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Marci Liroff on the Life of a Casting Director

Marci Liroff Have you ever wanted to know what really goes on in the world of casting? In a new Q&A series on her Facebook page called "Inside the World of Casting," Hollywood casting director Marci Liroff (Mean Girls, Mr. Poppers' Penguins, Pretty in Pink) is currently answering questions from a college student, who is interested in becoming a casting director and wants to know more about the industry.

We're sharing some of Liroff's answers here -- but make sure to visit Facebook.com/MarciLiroffFans for more advice from one of the top casting directors in the business.

Q: I've heard that casting for films is a lot of budgets, negotiating, and handling contracts.  Do you feel the position is mostly business, or is there an equally creative side to it? How about for a casting associate?

A: It is the CD's job to (sometimes) put together the casting budget. It is sometimes done by the line producer, but they want our input (i.e. how much do you think it'll cost to get a good actor in this part).  The CD negotiates all the actor deals (not the extras). It differs from studio to studio, but some studios have the CD negotiate everything up to a Schedule F deal ($65,000 and under) and Business Affairs does the deals higher than Sched. F, and Warner Bros has the CD negotiate everything up to $250k. The CD (and associate) need to know how to read a Day out of Days (the schedule) and formulate a deal. In television the deals are standard. Business affairs negotiates the test deals for pilots and series deals. The CD doesn't have to do that.  The CD does the weekly/daily deals on the series, but like I said it's a standard "top-of-show" formula for guest stars and AFTRA/SAG scale for co-stars.

The creative side comes in when you are assembling the cast and coming up with ideas in terms of putting together the perfect ensemble. I try to think of creative ideas that are unexpected and outside the box. There is a LOT of psychology involved in handling the large groups of the creative team (producers/writer/director/executives at the studio). You want them to hire "your guy" and you have to get them to feel that it was their idea in the first place! The CD is part of the team that makes the final decision on who gets cast. It is ultimately up to the head of the studio/network to approve our choices. The CD is an invaluable part of this decision making process.

Some jobs are more creative than others. Some jobs you feel like you are just a glorified taping facility. I try and stay away from those situations! Depends on what you're working on and who you're working for!

Q: This pertains a bit to the prior question, but what is a typical day like for you - and for a Casting Associate?

A: ME, when casting a pilot: Up at 6 a.m. Read and answer as many emails as I can that came in throughout the night and early morning. Remember, we're a global casting community now. Submissions are coming in from everywhere around the world via the internet. Check submissions on Breakdown. View TONS of demo reels and self-taped auditions. Return calls. Exercise (very important) and walk the dogs.

9-10 a.m.: Get to the office and continue the above.  Check-in with producers/director/network execs and answer questions and get answers to questions! Pre-reads and general meetings for upcoming auditions. Sessions w/producers for several hours. Return calls/emails. View MORE demos and auditions. Negotiate deals. Go over the budget. Meet with producers. Talk to studio execs and network execs.  Keep everybody informed and on the same page. Go over more submissions. Try to be creative and come up with people to flesh out the cast.  LUNCH - usually in the office - working lunch trying to catch up. Afternoon - more of the above. Leave work around 7 or 7:30.  Come home, walk the dogs, make dinner, return calls/view submissions/demos/return email while eating dinner until 11 p.m., go to bed.  6 a.m.: Wake up, rinse/wash/repeat.

Associate: Get into office [at] 9 a.m., check messages, return calls/emails. View demos and auditions. Upload anything that wasn't uploaded last night to our website so the team can weigh in. Schedule auditions. Check avails. Check $$ quotes to give to biz affairs so they can negotiate series test deals. Fill out test deal forms for biz affairs. Maintain and update master lists on ALL roles (meaning who we've seen, who we're thinking of, who we're getting tape on, who's pre-read....and ALL their avails). Field calls all day long. Take agent/mgr pitches.  Schedule Marci's pre-reads and general meetings. Negotiate co-star & guest star deals. Videotape auditions, edit, and upload them.  Working lunch and catch-up. Clearing actors w/front gate to get drive-ons. Go over submissions w/ Marci and pick who's coming in to our next session. Brainstorm new ideas. Leave around 8-9 p.m.

Q: I've heard that CDs spend a lot of time going through their rolodex/files and looking for the right fit. Do you find that you get to embrace the auditioning process often - or is it more of seeking the fit you know will already work?

A: Rolodex and files are "old school". Everything I do these days is electronic. I have a database of ALL the actors I know and like, plus everyone I've ever auditioned.

When I make my initial lists after reading the script and talking to the filmmakers about their vision and our marketing needs, I go through my database and put together a "wish list" of who would be great. Some of them are out of reach based on budget, or they wouldn't do said role, or are unavailable. I also add to this list my ideas that are not exactly what the script calls for or what the director is looking for, but is "outside the box" and creative, which can sometimes really juice up the story by casting against type. Then I confer with the agents and managers and get their pitches. This giant list gets narrowed down based on actor's availability and $$.

If it's a "name" list, we narrow it down to a much smaller list and start making offers.

If it's a role that we want people to come in and audition for, thus starts the process and we are open and excited to see what people bring to the role. A filmmaker I work with once said, "I like it when an actor comes in and shows me something I didn't know about the character." I think that says it all.

Q: Do you feel it's mandatory to start as an intern - or do you think it's possible to get an assistant job if you've had some solid industry experience already (even if it isn't in casting for film or scripted/episodic TV)?

A: For me, I wouldn't hire someone as a casting assistant unless they've had AT LEAST 1-2 years actual casting experience in SCRIPTED television or films. Things move way too fast for me to train/teach someone. Once they are on board, though, I train and teach them every day.

Liroff plans to answer two more questions about being a casting director in the coming weeks, so be sure to "like" Marci Liroff on Facebook to stay up to date. New answers are posted every Monday.

For more info about Marci Liroff Casting and to purchase her "Audition Bootcamp" DVD, visit www.MarciLiroff.com.

-- Daniel Lehman

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