There have been a lot of articles and studies recently on the pleasures of watching series and why binge watching is addictive. Platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sony etc. are providing a huge amount of content which is being seen globally. In my life, however, of course the greater joy comes from actually working on them and being part of the casting process.
I have been lucky enough to have worked on some great TV shows in the last couple of years and I couldn’t be more delighted. One of the things I am especially happy about is the recognised need for diversity in casting. As series are developed and financed in a different way to feature films, the decision making process is also different.
This is a game changer in so many ways as now talent has access to more job opportunities than ever before. The digital platforms cast a very wide net when looking for cast for their shows.
I have just finished a two year stint on the board of the European Chapter of CSA and headed up the Diversity and Inclusion committee during my time there. It was very rewarding to see real progress being made – we are after all a very diverse world and reflecting this in our media content is essential. The philosophy of the different digital platforms is very healthy and I have felt very privileged to be working on shows which are actively ensuring that casts are diverse in every possible way.
Casting for TV is fun as the writing is great and the sides for our casting sessions are usually good to work with. We are not usually playing the find a star game so that gives us a lot more scope to discover new talent which is one of the great joys of a casting director. And of course, when an actor books a lead in a new show that goes on to be a huge success it is a real career changer and it is amazing to see that happen and to be a part of the process.
TV seems to be becoming a more and more positive force in the world and is helping to unite people as opposed to the other forces who are trying to separate and polarise us. I watch (and cast) with interest to see where the next decade takes us.
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth”
(Marco Aurelio – Emperor of Rome 161 -180 A.D)
Marco Aurelio was right or at least that is certainly my opinion! Nothing has really changed in the last two thousand years but the way media is reporting current affairs and the way politicians across the globe seem to be trying to push us towards believing in absolutes. Opinions are often being disguised as facts. This seems to be spilling over into many areas and our ways of discussing even fairly personal issues seem to be suffering as a result.
Being a casting director is about being able to see things from other people’s perspective. One of the many pleasurable parts of working as a casting director is reading scripts and entering into new universes. I love analysing the requirements of each role. Each director has his or her own particular vision and each production has its own special needs. Understanding these and putting forward suggestions of actors is always a complicated puzzle and it is very satisfying when a project is finally cast and each role has an actor attached.
I love having my opinion valued but I also need to be flexible and open enough to know when to let go if the director or producer doesn’t see an actor the same way as I do. And I also have to make sure that I have truly understood their perspective. Sometimes I might think an actor is perfect for a role and the director and/or producer totally disagree or vice-versa; this doesn’t make the actor better or worse. It is just a matter of perspective.
One of the skills which I believe needs to be developed in order to be able to see things from other people’s perspective is active listening. It is so easy to just want to argue your point without truly listening to the other person’s opinion. This is a very important part of working in any team and extremely important for actors. Actors can sometimes stop listening due to nerves or insecurities and their castings and performances suffer.
The world would be a boring place if we all had the same opinions but in my opinion it is important to remember that our own personal opinions are based on perspectives rather than facts.
And this is of course all just my personal opinion based on my perspective as a casting director!!
"The level of our success is limited only by our imagination and no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted." - Aesop
The summer of 2016 so far has been dominated by world events and a sense of impending doom. Sometimes the supposed superficiality of my world makes me stop and think; am I really making the best use of my life, my time, my energy?
So I read, I investigate and I think. And the more information I get, the more I realise what an important part of a functioning society the Arts are. There is a strong sense of disengagement from culture and film especially in Spain where the Arts seem to be being increasingly side-lined by the current government policies. And somehow I believe that many of our current social problems and general lack of joy are due to the fact that we are living in an age where the Arts are not being given their due respect and attention. A society with a strong inclusive cultural life is far happier and less fragmented than one without.
I have spent the last 5 years trying to get actors to go to the cinema and support Spanish and/or Catalan films. This has not been very successful. The most common response when I ask actors if they have seen the latest national production is normally an embarrassed shrug of the shoulders. On the other hand, I am delighted by how many actors are supporting each other by going to see Micro teatre.
AISGE’S recent study saying that 54% of actors haven’t worked even one day as an actor between 2014 and 2016 provoked a number of debates on social media. There were the usual complaints about how unfair the profession is, how only the same people work, etc etc. Nobody seemed to think about what we can to support the industry or to improve it.
If you are an actor, please ask yourself the question: if you don’t support your own industry, how can you expect it to provide employment for you?
So now I am going to try another tack in my one-woman attempt to encourage cinema attendance. An investigative study found that frequent cinema attendees have particularly low mortality risks –those who never attended the cinema had mortality rates nearly 4 times higher than those who visit the cinema at least occasionally (THE LONG-TERM BENEFITS OF PARTICIPATING IN THE ARTS - Konlaan, Bygren, and Johansson 2000).
So not only do I recommend that you actually go to the cinema so that our industry prospers but also so that you live longer!!
“The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.” - Euripides
September always seems like a time for new beginnings – a time to take stock and plan for the following twelve months – a leftover from schooldays I guess.
Sometimes as a casting director I find it difficult to find the right balance. 2015 has been especially difficult in this respect. Somehow at the beginning of the year I got involved with a couple of projects (a feature film and a series) that were basically a waste of time as their producers were either incompetent or out and out fraudsters. Neither project got made but they did involve a lot of time, expense and stress, which left me feeling jaundiced to say the least. However to balance this I was truly delighted by the success of two very low budget films I was involved with “Victoria” and “Tercer Grado” which are both fully exceeding both mine and the filmmakers’ expectations.
So as I plan the following year my resolution is to follow my heart and my head and to only get involved with projects that are truly viable and that I genuinely believe in. If I have any nagging sense of doubt, then I will trust that and just say “no”.
I am deeply grateful to the continued buoyancy of the commercial industry in Barcelona and salute all the professionals involved; producers, art designers, directors of photography, technicians, caterers, stuntsmen, actors, models, etc etc who continue to attract world-class clients to work here. The fact that I have cast over 50 international commercials so far this year is a testament to this professionalism - long may it last! I am also in debt to Messi and Shakira - great that they are based in Barcelona.
On the other hand, I am frustrated by many things about the current system especially how freelancers “autonomos” are treated. The lack of security or social benefits provided is frankly unacceptable and it really pisses me off when I hear of colleagues who have had work-related accidents or are simply sick and there is no provision to help or support them. I am convinced that change needs to happen but am not sure how this can be brought about. All ideas welcome.
And to end my stock-taking I have to say that I am so delighted by the response to my appeal to help Tamara look after her orphaned brother and sister. It really makes me optimistic about the future when I see people rallying around to help and support one of their community.
Thank you to each and every one who has contributed to my very personal cause.
“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster;
And treat those two impostors just the same..”
- 'If' by Rudyard Kipling
As you all well know an actor’s life can be tough, there’s an enormous amount of rejection and frustration. However the highs and moments of joy are so special and deserve to be cherished. I believe that everyone, and not only actors, should have their own personal box of joy. A place in your mind that you reserve for happy memories that you can access at times of sadness, worry, stress or rejection. Or even just when you feel like giving yourself a little boost of positivity. Remember the feeling when your agent called you to tell you you’d got the part, the moment when the curtain went down and the applause started and you knew that you had given your very best performance or when you are praised for your talent. They don’t have to be major triumphs or even things that other people necessarily would find that amazing, just milestones in your career that bring a smile to your face.
I was especially reminded of this when I read a post on Laia Costa’s page on Facebook after her triumphant week winning a major award in Germany and her film “Victoria” opening to rave reviews from somebody saying “Hola Laia respecto el teu treball i el premi que t'an donat pero espero que no s'et puji al cap despres l'aterratje es molt dur” which roughly translates to “I respect your work and the prize you’ve been given but hope it doesn’t go to your head as the come-down afterwards is very tough”.
I totally disagree – I truly believe that we should live the moments of triumph and joy in our lives to the maximum. Celebrate everything that can be celebrated, dance with unbridled joy and savour the giddy heights of success. Sure they may not last and sure life has its swings and roundabout but as an actor (or indeed anyone) knowing how to take the rough with the smooth is an important life lesson. And when things go badly and you feel immersed in black clouds, remember that this too will pass and that the lows help us to appreciate the highs so also have value.
where the magic happens
I truly love my job but there are frustrating moments. The greatest joy of a casting director is sitting in a cinema and watching magic happen on screen. For me this is when I see that the actor and role are perfectly matched, and that I have played a part in this process.
However there are many obstacles to us casting witches being able to wave our wands and cast the spell which convinces directors and producers to at least consider the unknown actor. Film financing nowadays is largely dependent on cast as this helps pre-sales. This means that producers want “names”. A name is an actor who has box-office appeal and who is sufficiently well known across the world to make people want to invest or pre-purchase the film. There are very few real names and these are the actors that everyone knows – the stars like Tom Cruise, Michael Fassbender, Nicole Kidman, Jessica Chastain.
As we discussed at the Casting Directors Panel at Cannes this year which I was privileged to be part of along with Nancy Bishop, Matthew Lessal and Susan Shoemaker, it is not exactly fun for a casting director trying to cast this kind of talent. It’s just a matter of trying to do a deal with their agent who normally have no or very little interest in independent film made in Europe. It’s about meeting budget and contractual requirements and finding spaces in a busy actor’s calendar. Susan Shoemaker has a great way of explaining it via the casting triangle – at the top there are the stars who everyone wants as they automatically guarantee the bankability of your Project but really where the magic happens is when you cast either an actor/actress on the way up or even on the way down.
And I don’t believe that this kind of casting makes for better films. Successful independent films usually have casting of relative unknowns who have put their heart and soul into their performance. Finding the perfect actor during the casting process is the true buzz of a casting director. When casting directors meet up these are the triumphs that we share amongst ourselves. I still remember Pep Armengol’s delight when he found the young actors for “Pa Negre”; Francesc Colomer and Marina Comas who went on to win the Goya for best new actor and actress. Discovering new talent is where the magic happens.
"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving." - Albert Einstein
The Festival of Cannes is one of the fixed points in my calendar every year. I love the buzz and seeing the wonderful mixture of people as they flock down the Croisette. There is a mixture of high glamour and low sleaze. Sometimes it feels like everyone is on the make; producers running from meeting to meeting trying to get financing for their next project, stars twinkling in endless press meetings, high class prostitutes lurking like stalking cats in the lobbies of 5 star hotels hoping to land their next millionaire client and just about everybody else trying to blag invitations to the best parties.
I find it inspiring to see films and meet filmmakers from all over the world. Wandering round the Pavillions at the Village International or the stands at the Marché du Film gives you the opportunity to mingle with all kinds of characters and simply observe the film community at large in one of their natural habitats. The desire to tell stories and make films is universal.
I always leave Cannes hungover, slightly exhausted but reassured that the film industry is alive and kicking. Great films are being produced across the globe and I am lucky enough to be involved in this crazy, mixed up industry.
Photo Credit: Starlet by Ericd@enwiki