Casting director workshops! (The Yay Version)

UPDATE: Now that folks like Billy DaMota HAVE seen this article and commented on it (you can see his long comment below), anybody else is also welcome to comment on the pros and cons of casting workshops. I’ll reply here and there as I’m interested in what you guys have to say but won’t go too much into details as I am resolutely an advocate for these workshops. To ask the question from others if I’m only being seen for co-stars from these folks I meet? Hardly. You don’t believe me? I don’t give a shit! Just to be fair though, I will publish the Nay Version on Wednesday.

For actors who get themselves situated in Los Angeles and New York, there’s three words that they will come across inevitably:

Casting director workshops.

You know, the thing where you pay to meet casting individuals for that TV show you like to watch or films you just absolutely adore? Yeah that one. Now I don’t want to bore you with the history of how and when it got started, but it is safe to say that they are most definitely here to stay, despite protests from folks like casting director Billy DaMota who believes it to be an illegal scam that rips off actors (I would read this article solely to get a full perspective on all sides).

Rather than go into a lengthy discussion of whether or not one should take a casting workshop or not, for the purposes of this blog entry, I will vote in favor for it because I can safely say that I am a product of these workshops, whether I met a casting director or an agent through this venue. And as such, if we are to do these workshops, here’s several things I want to give to you guys:

1. You must focus on a specific list where it is composed of those that cast shows that will need actors without a doubt to shows that you absolutely adore and need your type. Soap operas and procedural crime dramas are a great place to start because those shows tend to need a lot of co-stars to fill in their episodes. This is where you can come in and make their lives easier. You can also focus on shows that you love and know that they will need an actor like you. So if you adore Big Bang Theory and you yourself is typed as a nerdy character actor, then find out who the casting office is (resources like CastingAbout will make that job extremely easy.)

2. Do not try the spaghetti method. As in do not try to take every single casting workshop in town and try to meet everybody. You will do yourself a huge disservice because the honest truth is that most of these casting folks won’t even remember you a month later, no matter how well you did (this is where followups come in but that will explained in the next point). After all, some of these folks do 10-15 workshops a month and each workshop they meet about 20-30 actors. You can do the math of how many people they see a month.

3. Followups are absolutely essential. This is also one of the main reasons why you must keep a tidy list of folks so that you can send updates to them through postcards or emails (whatever method they prefer). For me, I keep track of 56 casting offices but that’s because I’m insane and I would NOT recommend it to those who are unfamiliar with the Art of Tedious Followups. Most of the times, you should send updates to them when you have noteworthy things to say (ie. I have a new demo reel/I have a new agent/I booked a TV show/movie and so on and so on). If you don’t have any of those news to announce, you can research what the casting office is recently working on, and congratulate them for it.

4. When you make these followup postcards, make the design memorable. Don’t just make it your headshot with your contact info. Make it memorable, unique, but not clever just for the sake of being clever. It must reflect you and what you want to provide. I would most certainly prefer a photoshoot over a headshot so if you have a cool, high-quality photo of you kicking in mid-air showing off that punk nature that you inhabit so well, use it.

5. There are certain casting workshop facilities that I adore and then there are those that you should avoid, namely because they do indeed rip off actors with their supremely high prices. Rather than naming them here*, you can check out Workshop Guru, a handy dandy service that allows you to find out every casting workshop facility in LA (and NY), the prices of the workshops, and which casting individual is coming. You can also see anonymous reviews left by actors for these facilities as well as the casting folks. It’s like Yelp but for casting director workshops!

*Okay I lie, I will give a shout-out to Actor’s Key and Actor’s Key West, namely because their agent workshops are at $10-15 and also because they bring in SO many casting folks. It’s one of the best casting office facilities but I’m extremely biased on this matter as I also work for them occasionally. 

6. If you’re a SAG-AFTRA member, take advantage of the FREE workshops given by the SAG Foundation. While you can only do one workshop a month, it’s a great tool to have mainly because you don’t have to pay for it.

7. If you take any agency/manager workshops, I would recommend only choosing those that you are realistically able to obtain. Once in a  while you can try one that is way beyond your reach but this is where you can refer to my earlier article on this particular matter.

8.  Will it only be co-stars that these casting folks call you in for from these workshops? Not necessarily. While this may be largely the case, I can personally say I’ve been called in for guest star to series regular roles, mainly because I did a rock solid job at the workshop and followed up consistently. (This also means you cannot substitute workshops for acting class so find yourself in a good, challenging acting class to hone and strengthen your acting muscles!)

9. Finally, don’t be disheartened if there are those that never seem to call you in. Imagine you’re driving down the street and you see all these billboards of restaurants and stores. Most of the times, you ignore them as they are not what you’re looking for. But one day, you find yourself extremely hungry and you see a tasty billboard for that one fast food restaurant that is advertising their new dish. You decide you want to eat there. Not to compare actors to food (although sometimes I feel like we are), but that’s how actors must see themselves in a way: we are products that needs to be advertised and advertised constantly. For me, I send updates to my track list at least once a month or once every two months

6 thoughts on “Casting director workshops! (The Yay Version)

  1. Edward. What you’re advising actors here is how to best pay to meet casting directors for consideration for acting work. It’s clear that you are not suggesting that these events are training (we know they are not) or educational (learning how to best apply for a job from a casting assistant is not education – it’s teaching actors how to make the most out of their bribe money). You’re counseling actors how to effectively pay for access to working casting directors for consideration for acting jobs.

    But let’s be clear with what you’re doing here. You’re helping actors to engage in a collusive relationship with casting directors that encourages them to violate the law. If a casting director or a member of his or her staff (employer representative) accepts a fee, directly or indirectly from an actor (potential employee) to consider that potential employee for work, that’s against the law. This fact has already been established. Because it’s become an “acceptable” part of the Hollywood acting cultrure does not make it right, or legal.

    And more than that, what you’re doing is endorsing the absolute laziest way for an actor to get on a casting directors radar screen. You’re providing a roadmap for actors on how best to grovel to the very same people who would be unemployed without them. You’re asking actors to pay a casting assistant’s rent when most can barely pay their own. You’re suggesting a career methodology that engenders bad habits and laziness. And yes, it breaks the law.

    This is not just about paying to get a job – or in most cases, just a job interview. Statistics say that 1.6% of actors who pay a casting clerk in a workshop get a job, so even if we accept your premise that paying gets work, it doesn’t get enough to make much difference for most actors. This is a matter of self-respect, of retaining your power, instead of giving it away, and not allowing the casting community to manipulate, exploit and profit from the same people they rely on for a livelihood.

    Yes, you personally may be finding success by paying for access. But those reading this must realize Edward, that you’re a trained, mid-20s, Asian-American character actor who would probably work quite often without paying a penny. Your problem, like so many actors in Los Angeles, is you’ve allowed yourself to fall victim to your insecurities, and have allowed your insecurities to undermine what could be a truly stellar career. I suppose it comes down to what you want for a career. If being a third tier character actor who will probably never rise above the rank of co-star roles like “Male Night Nurse” or “Tech Guy” or “Stoner #2” (not even #1!) – then maybe workshops are the way to go. Can you make a living that way? Maybe. Are you necessarily undermining your chances of moving up the Hollywood food chain? If I were an actor, I would never take that chance. And as a casting director for 30 years, I’ve seen the successes and failures of paying for workshops. For every Kathryn Joosten there are 100,000 losers.

    With all that being said, I understand why actors pay, and I kinda don’t blame them. I know there are woefully few ways for actors to get a foot in the casting door. I know that casting directors don’t see nearly as many plays as they used to, nor do they visit acting classes or graduating college showcases as much. And general interviews? Most actors today have never even heard the phrase. But the reason that there’s been a chilling effect on all the other ways an actor gets seen is simple. Casting staff get paid a handy second income to do a job that their producers already pay them to do. So the opportunities actors once had to meet the people who might hire them are nearly non-existent – that is, unless a paycheck is involved.

    You want MORE opportunities? Here’s a tip. Stop paying for access.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents.

    Good luck,

    Billy DaMota CSA

  2. Billy Damota is a nut case and always has been. If for some reason Billy gets it in for you there is no end to his loony tunes. One method he employs (if you have a FB page) is to make up some fake page that supposedly belongs to a woman (actually it’s Billy’s alter ego at work.) Then as a woman Billy will send you a friend request. Once you accept it is nothing to logon fb and see obscenities and all sorts of filth plastered all over your page. Reporting Billy to FB police doesn’t resolve much. They basically delete Damota’s fake page. Damota in turn takes out another email and creates another fake FB page. Damota pulls the same crap on YouTube under the name Billie de Coconut. The guy is a mental case. Most people who have had any contact with Billy’s have horror stories beyond belief. Not everyone can be wrong. Especially about Damota’s multi personalities. It could only happen in Hollywood. Too bad Billy doesn’t restrict his childish games to a country like Syria.

  3. Ignore Damota. In my opinion, he is extremely hypocritical. Does anyone actually think all of the films he cast were cast fairly? That the producer and director looked at every possible option for every role and no cronyism or friends were invited to read for the roles? And yet he has the audacity to go after the little actor for trying to nudge their way in when there are inside handshakes ten times more corrupt than any workshop. Pathetic. If anything, go after the likes of Gillespie and Liroff who charge hundreds of dollars to newbies for giving basic advice on the business, without even a chance to audition. My career has been incredible ever since I igmored those three.

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