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Acting odd(s)

June 26, 2012

On my way to a commercial audition this afternoon, I was thinking about an actor I know, a little younger than me, who often seems bitter and resentful because he doesn’t get more auditions.  I know a lot of actors.  If you’re one of them, reading this, there will be more clues to who this actor is, but if you guess correctly, it’ll be pure luck.  Anyway, that is beside the point.

Earlier this year, actor unions SAG and AFTRA (which also repped broadcasters, dancers, singers and other non- – or not necessarily – actors).  I don’t know what the combined membership is, but I’ll guess 150,000.  That’s coast to coast, the whole USA.

 So suppose there is a TV show, and they’re casting an episode, and one of the roles is for a man, mid-40’s to mid-50’s, caucasian, to play a NYC attorney.  It’s a union shoot, so, for the most part (maybe entirely, unless someone’s brother comes into play), only the aforesaid 150,000 need apply.

 Say the union membership is equally divided between males and females.  That cuts the number to 75000, ranging in age from kids to, perhaps, some members in their 80’s.  Our imaginary production company stipulated mid-40’s to mid-50’s.  Let’s say that’s 20% of the 75000 men, or 15,000.  Not all of them are in L.A., where we’re imagining this.  L.A. may have more members than NYC, and almost certainly has more members than the rest of the country, not counting NYC, combined.  So let’s cut our 15,000 down to 7,500.

Let’s say this is a one-day guest star role.  For those not in the business, this is sort of like saying it’s middle class.  Not rich, not poor.  Brad Pitt is not going to consider this role.  And they’re not going to consider the guy who just joined SAG/AFTRA and has one professional credit (again, unless someone’s brother comes into play, but if we don’t exclude that, all bets are off).  Brad Pitt and other actors who are well known by face and name don’t add up to a high number.  On the other hand, there are quite a few actors in the union who have few credits, and are unlikely to get in on this role that really is described pretty broadly.  There are a lot of mid-40’s to mid-50’s, caucasian actors in the union that would be believeable as a NYC lawyer that have substantial credits.  Also, we’ll exclude actors that have already worked the show.

So let us cut our 7500 by half, to 3,750.  Heck, let’s go hog wild and cut it in half again, leaving 1,875, but, since we’re playing with made up statistics anyway, let’s put it at 2,000, to make the math easier.

I’ve been in this game for around 30 years.  Way back when, a TV casting director (or casting agent, as I believe they’re called in NYC) might bring in 6 or 8 guys for an audition, and less than that for the 2nd audition, or callback, when the producer and/or director would be in the room, and the final decision would be made. 

By the way, the final decision is not made then anymore, I don’t think.  Even on a tiny role, the network has to sign off on the decision, viewing a tape of the audition later in the day or the next day.

Nowadays, the casting director is more likely to see 20 actors for a role, even a small role that works one day, like this one.

Well, allowing me to play my game here, I posited that we’d gotten down to 2000 actors who fit the role, had the credits to be considered, weren’t too famous to accept a role this size, hadn’t done the show yet, were in the union, and in every other way were available and interested.

20 of 2000.  1%.

So the actor I referred to at the beginning of this, who is bitter and resentful because he doesn’t get more auditions…is crazy.  Or at least unreasonable.  He has a 1% chance of being called in to audition for the role.  Why would he be brought in instead of Frank, or Jessie, Clyde or Norman.  Or Stan or Sam or Wilbur or Ferd or Michael or Steve or Nils or Dunbar or Alex or Lee or Trey or Ernest or Ed or Yuri or George or Tim or Nelson or Bart.  Robert or Charles or Barry or Scott?

Does the casting director already know him?  Does she/he think well of him?  Has she/he cast him earlier.  Do they have a relationship?  In person or just Facebook or Twitter?  Does our bitter actor have recent credits?  Are they good ones?  A film that did well, won awards?  A high profile TV show?  A Broadway show?  Had the casting director recently seen him in a play or workshop, or even just received a photo postcard saying the equivalent of “Wish I were there.”

How in the heck do any of us get any auditions?  Do they go through everyone then start again?  I don’t think that’s it.  If we’ve had an audition with them recently, and, although not cast, were thought well of.  Perhaps the producer or director even said: “Not this time.  But I wouldn’t mind seeing him for something else.”  Of course, the producer or director could, instead, have said: “I don’t like that guy, he reminds me of my brother-in-law.”  Or just: “He sucked.”

Is it possible that talent has something to do with it?  That some of us have a greater than 1% chance of getting an audition because we’ve shown we do good work?  That’s actually rather encouraging.  Especially since I think I’m good at what I do.  I’m terrible at networking, and pretty bad at keeping in touch with people I’ve met.  I get pretty nearly zero publicity and am never seen at places where my photo might get into the industry press.  Maybe what little headway I’ve made in this business (I’ve appeared in 70+ films and tv episodes) is because I’m good at this.  It’s a pretty thought.

But back to my bitter, resentful actor acquaintance.  In truth, he should thank his lucky stars if he gets any auditions.  The odds are 1 in 100.

Why did I get into this business again?

 

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One Comment
  1. Jake Jacobs permalink

    Thank you, Mark. Now I remember why I got out of the business.

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