Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
We had a fun pre-Halloween Saturday morning when commercial casting director Mark Randall spoke at our free Casting Networks’ members Inside the Industry Seminar October 26.
Here is Mr. Randall’s bio-
Mark Randall has cast hundreds of commercials for a diverse roster of clients including over 30 spots for Capital One (featuring the iconic Visigoth warriors), as well as multiple campaigns for Swiffer, Coca-Cola and McDonalds to name just a few. Directors include Harald Zwart, Albert Brooks, Peter Berg, Tony Kaye and Brett Ratner.
This is a brief overview of some of the items Mr. Randall covered-
Mr. Randall began by taking a hands-up poll of the room so he could see who his audience was. He asked which actors considered themselves at a “professional” level in the world of commercials. Which were at the “beginning” level or somewhere in between. He then explained, “Even if there are a lot of people who have done this for a while, it always surprises me how people don’t understand how the whole process works of making a commercial, so I’m going to just briefly go through that.”
“How commercials get made and who is working for whom. Say, Ma & Pa Salted Bat Wings, they need to advertise their product. [laughter] They hire an ad agency. Have any of you seen the reality show now called THE PITCH? It’s a reality show with different ad agencies competing to get a job. I suggest you watch it. It’s fascinating. So Salted Bat Wings will hire an ad agency to come up with a commercial for them. They’ll pitch different ideas and they will all agree on something and then they’ll say, ‘Okay great! This is the commercial we want. Let’s get it made.’ Then a production company will be hired. The production company is the people who actually make the commercial. That means it’s the director, the producer, etc, etc…and they put everything together. They do the filming.”
“I usually get hired through the production company. Either I’ve worked with the director or producer before. Basically, that’s where I get hired from. So the ad agency comes up with the spot, they write out the script and they make storyboards. The director usually turns in his version of things, like a treatment. He may be different than the ad agency. They’ll discuss that…their two different visions. It’s all up to me to sort out. After I get hired, they send me the materials…the character breakdown that explains the different characters that they need. You know, ‘A homeless person who does magic, a little girl that speaks French…’ things like that. I will put out the breakdown and it will go out over LA Casting, which is the best of all the services by the way. Then all the agents and managers in town see that breakdown and they will submit who they have who they think is right for that job or right for that particular part. Then it’s my job to go through and sort it down. They will give me a certain number of days for casting, which is usually not enough. Then I have to narrow down all the submissions that I got to just enough people to come in for that day. Normally the most I would see on any one day is between 60-80 people and normally for each role that I have, there are anywhere between 1500 to almost 3000 submissions…so if you get an audition, don’t complain and go, ‘This is only the first audition I’ve had all month!’ Just remember, you beat out like 2000 people to be there that day, so don’t blow it off either. It’s fine if you can’t make an audition but always go online and cancel, so I can replace you with somebody else…not that you can be replaced.”
Then an actor asked Mr. Randall if he wanted a reason why an actor could not make an audition, Mr. Randall stated, “You’re either going to show up or not. I will get these huge, long-winded messages on my machine, ‘Hi! This is Gloria from such and such Talent. Chuck can’t make it today. He was on the 405 and this happened and that happened…’ [laughter] I really don’t care what the reason is. It doesn’t have to be a good reason but just let me know if you’re going to be there or not.”
Mr. Randall continued explaining, “I narrow down the 2000 people that were submitted to the 30 that I have room to see that day. They come in and I direct or explain to them what they need to do for the scene, if there is a scene. Lots of times, there isn’t and it’s just ‘a look’ or a reaction shot. If there is absolutely nothing to do that has been explained to me for the actors in the scene or if it is still up in the air and they are still writing the thing, I just may do interview questions when I bring in five people at a time and ask a question. The important thing to remember about interview questions is we don’t know if your answer is right or not, like if I asked you what your favorite movie was. Don’t go like for five minutes, ’Oh gosh! It’s so hard. Let me think…ummmmm…what, what, what?’ Whatever you say, I’m not going to say, ‘Wrong!’ [laughter] just say something…anything. Don’t just make me sit there and wait. The important thing about interview questions is not to take forever but to have an answer at the ready. Also, if I ask you a question like, ‘What was the worst Christmas that you had?’ or ‘What was the worst date that you ever had?’ With those kinds of questions, we’re looking for something funny, not like a tragic, horrible story…‘We opened the box and the kitten was dead.’ [laughter] No! We’re wanting more the ‘Uncle Buck’ kind of story-The Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ kinds of stories. Yeah, don’t tell us anything kind of tragic because we don’t need it.”
Mr. Randall stated, “Then we put everybody on video then that is uploaded. The ad agency watches it. The Salted Bat Wings people watch it, the production company people watch it…you know the director and producer and all that. They all mark down who they like and who they would like to see at the callbacks. I then get that list, sometimes the day of the callback or in enough time to make the calls. Then everyone comes in for the callback and they will argue about who they want. Typically, if there is a difference of opinion, ‘We want this person. We want that person.’ Someone will wind up doing better on the day of the callback or there will be some reason… ‘Oh, the rest of the cast is blonde, so we’ll cast a dark-haired person…’ or they’ll just pick the person that everybody argues about least.”
“The most amazing thing for me when I first got into this business was doing the callbacks. I had started out being an actor when I was a teenager and wanting to do that. It never really clicked. If I knew then what I know now, I probably would not have even tried to be an actor, but I definitely would’ve developed a thicker skin because callbacks are really rough. After the callback is done, obviously they select somebody and they go off and shoot the commercial and everybody gets rich, right? [laughter] The important thing you need to know about the whole process is—and this also was a big shock to me when I first started out—is that everything is completely unorganized and crazy and it’s nobody’s fault really. I’m a very organized person and I like the actors to have all the information ahead of time…their sides, plenty of time to memorize them and learn what they’re doing and unfortunately, everything is so last-minute lots of the time. They’ll call me that morning and say, ‘In addition to a full day of casting you’re doing, we want to add this extra character in. We don’t know what they’re doing yet but bring in this.’ The important thing is always just roll with the punches. Do your best job and be comfortable in the surroundings you are in. Also, don’t become ‘married’ to anything. Like if you’re going in to audition for a nun and you’ve got your whole nun attitude down and you’ve memorized your sides, then when you get there, they say, ‘Oh no. You’re not the nun. You’re the hooker with a heart of gold….’ just be prepared to switch it immediately. Just roll with it no matter what they throw at you.”
- Headshots- “Headshots are really super important because unless you know the casting director personally…your headshot is coming up a thumbnail size which is very small on a page that has five across and page after page like fifteen pages with a hundred pictures each. Basically, you are one star in a sea of stars, so make sure your headshot is really great. By that, I don’t mean ‘great’ as in super flattering and looks nothing like you. [laughter] I mean ‘great’ as in the most accurate picture of you or with the thing that really sells you as you. Another thing that you have to come to terms with is, you are a product. You really are. In a way, it’s good because you realize after a while that it has nothing to do with you personally especially in commercial casting.”
An actor asked if they have two auditions at roughly the same time but across town from each other, is it all right with Mr. Randall if the actor shows up really early to his, to which he replied, “That’s something you need to clear on the phone ahead of time. I don’t suggest just showing up and hour or two early because sometimes we’re stuck in strict categories where we have to rearrange the entire set and the people who you are going to do the scene with aren’t there and we’re seeing solo people. Always call and check on that first. If you call or your agent calls and can’t get through to anybody and you decide that you’re going to take that chance, go ahead and take that chance but know that it’s you taking that chance and if we say ‘No, we can’t do it ’ don’t look upset. Just say, ‘Okay, it’s no big deal’ and better luck next time.”
Another actor asked what to do when you had a callback as a principal for a commercial and are asked if you would be willing to do background on that same commercial if not booked as a principal. Mr. Randall said, “Check with your agent because I just went through this on a spot I was doing last month. This happens a lot with European clients because in Europe, the extras (background) situation isn’t quite the same as it is here. They have ‘featured extras’ and they have this kind of extra. They have all these different kinds of categories, whereas we just have ‘extra extras’ and principals. They call many of their principals, extras, so that gets very confusing. What I would say to that is no, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference if you do do extra work or don’t do extra work. My opinion is work is work. Take it if you can. I’ve never heard a director or producer saying, [quietly] ‘Oh…she’s an extra.’ [laughter] I wouldn’t worry about that. That is sort of an old-fashioned attitude. Like I said with this job that I had, they wanted me to ask all the actors on-camera, ‘If you do not book a lead, can we contact you about doing extra work?’ All these people said, ’Yes. Totally not a problem,’ and so then clients got it in the heads, ‘Great! The spot’s been cast. Now let’s go through the tape again….Oh yeah, we liked her…blah, blah, blah, blah…’ They handed them to me and I had to go to book them and….’Yeah, she can’t do it. No, she can’t do it either.’ ‘Why? They said that they could.’ They said their agents won’t let them. Always make sure. Usually it’s not a decision that an agent will make on that day. Certain agencies don’t let any of their people do extra work. Find that out before you go volunteering yourself.”
Mr. Randall continued, “That actually goes for anything you submit yourself on. Like if you submit yourself on a non-union commercial say that is going to play in perpetuity, which means forever and it’s for something that’s like a high conflict area like a phone company, it could be AT&T or something. Make sure before you take the job or even go out on the audition, that you clear it with your agent because your agent just may say, ‘So you’re going to ruin your phone…(commercial chances)’ Even if the clients that just hired you don’t consider it a conflict because it’s a non-union job, you’re still allowed to do other phone commercials but if AT&T finds out that you’ve got a phone commercial running, even though it’s non-union, they consider it a conflict. Be careful about that kind of stuff.”
Thank you Mark Randall for an informative and fun seminar!