t intern for long, but every week there was a new fire to manage. The experience was fascinating. My big hoorah came when we needed to cast a recognizable name, a women with a very specific real-life occupation. Our frustration was fueled by the high percentage of people, that we wanted to contact, had no direct contact information on their websites. Most of them had a contact page, where visitors or those with an inquiry could leave contact information, but no direct email. Another person had an email with a company he no longer worked at, on his site. And thus, I learned, anyone who is in a position to be hired for consultation or performing MUST have a direct email address publicly listed, that they access often. Including myself.
We attempted contact for these candidates, via Facebook Like pages, Instagram, Twitter, and to no avail. Finally, while using Google to extend my search, I found a woman who fit the bill. She had footage on Youtube of herself, discussing the agenda we needed, on talk shows. Her website had a direct email. I emailed her, the head casting director tweeted her and she returned the email within 20 minutes. It was the end of my day, I left unresolved not knowing the result. Two days later the head casting director called to tell me that after the network vetted the women, she was cast and would be shooting the episode that week. The head casting director thanked me for my determination and hard work and we talked about my career plans and other industry insider information. It was a short run, but quite fulfilling. I am still in touch with the casting director and the associate. I don’t now if I’ll ever be brought in by her, but I definitely update her with my success to which she responds back every time, “congratulations” or “this is good news.”