We are pleased to bring you another interview with advice from a casting director, this time New York CD Paul Russell. This interview focuses on questions about an extremely helpful article Paul recently posted on his blog entitled “Why Actors Shouldn’t Trust Email.” Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He also teaches privately in NYC. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of “ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor.”
For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
As a casting director, how do you prefer actors to contact you?
Paul: Succinctly. No gimmicks. To the point, while meeting all the entertainment industry standards and advisories that I and the talent agents offer in ACTING: MAKE IT YOUR BUSINESS. I recently interviewed three talent agents and a colleague casting director for my book’s companion blog “Answers for Actors.” All preferred land-mail from actors. I agree. Having a physical mailing on our desk is much harder to delete than is hundreds of actor e-mails with a single icon click.
Do you read the emails you get from actors?
Paul: Yes and no. I receive several forms of e-mail inquiries from actors. Of the actor e-mails I read:
1. Submissions directly related to a project my office is casting.
2. Actor questions related to ACTING: MAKE IT YOUR BUSINESS or “Answers for Actors.”
Of the e-mails I don’t read:
1. Rambling missives detailing—to a near obsessive compulsive state—an actor’s activities - which are of no interest to me (i.e., how many open calls they’ve attended, call-backs that don’t profit a job, invites to showcases in which they produce, wrote and star). I won’t open large file attachments (some of my colleagues will not open any actor attachments for fear of viruses). I have super-fast Internet. Anything over 5 MBs delays my day as I wait… and wait… and wait… aaaaand wait… for the actor’s attached bulky files to… download. As I teach in my classes, attachments should be under 5 MBs (e-mail servers often dump into spam, e-mail with attachments larger than 5 MBs). An actor should have their headshot and resume in a single PDF labeled as ‘actorname_headshot_resume.PDF.’ Don’t include year, type of resume, or any other descriptors in the file name. You have file folders on your desktop for that. Don’t force us to rename your files for you. And why PDF? Your document will be read universally as it appears on your device(s). Word documents (non PDFs) are often jumbled by e-mail servers and/or the computing platforms of recipients; leaving the-less-than-tech-savvy recipient trying to read the mess believing the sender (you, the actor) are a techno-twit who can’t type. The best format for an actor e-mail would be to have the resume and picture within the body of the e-mail. The headshot does not have to be full-sized. A 100 pixel x 100 pixel reduction of your photo will do just fine. People make dating decisions online viewing smaller pics than that. Why do I or my colleagues need to have an actor’s full 8x10 inch photo hogging the body of the e-mail? It’s absurd! When such happens we’re often forced to scroll around the image in a vain attempt to see more than an actor’s earlobe or eye.
What inspired you to create a blog for actors?
Paul: My publisher, Random House, had a strict word limit for my book. There was much more I wanted to share with actors in order to help them better their journeys. Plus, with my companion blog “Answers for Actors,” I can comment on immediate issues while having a direct dialogue with actors.
In what ways have you seen casting change over the years?
Paul: The digital revolution has quickened the already hyper-activity of casting while making the process less personal. Rare is the occasion that I speak to talent agents on the phone or to actors directly while setting up audition appointments as when I first began casting. I miss that connectivity. Text is too passive. But, the digital revolution has also opened up casting to more unrepresented actors, if the casting personnel in charge of a project are willing to accept unsolicited submissions or solicited submissions via Actors’ Access from those same actors. Far too many of my colleagues still put themselves on a pedestal. As I often say about my work as a casting director; “I’m just glorified human resources.” My job is to solve puzzles. Having more actors access me makes the solution come easier. My snobbish casting colleagues tend to be short-sighted in that regard.
You have worked in film, TV and theatre, which type of these projects is the most challenging to cast?
Paul: Each has their own challenges. Regional or developmental theater has creatives wanting top-tier talent but often top-tier talent doesn’t want to work for basement wages or for free (although a thousand a week salary regionally would be welcomed by my bank account). Casting of this type often involves much diplomacy and advocacy on my part on behalf of the project… plus some arm twisting. With film, my experience has been mostly limited to major studio endeavors. The pressure from executives and creatives to corral top-tier talent is ever pervasive. This can be frustrating when I’m aware of great actors who don’t have marquee value. Television can be burn-out city. On the programs I worked my work day often began at 6 AM with a near midnight end. At one CBS hit I toiled—upon daily arrival I would often have messages from the writing staff who overnight wrote in a new character for an upcoming episode. They needed actors to be seen for casting by 11 AM that day. And sometimes the writers would be vague, “Get us a doctor.” No age. No gender. No defining characteristics or traits. Occasionally while the actors were on route to the audition, the character would change. Once, a doctor changed to a repairman for a candy vending machine. I don’t know what the writers were smoking that morning.
If you could give actors one piece of advice before they audition for you what would that be?
Paul: Those behind the casting table are no different than you. They’re doing a job as are you, burdened by similar worries and anxieties while wondering if earlier that morning they locked the front door at home.