Tracy WeisertSynopsis by Tracy Weisert

Whenever I host a guest speaker whom I have not met before for our monthly Casting Networks’ members’ free Inside the Industry Seminar, I am always a bit nervous. The instant I met our August guest speaker, casting director Anissa Williams, any apprehension went poof! Anissa not only was very warm and welcoming to me and our seminar volunteers but to every actor in attendance at our August 25 event. Here is her bio-

Anissa Williams has crafted a name and a stellar reputation for herself as the go-to casting director for some of the most innovative and high-profile Commercials, Independent Films, and Music Videos. Immediately after earning an arts degree in Film and Television, she was hired as casting assistant and later became the casting associate on the hit Fox TV series “In Living Color“. Many times over, Williams’ cast choices of then unknown actors who have gone on to become highly recognizable Film and Television stars. She is a visionary for instinctively knowing who has the “X” factor. She has cast numerous features films that include working along side Mario Van Peebles, F. Gary Gray, Bill Duke, Dr. Dre, Robert Johnson, Adam Ripp and Eric Meza.

Anissa began- “Good morning! It’s great to see & meet all of you! I’m going to spend a little one-on-one time with you. I’m going to call it a ‘little speed round’ toward the end and just kind of look at your headshots and help you guys out with a little bit of advice about your headshots. Hopefully we’ll do that very quickly.”

She continued, “Hello everyone. I am really happy to be here today. I’ve been casting for almost 20 years… I started when I was 5. [laughter] With Casting Networks, it’s totally changed the dynamic of how we cast. Before how I would ‘collect’ actors was that I would watch films, I would take pictures out of magazines, I would sort of collect people from Playbills…that’s how I would basically have my lists of who I would like to bring in. But now with Casting Networks, it has totally changed the game of casting, so you really have an advantage as an actor. When we (casting directors) submit a character, example- ‘Moms in their 20s,’ we get basically like a sheet or a view (on the computer screen) of 100 headshots per page, so it’s really important for you to have a headshot that will catch the eye. Something that lives, something that speaks within your eyes and something that will pop. Imagine if someone is looking at a sheet of 100 headshots, how important it is for yours to pop. What’s great about today, is that everything is more character driven. It’s not about how you look or if one of your teeth is pointed that way, [laughter] or if you have a mole here, it’s all really now about characters and how you perform.”

Anissa continued, “I just want to tell you some really, I think, basic things that are important to you. You have to work. You have to continue to work whether that’s doing independent films, or webisodes… don’t ever sit back and wait for it to happen to you. There’s so much stuff out there. Even if you shoot and do your own stuff, you have to continue to work to get better at what you do. It even affects you commercially because I’m working on a Disney commercial right now and basically the direction was as simple as watching snow come down and reacting to the magic of winter. You’d be surprised at something so simple… that when you watch snow come down, there is a special reaction to it that is organic and real but some people just really over-think it or they are way over the top of it or they don’t give you enough. I think it’s just important that the more you work, the better you will make decisions while you’re there. You can imagine if someone is watching a tape of sixty actors, how can you make your unique performance special? How can you bring something different to the table? That is one thing that I think is really important for me to express to you guys. To work. To get in front of the camera, make good choices, do plays, do improv… to keep yourself really busy and to continue to better yourself as an actor.”

Anissa said, “I just want to tell you a little bit about myself. I went to film school and right out of college, I got an opportunity to work on a show called In Living Color. [audience reaction] I think I was out of college a couple of weeks, went abroad, came back and I was very fortunate enough to work on that show and go grab Keenen’s (Ivory Wayans) pancakes, [laughter] or Tamara Rawitt’s (producer) dry cleaning. That’s basically how I got in the business. The casting director the following season hired me as her assistant, then the following seasons I became her associate but it was such an amazing opportunity to get acclimated in the business because we were doing mini-shows. Every week, it was casting a variety of players and Under five performers for like six mini-shows within one show, so I just got thrown into this business in such an amazing way that it just helped me learn so much about the craft. That’s where I started and I made relationships with directors over the hiatus doing commercials, videos and whatever I could because I just wanted to work. I wanted to do good work. Every job I do, I just immerse myself in it 200%. I never take things personal. If someone doesn’t call you because you know them, don’t take it personal. It’s not about you. You will work with someone eventually. That’s the really important thing that I can’t stress to you enough. If you have that attitude of, ‘I know I met that person and they never call me in…’ it has nothing really to do with you. Make things happen on your own and there is plenty of work for everyone. We’re in the entertainment capital of the world. Don’t sit around being bitter. [laughter] Go out and do something about it. Where you are today, be proactive each day in what you want to do. Be good for when you get that opportunity, when you get the phone call and you’re actually auditioning, that you are making good choices and that you’re prepared. I always tell actors to leave a bag in the car and be a chameleon. I can’t stand when I’m doing something and they show up and they are not really dressed appropriately and I say, ‘Can you just go put on some heels and a little bit of eyeliner?’ ‘Oh, I left it at home and I live in San Bernardino.’ As an actor, you should have a bag in the car and be ready to go at all times to re-invent yourself really because that’s what it’s all about. You’re playing a variety of characters. Those are really basic. I know some of you have been doing this for a long time because I see a lot of familiar faces and then there are some of you who are brand new. I’m going to give some points here and there that will hopefully help out the newcomers as well.”

With Improv– “As you guys all know, improv has just taken over. It is so important to enroll in and get involved in improv classes. I do a lot of one-on-ones with people and I always tell them that it is important for them to get into improv classes because they allow you the flexibility to become more present in your performances as actors.” Then Anissa took an audience hands-up poll of who had taken improv classes before or were enrolled now. Many arms shot up! Afterward she said, Yay!! Give yourself a hand! That’s great!”

Anissa added, “Improv is hugely important now. Again, it’s very character driven and it’s changed and as far as I‘m concerned, I do mostly commercials so it’s very helpful to have people that are really just available and ready to give you whatever I need from a casting directors’ standpoint.
You’re already in the ‘improv train,’ so that’s important.”

In addition to taking improv, a new actor to Los Angeles asked what she could do to further her career, Anissa said, “If there is a comedy or webisode film festival, just be around people who do what you do and what you enjoy doing. If this is what you have decided to do, then spend time with people doing things that you enjoy doing that will challenge you and push you. Think about what you can do every day to be better at what you do. Like minded people produces results.”

Anissa’s advice was invaluable to a mother of a 2-year-old child when asked what Anissa looked for in young toddler-aged actors. Anissa said, “For Disney, I just brought in 1 and 2-year-olds. I think that what we’re looking for is an organic comfort in being around strangers. If he (the child) wants to do it, great, but if he’s there crying and miserable, then maybe it’s not for him. If he lights up, that’s great! This is the thing, for every single person in this room, there is a role for them. There’s a role for a 2-year-old, a 1-year-old and a 100-year-old woman, so you can’t worry about those people because they are looking for a 5-year-old. They are not looking for a 2-year-old. Your concern (as a parent) is, ‘I want to see who is looking for 2-year-olds. I want my child to be comfortable around adults, confident and organic because you can’t really train a 2-year-old. He’s going to do what he wants to do. Just continue to expose him to people, know what makes him happy and keep those things around him when you’re on set if he gets booked. That’s the best thing I could suggest to you.”

With auditions– “I have to tell you guys one thing that happened yesterday at my casting. If you have an (audition) appointment, do your best to come at that time. I know you are busy actors and you’ve got other appointments but I don’t want to hear about a doctor’s appointment. I don’t want to hear about, ‘Well I have another casting at 12:30PM…’ I just sat and argued in the lobby with an actor because he came an hour early. I was doing moms & dads, so I had my Ethnic moms & dads, Caucasian moms & dads, Asian moms & dads, so I hadpurposely scheduled people that I wanted at these times. I was really put off that this guy was arguing with me. You know what? Your appointment was at 12:30PM. I don’t want to hear you say, ‘Well, I have to do something after…’ We have you for an hour per SAG. Hopefully we’ll get you out there quickly but sometimes we might not so really know that it is not a good idea to be a pain in the butt! [laughter] If you are, there is somebody else that is grateful for being there. Do you feel me? Can we all raise our hand on that??? Amen!” [more laughter]

Postcards? Anissa stated, “I’ll be honest. Example- If I’m specifically looking for character actors for Miller Lite and I check my postcards and when I go through it, I see that this guy graduated from Groundlings last week. Those are the ones that when I’m working on a project, when I get the postcards, if they relate to the project, then I definitely tell my assistant to bring them in. But just sort of ‘checking in’ things that don’t say the highlights of what the actor is , I think it’s a waste of paper. If you have something to announce if you just booked a show or an episodic. If you want something for the casting director to be aware of… ‘Just moved here from New York. Been doing a lot of Off-Broadway. Wanted to introduce myself’… ‘Switched representation…’ those are great things to send postcards for. Some people hate postcards and just throw them right in the garbage. Some people save them. I have a little thing of some people that I’ve saved like ‘This woman did a one woman show’ … ‘This guy did this…’ Let me save this because this one day, I’ll need this and I’ll look through it. It wouldn’t hurt but have something to remind casting about.”

Regarding background work? Anissa said, “I would not put it on your resume. Background work is networking, helping you pay your phone bill, an opportunity to get acclimated with the set and directors you love. That’s sort of what that is. It’s a great opportunity but I feel that it is more important to do a webisodes or student films. Anyway, I would not put it on your resume and also, too, what happens is that a casting director will say, ‘Wait a second. I cast that TV show and you didn’t have a speaking part on that.’ Then you just feel mortified.”

In other topics regarding commercial casting-

  • “Always have a private coach in your back pocket you can depend on.”
  • “Sometimes the clients don’t share the director’s vision.”
  • “The trend now in casting is ‘ethnically ambiguous.’ Character driven and quirky, different, funny and unique.”
  • “If you are bilingual, milk it!”

Anissa then did a speed round of looking and constructively critiqued everyone’s headshot in the room which was very helpful to everyone in attendance. It was over 100 actors! Some points about our headshots were-

  • “Sometimes peoples’ smiles seem forced. Smile with your eyes, not your teeth.”
  • “We connect with your photograph through your eyes.”
  • “Stubble (facial whiskers) for men is very popular right now.”
  • “Bring it up to date. Bring life to the way you look today.”
  • “You’re a little closed. Just open up.”
  • “Very straight forward. Good texture.”
  • “I love braces on kids. Clients want real kids.”
  • “A little bit forced. Too posed.”
  • “I love the gap in your teeth!”

In addition to what Anissa suggested earlier for a new actor to Los Angeles to do, Anissa advised, “I would sign-up for some classes that are going to have showcases that invite managers or agents. I would definitely get into training. Just meet people. Work and train. With showcases, you don’t want to do it if you’re not ready and if you’re green, then it’s like going in front of an agent or manager when you’re not quite ready. Continue to train. Do some networking events so you can meet people. Do you know what you want to do? Do you want to do film? Do you want to do comedy? Do you know what genre you want? Figure out what it is. Go to some stage plays and start to figure out you want your niche to be and how do you want to fit in the scheme of all these people that are working and acting. What is it that you’re passionate about?Figure that out first and go about doing the work with student films and getting yourself in front of the camera. Go to film festivals & meet directors. It is important to become union because there’s great opportunity to make residuals and SAG & AFTRA have merged and I think it’s like $3000 to join. I’m not going to sit here and talk about the union but it’s good to be in it but you can still work and do a lot of non-union work and get better at what you do, so when you get that opportunity in front of this director. It’s like the book Outliers: The Story of Success. You’ve just done so many hours of getting direction and working with good people, that when you get that amazing opportunity, you shine because you feel very confident and it’s just second nature to you to bring something to the character.”

I added by saying to the actress, “And you’re already here amongst veryproactive, like-minded actors!”

Anissa was so warm, giving and we’ve already have had people asking for her to come back! Thank you Anissa for a wonderful seminar!

http://www.anissawilliamscasting.com/

Follow Anissa at @castingbyanissa

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Email Tracy, or find her on IMDB