Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
I can’t imagine a better casting partnership than that of theatrical casting directors Meg Morman & Sunday “Sunny” Boling! They complement each other beautifully!
I had taken their affordable & intimate four week on-camera auditioning class recently and asked them to be our May 18 Casting Networks’ Inside the Industry Seminar guest speakers. They said, “Yes.”
It was a lovely, bright Saturday as we packed the room with both veteran seminar attendees and newcomers. Both Sunny & Meg love actors, and their insights, candor and humor made for a great morning.
This is their collective bio-
Meg Morman and Sunday “Sunny” Boling met while working in the Feature Casting office of 20th Century Fox. After pursuing separate careers in the independent casting world, they reunited in 2004 and opened the door to Morman Boling Casting. To date, they have cast over 30 award-winning films. Natural Selection swept SXSW winning seven of nine available awards including Best Actor and Actress. Mississippi Damned garnered ten Best Actress and Best Picture nods at festivals across the country including Atlanta Film Festival, American Black Film Festival and Outfest. Waitress premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was released by Fox Searchlight. Me and You and Everyone We Know won the Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at Sundance as well as Golden Camera Award at Cannes.
Here is a brief overview of some of the things they covered-
As Sunny explained how they partnered up and created Morman Boling Casting, she began, “We’ll tell you a little bit about us first and our background and then we’ll move forward if that sounds good. My name is really ‘Sunday’ like the day of the week, so if you IMDB, it’s ‘Sunday Boling’ and Boling is B-O-L-I-N-G. There is no ‘w.’ Meg and I met at 20th Century Fox in the Feature Casting office. She actually hired me as an intern. That’s how we met. I was in school. While interning, I was offered a job to be the assistant to Christian Kaplan, who is an Exec of Casting ‘Fancy Pants’ at Fox. That office, if you don’t already know, oversees the casting of every film that Fox makes in every division, so you can work on up to fifteen films at a time. Basically, Meg’s desk faced me and that’s how we got to know each other. She looked at me all day, every day for about a year. [laughter] I loved casting. I worked in [film] Development; I ran a Jazz and R & B record label but always knew I wanted to be in the movie business. Meg had stayed in casting. About nine years ago, I said, ‘How about starting our own thing?’ and she said ‘Yes,’ so we’ve had our company for about eight and a half years-Mormon Boling Casting which we didn’t realize it would be confused with ‘a religious sporting activity’ [laughter] because you get used to your own name. It wasn’t planned. We’ve focused primarily on independent films & it’s been something we really love. We’ve focused on it although we have now cast a little bit of everything: television, commercials—we did our first play last year, Lifetime movies, web series. We have dipped our toes into a little bit of everything. That’s MY intro. That’s me.” The audience applauded and Sunny then took a bow. [laughter]
Meg began, “While Sunny was working in Development and running a record label, I was working for Sheila Jaffe and Georgianne Walken doing studio films and that’s sort of where I got my first exposure to independent film. I worked for them for about four years, mostly here but somehow every year around March, some job in New York would happen and they would ship me off for snow and rain for a few months, [laughter] so I did a few things with them in New York during the time I was with them. Like I said, I had done studio films with Sheila but then what I hadn’t done at Fox and started doing there, was independent film. I really fell in love with that process; the kinds of scripts and the working with the filmmakers as closely as you do in independent films was exciting to me. Towards the end of my time with Sheila is when I started doing a little casting on my own. I did Me and You and Everyone We Know and then another film called Steal Me. Fortunately both of those ended up being in Sundance in 2005 which is right after we started our company, so we got to launch with those which was really great. I worked at Fox with Sunny and then I stayed in casting. That’s pretty much what I’ve done. When we started our company our goal was working on independent film because we both found that we enjoyed the scripts. It tends to be a more collaborative and creative process and you get to think ‘outside of the box’ a little bit more when you’re working in independent film. We both like that. That’s our background.”
Meg & Sunny then took a hands-up poll of “what everyone’s experience is” with the variety of actors attending the seminar e.g.; Non-Union, SAG, SAG Eligible, etc., so they could get an idea of what information the group would find interesting.
Two things they covered had never been brought up in the 8+ years of our seminars.
What is the biggest challenge in casting independent film?
Sunny answered, “To me, anytime we start a project, the process is always the same. We get the script, we talk with the filmmakers, we ask about the budget and all the parameters of the project. What we find is that even if someone has $250,000 to make their movie or they have five million dollars to make their movie, they still view it as it’s a big deal because it’s still a nice chunk of change and they still are hoping that Jennifer Lawrence or Jack Black will come in on that $250,000 movie. Everyone approaches it still with the same perspective. [They say] ‘I’m making a movie. I want to shoot for the moon and who can we get into the movie to secure our financing or to make our financiers, my parents or whomever happy. [laughter] We’re making this movie because everyone wants to feel that, ‘Yes, it is my passion project but we also want it to be successful.’
One of the hardest parts in that first bit is to navigate it. ’Well for your project, at this budget level and sometimes the material is such that, you go, ‘Just not everyone wants to do this.’ There is the challenge of trying not being negative and a naysayer but also to be realistic from a business perspective. I mean, we always encourage people to shoot for the moon anyway because we’ve worked on movies that had a limited amount of funds but the script was so amazing, that when we actually said, ‘Hey Meg Ryan, do you want to do this movie?’ she said ‘Yes.’ Of course, if you have somebody great in your movie, you do stand a better chance of having it in film festivals, selling it and moving on to making other projects but there is also a realistic perspective that sometimes we have to add to the process which may or may not get us the job.”
Are actor self-taping auditions taking more prominence in casting now?
Meg said, “I do see a lot more agents using that as a way to get their clients in the door. For example, if they call me up and I say, ‘I really don’t think the person is right. I’m seeing a limited number of people. If my first group doesn’t work out, let’s talk again.’ We’ve seen a lot of agents, and just spoke with a few this week about it, because we’re seeing it so much. They will tell their clients to put themselves on tape and send it to me in the hopes that I’ll watch it and realize that I was wrong, which does occasionally happen. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen but for us, that’s where we’re seeing it have the most impact.”
I then asked Meg to further define ‘self-taping’ auditions since we had so many newer actors in the room. She continued, “That’s basically when you get the audition material—the sides—and prepare it just like you were going in for the casting director but instead, you and a buddy, you and your agent, or you go to one of these places that you can pay to have them put you on tape. Basically, you do the scene a few times on tape, edit it down to the best takes and then email that to the casting office, to your agent or whoever asked you for it. Ideally, we would watch it and consider you if we weren’t already considering you. Or sometimes, like right now, we’re doing a project that is a Non-Union web series and we’re moving very quickly, so we’ve asked everybody to send us a videotaped submission before we see anyone. That’s going to be our first round of narrowing people down. This is a specific project and we’ve never used this format before but we have done things where we ask for ‘locals’ (local talent auditioning/hired in any given state or city where the film/TV show is shooting) and have had them send us stuff. There is certainly more use for it now than there was five or ten years ago for sure.”
After Meg explained that, I added that in the recent on-camera auditioning class I took with Meg and Sunny, they had us self-tape our audition and submit it to them via email just as we would a real audition for any other casting director. I told the seminar attendees that one exercise helped me so much as a professional actor because I am not afraid or intimidated of the self-taping process any longer and that I felt much better prepared now for the next time that I have to do it. I felt empowered.
Meg replied, “The self-tape process, if you haven’t done it or you don’t own a camera or if you are not tech savvy, can be very scary. You have all the pressure of, ‘I have to do a really great audition even more so because I’m not going to be in front of the casting director. They don’t get to meet me and love me as I am, and I don’t get their re-direct, so I really have to be on point with my audition.’ You have all that pressure and then you’re like, ‘Okay but I have to frame it right, the reader should be good, the lighting has to be good, how do I email it? What service do I use?’ There are all kinds of elements that can get you crazy in the head, which is why we do it in our class. Once you have a system for a self-tape, you know how you are going to tape it, you know how to compress it, how to edit it, you know you have got that down and it looks right, you don’t have to worry about any of that stuff. When you get self-tapes, just worry about the audition part, just like you would any other audition. The rest of it just happens naturally.”
Sunny added, “I would say though, what with your original question, self-tapes are rarely the people that we hire. So if we do get self-tapes, primarily because most self-tapes are very poorly done: the person rushed to get himself on tape and didn’t even give a good audition. The lighting is terrible. If you have dark skin, lighting is crucial, otherwise we can’t see you. That means anything like tan even. You have to be very white not to need bright light. The ‘in the room auditions,’ we’re controlling those parameters. We also don’t have Grandma reading with you. We don’t have all your tschotskes in the background. [laughter] I can then say, ‘Oh what you’re doing is great however we’re not set in the South. We’re set in the Pacific Northwest, so let’s drop the accent.’ All of that.
In the room auditions, we just have a lot more ability to coach you, answer any questions and things like that. I prefer seeing people in person more than anything else. I don’t like watching reels that much. I just want to see you doing the material the best you can. The thing with self-tapes is they have to be the best. You can maybe float by in the room a little bit if you’re super handsome and charming [laughter] but in a self-tape, we get none of this, so truly, every choice has to be on point and awesome. It has to really stand out. Any time we’ve gotten a self-tape for something from someone who says, ’I’m shooting in Toronto,’ and they put themselves on tape, often it’s someone that we actually really wanted to see on tape and if it is not good I’ll send notes. ‘Can we do this again because I can’t show it to anyone because it is not good?’
One thing that we have noticed with self-tapes—and I would encourage that no one ever do this—is that people will record themselves doing the other character and then they audition against their recording. Or they Skype it. Surely you have a friend [laughter]…just one. One buddy who is literate who can read opposite of you. This is why if you’re going to work with someone famous like Robert DeNiro, he wants somebody to look at because the connection that happens between two humans when they are looking at each other in the eye is visibly noticeable. It’s the way you know when you are talking to someone and then you see him find someone else in the room. You know they have locked in with that person because it’s noticeable in their face….in their eyeballs. So when you’re auditioning and you’ve got another human, even if it is Grandma, when there’s a connection—it shows. When you have it just recording, you have no control over the pacing, you have nobody to react off of and the audition falls completely flat. We’ve seen people with very established careers do this and some of them have distinct voices. So when you hear it coming back at you as the reader, it is very distracting. You can tell there’s just not the life that would be there, so you really have to set yourself up if you’re going to be doing self-tapes. Maybe you are a local hire somewhere else and you’re sending stuff back to Oklahoma, then you really need these auditions to be great. Show the people what you can do. Make good, solid choices. Do not ‘phone it in’ because everybody else is phoning it in. Set yourself apart by actually committing and preparing the same amount for a self-tape as you would for an audition in the room.”
Thank you both for a great seminar! This sample of Sunny and Meg’s casting and teaching savvy was appreciated. Check out their class information on their Facebook page.