"The label you give yourself cannot impact external forces that are not motivated by your own psychology or influenced by a third party's pre-existing consciousness of you. We are all presented with reasons to struggle which come from completely external forces; to pretend that one is not struggling is either arrogance or an admission of defeat. To admit that one is struggling is a sign and a source of strength." - Evan A. Baker

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How It All Breaks Down

If you have time, you should definitely click on the link below to read Tracy Weisert's entire synopsis of the seminar casting director Patrick Baca gave last year. I found this extremely helpful and hope you do too.
Patrick Baca's Network Casting Pyramid:
This is a nine-tiered pyramid (in radial form) that casting directors have to navigate through when casting actors in series regular roles on a network television pilot. Step one begins with the breakdown being released and steps 8 and 9 are the studio test and finally, the network test.
Step 1- Breakdown Released
“Basically the breakdown winds up being an announcement from me, the buyer, let’s say, to the sellers-the agents and the managers.  It lets them know that I’m in business, where I am, what it is that I am doing and what it is that I am looking for.  This just gets the ball going.  I can release it as far and wide as I want.  I’m not sure where the term ‘casting’ came from but casting also means casting a line in the water.  Maybe that’s where it came from but we want to look at the actor markets in terms of bodies of water. Here in LA…in Hollywood, this is the biggest and widest talent pool in all the world!  I’m pretty lucky as a casting director to be working in this pool because it is the deepest and widest of all the pools!  It is an Olympic sized pool basically, so if you can’t get something cast here, then you should be doing something else because I don’t have to throw my line out very far.  I don’t have to look much further than Los Angeles.  If time and budget allow, you can look in other places…other pools of water.”
Step 2- Agents and Managers Submit
“Regarding representation-Do I trust their taste in actors?”
Step 3- Casting Director Sets up Sessions
“The casting director starts sifting through the submissions.  Like I said, I might have 1000 submissions that I’m getting and there are probably more if I’m also looking at the actor submissions from the casting services.  That’s where, I think,  casting directors have the greatest sense of power is in that third step because no one’s looking over my shoulder as I’m going through the submissions telling me who to bring in.  They might have suggestions but they are not looking at all the submissions.  That’s what I think I’m hired for is my taste in the actors and that’s where my knowledge really sort of comes in.  Sometimes actors will ask me, ’What do you look at?  What criteria determines whether you select this person versus that person?’
First of all the image, the photograph itself is the first thing that I am going to see.  I already have an image in my head and some sort of a vision based on my team, our vision, of what this character might look like, so the photograph is very important. Then the resume…if I’m casting comedy which is one of my passions, one of my loves and one of my specialties is comedy casting.  When you cast a sitcom pilot, you look for sitcom credits on that resume because sitcom acting is very specific.  It’s got its own rhythm and its’ own tempo and not everybody can do it.  Remember I spoke about that pool of talent that’s here in LA?  Inside that pool there is a little wading pool [laughter] within it of people who can do comedy.  Not everybody can do comedy.  It’s really, really specific.  If I’m going to bring somebody in, I have to know that they understand comedy and sitcom acting, so I’ll look to the resume.  If the sitcom credits are there and I know them already, I know their work.  If I don’t know them, then I’m looking to see if somebody else has hired them just to put my mind to ease if I don’t know you.  If there are no sitcom credits,  then I’ll look for ‘comedy clues.’ I’ll look to see if you do stand-up around town or I’ll look to see if you do improve around town…if you’re in the Sunday Company  of The Groundlings, then I now that you’ll know comedy or Improv Olympic or Second City and then I’m willing.  The resume really does speak to me. “
“Another consideration is which agents and managers are submitting.  Do I trust their taste in actors?  Does their taste in actors trust my taste in actors?”
“Another consideration is a demo reel.  If it’s there and I don’t know you and I can click on it, sometimes that’s all I need.  I just need five seconds to  hear your voice,  to see you move or to get a sense of your presence or your sensibility or your castability, so the demo reel is really, really important to have as part of your online profile.  It can either make or break you.  It can make or break my decision on whether or not to take a risk or gamble in bringing you in.  It is a gamble. 
I’ve got seven roles to cast and they’ve probably given me seven weeks to do it and that’s not nearly enough time.  That means that the available (audition) slots that I have are few and far between, so to me they are like gold and I just don’t want to give them away.  I want to give them away  but I want to know that if I’m giving them away, that that investment is going to return. So when you get an audition, basically, you can think of it like as an invitation from me to you for you to help me do my job!  Come in and be brilliant!  Come in with your interpretation and all your skills and help me get this job done!  That’s what an audition is.  It’s an invitation to a party basically.  Whenever you get an invitation to a party, you never show up empty handed.  You always bring a bottle of wine…a good one.  Not Two Buck Chuck either!  [laughter]  Your bottle of wine is to come in with your sides executed and with your strong choices.  If you can do that, then I’m happy.  If you’re skimming the surface, then you’re coming in empty handed”
Step 4- Casting Pre-Read Session
‘The fourth step is a casting pre-read.  The casting pre-read is where you come in one-on-one to see me with your interpretation of the character.  There’s nobody else in the room.  I’m not recording you.  It’s just you and me, one-on-one.  This is where you ‘show me your wares.’  You show me your interpretation of the character.  I realize that performance in auditioning is a work in progress. I realize that however,  when you come into a casting pre-read, you have to be pretty developed.  Your interpretation has to be very far along already.  There’s no time for us to develop it later because I have to be discriminating because the next step after this is going to be the producers’ callback.  
I feel like actors when they come to see me for the first time, have to be at 90% done.  90% developed at worst because if you come in and you’re at 80%, or let’s say you’re at 70%...you know with the lines, the character, all the detail and the laughs that are built in the material, if you’re only 70% done?  That’s only a ‘C.’ That’s only average.  I don’t have to settle for average in the ocean that is Los Angeles.  That’s not good enough.  Even 80% isn’t good enough.  I’m looking for a ‘Low A to a High A’ to bring back.  If you’re missing 10%, I’ll jump in there and collaborate with you.  I’ll tweak you.  I’ll detail you out. I’ll guide you and try to point out this laugh that you didn’t get here or that one.  I’ll jump in there and play with you and try to make you better.  I’ll get you ready for the director but only if you’ve done the bulk of the work already because I don’t want to do your work for you. I could.  I could if I wanted to, but I don’t want to. 
It’s a test, for me too because I want to know that you are self-sufficient and that you can come up with these answers on your own.  Once you get on the set, you’re going to be alone basically.  The TV directors here, I feel like a lot of them are traffic cops.  They are guiding all these different departments, but there’s no time for them for us to sit down and romantically figure out the character and all that wonderful stuff.  It doesn’t happen in TV.  There is no time for it.  I’m looking for actors who can do the director’s work for him.  That’s really what I feel like I’m doing.  I’m doing his work for him and you are too.  We both are together like that partnership I spoke of, so you have to be really, really far along to motivate me to even re-direct you.  But if you don’t and you’re just skimming the surface, you’re just giving me what’s on the page and just doing what’s  expected, I’ll smile at you, thank you and nod at you and out the door you go and I won’t tend to remember you.  You’ll be surprised.  A lot of them do.  They have agents and they got in somehow.  Those actors who do just what is expected, they cancel each other out in my mind just blur and become bland. “
“The lines between the lines are so much more interesting.  The subtext is your gift.  Don’t come in without it.”
“That’s the biggest sin is to come into my office and be bland.”
Step 5- Producers Callback Session
“When you come in and be great in the room, then I’ve just been great!  If you’ve had a bad day, you’ve just taken me down in flames with you [laughter] …except that you get to go home!  But I can’t leave although I want to go home with you!”
Step 6- Test Option Deal
The twenty actors who have gone to producers is narrowed down to five.  The studio lawyer makes pilot and series deal with actor’s agent.
Step 7- Director’s Rehearsal
The director gets the top actors ready to audition at the Studio Test. “We’re there to ‘polish’ you.”
Step 8- Studio Test
“Step 8 is when we go visit the President of the Studio. For example, I did a pilot called ALLIGATOR POINT.    First of all…let me explain to you that there are three entities involved in production and making of a sitcom usually.  This is why Pilot casting is so complicated.” 
  • First entity- The Production Company- The producers that own the rights to the material. The production team winds up being the people that they assemble around them.  For example-the writer, the director and the casting directors that they hire, so I’m part of the production team.  Then for example, on ALLIGATOR POINT, the production company was Grammnet Productions, the production company of Kelsey Grammer.
  • Second entity- The Studio- In that case, the studio was Paramount Network Television, so if you ever see CHEERS or FRAZIER, you’ll usually see the Paramount Network Television logo comes up at the end.  He’s had a long relationship with Paramount, so that was the studio.
  • Third entity- The Network- Then the network was NBC.  The guys who actually broadcast it.  Before I go to the president of NBC, I have to go visit the president of Paramount Network Television. This is where one president decides what the president above him is going to see.  This guy has ‘veto power.’  So to get three actors to Step 9 (Network Test), I’ve got to show the studio president maybe 5 actors, so he can veto 2.  To get by to there, I feel I have to show my producing team maybe 20 actors that we can boil down to five.  To get 20 actors to show the producers, I probably have to see 100 actors.  That’s sort of how the math breaks down.
Step 9- Network Test
“The very last step in this casting pyramid is Step 9 and I wanted to explain for you is the test at the Network.  Has anyone ever tested at the Network for a Pilot?  One day you will.  When that happens, what you’re going to do is you will be with the casting director, the producers and the writer to go visit the president of the Network.  Taking three actors is a good choice.  Three is a really great number.  We, as the production team don’t want to bring him five actors because five is probably too many choices and they’ll turn to you and say, ‘Oh, you don’t know who you really want.’  I could get away with taking two, but you never, ever want to go to the Network with one actor because that’s psychologically loaded.  It will backfire on you and they will feel like you are forcing this person on them.  They don’t like that.  They want a choice.  And we’re going to say to the president, ‘Hey Mr. President, we have this Sitcom Pilot that have seven series regular roles and today, we are going to show you three of those roles.  We have brought with us three actors per role and they are all going to perform for you.  These are all actors that we like.  These are all actors who we have done ‘test option deals’ with.  They are all available and we could live with any one of them.  Pick one.  Sign off and approve one of these guys (actors) and tell us who you like. That’s ultimately what we’re hoping will happen at the Network.  The president has sort of the final say.”


  1. Damn. This is amazing. Thank you for posting!!

  2. Wow, that answered pretty much every question I have ever had about pilot season. Thanks Lira!


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