Extras Casting

Okay, so I’ve gone back and forth about writing this blog post… but I’m going to go for it :)  I just wrapped extras casting for Daddy’s Home 2.  It was a demanding, 12 week project, but I’ve had a couple of weeks to detach myself from the chaos (although still flooded with paperwork), so this blog post will be a little better than the one I wrote when I literally had not slept more than 5 hours in 3 days!    This project was a long (in my eyes) 46 day shoot that brought me a lot of laughs, a few tears, the opportunity to make a lot of people happy, the challenge of disappointing a few and an immense lack of sleep.  But, all in all- I’m glad I did it!!

For those of you that know me, you know I have a history of handling extras casting for quite a few movies, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve said “I’m never doing extras again”… but I always end up doing it.  Why?  Who knows?!  I haven’t had a child- but I equate it to that whole childbirth experience- you forget about the torture, lack of sleep, and stressful parts!  (Moms, I know I can’t compare it… but just roll with me for now).

Anywho- I figured I’d blog about extras casting as a whole, because I think it’s a really crazy process that those on the outside may not realize and understand.  Also, it's a little therapeutic to write it out ;) 

The whole process starts with a meeting with the ADs (Assistant Directors) and the producers where they outline the show and what they are looking at in terms of extras or "background".  Typically, Aaron Kahl and myself sit in those meetings and smile and nod and show as much enthusiasm as we can while we exchange small glances of panic, where I can internally hear him say “how the heck are we going to pull that off” (in stronger AK language) and “no… no… don’t say it… fittings!”.  But, we sit there and say “Yea, awesome!  No problem!  Can’t wait”.  Then we get in the car, Aaron says a few choice words that I won’t repeat here and I say “it’s okay- we got this.  It won’t be that bad”… and then we get a margarita ;)

After that, we go deep into prep mode.  We geek out over getting organized.   We have fun hosting a couple open calls and getting people excited about the project. We set up our workspace, we shop for all the office supplies we could ever need (we both have a deep down love for shopping at Staples… weird I know).  We hang up these beautiful calendars and outline how many extras and what types they need for each day and we feel PREPARED!!  Then, we get a new extras breakdown…

EVERYTHING CHANGES. 

EVERYTHING ALWAYS CHANGES.  And then extras casting really begins.

For the next 12 weeks, everything would change, every day.  This is on every show.  The numbers of extras is constantly changing, people’s schedules are constantly changing and they are no longer available for when you thought they would be working, start times are shifting and I become the multi-tasking queen.  I am on my phone and email from the moment I wake up to the moment I shut my eyes for the couple hours of sleep I manage (with a few text messages happening throughout that brief sleep time). 

Amidst the chaos, we get to work with some awesome and super talented crew members, both local and new to filming in Boston.  The 2nd AD on every project becomes an Extras Casting Director’s best friend.  It’s funny actually, someone you’ve never met before quickly becomes the center of your every day.  I sometimes feel like the crazy girlfriend to my 2nd AD, calling, emailing and texting them and checking back every 5 minutes in hopes of getting a response.  They hold all the answers to my questions but they are also super busy on set, so it’s one of those relationships ;)  I had a fantastic 2nd AD on this show- I don’t know how she did what she did in terms of organizing such a big show.  Kudos all around to her.  Aside from the 2nd AD, I got to work with some familiar faces on this show like Roger, my fav set medic, Steve- one of the best in terms of background PA’s , Nikki in accounting, Shari in the production office and many, many more. 

This show gave me an opportunity to really connect Slate with both new and familiar faces in terms of extras.  It was nice to set a precedent in how Slate works with people, both in small and large numbers.  I spent many early mornings on set greeting those hard-working, committed folks, and I am so appreciative of each and every one who made the effort to show up, on time, and put in a long day of work.  Of equal importance to the amazing crew and the fantastic extras- I have to give a huge shout out to my standins and photo doubles.  Aside from the 2nd AD, they are the people I communicate with the most, and when you get a solid crew like I did on this movie, they actually make the day a bit easier.  So Chris, Robert, Maegan, Beau, Anastasia, Kristen, Ellen, Casey, Mai, Brooke, Brody, Giovanna and Catherine- you guys rock.  I am so grateful for your commitment to the show and for being the best standin/photo double group a girl could ask for!  For all the late night text mssgs and early morning calls, please know that I appreciated each and every day you were there for me :)

Lastly, the extras casting team- it’s everything.  Not only are they the ones helping it all come together and get done, but they are the emotional, mental and pick-me-up support that is needed on a daily basis.  We drank a lot of coffee (we should have stock in Dunkin Donuts), ate probably one too many slices of pizza, consistently enjoyed Thai Take-out Tuesdays, sent a lot of text messages, laughed a ton and made Aaron Kahl smile more than he ever has ;)  So George, Marina, Floris and Kim- you are the dream team.

For the past 12 or so weeks I have completely devoted my life to extras casting.   I have sent hundreds of thousands of booking emails, my team has made thousands of phone calls, I have seen smiling faces on set at 5 in the morning, and I’ve worked with many amazing crew members!  It’s been tough but awesome all at the same time.  I have not seen any of my outside of work friends or family and I’ve been a terrible wife… but I survived it all and can go back to reality now.   I met some really awesome people through this show and I’m grateful for the experience.  Plus, it taught me new multi-tasking skills that I never thought possible!

Will it be my last time doing extras for a movie?  Who knows?!  If we’re placing bets… probably not.  See you on the next one :)

Happy B-Day Blog

How does it feel to be 1 year old?  On one hand it feels like we just launched Slate, but on the other hand, it feels like 7 dog years- ha ha!  The year has flown, but I feel like Ashley, Aaron and I have experienced and accomplished what we never thought possible in 12 months.  Where has the time gone?

I still get the chills when I hear someone say “I went to Slate Casting today”-  wow.  We didn’t exist 13 months ago and now we’ve had the privilege of working with hundreds (thousands!) of incredible actors and ‘real people’ (if you want the inside scoop on Real People casting, see Ashley’s recent blog).  There’s nothing better than watching TV and seeing a commercial with people we know- love that feeling!  We have met so many new faces and have shared the studio with so many old friends in the biz- and everyone has played an important role in Slate’s first year of development- thank you!

To celebrate our big b-day, Ashley, Aaron and I had a birthday lunch (complete with party hats that no one even noticed at the restaurant- that cracked us up!) and then we decided to take some first-year photos.  We didn’t exactly prop ourselves up on a couch like most 1-year old baby photos with a big “I’m 1!” sign, but we did do the next best thing.  We hijacked a shopping cart and promptly put Ashley inside and Aaron and I ran down a hill with Ashley in it!  It was hilarious! Not to miss out on the fun, Aaron also took a turn while Ashley and I took turns steering and braking.  We were totally acting like 1-year olds and it was a total blast.  It kind of summed up who we are and what we wanted our company to be like.  Fun, lighthearted (we’re not doing brain surgery) and friendly.   We hope it shows when you walk into Slate- that’s our goal.

I wish we had made predictions on the eve of our opening on May 2, 2016.  Instead, I’ll make predictions for our 2nd year and you can be my witness.  Next year at this time we can revisit this list together and see how we did!

Julie’s Year 2 Predictions for Slate Casting:

  • We will need to order more Bacon Tape
  • We will meet hundreds of amazing actors and continue to help people build careers in Boston
  • We will keep our sense of humor and Aaron will continue to smile more
  • Ashley will trademark the phrase “I’m in the field”
  • Julie will continue to make a complete fool of herself on Instagram
  • We will never run out of lollipops
  • We will continue to make Slate a welcoming, inclusive and fun company to work with
  • We will eat cake and celebrate on May 2, 2018

So, hold me to it friends of Slate Casting.  Now it’s time to blow out our candle and make a wish.  I can’t say what my wish is, or it won’t come true. :)

Real People Casting

“We want REAL PEOPLE” not actors.  Because obviously actors are not real people?  ;)  I used to hear the term “Real People Casting” and cringe, because it meant so much more work for me.  What the heck?!  I’d wonder why we couldn’t just cast actors that look the part and can deliver a performance.  Instead I had to go out looking for people, put a camera in their face and expect to strike gold with exactly the specs the client was looking for.  Needless to say, it was not something I was excited about- until I really learned what Real People Casting was all about…

After a couple jobs of “real people casting”, I found out exactly what it was all about- authenticity.  It didn’t REALLY matter if the person was an actor or non-actor, all that mattered was the authenticity of the person- the story behind the story.  Actors ARE in fact real people too, crazy right?!  When a client is looking for “real people” they just want someone authentic to the story they are trying to tell.  It comes out naturally, it’s not staged, it’s not forced.

I have met some truly incredible people with amazing stories, specifically in the real-people casting element.  Many of these people have been actors too, with stories that don’t get told during a scripted audition.  Real People Casting has become one of my absolute favorite things to do.  People give you a porthole into their lives, and you feel their passion and emotion for what they do, who they are and what they stand for just by sitting behind the camera and listening to them.  They are authentic and not “putting on a show”.  Often times, I get the opportunity to open a door for them that they may have never thought possible.  It’s a very cool experience.

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with an incredible director on a big national commercial that was not even shooting in Boston.  He had been casting in NY and LA and not finding what he was looking for- authenticity.  So he decided to come to Boston.  One of the first conversations I had with him, he told me he had never cast in Boston before but he just had a feeling that the people were more “real” here. 

As our casting conversations progressed, he encouraged me to see both “real” non-actors and “real” actors.  With the actors we brought in to audition, we learned more about them, more about their heritage, the life story.  It showed that “real” side of them.  When auditioning the required scene, we asked them to almost “do nothing” and just sit with their thoughts.  It was incredible to see the truly authentic performances that came out. 

In conjunction with the actor auditions, the director asked me to “journey out into the field” and find an amazing Irish Grandmother.  So I did.  One person led to another person who led to another.  Funny enough, my best connection to this woman came from a local actor!  I met Marie, an Irish Grandmother in her 80s with an amazing Irish brogue.  Aaron Kahl and I showed up at Marie’s house for our appointment a little early and she answered the door with a curler in her hair, completely flustered that we were early and she was not “made up”.  It was perfect.  This was the “real” Marie.  She invited us in, made us Irish soda bread and offered tea- it was exactly like walking into a movie where you are visiting your Irish Grandmother.  As we sat and chatted with Marie, we got to know her and her family history.  We asked her if she would mind if we filmed, she didn’t.  As our conversation continued on camera, we came to realize Marie was a beautiful singer when she started singing spontaneously.  She showed such emotion, both happy and sad, when talking about her life and her past.  It was all so beautiful.  I walked out of the house and looked to Aaron and said, we’re done- we found our girl.  He agreed immediately.  To cut a very long story short, Marie survived multiple auditions in Boston and New York and ended up landing the lead role in this project alongside another local actor, a young girl who couldn’t have been more amazing.  I cannot wait to see the result, I know it will be authentic, beautiful and “real”.

Through real-people casting, I have become a better casting director for both scripted and non-scripted projects.  If someone I am auditioning has never done anything like this before, I get the opportunity to make it a great experience and memory for them.  I do my best to ease their nerves, as putting anyone in front of a camera for the first time can be a little intimidating.  My goal is to show that I am listening and interested without verbally telling them so, because the client is not interested in hearing me say “wow, interesting, so cool, yup, absolutely” every other minute.  If it is an actor that I’m auditioning for a “real people” spot, I get to know them on a personal level and it actually helps me connect with them more for future auditions as well.  Real people casting has taught me to be more engaged and more present in every single audition, and now I’m always the first to jump in and take over a real people casting job :)

- Ashley