Ep. 2 - YOU ARE ENOUGH: Commercial Director Director Pam Thomas
If you believe that commercials can be beautiful, inspiring little films that challenge us to be better while simultaneously make meaningful statements about important issues then Pam Thomas is the director for you. She's known for her spots like Pantene's "Sorry Not Sorry" and Verizon's "Inspire Her Mind" that not only challenge gender stereotypes but present positive solutions.
Pam began her career at MTV, back when it was cool, in the late 1980s, writing and directing promos in the On-Air Promotions Department. Pam has worked with dozens of brands and agencies to produce a huge body of work, including spots for Gatorade, Nike, Visa, AMEX, Lexus and Wal-Mart, Cotton featuring celebrities such as Zooey Deschanel, Kate Bosworth, and Emmy Rossum.
I've worked with Pam both behind and in front of the camera for a number of years. This conversation is rich in talking about how to present your best self in the room and maximize your relationship with the director. We cover:
PAM THOMAS REEL: http://www.communityfilms.com/directors/pam-thomas/commercials/
Toby: O, hoy, outlaws. Toby Lawless here with the very first episode of the Lawless Crowd where we have thoughtful discussions on the crazy business and craft of commercial acting. My goal with the lawless crowd is simple, to help actors succeed by sharing inside perspectives of commercial industry professionals. In this episode, I sit down, virtually with commercial director and friend Pam Thomas. If you believe that commercials can be beautiful and inspiring little films that challenge us to be better while simultaneously making meaningful statements about important issues then Pam Thomas is the director for you. She's known for her spots like Paintings, Sorry, Not Sorry and Verizon's Inspire her mind that not only challenged gender stereotypes but present positive solutions.
She has worked with dozens of brands and agencies to produce a huge body of work including spots for Gatorade, Nike, Visa, Amex, Lexus, and Wal-Mart in cotton featuring celebrities such as Zooey Deschanel, Kate Bosworth, and Emmy Rossum. I've worked with Pam both behind and in front of the camera for a number of years. This conversation is rich and talking about how to present your best self in the room and to maximize your relationship with the director to give yourself more opportunities. So plug in, sit back, here we go.
Toby: Hello Pam Thomas.
Pam: Hello Toby Lawless.
Toby: Thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Pam: Oh my God, anytime.
Toby: So excited. So, for those who don't know we've worked together a ton on the casting side and a decent amount on the acting side as well and you're such a joy to work with in the room partly because I know you really enjoy casting and you enjoy your job, and it's one of the reasons why I respect you so much. I think that you have a really valuable resource for a lot of actors who have a questions sort of about the process and how they can improve and just, I as a teacher really think it's good for actors to have a full picture of what's going on and sort of your perspective and the debt can help them. So that's what I'd like to talk about today.
Toby: So, just so they have an idea, I put, like a little bio of you on the link here but can you just give a kind of a brief history of Pam Thomas and how you landed where you are today? I know you've got a great story about cold calling MTV or was it?
Pam: Yeah, yes, you've a great memory. I can't believe I told you that story, I'm going to get some new stories, but yeah, no that is actually a really good story. I have absolutely no connections in the industry or I didn't when I started and I grew up in New Jersey, which is not a town with the entertainment industry booming maybe now, but not back in the day and I was super bored one summer and I was home and I didn't have anything to do at my job for the summer, had sort of not started yet and I literally was lying on the floor at my parent's house watching MTV and took the corded phone and dragged it over and called 411, which for those of you that don't know, that was a number that you could call to get information and then asked for the number in New York and got connected and asked if they needed any interns and somebody who's probably my age, which is like 21 at the time or something said, hey, do we need any interns? And they said, yeah and I walk, I got my purse, I walked out to the bus stop but I went into the city and started interning it was that simple. Isn't that crazy?
Toby: That is so crazy. It's crazy to me that just sort of on a spur of the moment thought could have started that whole ball rolling. What department were you interning in?
Pam: Initially, I can't remember what department I started in. I acted as a receptionist and sort of went wherever they wanted, but I ended up, I bounced around a little bit and ended up in the On-air Promo Department, which made the animated M's and any of the little sort of in-house commercials. So that was my training for directing commercials, yeah, super cool and random.
Toby: And how long were you there for?
Pam: MTV used to be like Logan's Run. So you can be there when you're in your 20s and then when you got into the upper 20’s you were gonna like die, so you to leave. So I was probably there until I was 28. Like six, seven years maybe, but at the end of the time, it was the best job ever and I didn't make any money cause you were not well paid but you the best job ever so I started supplementing my income by doing music videos and started getting asked to do commercials and that was my way into the commercial side of the industry, which is cool.
Toby: That's awesome. So can you tell me a little bit about what now you do a lot of big spots and I'm curious for myself and also for our listeners, just if you could kind of give me a blow by blow of the steps from when a job, like, some boards first pass your desk to pitching and then being awarded and then pre-pro and then production and then rapping what that looks like on your end.
Pam: Yeah, for sure. That's actually something I thought about knowing we are going to talk about it to make sure that I covered it but there's probably, I mean there's a million steps, right? But just to distill it down to probably five steps I were represented by a production company and there are reps on all the coasts and they're out there and have agency contacts and so I think sometimes people will call me or call them and say, Hey, is Pam available? And they know my work other times the reps will reach out to agencies and say, Hey, we represent Pam Thomas, she's doing this and so one way or the other I'll get a storyboard and read it and if it's interesting to me and I have a take on it.
I usually, my, the first big step is writing a treatment and what happens is, I get on the phone with the agency and I ask them, probably like an actor, when you first get a script, I'll say, hey, what was your intention? What are you thinking? And what was the tone? Even if it is super clear, it's really interesting, right to hear what another creative person was thinking when they created it and I'll also sometimes say to them depending on the style of the spot, like if it's a comedy spot with jokes I'll say, well what didn't make it, what didn't make this script that I love, it's so funny and was it bodier or snotty or snarkier and just kind of try to get a sense of what they were thinking.
Toby: Did you ask, do you ask that to see maybe, we'll use it or just to get a feeling for how they're working and like, oh, they didn't choose that because of x, y, z.
Pam: So that gives me a sort of a better idea of what they're going for.
Pam: Both of those things. I think I'm interested in the process, but also sometimes that's the opportunity. I mean, this is something an actor unfortunately doesn't really get to know or collaborate with but that's, there's the whole client aspect.
Pam: Because I'm working for the agency and we're both working for the client.
Pam: So they might come to me and say well, we really like it when the woman, female character plays it really snarky but the client won't let us do that. So that, and it just sort of helps me so that way I know to take the onus off them, so when I'm directing, knowing that the client doesn't want it to be snarky, but we all think that's funny. I can say, great, well we've got it in the cans, super sweet. I'm going to try. I'm going to try another idea that I had that way I can support.
Toby: You can own it, but you're helping them with their idea. Cross talking
Pam: Hey, let's just make good stuff. Right.
Toby: Yeah, I always, I feel like that's often like the first when I'm in a callback in a director in an agency or meeting the first time, I sort of feel like that's kind of one of the first conversations that's like, so how's the client? And in to their like A, they'll do whatever we tell them B, it's tricky or like C, like, yeah, they're terrible so hard they like to assert and they're picky and whatnot but you're right because the complexity of getting things approved, it's important to know the lay of the land so how to present things so that they can be approved.
Pam: Great, I mean in that we'll talk about that too but that goes also into the whole casting process and how I'm sure all directors do it differently and to be interesting if you talked to other directors or actors, I'd love to hear how other directors do, but I can just share my process of how I try to get people approved and sometimes I'm allowed but anyway to go back and we digress.
Toby: Yes we do.
Pam: To go back to the steps I write a treatment, I talked to them and I kind of get there creative process and then I'll go and write a treatment and that's where I sort of figure it out and I think, and this I will tell you, I think I've told you this before, Toby too, I will give the people that would like to hire me, maybe my point of view, even if it's not their point of view, I want them to know that I have a point of view and this is my process and this is how I would do that. And I think sometimes for me, when an actor comes in, even if he picks the wrong choice, makes a choice of he's gonna play it this way and that's not what I wanted It's really interesting to me to see some things sort of fully fleshed out. So I'll write the treatment and I'll be like, well, this is how I would do it and this is why and then I usually hire somebody to help me do the layout because I'm not super proficient with in design or whatever we hand it In and then if I get the job, the next big thing that happens is the casting.
Pam: Let me, let's talk about the treatment for a second because I think this is something that a lot of actors will identify with, which is, I feel like a lot of your work is done in the treatment and you guys don't get paid to do treatments and it is a lot of, it's like you said, it's where you figure it out and you kind of have to, it's the equivalent to the audition for the actors and where they're running around auditioning not knowing if they're going to get the job but kind of have to figure out what their take is present their take in the best way that they can and it's really easy for actors to feel like, I just like to come in and there's all these people with the power and this and that and it's good to know.
I think that you guys go through this as well, like presenting and not getting and having worked at times. And just to, can you give us just an idea of like how generally speaking, because I know it's different but how much work a treatment is? Because those things can be long, they can be like 30 pages.
Pam: Oh they are, they totally are.
Toby: They're comprehensive, detailed, tons of references and photos and actors don't see that side and then they have no reason to know about it, really.
Pam: Do you ever see, have you ever seen treatments?
Pam: Right, oh sure from our casting thing, that's really interesting I used to always get at least a week now things are, so everything feels like such a rapid pace. It's like if I have a conference call on Monday, they often want it on Friday, but I don't know, Toby. It's probably like I'll sit down and just write it and it'll suck? And then I'll walk away from it so you usually spend a couple of hours thinking about it, then I'll write it in a day and then I'll spend four days like polishing it or crafting it.
I work with a lot of talented people one of the folks on staff at community is also an amazing writer and sometimes I'll just run it by him or sometimes I'll say, I’m trying to find a way in which something that an actress or having like I can't, this is what I feel like my, I'm expressing myself in a really convoluted way. Can you read it? And see if you can tease out what, just help me, (cross -talking 11: 15).
Toby: That's cool, so when you talk about like thinking of your take, is this sort of what you're talking about? Like okay, I want to read this and then I want to see how I feel like I would be doing this different than someone else or just maybe more so like how I would do this? Like what it is I'm trying to say and then being able to put that in words and images in a clear way.
Pam: A hundred percent and I wonder, it's funny, I think about this a lot. So sometimes I get ideas and storyboards that are unbelievable. I would kill to do it I try really hard and some of those I get and some I don't and then sometimes I get some and we’re just talking about this before we go on the phone. Some stuff that's okay it's like it's a good client, but maybe the copy's a little not as polished, which is why when I'm having a conversation with the agency, I'm always like, what do you want to say? l how did, why is this the board or something like to see it, see what they're thinking. And it's almost harder to write a treatment for something that I love that seems fully formed because I've literally had written treatments where I've said, well, I just want to do this I have nothing to say I wrote stuff.
Toby: That is great.
Pam: Yeah, well that's like, think about being an actor and you see a part in it so flushed out it's almost harder. What are you bringing to it? But it's exciting versus like, sometimes I'll work with creatives who had great ideas or the clients who are, killed it and then it's hard It's almost easier to work on that cause I'm like, well I can be your advocate and here's how I would make this stronger we lost the battle here but what if we do this visually? Where is the ones that come that are so good? I'm just like, just hire me I want that job so bad.
Pam: Feel like ( inaudible 12: 55) that's like where it was, wait a second this is like shooting in Mexico, riding a dolphin six weeks you know what I mean? It's like this just sounds so much fun and it doesn't really require any acting but sounds amazing I want to do it.
Pam: A hundred percent.
Toby: But I identify like does as an actor, I feel like those are the ones that are always like tougher to get because you want them so badly and you're like, Oh God, this would be too amazing. This is perfect for me.
Pam: So true.
Toby: So they get the treatment and how many treatments are they looking at? four maybe
Pam: I think three or four normally it used to be three. What goes those bidding in two people now it could be four, it could be six people drop out everybody's busy so they think they probably have to cast a wide net.
Toby: Got It, they look and then they pick based on the call and the treatment and then we get to work, right. You send a lieu to have a call with casting, just send them some stuff let them know this is what we're doing and this directors are different in this in terms of how much they communicate, be forecasting. Sometimes it's just like we need this and do whatever. Sometimes it's like really specific about what we need to see and I think it varies from job to job for sure. And this is why I've read so many treatments because that's sort of what we get as our starting point. A lot of the time casting and then we go and so we're sort of going, I'm telling this to my actors a lot It's like our job in casting is to give you what you need to be able to do it. And Pam's nodding here because you can't see her.
Pam: Oh sorry, yes.
Toby: So we’ll often sort of, for the first call, for the actors were piecing together sort of the important moments that we'll be efficient enough in terms of our timing and be able to see as many people as we want to see to give you what you want and then we send those first tapes to you guys, with you guys being the director in the creatives agency? A lot of times actors ask me do they really watch all of this? like four days and so you say, Oh yeah.
Pam: A hundred percent all of it, every moment. The only time I ever skimmed through some thing or gone quickly is if I think you and I have done this before probably with Tory well like if I have skateboarders coming in and I want to see if they can skateboard, I'll watch the casting and then I'll fast scan and I'm like, Yup, he could skateboard. Oh like stuff like that, sometimes I'll just, I think it's like my only chance to see what they have to say, who they are just how they want to present themselves, which is what I get to do with the treatment but an actor has to do physical.
Toby: Do you do that? I mean, because lots of them are like three plus hours, four hours, right?
Pam: Oh yeah.
Pam: I usually, I have kids so I can't usually watch during the day I have to just get through my day and then sit down at night but what I do , I feel like you start in this sort of trend like sometimes if you're doing casting and we're working on being job and I know it's going to be three or four days in my personal life, just as kind of chaotic and I know I can't watch until the night I'll stop whatever I'm doing and watch the first three groups or the first four people to saying, yes, this is exactly right (inaudible) 16:08 as you're going and try that and I don't know if this is annoying or not, but I try to be, the more experience I have the more super specific I am like now I know actors.
I know you, I know people that, you Toby you would never do this but you could come in and you could have an off day and not do anything I want and I'd still call you back and I'd still try to work with you because I worked with you cause I know well cause I know and now that I know a lot of actors in La, in Chicago and New York sometimes like if you came in for a casting, I don't even know if I'd watch it cause I'm like I want to work with you, you're great and you bring it and I'm excited so that happens too but in the best way like (inaudible) 16:49.
Toby: Totally in the fact that you know somebody and that's interesting because it's sort of like a, you're looking to discover new people and I think that's a really good point for actors to know is like, even if you, cause a lot of times actors can feel like, I’m not right for this and everybody else is so old they’re not constantly inviting actress to just like focused and do your best because they're just trying to get to know you. And then once this director is like, she's right, she's not right for this but she's good and I'm doing another job, then she would be good for.
Toby: Because it's easy to sort of feel like, why am I even here for this either Cheyenne's I'm not ready for I'm just going to kind of phone it in or whatever but I feel like that can be an opportunity missed for that reason so you guys will send us your pics and then you come in for the call back and I think, well tell us a little bit about what that's like for you coming in, in terms of sometimes it's the first time you're meeting face to face with the agency after having the treatment and maybe a lot of emails, but yeah, dynamics always interesting.
Pam: It is, right. it is definitely interesting and it is often the first time I meet with them in person because unless I'm working with a Los Angeles agency or even if I am, all that stuff happens on a phone and then you kind of meet at the callback and it's so funny, I feel like my process has changed a little bit, but this main goal that I always have in a call back and I always, I've never acted, I've never maybe in high school, but it's like I need to put myself in your shoes more but I always think if I as an actor with must suck coming into this room with all these people staring at you, you have two seconds to do. You're not quite sure what is anybody going to say anything. Is anybody going to tell you anything?
And I always think I want to make sure they feel supported and feel like sometimes, especially with kids, if we're doing real people casting, meaning like we're bringing in actors with less experience skateboarders and tried to say, Hey, thank you so much for coming we're really glad you're here remember we picked you It was like we like you so just because I think that must be so, maybe that's my own thing but I'm like hide behind the plant person so I'm like, oh my God, I want to make sure they feel good and I think a lot about that like how hard that must be? What do you tell actors in a call back? Like is that just terrifying.
Toby: I mean I think you're right on, actors are in a vulnerable place where they're just like, okay, here we go and I think it's true for anyone. I sort of tell actors like, this is why we need actors because if you put a random person in front of a group of strangers and tell them to do anything, even if it's something they do every day, they become incredibly self conscious because they're aware of that. The fact that they're being watched and or judged whether not maliciously but just that like, they're watching me eat a sandwich and you become self conscious you're like, wait, how do I eat a sandwich? we need people to be able to do things very normally just in a real way, but like minus the self consciousness and then it is hard because as I mentioned, like you really do make an effort and you have a consciousness about like that scenario.
Whereas a lot of times people don't and they don't really care and it can be tough where like I have a question from an actor that really doesn't apply to you, but it does apply to actors whereas he says like, why is it that sometimes we go in and we get zero feedback. It is like, do one take, thanks, leave. And like, why was I even call back? like you saw me do that the first time, whatever and I can say I can answer that question to a certain degree, which is like, well maybe things change, we like you or maybe we just want to see you in person or whatever but for an actor, it's like actors like to do and they want come on, like work me. What I mean? So anyhow, but for you like I actually use you as a point when I'm teaching sometimes and saying that you keep notes on your laptop casting and that's like (inaudible) 20: 43.
Pam: Is that annoying?
Toby: Well no, for the most part it's more so like the agency producer who they don't know who that person is but that person clearly is not paying attention but I tell them, well, I have a director who is on her laptop but she is paying attention and she's be.
Pam: Usually I'm writing and looking and I think about that sometimes too I used to draw pictures and write notes next to it but then sometimes like the actors when they leave or walk by and I was like, that's so rude as I didn't even know how to pronounce this word and many monic device to remember.
Pam: Pneumonic device I'll draw the person's face and I'm not, it's like a little bit more advanced from a stick figure and I always thought, what if they, if somebody has curly hair or something.
Toby: That's interesting
Pam: I want to make sure I don't know, that's interesting I think sometimes I don't give feedback. So when somebody comes in and they do a great job even I, I guess even if I don't have any feedback and I just do one take, I'll say thanks. But sometimes I don't, this is something that you shouldn't, you could tell the actors and I think about this too, sometimes I'm seeing 150 people in five hours with three strangers I've just met and agency creative A liked everything I like, agency creative B just broke up with her boyfriend and she's in a really bad mood and doesn't like anything I like, agency creative C. So it's like, that's the human element and so it's like, I'm just trying to go quickly and because I have a lot of experience now, especially like somebody comes in and they nail it I'm like, okay, great you nailed it I love you.
Toby: Yeah, You got what you needed.
Pam: I got what I needed and I also sometimes think and I made actually, maybe you'll ask me this question or if not, I'll just tell you but I started making a list of literal things that people have said to me about why actors didn't get cast.
Toby: Let’s hear it.
Pam: Because you put random stuff and I ever talked to you about this. I feel like you and I talked about this after our session. I would get so, when I was early in my career get so upset and stressed out and somebody didn't get picked for a random stuff reason I was, can we reach out to that person and let them know that they were my choice? Because I just felt like sometimes I don't get picked and sometimes I get feedback Pam, they didn't like your call, they hated your treatment or they just didn't feel like your this or that and it can be super brutal, pretty thick skin but it can be kind of brutal but for actors, so okay so here's my list of literal things that people have said to me.
Toby: So these are things that agency creatives or client’s.
Pam: Not so much agency creatives because we're usually by the time they've hired me, we're usually on the same page I'm lucky these are mostly things that come down from clients.
Toby: So after you made the selects, you have the callback, you've selected your top talent, you presented it to the client and then these are some of the things that you've heard come back.
Pam: Right, this is why someone wouldn't get chosen so some are obvious her hair is too long, short, brown, blonde we need someone taller, shorter, thinner, fatter. I don't like her shirt, so let's think about that okay. I don't like the shirt this is a casting call back she's wearing her shirt we have a wardrobe stylist so just, that might be a reason why you killed it I loved you and you didn't get picked. I don't like her attitude that was a fascinating one on a comedy spot that I did where the Co, it was really well written and the person was supposed to be snarky and she nailed it. And the client that, I don't like her attitude and I was like but I didn't even have a, okay here's another one that happens a lot. She looks like my ex, wife, girlfriend, husband, boyfriend, right. Her boobs are too small.
That's a true comment that I got when I was much younger on a job and it was for beer and the client, I was young and the client was young guy, younger than me and he literally looked at me and said your boobs are too small and I was so shocked I said I don't usually get to present to the client but for whatever reason we're all in the room. I literally said something like, are you kidding me? Like, oh sorry, are you kidding me? and he was like, this is a beer commercial this is, we're selling he looks like it's not going to be fun.
Toby: He looks like it's not going to be fun.
Pam: He looks like it's not gonna be fun.
Toby: To shoot you mean?
Pam: Yeah, it's not going to be fun cause he's, cause you were hiring our friends not and then another one, she doesn't seem hot enough to which it was like, this is a commercial It's not Tinder and here, did I tell you, I'm going to tell you my Steve Crow story did I tell you this. Did we work on this? I did a long time ago, I did a commercial with Tropicana and this was back in the day, Tropicana juice and they couldn't decide what creative a road they wanted to take so they hired three directors and had the money to cast and shoot three commercials.
Pam: Yup and then they were going to decide which one. One was animated, one was live action and animation and then I got hired to do the live action one. And at the time, this is really a long time ago, Steve Crow was on John Stewart and he had just turned, I loved the John Stewart show cause I knew John Steward from MTV and I knew him and I also kind of knew that stuff was bubbling just from friends in the industry and that he was, had just tried out for the American version of the office, he's so good.
And I just was like, he's going to be so good let's get him for the commercial so he came, we got, we did casting we had a lot of people that were great and then we got Steve Crow to come to my whatever office I think I was represented by boxy and he came and he nailed it and what it was. It was this commercial where this guy was training oranges so he was talking to oranges as if they were people and it was hilarious and he comes in and so he's amazing, but he's not famous yet. Then he says to me, well how do you want me to play it? And I said, what do you mean? And he's like, well, am I happy and my thing so I was like, oh, we talked about it and we decided that he was really angry at his father. His father was like Ivy, so he decided to train oranges to be as big for his dad so that had nothing to do with the spot but so he layered, his performance was amazing we presented him, he was amazing and the client was like, well, I don't know how he looked, what Steve Crow looks like.
He's attractive guy, but he's not like sexy guy or whatever. I don't know what the client didn't have a reason I don't remember and so we didn't get to choose him but I wound up because he wasn't available. I wound up meeting one of my favorite actor friends Michael Bunin. We did it and he killed it. And he was funny and totally different way.
Toby: Oh, so wait so when you brought Steven that was just sort of an audition.
Pam: We brought Steven because I knew John Stewart on the daily show and I liked Steve.
Toby: You didn’t shoot the spot with him you just put him on tape?
Pam: Now, just to finish our conversation about why clients don't pick people. And I often, I don't know if actors know this. Usually I don't talk to the client. I'm with the agency, I make my picks, I give them as much ammunition as I can; this is where I'm working with Toby Wallace is hilarious and I said, I know you didn't call for (inaudible 27: 47) living but he's really funny and I did this with him and he's also settled. There's ammunition go sell it and then, so that's sort of what I had done but in that particular case I got to talk to the client so I got a little peak into these like reasons, stupid reasons and I feel like actors should know that because you could do, you could lay it all on the floor and do your best performance and it's just randomly not gonna happen. This guy didn't choose Steve Crow. I don't know why, he never told me why, I never learned why ; but it wound up being fantastic. You hear after (inaudible 28: 22) talk about this all the time. I didn't get the role and 50 Shades Darker but then I got the head of the reboot of Star Wars.
Toby: I mean and so much of sort of those list. It's funny because they’re sort of look- based which is one of the things we don't, well, we control our look to a certain degree but it's like you don't control your boob size unless you decided to go drop a lot of money to do that. But I've also heard the opposite. Her boobs are too big, she's too hot, we need someone who's a bit more normal and then that sort of covers the base of like too fat; no, she’s too skinny. I feel like for casting we get that almost more from the front end. You guys like trying to be like, look, we don't want like a fantasy model for this. We want someone who looks more real because maybe the client that you would pick that person if I saw them. What I mean? The thing about the shirt, the attitude is just is laughable and it's the type of thing that a nervous actor will look like. See, I don't know what to wear and it's what I would tell them.
I was like, look, you just don't have control over that stuff and you need to focus on giving your best performance and know and accept that there's things just outside of your control and that has nothing to do with you. And just because you don't get it doesn't mean you didn't do a great job. You could do a great job and not get it and I think that's really hard for actress to understand is like, but why not? Well, it's not a meritocracy. There are so many other things that are going into it multiple opinions where this is subjective. Like what you think is funny, maybe it's not what another person thinks Its funny and if you're directing this spot, you'll cast Steve Crow and they're directing the spot they'll cast someone else who's not Steve Crow cause they don't think he's funny.
And I think that can be really hard to internalize it is like, oh wait, what? I thought this is like if I'm good, I get the job and if I'm not good and I don't. So when they're not getting the job they're feeling like I'm a bad actor It's like, no you're not a bad actor maybe, hopefully you're working at it.
Pam: I think it's really, that’s got to be the hardest thing. I mean it definitely happens to me too. There's a lot of times where I've, I mean, look, it goes both ways. I've been on commercials and knock on them and seen them on the air and been like, damn, that's good. I still feel like I would have done a good job but I like what was done. That's all good, its competition, and we’re all competing. I'm sure it's like this for an actor too and I always wonder what I could have done differently. Like, you'll see a commercial on the air that I didn't get and it's awful and what that makes me think of is; I need to work harder on how I sell myself where I wasn't able to. Not in a super- ego way, but I don't even mean it like that like sometimes I'll just, it's just badly done.
Toby: I know what you mean. But I also feel like there's some times where it's like if you think about dating, where you're like, yeah, just that just wasn't meant to be like that person like you may present your idea and like if you are presenting it to yourself you'd be like, this is amazing but that person is just like, yeah, no I don't think so. Like what, what's wrong with you? This is awesome and like it's just this the subjective nature of at least like you're saying like some people are just different. Quick question for you. Do you think that there is an advantage or a disadvantage to being the very first group in the room at the callback?
The one where your, you get more time but you're working it out still and I've seen the first group bucket, seen the last group bucket, I've seen groups in every order but I, there is sort of a feeling among actors I think of like, well at the first group that don't know what they want yet so they don't know what to ask for and like can feel like a bit of a disadvantage then I think there is some truth to that. But also I think there may be, it's grading on a curve of it where you guys know that too and well we hadn't gotten to that point yet in the day and I'm sure he could do it if we wanted him to.
Pam: I think it really depends on a lot of factors again and this is awful to say I'm sorry to say it but that are out of everybody's control. Like for instance last summer I did a comedy spot it was incredibly well written, just so well written and was shot in New York, which is why we didn't work on it and a cast in New York and then we did a little casting in Chicago. There were definitely the actors that came in. We had people come in from second city and stuff, but it was really specific and they played with it but we knew what we wanted it to be It was, what it was in that case, it didn't matter if you were first or last because we want really figuring it out.
And we did New York casting and then I flew to Chicago and we did Chicago casting and some of the folks in Chicago that were in upright citizens brigade and second city ad lived and were hilarious, but they didn't knock out the first group that I saw in New York because it was all really well written and funny I mentioned the times when that would really hold true are like you were just saying, like if you get a script and the copy is meek and the directors writer and working with the writer or maybe what the client approved wasn't what the copywriter really wanted, then yeah, it can definitely be a disadvantage.
And I guess it depends on the director's process. I try to be open when I come, I'm like, well I have a vision of how it should be even it's like make it better I don't care whose idea it is, like let's make better. And I do think again, and this is a not to shift blame to the omnipresent client but it's sort of. I can like the first free, if you came in first again and you did great or not or whatever, I'm going to recommend you because I know you can do it, but it's now the time, it's four o'clock in the afternoon and now we're on the 70th person. And they're like, well, I don't remember till we did eat two, why he didn't, we didn't, we weren't having them look at the dog and we weren't having to look at the wife and its like, yeah, I know. Then it's an advantage if I know someone.
Pam: Hey, I have a question for you.
Pam: Do other directors, like you said this earlier, you asked me if I do casting or something and I meet new people, which is great and they're not at all right for it or I know they're not going to get picked. I will remember that and write it down and, it's in my computer and then I'll ask her that. I'm doing another job. Can you remember that guy that came in? He juggled and it was so funny or he fell. You can do other people do that?
Toby: I would say no. I mean we get director requests but a lot of the time, most of the times it's people they have worked with recently or they know and then you get, like the same thing that you've seen us as well creative. I went to college with this guy or here's my roommate and unless he's an actor in LA, so let's bring them in and we get that but I mean, I would not say it's common. I'm not going to say it never happens because I don't know everything but the idea of like, I saw you in that audition, right? What? Now that I'm saying that, maybe it happens more than that thing because I do think it was like, oh, I saw you on that and you were really good and I took a note of that and then I requested you in, maybe it's not so intentional but that they just remember, oh yeah, he auditioned for subway and he happened to come in for this too and maybe this I just chose was great but I remember what he brought on that last one and that was really good. So I think you're more unique in sort of the diligence of like, I'm gonna write this person's name down. I'm going to remember their types of hot.
Pam: (inaudible) 35: 34 always do that sometimes I’ll say, do you remember that brown haired guy was really tall or whatever. I tried to because it's just such a human thing, right? Like I'll come in and I'll have a crappy day and my casting comments, okay and like, maybe I wasn't giving great feedback or my direction wasn't concise and that was confusing and then I'll have another, what I mean?
Toby: Yeah, totally so we were talking about that part of your process in making selects. Does your process more where like you're kind of keeping a running list? Like I know some directors where they and this feels efficient to me but they sort of have their sheets organized and they have it like they're stacked towards the best for this role is on the top and then it goes down. So, at the end of the day, they let her, just grab like the top four and nine because then, they can kind of like shift them as they're going home. I'm going to slide him in there and that the other and sometimes when we go we'll stop at lunch and do selects for the first half of the day or something. It really depends on the day but someone had asked me like, do they review the whole session? Which is, no they don’t? But like you were saying, like, I don't really remember Toby from the, Oh, let's watch him, let’s watch him and remember.
Pam: I don't to say I used to get really frustrated when people did that, when and it's usually not me because I do keep notes on my computer.
Pam: But I think, to be really honest and this is like, you do some things right and you do some things wrong and then you learn. So I used to get frustrated when an agency or a client or somebody would be like, well, can we review? And I feel like Jesus Christ, like, weren't you guys paying attention? But I learned a lot of times that I’ll make my notes and I'll make my pick and I'll get to the end of the day and the second to last person I like better than the first person and now I'm going with the second to last person and then we'll go back and then somebody will go, well, I'm not sure.
And I'll be like, yeah and we'll go back and look and I'll be like what my gut, trust your gut I always, kind of way and I was like trust your gut, trust your gut and I've asked you this and I've asked casting directors this on both coasts and in Europe and stuff. When I do the initial callback, I mean a casting, sorry and I make callback picks and I do this in the callback to when we're all done at the end of the day or stacking everything up. I'll say to the casting church or what do you think? Did I miss something? And I expect and hope that you're honest. You had Brian and he was the first choice, but then you put them on the desks and really think you would like him. Like I know you and I know him and I think that's important.
Toby: Yeah, that can be hard to do in the room because I think sort of politically where it's like it needs to be the director's decision and they don't want to feel like, oh well wait, you just changed your mind because the casting director said, they don't know what we're trying to do or whatever even though it's like, well they know actors but that happens and I feel like it more happens kind of sudden. Like what do you think of this person? Do they work or what's their story? Are they an improviser? Cause then that gives you ammo and we're like, this person's like hardcore UCB. Really good improviser, oh cool, good to know and actors a lot of time are asking like, I shouldn't, did they watch our real, I'm like, no
I feel like nine times out of 10 they just Google you if they're curious and then look at your IMCP page. If you have one? And then it's like your name pops up with some spots on it maybe they'll watch it but like the whole sort of the traditional like real attached here, what we have, which is an LA casting profile page and stuff. I'm like, no I don't I can probably count on one hand the time someone's like, can I watch that person's real?
Pam: Yeah, no, I've never done that because anyway, you want to see what they're doing for this.
Pam: That's great, I also always wonder as a director and I've said this to my actor friends and I definitely said this to you, sometimes I wonder if it's a good thing or a bad thing to let on that I know you and it really it's just so like I always try to make the right decision and I don't want to say too much and I think sometimes for me, I'm like, I want to tell the agency full disclosure, I worked with this guy all the time. He's great because I want them to know that I have complete confidence that this person's going to deliver and I have, we've done that a million times. On the other hand, depending on the team, depending on the client, that can be frustrating for them or intimidating or annoying or some people come in and they're like, I like that guy, Pam, but I've seen him in three spots we want people we've never seen.
And then other people were like, well we're getting comedy. What about that guy in the pizza commercial, I really love that, (inaudible) 39: 54.
Toby: So I think that really is a hard one because it does depend on the dynamic where you're likes you don't want them to feel like, oh you're just trying to hire your friend. But at the same time you don't want them to sort of miss out on what you know this person is really good. And it's sort of comments like, same with actors It's like, oh I know this director, I've worked with them but you walk in and it's like I feel you could sort of let the director take the lead, but you've always been really open about it?
Pam: I try to be just because I think maybe it makes them more comfortable. But then I'm so like, I'll say today I've had, I'm trying to think, one, I can't remember this sitting with you in a casting session and somebody coming in and I just decided I was going to let them know I'd be like, oh Kelly, like garages. And then sometimes I would go out and say goodbye but you can tell pretty quick if that's annoying to agency or positive and it also depends on if I'm doing a, when we did the casting and all that stuff for Verizon or something that we wanted real people, I didn't know anybody that we wound up with, but some of the people that came in I did know and I told them. I told you, I was like, let's not know each other because I don't want to cloud anybody's thinking like what this is a real person and we don't want to know that, it's an actor yeah.
Toby: I think it depends on the, but your intention is always so pure and clean. Just like, oh let's just be honest and friendly and this person's awesome and you guys should know that. So well let's see where that goes but I feel like those politics can be much stickier than we feel it’s necessary like whatever all right, cool. And I've been in the room with you and that's happened. They're like, yeah, we just, no. I don't think it's cool. He's really good if you're like them. I get where you're coming from and that's fine.
So you guys generally these days we kind of pick, once the callbacks happen and you're making your picks, you pick like two or three. I tell people, yeah, it's stay two is pretty standard. Like first choice back up and then there's times where the creatives need to pass it through their executive creative director and then, they're going to get them like five, four choices. But that's before it even goes to the client but that's, I feel like it's more common, but not the standard and then the client will come back and said they don't like their shirt and their attitude and she looks like the ex with two small boobs.
Pam: So frustrating.
Toby: Yeah and I mean, and that's sort of always the joke where it's like, can't they see that's what I tell actors actually and they're like asking about where Joe, I'm like, look, dress to suggest but you're not the wardrobe stylist okay like let them like, they can figure it out. But there is the truth of like, this client has a really hard time seeing things that's like, for instance, we have to do at least one take of the scripts that we give the client, like word for word. Because if we started going on the script, they're going to freak out and they're going to up like, what are you doing? That's not what you showed us. When, I'm set, we're gonna get some different options.
Pam: Yeah, totally and I also think, I mean the only thing I would say about wardrobe and the call back, I don't look at that at all. And it's so funny, I used to do some of the dove commercials where we cast real women, so these are not actors, so they're a little uncomfortable and so my job was to kind of bring them in and make them comfortable and real people. I mean I work with wardrobe stylists and hair and makeup people but I don't necessarily, I don't know what I look like. I'm not worried about that, or how I'm presenting myself so I'm aware of that but I feel like I'm a little bit at a disadvantage because I don't often get to talk to a client. For instance, I just did a commercial for something where the woman was going to have to be, I think she, I don't remember, she was in a bathing suit or short, she was going to be in something form fitting.
And some of the girls that came in were great, but they happen to dress like me. Like they had a big baggy sweatshirt and shorts, and some of the people and I, this was my mistake but I didn't, it didn't occur I was like, oh yeah, I know her or oh yeah, she was in the room with her and she'll look cute. And I was like, she's fine. But then when some of the people that I wanted got rejected the plan was like, well, how can I tell? She looks like I was like, shoot, I should have had girls. I had to wear bathing suits coming and bathing suits. It's like you learn that and then you don't make that mistake. Yeah,
Toby: Yeah, so it's sort of wrapping up. Is there anything, do you feel like there's any sort of general truths about what makes a good actor? For instance, for me, what I'm telling actors is like, it's good to listen. It's good to be a good listener because things change and you're getting adjustments and that's good. So if there's any sort of general truth for you there and then maybe more subjective truth for your personal where you're like, yeah, I like actors like this or that or like to play or whatever, because there's, to be clear, there's different directors like different stuff. Like I was saying, it’s all subjective. It's dating, but I think it's good for people to know this as a role kind of for every job I would feel very conferencing. It's good to be a good listener. That's a good skill set to practice and to have.
Pam: A hundred percent I think. I mean, I don't know, as long as I've been doing this, I still feel like I have so much to learn and I've said this to you and I need to do this to me. I need to come run camera for you on a session to see how other directors do it. Well, when I was at production assist and I saw how other directors worked and so, I was like, well I don't want to do that or that person is screaming and I don't think he's getting a better performance.
I think I love when the actors are they sort of have an okay for call backs. I love when I have something in mind and they're going to try something like Steve Crow being and pretending that his dad is angry and sort of using that, that wasn't it, didn't fly and it didn't work and it probably, anger is like a hard line because people get really triggered by that, right? But I think, I feel like that makes me interested. Like they have a point of view, so I, like I don't mind when someone comes into casting and they have a point of view, even if they get it wrong.
Toby: So they're making a choice basically.
Pam: They make a choice and kind of embrace it but when I'm on set with actors, I think my favorite thing is when they know the script like down pat, they are flexible and willing to play. And I think that's the best thing for, I don't know what another director would say, for me, the hardest thing is when you're directing an ensemble, I would love to hear what other people think about this, but I've definitely I directed Sex In the City and Desperate Housewives and many times the girls would be sitting around a table and two people don't need any direction.
They've nailed it and the other two people do or in a scene with three people, two people are hilarious and the third person is just not in the flow. And so it's like I'm always thinking of what would make this a better experience for them and for me, how can I go up to them? And some actors I think this is really hard for me and famous people do this as much as people that we don't know their names yet. It's not personal, It's high like if I tell you, hey great, let's try it this way some people say that the best actors go, okay, cool, more there'll be, sometimes they'll even say, sometimes they'll question it and that's okay. As long as it's genuine, I don't mind.
Toby: like clarifying.
Pam: Yeah, clarify and a lot of people say that too, which I think is always very nice when you like somebody. Instead of just gonna why do you want me to do it like that? They'll go, could you clarify that? And then we'll be like, sure. I'm sorry that was confusing this is what I meant.
Toby: Yeah, I talked to actors about. I think a good way to do that is like, okay, so like putting it in their own words back to them. So just to clarify, you want me to like take the glass but didn't look at her first, but it looks kind of like, wow and then drink. Yeah, but not so much with that look, I mean it's like you kind of workshop it in the moment prior to just to kind of find it and things. That's the collaboration and dig. This is sort of a good one to kind of wrap up on, which is like you got actors can be so intimidated by directors and I like to tell them that this is your collaborator, they want to find someone that is right look-wise and sort of tone wise, but that they can work with and this and that. Like doing those clarifications and like, because a lot of time actors are like, I don't want to seem like I don't know what I'm talking about, but I do have questions but I'm not going to say anything and I'm just.
Pam: Oh no, they should always say something I always wonder about that and I, this is a good one to wrap up on because I think it is a collaboration and from my perspective to say to actors, I mean all I want to do is support what you do. And I need in order to do that, your process is different from her process is different from his. If you share that with me, I share my process with the agency. I'm very open. This is how I like to do it. This is why I don't want anybody near the camera. This is why I'm telling the actor they did a great job. Even though we know we're not there yet because I can tell they're nervous. I mean this is my job, this is what I do. I would love to be the kind of director that actors want to work with and ultimately like if I get to do more long form, like I'd love to be the kind of director that actors say no, I didn't think I could do that, but I did or I don't know him in a 32 sec commercial. I don't always get the opportunity to do that but I think it's really important for the actors to clarify if they don't know but it's all how you say it.
Pam: know and just to come and just like you said, what you need to do, be a really good listener. But there's nothing wrong with asking if you don't understand because if I gave you confusing direction and you don't clarify it, then my takeaway is that you don't get it and they'd still move on, we don't want to do that we want it to be the best so.
Toby: Yeah, exactly.
Pam: That's great.
Toby: Beautiful, well this has been really great. Thank you so much for your time.
Pam: Thank you. I want to come to your class.
Toby: Hey, you're more than welcome. I'll follow up with you and I'll give you a time and you can come in.
(Cross talking )
Pam: I could be a student (inaudible) 49:42
Toby: Pam Thompson, the actor.
Toby: Coming from the administrative side and just wanting to start acting.
Toby: Lovely, great. Well thank you so much and I'm going to stop recording now.
Pam: Yeah, okay alright.