Rookie Mistakes of a Long-time Casting Director, First-time Stage Parent

by Casting Director Justin Radley, CCDA

“It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”  ― Mahatma Gandhi

“We're all victims of our own hubris at times.”  ― Kevin Spacey

As someone who has been working in casting for close to 20 years, I thought I knew everything there is to know about the process. I recently had an eye-opening experience, however, when my 10-year-old son shot his first commercial. On the day of the shoot I had to work, but my wife was able to rearrange her work schedule in order to take him to set. My wife is not an actress. She had never been on a set before, so she was more nervous about the day than my son was. I did everything I could think of to calm her nerves. The day before the shoot I reassured her that everything would run smoothly, and I briefed both her and my son about what to expect on set. I put together a folder that had my son’s work permit and Coogan Account information. I included the map to the location and even highlighted important information on the call-sheet, like parking instructions and the production supervisor’s cell number. My son had a late morning call-time, so they wouldn’t have to get up too early or fight rush-hour traffic to make it to the location. I was confident that things would run as smoothly as I claimed they would. But then my phone buzzed. It was a text from my wife.

-He’s supposed to have a passport

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Intended Use: They Turned My Commercial into an Ashtray

A Mother's Day Message from Casting Director Justin Radley, CCDA

 

Having two kids of my own, the approach of Mother’s Day has made me reflect on all of the crappy, handmade gifts I brought home from school every year for mom. Of course she did what a good mother is supposed to do and acted like the papier-mached-macramed-crayon-colored-dreamcatcher-ish-thingy-ma-crap was the best gift she had ever received. Her enthusiasm would only be equaled by the slightly less crappy thing my older sister made her. One gift in particular stands out in my mind as being extremely special. It was a hand-thrown ceramic bowl that I glazed red because that was (and still is) mom’s favorite color. I was pretty impressed with my first pottery effort and knew mom would be pleased, but it turned out my bowl had a slight design flaw. When my second grade teacher Mrs. Wise put it in the kiln the sides drooped considerably, and my work of art came out looking more like a warped Frisbee than a bowl for mom's Raisin Bran. 

Design flaws don't matter to moms on Mother's Day. Mom loved it. She unwrapped the wrinkled tissue paper and exclaimed, “Oh, Justin, this is the prettiest ashtray I've ever seen!" Ashtray, huh? She proceeded to pull out a Salem Menthol Ultra Light and soil the shiny red glaze with ashes. Hey, it was the 70s. Don't judge. I didn't. It's the prettiest ashtray she's ever seen. That was all that ran through my mind that Sunday morning. I didn't care much that mom had a different plan for my gift than its intended use. In fact, I didn't care about intended use at all... until about 25 years later... in an entirely different context. 

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Understanding the Dreaded Allback

by Casting Director Justin Radley, CCDA

            It’s 4:45 on a Friday afternoon, and we’re still waiting for callback selects from the agency.  It’s a little frustrating, since our last day of casting was two days ago, and the callback is supposed to start at 9:00AM tomorrow (Saturday) morning.  I know the agency creative team is flying into town today, so I’ll resist the urge to send another email nagging the producer for their picks.  The director gave us his picks this morning.  He had a decent number of choices, about 5 or 6 for each role, and more importantly, he was really happy with the overall casting.  It’s a good sign the callback tomorrow will be short enough that I might make it to my son’s baseball game Saturday afternoon.  Fingers crossed.

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Make It Your Own... But Not Too Much

by Casting Director Justin Radley, CCDA

          “Didn’t you read my treatment?”

          “They hardly even used the script!”

          “Why was everyone so over-the-top?”

          “You did get the latest script I sent, didn’t you?”

          It was an ambush.  The director and producer had me on speakerphone so they could take turns firing verbal blows at me.  Very efficient. 

          Now I don’t want to give the impression that getting yelled at by clients is a regular occurrence for me.  The majority of directors and creative individuals with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work and collaborate in the roughly 15 years I have been casting have been courteous and professional.  I can think of only two occasions in that time when a client was so fired up that voices were raised.  This is one of those times.     

          Apparently the director and producer had decided to watch the casting session with the agency creative team, which is unusual for first calls but not unheard of, and the director was embarrassed that the casting session didn’t play out the way the creative team had envisioned the concept of the spot.  Not even close.  Swing and a miss.  Big time.  Of this, they were making me painfully aware.

           As the verbal lashing continued, I reached for my morning coffee and sort of zoned out, trying to recall what could’ve caused things to go so horribly, horribly wrong.  The director’s first of the many queries in his line of…  uh…  querying echoed in my head, Didn’t you read my treatment?  …my treatment…  my…  treat…  ment…  Hmmm…  I think I’m onto something.

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Callback Turbulence: Over Scale vs. The Guarantee

by Casting Director Justin Radley, CCDA

We had been in the callback room for what seemed like a week.  It had been really only about seven hours, not days, but after ushering nearly a hundred people in and out of the room, I was beginning to feel like a flight attendant.  “Welcome aboard.  Please stow your bag in the overhead compartment…  and remember to keep your reaction subtle and dry while you do so.  The comedic timing is important when Guy #1 shouts, ‘Duck!’ so be sure to cheat that moment out to camera…  and don’t forget to buckle your seatbelt, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

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You've Just Won the Lotto

by Casting Director Justin Radley, CCDA

A recent Variety article by Jenelle Riley details the fortuitous path fledgling actor Jeffry Griffin took to land on screen with Ryan Gosling in a number of scenes of the hit movie The Big Short.  I love hearing success stories like this.  It proves that if an actor positions himself in the right place at the right time, that ethereal dream of booking a role in a major motion picture with a star-studded cast is attainable – as long as the actor is prepared.  According to the article, a PA on the film plucked Griffin “at random” from a pool of about a hundred extras to play Gosling’s assistant.  Although I’m skeptical the decision was as random as it may have appeared to Griffin at the time -- actors rarely realize how much thought goes into casting -- Griffin proved he could rise to the challenge and went on to have a great experience shooting a scene with Gosling.

While congratulations are certainly in order for Griffin, there was one part of Griffin’s success story that bugged me.  It was this:

…he got a call two weeks later from Charlotte Gale in the casting department.  She asked what he was doing the next day and he replied he was shooting a Louisiana Lotto commercial…  “She said, ‘Cancel it.  You’ve just won the Lotto.’”

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