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Give and take at Take One

LETTER FROM L.A.: Give and take at Take One

copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier

                Take One Bookstore, the new kid on L.A.’s theatrical bookstore block, often offers free seminars. Recently, Karen Kondazian brought four CD’s to the store: Valerie McCaffrey (former VP of Casting for New Line), Marilyn Mandel (casting director for the Pasadena Playhouse), Danny Goldman (a commercial casting director) and Terry Berland (who does voice-over and commercial casting). Here’s some of what they said.

                On submissions from unrepresented actors: Danny Goldman said not only did he open them, but if they were non-union it was especially important right now, because so many of the productions currently are non-union. (He later blamed this on runaway production, and seems pessimistic about production returning to L.A. overall.)

                On sending tape: Someone said ‘they’ always say not to give commercial tape to theatrical CD’s or agents, but several panel members seemed to feel commercial tape could sometimes be useful theatrically (Goldman’s wife booked a pilot from her commercial tape.)

                It should be noted that, overall, tape was not considered useful for commercial CD’s.

                On pitches: Goldman noted that agents hardly ever talk to CD’s anymore: “It’s the agent’s assistant calling the casting director’s assistant.” The panel agreed that there was little pitching these days, and that it DID make a difference when an agent went to the trouble to talk up a particular actor.

                On resumes: All look for training and theatrical experience. Mandel said, “It shows someone understands what it is to be in it for the long haul.” Goldman said that for commercial acting: “Improv is IT.”

                On thank you gifts: The panel disagreed a bit on this. Goldman felt it looked desperate. McCaffrey said that if she got a pizza in the middle of a long workday and opened it to find an actor’s headshot inside the cover, she found that ‘creative’. Terry Berland said being thanked after every commercial audition would seem ‘weird’.

                On headshots (3/4, close-up, etc.): Everybody agreed that the important thing is that it looks like you and that it ‘catch your soul’. Women were advised against selling something ‘other’ than their talent and their face. Color headshots were discouraged. The panel also emphasized how hard it is to get a good evaluation of your headshot, not only from your friends, but sometimes from your agent. Some agents, it seems, go for a bland shot they think will work in all situations, rather than a few strong ones. Berland pointed out there are regional differences here, too, and that headshots tend to be a bit edgier in L.A. (even a bit more than in New York.)

                On representation: McCaffrey said, “Go with the passion.” That is, go with whomever seems to care about you the most. All said that they grew to trust certain agents because the people they sent were always good and to ignore submission from others because… (wanna guess?). And no, they wouldn’t tell us who….

                On student films: Goldman warned actors against under-estimating student filmmakers. “Kids who go to USC aren’t just kids who go to USC – their fathers are producers, directors…”

                On kids: A shy little Latina girl asked, “What does a five-year-old have to do to get an agent?” Her mother was advised to take a few snapshots and buy an agency book, then contact the appropriate agents. In California, though, there’s not a lot of work for kids under six because of labor laws.  (Terry Berland later said that there’s a lot of work for Hispanic actors just now.)


                Two subjects created some heat: workshops and racial stereotyping.

                When the subject of workshops came up, Goldman said, “God bless Billy DaMota trying to make a name for himself.” This was one of the gentler comments about the leader of the anti-workshop campaign.  These CD’s said that workshops are ‘an excellent resource’ for finding talent (which contradicts the workshops’ claim that they’re all about education, but then, these people don’t actually work for the workshops.)

                Two Asian actors asked how to avoid being boxed into stereotypes. One complained that he’d been asked just that morning if he could do martial arts. Berland: “Attitude-wise, just concentrate on being the best actor you can.” The panel was less patient with a woman who said she’d refused a part in an ‘over the top’ comedy where she was asked to do a broad accent. “Why? If everybody was over the top?” The gist of the comments here was that you can either act or be a political activist, not both.


                These two controversies aside, overall, it was a very useful and entertaining afternoon.