Surely there are times actors feel powerless, but the life of an actor is filled with decisions to make. Often and many. Some big ones: which market to live in, what classes/training to invest time and money in, which headshot photographer to go with, to take or not take a day job, the agent to sign with… I could go on and on. But those decisions aren’t my specialty. The decisions that I do know a thing or two about, or more accurately, the decisions that affect me, the casting director, in the most direct way, are the ones that have to do with submitting, auditions, callbacks and bookings. The decisions the actor makes in this realm are important, and you have the option, right and responsibility to say NO at numerous points in the process—up to a certain point. There comes a time when your NO becomes highly detrimental to the process.
Commercial actors should never say NO… after the window of opportunity to say NO has passed.
In the commercial casting director’s perfect world, if an actor is going to say NO, it would be at the first possible moment. That would be choosing not to self-submit on a job if there is no intent to take the job, for whatever reason that may be. When you have communicated effectively with your agent, in theory they wouldn’t submit you on jobs that you wouldn’t take, either. But we all know things fall through the cracks, and there’s no way to cover any possible scenario that could come up in commercials. So, I guess your second opportunity to say NO would come when you receive an audition notice from your agent, which (again, for whatever reason… shoot date conflict, subject matter, rate) you would not take. An actor should decline the audition to let the spot be filled with someone who would be able to take the role when offered it.
Sometimes the initial opportunity to say NO passes you by. Maybe initially you were able to say YES. There were no conflicts with the dates, usage, rate, etc. You were in! You went to the audition and did a great job. You now receive a callback. I not only see the callback as the chance for the director to work with you personally, but also see it as one of the last chances for any issues to be handled. Double check all the details and communicate any possible problem. I’d say that you have the responsibility to convey issues even when they may lessen your chances of booking the job. Example: you have a conflict with one of the four possible shoot days. It could be no big deal, or it could immediately take you out of the running…a risk you may not be excited to take. But consider the other risk you are taking in not communicating the issue and it comes to a head at the time of booking. You will have every ounce of goodwill coming your way when you disclose you are unavailable one of several shooting days at the callback. You may send everyone into complete whack-out mode if you sit on that info for long.
I would say the point of no return is when you are put on avail. If you say YES to an avail, then you can’t turn around and say NO later.
I would say you really, really can’t change your answer at the time of booking; and you absolutely burn every bridge within a million miles of you if you change your YES to a NO after you have confirmed your booking. Why on earth would you do this? I don’t know… something better comes along?
Now, when I say you can’t change your answer, I’m not being truthful. You can change your answer; it’s a free country after all. And on a rare occasion someone does. And heads roll. So, more accurately I’ll say you can’t change your, “YES, I accept the booking” to “NO, I’ve decided not to take the booking,” without major repercussions.
Just like any other relationship, trust is key. When you break the trust, the relationship is often times over… or takes a lengthy time to repair. When you say NO after your window of opportunity to say NO has passed, trust is broken. It’s that simple. The very real consequences: never being called in by that casting director again and/or the casting director may stop working with your agency entirely. What’s the big deal? We aren’t curing cancer, we are making a commercial. Why such a big deal? The casting director may lose the client. And that represents years of work not to mention the additional work that inevitably comes from referrals/contacts from that client. Work begets work, they say. As much as I hate to say it, it is a big deal. Not cancer-big but business damaging-big.
Remember, your integrity and reputation is all you have. You can have all the beauty and talent in the world, but without integrity and the trust of those around you, you won’t get nearly as far. Enjoy the thrill of saying YES and be timely about your NO’s and you’ll have nothing but clear skies and smooth sailing ahead of you.