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Learning from commercial agents and casting directors at Scott Powers Studios

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It was pouring rain the night Scott Powers Studios held their Commercial Agents Forum but that didn’t deter the attendees. They weathered the storm to get a chance to audition and interview with panelists Phil Cassese from Stewart Talent, Elizabeth Gans from Stark Naked Productions, Alison Franck from Liz Lewis Casting Partners, Doug Kesten from Paradigm and Commercial Director Kenan Moran.

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For actors interested in getting up close and personal to agents who cast commercials among other things and casting directors who do the casting for these commercials, this was certainly the perfect opportunity and one of many networking events hosted by the studio. Scott Powers Studios is located at 135 West 29th Street right in the heart of NYC.

The evening began with a chance to ask the panelists questions before performing an on-camera commercial audition of their choice. This was followed by one-on-one interviews with each of the five panelists and remarks from each one about such things as delivery, choice of commercials, appearance, marketability and more.

What helped make this evening work so well was the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Performing in front of your peers to agents, casting directors and directors can be nerve-wracking but the staff worked hard to ensure everyone was as relaxed as possible.

As a really cool perk Scott Powers gave us each a lotto ticket for the drawing taking place that same night.

Learning from the commercial agents, casting directors and directors

Scott started off the evening noting that business in the commercial world is very active as is all parts of the entertainment industry. After Scott introduced each of the panelists and they each talked a bit about what they do it was the actors turn to ask them questions. The panelists were so gracious with their time and advice that we all learned a lot.

The conversation began with a focus on today’s look and feel. Years ago for woman it was all about being thin and beautiful and for men it was the look of the time but nowadays it’s about being real.

“Twenty years ago it was either really good looking or the chubby bearded guy but now it is everybody. I think the opportunity is good for actors. Talent comes first. I always battle trying to book talent over look,” Doug remarked.

“Talent will always win the day,” added Phil. “All you can do is the best job you can and be true to yourself. You have to go in and do it.”

“There’s a difference between a young mom and Brooke Shields,” Alison said recalling one casting where they chose one girl over the prettier girls because she was the best actress.

It’s all about being real and real nowadays doesn't just mean thin. They want anyone looking at the commercial to relate to the people they are watching. “There are a lot of real people in commercials,” emphasized Alison. “In reality things keep changing. They want real!”

“I don’t think you can ever say never,” she continued. “Now that I work in every field I can’t say that person will never work because the next day that will be the person they need.”

“With so many commercials they don’t know what they are looking for until they see it. So many are behavior and personality driven,” added Doug.

“The thing that has been keeping us busy has been the testimonials from real people that actors can’t touch,” commented Elizabeth.

It’s Audition Time

The conversation then turned to the audition. Kenan offered some great advice here noting, “Never give them an excuse to not hire you. When you come in you are the reality so be empowered by the fact that you are the only one on the screen.”

Alison pointed out some of the things not to do and how we sometimes make it easy for them to NOT work with us. “So many people act like this is a problem, that we've asked them to do something out of their way. Do what you need to do to prepare,” she continued. ‘We only have so many slots and usually we can fill them six times over. I just want actors who want to be there even if you bomb – even if you made a bold choice but are happy with it.”

“Early is being on time,” Elizabeth piped in. “Preparedness is key as is the proper headshot and resume and no excuses coming in,” she continued. They don’t want to hear there was a lot of traffic or you didn't have the time to memorize your lines. If you want to succeed you need to be positive and be ready.

Being prepared is also about keeping your skills fine-tuned. “We have a definite wealth of ways to train in the city but once you get to us and to the studio you are on your own,” she added. “You have us as an audience now so take advantage of that.”

And when it comes to actually doing an audition she emphasized the fact that “the audition is the icing on the cake; own the room and ask the questions. You are an important cog in all of this. If you make me look good then my agency is going to like me as a casting director. I look for someone that has a full box of blocks. I’m on your side,” Elizabeth concluded.

In fact, that was another comment the panelists emphasized and that is they want us to be good. They want to have a difficult time deciding who would be best for the job or who did the best audition. They don’t want us to make that decision easy for them.

This topic of being good evoked a lot of comments from the panelists and Doug offered a variety of advice beginning with, “Once you are in the room to audition it is beyond our control.” Then he added some suggestions such as, “Don’t have an attitude. Unless you are having a good time showing up you shouldn't even bother.”

And more sharing of knowledge

The conversation then turned to how technology has created a whole new realm for commercials. It’s made life a lot easier for those producing and editing commercials.

Kenan can relate to this first hand and recalled producing and doing a studio shoot for World Wars. “We shot on location and then we had a company put in computer-generated imagery to interact with the talent. Technology has gotten so sophisticated you can shoot stuff and load it up without problems.”

Years ago I worked with DreamWorks for the animated film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. I had the chance to see the computer geeks in action creating the various images. I was amazed at what they could do on the computer. That was a while ago and it was a slow process, which I’m sure is a bit faster now, but the end result was truly amazing.

Next on the agenda was explaining how the agent/client relationship works, what roles you will be sent out for and who makes the final decision from both sides. “It has to do with the agency and the client and who is driving who,” Kenan commented. “That dynamic has to be established first. If the agency has an empowered relationship they can guide the client towards the quirky sort of character. Essentially the directors and agency creators have the most sway.”

Phil focused on being proactive and what is “IN.”

“The most fun part of the job is convincing the industry that this weird looking person is really good for the job. Then seeing that casting work. There is still a lot of the young mom. It’s not just weirdos these days,” Phil remarked.

What is the perfect headshot today was also discussed because nothing is constant in the acting world and that includes headshots. “Nothing glossy” was echoed from the audience.

Kenan was especially verbal about this topic noting, “As long as the headshots look like you that is the only thing that matters (unless you are hotter he jokingly added). Just make sure your picture embodies you. I use headshots to keep me organized. The aesthetic of the headshot is secondary. I’m not a big fan of the multiple headshots.”

In fact, all the panelists agreed that the headshot has to embody who you are.

“It’s being you. Headshots are a reminder of who you are,” added Alison. “A great headshot is a good way to market yourself. There is something about having an image that people will remember. If you keep using the same headshot over and over it helps us remember who you are.”

Other advice offered included having a white border of about ½ an inch thick around your headshot, wearing a shirt that pops in the picture, looking face forward with eyes that communicate.

As far as when most castings take place Doug remarked, “There’s a whole bunch of reasons for which days will be quiet but commercials have to be driven by volume.”

“It’s easier for some people to leave the job on Friday,” remarked Kenan.

“I've always found Fridays to be busy. Mondays are good for theater people because it is the actor’s day off,” suggested Alison.

Phil echoed this noting, “Sometimes the summer can be busy and even Fridays because there are freelance casting directors.”

Nowadays there is also something else to consider and that’s the fact that there are more avenues for actors. “The Internet and television are two different sources for the client to get the message out. The Internet is still being felt out,” explained Kenan.

Thoughts after watching the actors

Alison, who has been working in casting for almost 20 years, and has been with Liz Lewis Casting Partners for almost 3 years casting for commercials, voice-overs, film, TV as well as musicals, added some remarks after the actors performed. She also teaches some multi-day courses at Scott Powers Studios and feels that helps the actors relax. So, she passed along some final thoughts comparing those multi-day events to this one night seminar because she does notice a difference.

“Once I work with the actors, and share my insight, every actor will relax. What I am looking for is a great way to find their honest selves. To relax and be comfortable. I feel like no matter what, we always find that place by the second class. Everyone is owning who they are, and behaving honestly and comfortable in their own skin. Which is a huge accomplishment. Once I give people permission to just do what they already know how to do which is to ‘be a person,’ and then add the layer of ‘a person with a problem who found a solution’ (the formula for a commercial in most cases) it becomes this really fun idea that everyone is excited to get up to try, and for many...a career in commercials has begun!”

A bit about Scott

The man behind this evening event and also the multi-day courses is Scott Powers, whose years of experience have helped him focus his company. Scott is truly all about the business of acting, which is why he does his single and multi-day courses.

“I started doing Forums 27 years ago to address the on-going needs necessary for the success of the actor: current education, skilled auditions and effective interviews.

“Our Forums are educational in nature. We are educators first and foremost. Knowledge is power. The more you know about the industry, the more you will be successful in the industry.

“There is a lot of out-of-date information, misinformation or no information floating around that can knock a career off course,” he continued. “That’s why we have active agents, casting directors, managers and directors impart their knowledge and insights with actors, right as they are coming from their offices.

“This education aspect is blended in with the actors’ opportunity to audition for our panelists in a relaxed, supportive environment. They also receive five pages of written evaluation of their audition. We stress to the panelists to keep their comments honest and panelists’ names are not included on the evaluations to ensure each actor receives the most constructive, unbiased feedback possible.”

Scott continued adding, “We also believe in preparedness. This is why we provide three days of coaching – for monologues, headshot/résumé review and how to do an effective interview. Like all the panelists, we want each actor to be the best they can be. Everybody is plugging for them.”

Scott concluded his comments noting, “We provide a nurturing environment that is also results oriented. We have many success stories about how our Forums resulted in representation, auditions or jobs. For the last 27 years, it appears we’re doing the right thing for actors.”

For more information about Scott Powers Studios and to see what other programs are coming up go to www.scottpowers.com or call 212-242-4700.

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