Ep. 5 - WORK BEGETS WORK: Casting Director Mick Dowd talkin' bout booking actors and takin' names in commercial casting
Hey hey hey! Another great one. I had the opportunity to sit down to chat with commercial casting director legend Mick Dowd about his nearly 4 decade long (and going strong) career, what it takes to be a consistently booking actor and the state of the industry. Mick Dowd has been casting actors in commercials for over 37 years for directors like Michael Bay, Ridley Scott Bill Maher and Dave Laden among MANY MANY others. I could list the products he’s cast but the internet would explode. He’s cast everything from HUGE Super Bowl commercials, to movies like Hoosiers.
His long and interesting career in the commercial industry began when he decided to move on from being a very successful young singer - performing on the Carson Show, the Merve Griffin Show and live shows in Vegas. Mick first worked for years as a commercial producer and then a number of years as a commercial agent before finally landing as a commercial casting director. His experience as a performer, a producer and an agent give him a really extraordinary perspective for any type of actor pursuing work in commercials. He’s seen the industry expand from just Television, to the Internet to Mobile and has a lot of great inside information to offer actors interested in learning more about the casting director’s perspective.
In this conversation, we talk about what his experience has taught him about commercial casting.
- The value of putting yourself out there and taking advantage of every opportunity
- How work begets work
- How being FEARLESS as an actor can book the job
- The way his favorite agents pitch him actors
- How he selects actors
- Why preparation for commercials is critical
- And the state of the industry
So sit back and enjoy, The Lawless Crowd
You can find Dowd Roman’s body of work on their website here: http://dowdromancasting.com/
You can take a look at my classes and coaching here: www.lawlesscastingseminars.com
Don’t hesitate to email me any questions or comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
TOBY: What is up my friends? It's TOBY here with the next episode of the lawless crowd. This is the place where I pull back the curtain and reveal the inner workings of the commercial casting world. It's like slicing open the sausage to see how it's made, but it smells much better, you know, less disgusting twice as interesting as you know, Mike goal with this podcast, the lawless crowd is quite simple. It's really to just help commercial actors succeed by demystifying the process, the casting process, the booking process through thoughtful conversations with industry professionals and boy, do I get a doozy for you today? Yes. I sat down with a good friend of mine actually. Mick of Dowd. Roman casting. Mick is just lovely. A pure gentlemen. This is a guy we should all listen to in life and especially in casting. He's been around forever. He's been casting for 38 years, 38 years people! That's almost precisely the amount of time I've been alive. He's been casting commercials and boy have things changed. I mean this guy has done everything. He does huge Superbowl spots. Like any big casting director. He's also cast movies like Hoosier's, Huh? Yeah, he cast Hoosiers. You discovered Fred savage and he casts for Fred savage. Now actually, cause Fred savage directs a lot of commercials. But you know, like many people, his path was quite circuitous. He was not born a casting director. No, no, no, no. So what was he born? Well, Mick was born a singer. Yes, a singer and a quite good singer. He performed on Johnny Carson, the Johnny Carson. He performed in huge Vegas shows before he went on to become a commercial producer commercial agent. I mean, he has so much experience in the commercial world. It's insane. He's an insane resource. I loved chatting with him in this conversation. We talk about what his experiences taught him and how it can help us. You know, how it can help actors. So we cover things like, hey, the value of putting yourself out there and taking risks as an actor and as a person. Hw work begets work when you get work it makes more work. For actors especially why having fun and being fearless can book the job. Commercial actor's number one mistake from the casting perspective, how timing is everything, the state of the industry with the Union and everything. I Love Mick. We had a great chat. Buckle up. Enjoy this ride. Let's jump in with Mick of Dowd Roman casting. Mick, how are you?
MICK: I'm good, thanks. Thank you.
TOBY: Thank you so much for coming tonight.
MICK: My pleasure.
TOBY: Or I came to you, I guess we did, but we met together. We met two hours ago and now we're chatting. You're going to tell me all about your entire life. So you've been casting for 37 years.
MICK: Yes. That's that right? That's right.
TOBY: But that's not how you start it.
TOBY: So what is it, tell me, where are you from?
MICK: Actually originally from Park City, Utah, Utah. So I was raised in Utah, but uh, I'll give you a little, a little history of my condensed history of my life, so that'd be great. Basically a singer who never acted. So I can appreciate actors cause I don't have the former performer, but I have no acting ability whatsoever. Okay. So I started on television in Salt Lake when I was like four or five, but as a singer, as a singer, and it was on TV there for a long time. And then when I was around 10, 11, I went to Disney studios and I worked at Disney studios for a while in Utah and you know, in, in California, moved to California for the summer. I was there for the summer because Disney studios then, this isn't the 50s, 50s.
TOBY: Yeah. What kind of stuff were you singing?
MICK: Basically a ballad singer,
TOBY: And you're, how old are you when you started.
MICK: Four or five.
TOBY: You must have had an amazing voice.
MICK: I did.
TOBY: You did?
TOBY: Do you sing still?
MICK: I do you know it was a gift. I never really had to do much too much. Yeah. It was just kind of always there.
TOBY: How did you fall into singing?
MICK: Strangely I had a cousin who was on TV at the time, it was her birthday party. They were playing spin the bottle bottle came to me and somebody said sing something and I did and the owner of the TV station was there and heard me and put me on television.
TOBY: So they discovered you.
MICK: He says let's put you on TV, you're going to be singing. So then I sang basically until I got into junior high high school and I didn't want to anymore.
TOBY: Was your voice changing?
MICK: It did change. So I literally had to learn this thing all over again on my own. But I didn't really sing again out until I was a senior in high school and I started singing again. Then I actually, I went in the army before, I mean as the national guard. I was in the army for a bit. And then I came back and started college and then I came to California for an audition at Disneyland and sang at the Golden Horseshoe Review for three summers.
TOBY: What's the Golden Horseshoe Review?
MICK: It's a western show that's still there. In frontier land. It was the longest running show - it was there, when the park opened and they basically had the same cast until they died At the Golden Horseshoe. Then I was managed by a comedian who saw me singing named Shelly Berman, and I started doing talk shows like Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson to Donald O'Connor.
TOBY: So this was a comedian? Was he a manager?
MICK: He wasn't a manager, but he managed me. But he had connections, you know, and I basically was his opening act. So that's how I kind of got my start there. And then I really basically sang in Vegas with shows like Mitzi Gaynor and Anne Margaret. I did that for years. Ended up with Lauren Sanderson for the three years. Then I actually got a job in production through my neighbor who was a commercial producer. I ended up producing commercials for about four years, then I fell into agenting. So I became an agent for two years and we're in the late seventies, early eighties at this point.
TOBY: This is what we're going to talk about, but I got to hit the pause. You were on Johnny Carson, right?
TOBY: So, is the setup sort of the same as it is for comedians where it's like you perform and then you're welcomed to the couch or not?
MICK: It depends. Yes. I was actually, the two shows where I was welcomed to the couch was Merv Griffin and the old Steve Allen show. But basically I would easily do a couple of numbers and that was it. And I didn't really like talking that much, so I didn't care if I was welcomed to the couch or not, so boy I would turn the couch down.
TOBY: Ha, so they would just chat like, "Oh, so you're a singer?"
TOBY: Okay. Wow.
TOBY: You have tapes of this?
MICK: I do, I, the only tape I really have is the Steve Allen show. I did the Merv Griffin twice in one year and I tried to get the tape of that and his son, actually Merv's son Tony Griffin turned out to be a friend later in life. It was the only year that they didn't have the video tapes of one year. That was the year I was on a show. But which is now boring story to tell you. But anyway, I don't have lot of stuff that I do have. I have the Dean Martin Show I think.
TOBY: That's amazing. So then you went to Vegas. Did you live in Vegas?
MICK: Well, we would go for probably a month to six weeks. If I was with Ann Margaret, we were there for six weeks or eight weeks. It was all big showrooms. I was there with Paul Anka. But I had a friend who said "How long do you think you're going to be the boy singer?" And I had never thought of that. So I literally, yeah, cause I didn't write songs so I didn't have, you know, I didn't have that. So I thought I'd probably had two or three years left is a boy singer and I felt, I don't want to wait till the end of that period and then not know what to do. So I literally quit singing and got a job in production.
TOBY: Wow. Did you start as a PA?
MICK: I started as a runner and then a PA I worked my way up to you. I was 30 so I was the oldest PA runner in the business, the best PA runner. So I moved up quick because I liked it.
TOBY: And how long did it take you to move up to producer?
MICK: Three months. Because I loved it. I really fit right in. And you know when I used to teach classes and stuff to actors, I would say you really have to put yourself out there. The way I got the job was literally because I was so old to be a runner or a PA, they were very hesitant in wanting to pay me. And I said let me work for free and if you don't like me or I don't like it, nobody's out anything. And within three days they paid me and then I worked my way up very quickly.
TOBY: So what, how does that relate to advice to actors?
MICK: Put yourself anywhere, do anything. Don't think you need to be paid right away for something. If it's, I mean, in life in general, if you put yourself out there or willing to do anything, I mean to a point, but I'm willing to do anything as far as monetary payment, then you're going to have a better chance of getting in anywhere and doing a play or doing anything, acting or stuff like that. If they're not paying money to, who cares? You know, just get yourself. It's really work begets work as what I've, what I've learned.
TOBY: So you did that for four years.
TOBY: And then why did you get out of that?
MICK: Because if you're in production, you have no life. I was getting up at four or five in the morning, going to bed at 11 and 12 at night. Never seeing your old friends anymore. It was like your whole life was production. I had great friends in production, but I literally got to the point where I worked with a director who worked constantly. His name was Peter Cooper. I was going to New York, working with him in New York, flying back and forth. And then literally I just, I had to stop because I wanted to do something else. I took six months off and then I became an agent and then there was an interview for an agent at a big commercial agency. So I did that and got it.
TOBY: And did you have connections over there?
MICK: I did not and I had no idea how to be an agent. I just went in and interviewed and I found it a good way if you're ever looking for a job is you don't need it at the time. So I went in with the attitude like I really didn't care and they offered me the job on the spot and they'd been interviewing for three months. So I ended up doing it for a couple of years. Loved it, but wanted to do something else.
TOBY: You were commercial agent?
MICK: A Commercial agent, yeah.
TOBY: Wow. And then you transferred from there to casting, because?
MICK: Because I had a friend who was in casting that I'd worked in production when I was producing and he had offered me a partnership. So I left and started casting. I've been doing it for 37 years. And I'm only 38 it's amazing. It's amazing.
TOBY: I mean this is one of the reasons I want to talk to you because when you're a young performer and you sort of go through adolescence as a performer, which I did as well, it gives you multiple perspectives on performance. So you have this, I would venture to say indepth perspective on performance. But then not only that, as you started to lean into the commercial world, the whole production side, the whole agency side and now certainly the casting side. And that is such a complete package, I think in terms of understanding how this industry works.
MICK: For me, because I knew everything, basically I had worked on all sides. I really kind of understood everybody's problems. So I could predict that or whatever and kind of take care of it before it happened, which was true. I mean, I realized by the time I got into casting, I knew what everybody else did. I knew when to bother production, when not to. I knew how to deal with agents. I knew what the agents went through. Yeah. I know what talent goes through. So I really kind of had that gift of let's say I, I mean I'll tell you one thing, I knew all the agents too because I'd been an agent and we'd had gatherings and stuff like that. So I knew what they went through and they really appreciate the fact that I was not hard on them because I knew what they had to go through on their end.
TOBY: You had empathy
MICK: I had empathy for everybody.
TOBY: Absolutely. I'm the same way. And you know, I've always felt that way with casting where like, you know, I'm in a lucky enough position to be able in terms of running session to work for who I want to work for and there's all sorts of different people in the world. And it frustrates me when we see casting directors or camera operators or lobby assistants sort of being disrespectful to actors. And I feel like I have that understanding from my side as a performer because in reality, you know, casting needs performers, right? I mean for our job, we need them and they're putting so much on the line and I think it's something that you, it's much easier to have that sort of empathy when you've been a performer or if you've been an engine and you understand, like I was telling someone recently, I was like, Oh, you know, working in casting and sometimes I'll get an audition. I'm like, ah, this can't make, it's not a big deal. You know? I know the casting director, I'll just text him. But then I learned, I was like, well it is a big deal for my agent because they're really, really hustling for those spots and they're so hard to get for me to just sort of say, oh I can't make it for them is like, well that's one of my only four spots. And I like busted my ass to get that spot. And that was an understanding. I only just sort of realized because I don't really have a full understanding of how the agency side works, you know? So that's really valuable.
MICK: Well to a point, to a point of that too, when you say disrespectful to your assistants, being disrespectful to the talent side. It also works the other way too, because I've seen actors be disrespectful to assistants or whatever, not knowing who they are. My policy has always been, there's no reason not to be nice to everybody. You never know who you're talking to. I mean, I've had actors be snotty with me not knowing that I'm the casting director and because of that I never have them in again. I don't want people like that on the set, who's going to have that attitude? I think they're better than somebody else. 100% and especially with, you know, like we all play our roles and it's easy to feel like, Oh this lobby assistant, oh they skipped me. Or they don't know what they're doing, whatever. And you may have a point like for instance, maybe they did skip you or maybe you do have somewhere to be, but it matters how you ask. Absolutely. And being polite like just go such a long way. And it does touch on the respect issue and it just across the board in life, right?
TOBY: It's like, come on, we're all trying to do a job here. We're all playing a role. Help us out. So I agree with that.
MICK: And back to the other thing too about your agents working hard for that slot for you to come in on. I mean a lot of actors don't realize that, you know, as a casting director for one role, I will get three or 4,000 submissions. I will pick 20 people and when they don't show up or don't bother to tell their agent that they're not showing up or they actually do show up and they're not prepared, I think some lose sight of the fact of what goes into them actually getting the addition and how are they going to get the job if they're not prepared.
TOBY: Well those numbers are pretty accurate. 4,000 submissions meaning you have, let's just assume for the sake of this argument that is just agent submissions where you put out the breakdown. We're doing a Taco bell job and we need a family, a dad, a mom and two kids. And for each of those roles across the hundreds of agents in La that can see this breakdown, they'll all submit their actors that feel. Right. And you'll see it total in terms of actors that you have to go through at 4,000 and you said 20 roles. Even if it's 40 slots, there's even 40 slots for they've cast. We're going to see 40 dads, 40 moms, 40 kids. It's stunning to me where you like, if you look at that getting the slot itself, getting the audition, that's harder than booking the job once you have absolutely. It is one and 140 in 4,000 versus one out of 40.
TOBY: It's almost twice as hard to get the actual audition and when you start realizing that you're lucky to have this audition slot, you just want to make the most of it. It's a lesson I'm still learning, which is there needs to be a little bit of respect for other actors who were trying to get that slot. They had so many options to pick from and they chose you and you do what you can to get there and be at your best. And to that point I've talked to a lot of actors and I think it's common where they don't respect their audition because they don't feel like they are right for a role. For me, for instance, if I get called in as a dad of teenagers, well I'm five, seven and I'm 38 and I don't feel like I'm a dad of teenagers. I go into the callback and the teenagers are taller than me and I just feel like they're never going to cast me for this. But then you get booked in that role. You may not feel right for something you're called in for but that's not your job. Your job is to audition very well. It's casting's job to call in what they think you're right for. It's your agent's job to submit you for what they think you're right for. You may not agree with them, but A, not your job. B, you don't know how you're perceived. So it goes back to me saying that as an actor, your job really is to just audition as well as you can. That's it, period. And even if you're right, even if you aren't right for that role, you and I have seen it a million times where they're like, he's not right for this, but he's great for something else.
TOBY: I've seen it in the room a million times. Like, the director says "Hey, did you audition for subway last week?" And you say, "Um, God, I don't know. I think so." He says "yeah, no, you did. I remember you from that audition. You weren't right for that. But that's why I called you in for this." So knowing that it's about 'Did I get the call back? Did I book the job?' But more so 'Did I make a good impression?'
TOBY: Am I creating fans? It goes beyond the performance to how do I behave in my like polite and, and my friendly and, and my professional and creative and am I having fun and that's all part of the mix, you know.
MICK: Oh I remember I think I've told you this story before too. There was a big actor when I was an agent, we represented him as kind of a well known comedian. And I had assumed that maybe he only went out for national networks spots. He only went out for big stuff. And a casting director called me and said, you know, I'd like Steve to come in for this job. And it was very low paying what I thought he would not normally go out for because it wasn't paying that much. It was a regional spot, whatever. So he called me and he said, I'm sure you assume that maybe I only would go out for national networks, the spots he said, but he said, I am a firm believer in work begets work. He said, "I will do anything because I will meet a director who will remember me for some something later. The Ad Agency will remember me for something." He said, "I really believe you have to put yourself out there and that will come back to you. Don't ever think that you're too good for anything in this business, it's just getting out there, being seen that somebody will remember you for something else down the road."
TOBY: I think that's such a great thought. You know, and it is true for actors. Even if it's like, look, maybe you're not even getting paid for this job. Maybe you have a friend who needs some help at show. So I've had jobs like that where it's like, oh, a friend of mine is producing something. He's like, hey man, will you do this? And your initial reaction is like, oh, I'm busy and I'm trying only to get paid for what I do, but it's my friend so I'll do it. And then from that job, the producer on the job was like, oh hey man, you were great. We're actually doing another thing next week that's really awesome and we'd love to bring you on board. And that does pay.
TOBY: And then maybe that turns into a consecutively job. And that's just a great approach. I talk to actors a lot about, what's your approach here in terms of your career and your audition beyond learning your lines, be funny or whatever, but in terms of your mindset and having a mindset that work begets work, that you never know what's going to happen. You're an optimist, right?
MICK: Oh yeah.
TOBY: And that helps. You know, there's a lot around the idea of positive thinking that can feel a little woo-woo and out there, but there's something behind looking for opportunity in an opportunistic way versus being cynical, where it's like, oh, I never get these dad roles. If I go into an audition with that mindset, 'I never book these types of commercials'. I'm setting myself up to not get it as opposed to like, 'hey, you never know'. It's not my job to say whether I look like a dad or not. My job is just to go audition as well as I can.
MICK: Absolutely, yes.
TOBY: And even if this audition isn't great, maybe it generates another audition for me. And I think that having that mindset is so valuable. So you've been doing this for so long and you understand performing and I'm really curious about the number one question that I'm trying to answer and I always am asking everybody is that it's easy to feel like commercials are just purely a numbers game. Oh, it's just about look and whatever. And we all understand there's arbitrary factors involved that don't involve performance. It's not a meritocracy, but it's also true that there are actors who are booking consistently and it's because of not just how they look. It's things that they do. And it allows you in terms of your ability and talent as a performer, to do these things, to create consistency in booking. And I'd love to hear you talk a little bit about in your experience and you know a lot of these actors, what is it that these guys are doing and these girls are doing, that allows them to book consistently?
MICK: I think the biggest thing for me that I've seen over 37 years is the ones who book the most are the ones that really do the best. They also, I don't want to say they don't care, they care, but they're in the room and they have fun. Depending on what it is, I mean some are more serious than others, but they really go in, they are free with what they do.They're not afraid of anything. These are also the people that two days later if you ask them what auditions they went on, they had to have no idea. So they don't obsess about auditions. They go in, they forget what they did. If they booked a job. I've had it where as being an agent, I've called somebody and said, you know, you booked such and such and they go 'oh, I don't even remember that. Or I thought it was terrible in that.' Anybody who walks into a room, you want the room to naturally like you. I mean an agency sitting there, they want to feel comfortable with that person coming in. 'Oh, there's a fun person. Yeah, they're talented. I would love to be with them all day on set!' And they bring stuff to it that they really don't care that they're making a mistake or they don't care that they might have flubbed the line or they don't treat it to pressure.
TOBY: They don't treat it too preciously.
MICK: Commercials are really fun as opposed to a lot of theatrical things. It's really basically 90% just have fun. Participate, pay attention. Listen. Listen! A lot of people just don't listen. I've had people in call backs and I will tell them, 'they have changed what you're doing. You're not going to sit down. Yeah, you're not going to do this swivel. They have totally changed it. Listen to me. You're not going to do that stuff. You got that?' And they go, 'Yes, yes, yes, I understand.' I say 'Okay, you're not going to write.' 'Yes.' And they will walk in that room and do the swivel and they will sit down and you're baffled because they checked out. I mean, they're not listening to one word, they're not present.
TOBY: Well, it's funny. Yeah. It's like, don't try too hard. Don't take yourself seriously.
TOBY: And it brings me back to what you had mentioned earlier about your interview with the agency where you're like, I didn't need it. I didn't care. And they're like, 'oh, we like that. I want to be with that person.' Those actors are not trying too hard. This isn't the end of the world. There's a difference between wanting something - we all understand like, yeah, I'd like to book this, it'd be great - and NEEDING it. And for actors it's like, you don't need this. You don't to be a good person. You know you have enough stuff as it is, you've got a good family or girlfriend or whatever. But it's hard, you know, I think actors often, they get so attached to their identity as an actor that whether they're booking or not is sort of the metric for whether they're successful or not, whether they're good as a person or not. And I'm constantly encouraging actors to lean away from that. You know, your metric is how well did you do in the room. Did you book it or not? And in order to know that, they're like, well, I know if I did well because I booked it. It's like, no, you need to have a separate metric: Were you playful? Did you have fun in the room? Were you listening? Did you take those notes? Were you relaxed? You know, did you take some risks? Those are the metrics that happen in the moment versus did I book it or not. You could've had an amazing audition. I'm sure you've seen this with actors. He was great, but we're going with the girl for this role, right?
MICK: I was gonna say not to contradict ourselves, but you should be PREPARED before you audition, then let it go. I mean, it's like you still have to know what you're doing. You have to know what the scene is, to know what the lines are. Then let that go. That's the purpose of preparation. What's great too is what you said is to take risks. I mean it's literally, there can be a hundred great people who do those lines perfectly. Their beats are good, their comedy is good, and there's one person that comes in and takes a little risk that blows it out of the water. They make it personal, and then you liked them.
TOBY: But it is a question like, well that's so ethereal. Like why do you like them? And I'm like, well hey, it's subjective. This is like dating, you know, like you may love someone and I might think, oh, he's annoying. However, in the same way, like what's the number one advice when dating? Be yourself. Don't try too hard to be someone else or what you think they want. Just be who you are, like relax, enjoy it. I'm curious, have you ever had it where you're giving direction to actor's outside the callback you say 'listen, so we're not doing the thing in the chair anymore. We're not swiveling. You're just sitting there. You got it. I just want to make sure because we're trying to keep things moving and the director's giving the same note, so go ahead. You're going to just sit there and then you pick it up. Don't swivel.' They say 'Got It.' Then they go in swivel then pick it up. And the director says 'You know we're actually, we're not swiveling anymore. Didn't they tell you that outside?" Actor says "No, no, no one told me that outside."
MICK: Well I was working with a director one time and he was tired of giving the direction in the room and he said, would you give them the direction before they come until they know what they're doing? So there was one actress who when I went out and I said, the director doesn't want to do this anymore. Here's the direction, here's your beats, here's your scene. You're by yourself. But here's the thing, he wants blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So little did she know or realize that I had gone around to the back, and come in and that was standing next to the cameraman. So she didn't see I was in there. So she literally comes into the room and the director goes, "Well I'm sure Mick told you what the scene is." And she said, "No he didn't."
TOBY: And you had just told her.
MICK: I just told her and I literally stepped out from behind the camera and I said..."You're a liar. You are a liar. Because I did tell you." I mean they all laughed. I didn't do it nastily. I said "No. I did tell her she is now chosen to act like I didn't, just so you know I did."
TOBY: Oh man, that's so funny. So having fun is so key. No fear. You know I think that's easier said than done because we get nervous and that's normal. But to allow that nervousness and know that it's okay, it's okay to make mistakes. And that's another big part of taking risks because actors who are okay making mistakes, who are less afraid of making mistakes, can take those risks. Actors who are afraid of doing it wrong become the ones who are trying too hard too do it right. They say "Oh, I don't want to take a risk, so I'm just going to do the really boring sort of normal performance." I'd love to hear your take on, and this is part of these risks we take, which is "making it your own" as an actor, you know in terms of we have copy but we want you to bring some of you to it because this is how you stand out, this is how it's different, you know, bring some of your personality and your take and you have freedom with the lines, which is also different than theatrical. So what's your take on that and making it your own.
MICK: I think it's individual. I think some people can do that and other people can only do lines or if they hear that 'make it your own' or you'll say just throw in some of your own words. They literally block themselves from doing that. They're not good at it. They're can learn it. I think for someone like me, if that happened once to me, I would go, okay, I've got to work on this. I've got to because that's going to happen in an audition. So I've got to figure out how to take copy and if someone said, throw in your own lines, this is how I do that. And here's the other thing you see if you're with somebody and you're doing a scene like that and all of a sudden they're throwing in their own lines. You look back and saw, what did they did and they did great, they made a whole little scene and made it bigger, you know, on the spot and it was great. I mean that's why Improv is good too, but some are better than others, which is the hard thing.
TOBY: I remember we were talking once and you're sort of talking about a great actors ability to perform in a way where you don't even know they're acting. Tell me a little about that.
MICK: Yes. Well there was one guy I knew was good and when I got him in the room we were literally talking about family and friends and just catching up and stuff like that. And all of a sudden I realized that he had started the copy. I mean he just went into reading the copy, but there was no transition in tone. I literally turned and thought, "Oh my God, that's his gift. That's why he books." There is no performance. He was just being himself. He started saying the copy and I didn't even realize he had started performing. I just thought he was talking about something else and I thought, "okay, that's, that's why you work." It's real. It's believeable.
TOBY: So what do you think is the number one mistake that actors make commercially.
MICK: Boy, there are so many. I think the number one mistake is trying too hard. I think you just really have to, I mean the gift for everybody is to be yourself. I mean to really, again, like we've talked about, just let it all go.
TOBY: I'm also interested in the way that you relate as a casting director with your agents because as you know, I'm sure with actors who you speak with who are asking like "who's the best agent?" And what we're like, "well depends, there's different agents for different types." But in your opinion, if an actor's looking for an agent, like what are those, what's the skill set they should be looking for? What should they keep their eye out? In terms of agents you work with, who you see, like these agents hustle for their clients or they pitch well or they're champions for their clients. What's the skill set of a great agent?
MICK: See the business has changed so much since the Internet. I mean when I started as an agent and in the casting, I mean we literally talked to agents every day. Personally. We became friends with them. We knew who they liked the best for actors, stuff like that. Nowadays with with it all online, it's harder to do that, you know? And you don't really talk to the agents personally that much. You will talk to them. There are certain agents that I will give free reign to call me and tell me if I've missed somebody or something. But it's hard not to because there's so many agents. There were 45 when I first started casting and stuff and now there's like 400 you know, it's tough. Listen, I think the main point is to get an agent period. You can work up, you know, once you're in the business, it's all a learning thing. You know, get an agent. You're only usually signed for a year and I think that's the most you can do for a contract. And a lot of times I don't think they even want to do a contract. It's a stepping stone. Once you get your footing, once you talk to friends, once you're hanging out with actors, you'll find out who might be better for you. It's tough. It's competitive. There's thousands and thousands of people.
TOBY: So if you were to quit casting right now and say you discovered, you know what, I'm really an actor and you didn't have the contacts you have, but you do have the knowledge you have. What would be like maybe two questions you would ask of agents that you were interviewing to be your agent?
MICK: Boy, here's the thing, and to be honest with you, I would not quiz my agent if I knew I was in a good office. I would do everything for them to sign me. I would want them to ask me questions, what I was willing to do. They are the people that have to like you. I mean as an agent, I didn't want anybody quizzing me about what I was going to do for them. I knew I was at a good agency. We were well-respected, we had great talent. So when we did interviews, I mean, people were grovelling to be signed by us. So, and not like, it was embarrassing or they were pathetic. They wanted to be there and they wanted us to like them. They wanted to present themselves in the best quality. So to get a good agent. I would say you just have to have the quality they want.
TOBY: And the qualities they want. They're really looking for the qualities that casting wants. It goes back to not trying too hard. Even when you're nervous because you're interviewing with an agent to being personal and friendly and chatting and maybe they'll have you read, maybe they won't. So it sounds like the thing that you would look for if you're looking for an agent is not a question that I'm going to ask the agent, but rather I want to be assessing our connection and our vibe. And are they understanding me and do I like them and do they like me?
MICK: Exactly. And the thing is, again, you want them to sign you. You're not looking to sign them. I mean, don't come in with that attitude. Another thing that I kind of have to point out to actors too, is if they're with a smaller agency or there's big agencies and they're very powerful and stuff like that, and the actor says "Well, you know, that big agency has thousands of people just like me." Or "There's just too many, just like me." Listen, as a casting director, whether they submit 25 of you and a small agency submits five of you, I still look at the 25 that the big agency sends. Those kind of numbers doesn't mean anything to a casting director. They don't care. They're just gonna look at the best people or they're going to look first at the people with the big agencies because they have a track person, you know? So don't get hung up on the fact that, oh, I don't want to sign with a big agency cause I'll get lost. You won't get lost as long as you're performing well. If I have the time I will look at everything. I mean there'll be pages of 150 that I will skim through and I have found people that I liked. But often, the lesser the agents, thw lower quality of headshots. It's funny how it's like either those smaller agencies don't pay attention to having their clients spend some money to have one good picture or just a good picture period, you know, because that's, that's another really key thing is your picture. That's what I'm going to see before I go any further.
TOBY: So let's talk about what that is. When you say a good headshot, what does that mean? Does it mean color? Does it mean just quality?
MICK: It's funny, when LA Casting started in the beginning, everybody was black and white then one or two colors. It's all colored pictures now.
TOBY: But I mean a splash of color. Like, Oh, I'm wearing a red shirt on a blue backgournd. You know how some of those are.
MICK: I don't mind that. It's whatever kind of draws your eye and also bottom line, what looks like you. You don't want somebody coming in who's, you know, glamorous. And then you, they walk in and you're, they're not glamorous here. You brought them in for glamorous part and then it's like who are you?
TOBY: Yeah, I think that's a big one, especially for women who are sort of drawn to these really beautiful editorial shots. Certain photographers, that's what they're known for shooting. They shoot actors and they look amazing. But the actor has a hard time replicating that look in person, you know? And it's like, oh, you look like this is like a vogue cover, it's awesome, but there's two problems with that. One is you're going to get called in for a Vogue cover, but you can't replicate that look. So when you get there, you're not right for it. And two is you're not going to get called in for the ones that you should be getting called in for.
MICK: Yeah. And here's, here's the other thing is men and women will change their look and they won't tell their agent. And you know, I've had things where I've had guys come in that they didn't want beards and they show up with a beard and I've called the agent, go, you know, he has a beard. And they go, "No, I didn't know yet." So as a client with an agent, you also have to let your agent know what you look like though. I mean, when I was an agent, we would say, "Listen, if you cut your hair and do something different, pop come in. Just pop your head in. You don't have to visit with us." Go "Here I am, I have a beard. I have long hair. I've cut my hair, I'm a blonde now." Whatever. Just let your agent know what you look like without going for months and months and months. And you changed your look. It's even easier now. You put on 50 pounds and you didn't tell them that you should now be a character person.
TOBY: It's easier now. I've had that exchange with my agent and he's like, "Hey, do you have the beard?" And I just shoot. I can take a photo of myself and text it to him. Boom. This is what I look like right now. He's like, "Yep, thanks!" It's good to know the length or whatever. If I shave it, I'm like up just shaved, boom, here's a photo of me. That's your job, that's your job to do that. And that's managing your relationship with your agent. Like you say, "Well you're not looking to sign an agent." Well that's true because of the numbers. Like the market is saturated with actors, so it's competitive to get a great agent who has relationships and work for you, but technically they do work for you because you're paying them a percentage. However, in reality that's not really how it is because they have way more people knocking on their doors than most actors have knocking on their door. So maintaining that relationship and sort of being able to identify "Are we vibing?" Like I'm always joking with actors, like casting is speed dating. We come in and we're like, "Hey, nice to meet you. What's up? This is who I am, this is what I'm doing." And you're like, "Great, next!" This is true with your agent as well. Do you vibe? Is he a champion? Do they believe in you? Are they a fan of you and or do you feel like they don't know who you are? Maybe you don't have any other options. So work on that. Or maybe you know, I met with my friend's agent, and they love me. You know, like who I'm with right now I moved to them because they're like, "Toby, you're amazing. Come to us!" And I was like, "Oh, this person is someone who's going to champion me. They're going to for push me." And I like that, you know? So I'm blessed to have options.
MICK: And they like you. I mean, that's thing, that's why I say you want your agent to like you and be at your corner.
TOBY: But it's so, that's so tricky for actors because if you come in feeling like, like me, like me, like me, then it feels desperate. Right? So it's a belief in the fact that look, NOT trying is what makes you likable. Having fun is what makes you likable, not trying to make us like you, you know, a big, smile. Like the, the classic example is if you imagine an overtrained child actor and we can all sort of imagine that where in the slate, they've got the big smile and they say, "HI! My name's TOBY!" With a big smile and it feels inauthentic and it feels like, oh, they're trying too hard for us to like them and you because it's not real. And who is that and there's masks up and stuff and you know, when I'm working with actors, I'm working at peeling away the mask. Show me who you are, you know, embrace your vulnerabilities, then share that with us and be okay with it and know that that's enough. Like you are enough who you are and that's likable. As long as you're making an effort to have fun, you're being professional, you've done your work. You know, you mentioned preparation. I hammer preparation. I'm like, you guys prepare so that you don't have to worry about that in the room. You do the work, you've prepared it. And now you get to go have fun. It's easier to have fun when you've prepared a ton. I just worked with an actor who prepared like no other actor I know, I mean great preparation. He has like audition logs and he makes lists of his positive thoughts so he can go through and I told him, dude, your prep is great. The problem is you're carrying that preparation mindset into the room and it stressing you out. You're still trying too hard. Save that for before, but then you got to let everything go and you let it go and you come in and you play and then when you leave you let that go. That's what you were saying "The booking actors, they don't even know what they audition for." They say "I don't know. I'll just go in and you can't do that unless you're having fun. Amy Poehler says in her book, "No one looks dumb when they're having fun." And that is true. If you're having fun, you don't look dumb. And actors are worried about being judged, like, do I look bad, am I doing this wrong? But if you're having fun, you don't need to worry about that because you're enjoying yourself and it's contagious. We want to be with those people. We're like, oh, that's so fun. It's so confident. Oh, you're so comfortable being yourself.
MICK: True, true, true, true.
TOBY: Okay. So, I want to chat a little bit about the industry now. You mentioned it's changed so much. It used to be, we'd submit the black and white head shots and they'd be delivered in this massive envelope from messengers and we know sort of in the late aughts it started kicking over to La Casting, et cetera. And now, you know, technology is changing and I'm interested on your take on non-union versus union. It's different for casting directors than it is for actors. Because casting directors, they're not in a union, you know, so they're able to do work either. But for an actor, what's your take on that? In terms of is the union going away? Or is it just going less and how can we create more union jobs and what should our approach be to that as an actor?
MICK: That's a tricky subject. For me. I would say probably 60% of our stuff now has gone union. I think part of the problem is that SAG stuff doesn't pay as much as it used to and if you get a nice spot, sometimes it doesn't run. It's hard. It depends on what you need to survive. If you get into SAG and you're not getting enough SAG work, you go SAG-core fi-cor you can do everything.
TOBY: But you know a lot of sag actors are vehemently opposed to that. Vitriolically.
MICK: Yes, but they are. That horse is so far out of the barn. Not only has the barn burned down, but the horse is on fire too. It's long gone. That's never going to go back to what we used to know 20 years ago by any means. So they can be as vehement as they want to be. It's not going to change the reality of what life is now. So you literally have to face the music. I totally understand. I've, I've had actors that I've known for 37 years who I've kind of grown up with who were the young, beautiful girls and now they're moms and now they're older. Same with the guys. I mean these actors made tons of money. Now they're in other categories and they have families and they have to support themselves and they're not making money anymore. So they have to do non-union work to survive. And I totally understand and I feel bad for them, but I know that's something they have to do and I'm not going to condemn them for it. Or you know, if I was a SAG person I'd have to really look at them and go, 'they're not working anymore'. They can't just protest and starve to death because they are in the union. They have to pay the rent.
TOBY: So, so tough.
MICK: It's is so tough. And it is reflective of the changing landscape of all this.
TOBY: So how do you see like the next five years? Do you feel like your role is will change or in terms of the way that things are being produced?
MICK: Well, it's changing constantly. Five years. I really have no idea what's going to happen. I mean certainly commercials aren't going away quickly, but I a lot of more stuff is going to be made for the Internet. It really depends on what happens with television.With network television, subscription TV world, where that's all gonna go. Are they going to incorporate more ads into the spots themselves, into live action? How is that going to work? It's hard to tell. It's hard to tell. Yeah, it really is.
TOBY: So how do you view your role as an arbiter between your client, the agency, production and talent? Is it simply, my job is to create a great pool of talent and they select who they want and then I'm sort of on the logistics, making sure all the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted and this person doesn't have a conflict and they're available and and just keeping the flow going? Does that sound right?
MICK: Yes, that's exactly right. Yeah. Listen, if I can help it, I don't necessarily in callbacks give my opinion unless I'm asked. But a lot of times it just takes one agency person to disagree with the choice and they all cower and think that they've made a bad decision. So it's really working a room. I mean you know when to give input into and we're not to let them just have their way because they're all disagreeing with each other to begin with. So let them fight it out, pick who they want
TOBY: You've done it so long and I've been doing it long enough where you can sense the moments to chime in. You talk a lot about timing in the room - you can sense when to say, "oh, he's really great. He's on TV."
MICK: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
TOBY: Not enough actors understand that in reality the casting director's biggest job is to just create a really solid pool of talent and that you're not picking callbacks 9 times out of 10. We have the ability to not show people who are terrible or don't look right or were extremely rude. Because we don't want to put those people in front of our clients.
MICK: And we do that and we do that.
TOBY: But not often. Like people are often like, "oh, like, so if you audition 40 people, how many are you showing? Like 10?" No, we're showing 39 probably or 40 most times.
TOBY: And like if I'm running a session for you, you'll always ask me, "Is there anybody we need to hide?"
TOBY: Meaning was someone really bad or just we got to take them off for some reason.
MICK: Like if they're obnoxious to you.
TOBY: Yeah, were they obnoxious to me. Were they rude or did they really not look like their headshot?
MICK: Because that happens.
TOBY: I was thinking of a time I was casting Bud Light. We're doing like 20 year old Bar Goers and this,
MICK: I know where this is going.
TOBY: Yeah. This actor came in and she was NOT in her twenties and her head shot was from the 80s and, but she was dressed like she was in her twenties and that was sort of demonstrative of a lack of awareness of her own look. The vast, vast majority of the actors we work with are great professionals. They've been doing this forever. They're good at their job, they're good performers. Every now and then you get one or two and you do for sure, but it's not common. And so because it's not common, we're not hiding a lot of people, but it's interesting when it happens. I've worked for you on jobs where, especially with bigger directors where they'll say they don't have time, maybe they're shooting a feature and they will ask you to make their picks for callbacks and then you'll ask me to mark the good ones and then you'll review them and then you'll pick. That does happen. It's not common, but it happens. And it does happen often in callbacks where they ask, "hey, how is so and so as an actor? Is she good? Does she work a lot? Does she book the a lot?" Usually they'll Google people. But I've rarely seen a director or producer ask for or look at a commercial real.
MICK: Never. Never. Never. Well, that's another thing too. I will always tell actors if I find a director's asking them something like "Do you have much stuff on the air right now?" I'll say, listen, they're asking you if you've got stuff running. If you do, please don't tell them you do. You could say you might have one. You're not sure. I mean, the thing is they want to know you work. They don't want to know you work a lot because that means they didn't discover you. That means that you're not overexposed. So don't brag about, you know, I had one actress walk in and tell them she had 11 commercials running at the time. She walked out and I said, "You're never going to get this. You just told them you had 11 spots running. It's over."
TOBY: Yes. It's that catch 22 of over saturation which is like, "Oh, you're working too much and now you're too recognizable."
TOBY: And now we don't want you because you're too good, basically. So that's a great point. And, and I know a lot of actors now who utilize ispot.TV and for awhile there was a trend of tagging themselves in the spots that they're in so you can see it. Now they're untagging in themselves so that you can't find them in there for that exact reason.
MICK: Because those agency people are looking them up when they're in the room to see what they're in.
TOBY: And that's how they find them. They're not finding them on their commercial reels.
TOBY: They're just googling, "Oh lets look at their Instagram. Oh let's look at ispot.TV. Let's look at their IMDB." If they have one, then great. They've been in some TV shows. But rarely are we seeing them ask us "Hey can you show us their commercial reel?"I'm sure they look at their resumes from time to time, but for the most part it's what's happening in the room.
TOBY: So as we're wrapping up here, I do want to ask one specific question, which is the question I get all the time, which is there's a lot of actors who feel like they're doing great. They say "I love commercial auditioning and I feel like I'm good so how do I get more?" And I always tell them, "Well, audition well." And they say "But how can I audition well if I'm not getting auditions?" And I say, "I don't know." And so I'm curious on your take on postcards and is that useful? This is such a rich talent pool in LA, there's so many actors that we don't have the bandwidth as a business to have actors walking into casting director's office and say, "Hey, my name is so and so, nice to meet you." Because if that gate was opened, you wouldn't get a any work done. And yet actors are asking "How can I get on the radar?"
MICK: A long time ago the postcards were good, the envelope was good, but now there is so many come in. It's really hard to even, I mean listen, I go through all of them. I'll flash through them and see. A lot of times people I know that have done a show and stuff like that it's interesting. With new people, it's harder because it's out of context, meaning I have no feel for them. What I think is really important is on the casting platforms online, if you can put any kind of video of yourself, it's great if you're a new person. If I like their look, if they have something on there that I can hear them speak. If they have a little comedy thing if they do comedy or they have something that I can see them for it's, it's like a two or three second read and I'll go, "You know what? I don't know them, but I got a feel for them enough to ask for an audition."
TOBY: And so you're talking about, for instance, on LA Casting you can upload a video, and some people would upload their commercial reel. So in this case that might be useful for you. Whereas a lot of times I'm thinking for directors and productions, but even sometimes you can upload simply a slate.
MICK: Something that gives you a little bit of what your voice sounds like. If I don't know you, I want to know what your voice sounds like. If you do one thing and you had a comedy bit somewhere that was funny that people liked - put it up, I want to like you, and I want to see what you look like on camera. So as opposed to cards or you know headshots - that video will help to bring you in. If you have a good headshot that I like, I'll go, oh, and they got a little video. I click on that and yeah, I will absolutely look at you. Even if you're with a very obscure agent. I mean I will just say, "Oh you know that's interesting. Look!" I've brought people in because of that because I though "You know what, they are talented, they've got some comedy stuff there. They've got a good acting stuff."
Toby: That's great because it's valuable for you.
MICK: As much information as you can get in that thing about what you've done, including a resume that makes you look appealing is that's what we're looking at. That's all we have time for.
TOBY: That's interesting man. Because up until you saying this, I've had almost zero value for a sort of a reel or something and not a lot of actors understand how the back-end of LA Casting works, but it's pretty user friendly and we're able to like really click in and see everything. So we see these thumbnails and then you're able to click into the thumbnail and see more photos or this is where you would see the videos. So it's quite easy. In fact, for you to see these videos, you're like, "Oh I like that headshot. Let me click in. Oh let me hear that person talk." It doesn't have to be a long video.
MICK: No. I mean we're probably going to look at four or five seconds of it. If it goes for 30 seconds, fine. But we're only gonna say "Oh enough, I like them I'll bring them in!" I'll mark them to bring them in. I'm glad you brought that up because of all the things you could do to get into the room with an agent that I'm not familiar with, it would be that.
TOBY: Yeah, then once you get the opportunity just audition well and then the casting director says "Oh he was funny."
MICK: Absolutely. That's how you get into the whole thing.
TOBY: Actors feel so disempowered with that. They're like, "Well, what else can I do besides postcards?" And I tell them, "Man, I see this at every studio. Every casting director gets a stack and it's refreshing to hear you say that you do flash through them because I know others who they go straight to the garbage. But it's also relevant to how busy you are. You may have five jobs and you don't have time to go through them. You know, you're like, "We've got two callbacks going, I've got another job that I'm prepping. I don't have time to look through postcards right now."
MICK: That's a very good point.
TOBY: I've sort of evolved to my position to saying to actors, "Look, this is something you control. It's something you can do. If you understand that 80% of the time just probably will generate nothing for you. They may not even see it, but 20% of the time maybe they'll see it and maybe it will remind them that, oh yeah, he's great for this. Or maybe it'll spark it." But it's not like this sure-fire way to get auditions. It's not like no one else is doing it, you know?
MICK: Here's the other thing, don't just put one picture of yourself up because I've been burned too many times with one picture. So if it's one picture of who you are, I'm not going to bring you in. If you have a few like okay, they've got a profile.
TOBY: What about 40?
MICK: You don't need 40 you know, he just needs a couple of good ones. It's like with a salesman. They come into a place or they want to get a job. They want to show you all their wares. They want to show you all the things that they are selling. So why not put that on the profile you're presenting to the casting director. Here's my selection of things that I do. Take your pick see if you like me. Not one picture little resume and nothing else, I'm not going to bring you in.
TOBY: Yeah. I always tell people to post if you have really specific experience with something. For instance, you're in the Marines, good to take a photo with your uniform. You were a firefighter, a real fire fighter, take a photo.
TOBY: Or if you're a marathon runner. Because you get commercials that sometimes need real marathon runners or sometimes it's just we're looking for a marathon runner type and then you see that photo and like, oh, this person is exactly that. Or a nurse for instance. Any sort of special skills position that you have experience with that, you're able to get a photo and upload that. I've so many actors who have told, it was like a guy who is a student of mine. He was used to be a firefighter, put some photos up of him in his uniform. First two jobs, national spots. He got Taft-Hartleyed in because he was a firefighter.
TOBY: And he knew what he was doing. I mean, and that stuff will create opportunities for you. That doesn't mean actors go out, get a shot of you in a construction hat and Indian head dress, you know, that's not real. That fake and cheesy. If you happen to have experience as a rock climber, a sharp shooter, you know, horseback or whatever it is, show us that it's for real and then it's easier for the commercial casting director to look and go, "oh yeah, cool." Yeah, man. If you can do it, we'll take it, upload it.
MICK: Present your wares.
TOBY: You were in prison, upload your mugshot. You were a criminal. That's what we're looking for. Well, we're wrapping up. I always like to do this kind of random thing where I just throw out words for Free Association.
MICK: Hey, go ahead I love it.
TOBY: Okay, so just say the first thing that comes to mind. Preparation is...
TOBY: Okay. Good headshots are...
MICK: Very important.
TOBY: Confidence is...
MICK: Well this is all important stuff. See, I'm very, very slow.
TOBY: Um, and actor's job is...
MICK: To be prepared.
TOBY: A casting director's job is...
MICK: To pay attention.
TOBY: An agent's job is...
MICK: To be aware of the market.
TOBY: When you're working with the director as an actor never...
MICK: Sass him.
TOBY: Ooh, don't get Sassy. We've seen that. I've seen that. Yeah.
MICK: Have you really?
TOBY: Oh yeah. God, I would never know. This is a booking actor and he is a little loony, but he told me a story. He said, "Man, I was just, I was in a callback and the director gave me a note and I just grabbed my junk and said 'nope.' I don't know what I was thinking, man. I was just in it!" And you know what, that actor books, you know why? Beause he's not afraid to make mistakes. So he made a mistake that time, you know but hey.
MICK: And he probably won't work for that director but he'll work for other people.
TOBY: That's right. Because he fearless. Great man. I really appreciate you sitting down with me and I just want to say thank you.
MICK: You're welcome.
TOBY: And thank you for being a kind casting director and I know you enjoy your job and that's why I like working for you.
MICK: Be kind to everybody.
TOBY: Be kind to everyone and you love working with actors as long as they're respectful and they're not asking really dumb questions. I think I know the answer to this, but I'm just going to ask, what's the best way for actors to get in touch with you?
MICK: Actors? You mean personally get in touch with yeah, don't.
TOBY: Yeah, that's what I thought. I thought that was the answer. What's the best way for an actor to get an audition? I already know the answer. Put a little video yourself on LA Casting.
MICK: Absolutely, that's exactly right. Yup.
TOBY: I know you cast actors off self-submit on jobs, do you look at the notes?
MICK: Always put a note if you can. Always, yeah, great tip.
TOBY: As simple as hey, we'd love to do this. Or bike riding experience.
MICK: Exactly. If it's specific and just put a note like I'm an A plus at a skateboarding, you know or Pyramid water skiing. Water skiing. I've done it for four years. Every day.
TOBY: All right, Mick. Thank you so much.
MICK: You're welcome.
TOBY: Appreciate it. Love you.