Monday, December 02, 2013

Where's Jeremy (2013) - Part 3: Samaritan Casting - Misconceptions

This is post #14 in Where's Jeremy (2013)
There are moments that change your life, and ten years later if you know in retrospect it was one of those moments, you're blessed, but to know it at the moment...
- Randy Pausch, Last Lecture
In my blog I usually try to focus on the positive, or at least, my lessons learned. Unfortunately living a human life means downers are unavoidable, and this is one such case.

In February 2012 I made a decision I knew would change my life: one of my best friends asked if I'd take over his casting company, as he was no longer able to run it. I said "yes," holding high hopes for the opportunity this presented. I hoped it would be a change for Good, but I knew either way, I'd be changed for good (Wicked reference).

I've yet to stop regretting my answer. Maybe in another ten years I'll have a different perspective (I hope when I'm ten years older I'll have grown in my view of the world!), but in my present-day, this casting company has brought little more to my life than tremendous stress and frustration. In the first weeks running the company, I received at least half a dozen terribly nasty, hostile emails from people who were angry at the previous owner, and decided they'd take that anger out on me. Not acceptable. I was naïve to the community's [apparently] cruel and unforgiving nature. It makes me sad.

Other stressors were the phone calls from actors asking why they weren't booked for a particular project, or who didn't read the directions that were very clearly spelled out in a particular casting notice, or who ask where their paycheck is when it's been less than a week since shooting (productions hardly ever send payments in under 4-6 weeks). Having questions is fine, but asking questions that have already been answered (in a booking email or on an online FAQ, for example) is not a productive use of time for anyone.

Eventually what I've determined is that people must hold a lot of misconceptions about me and about the casting company. Here's my best guess as to what's going on:

Misconception #1: Samaritan Casting is all I do.
Reality: Wrong. I work a full-time day job. Samaritan Casting is something I do in my spare time, out of the goodness of my heart, as a service to the actor and filmmaker community.

Misconception #2: Samaritan Casting is highly profitable.
Reality: Haha, that's funny. In 20 months I've made a couple thousand dollars. We're talking 4-digits here, not even 5-digits.

As an example, let's look at an audition I held for a commercial a few months ago. We were paid $500 to run the audition. Of that:
  • $100 went to rent the location
  • $180 went to pay 3 staff (each $60) to run the check-in table and record audition videos
  • $75 went to paying John to handle all the scheduling, and deal with people needing to re-schedule/cancel/get in and out in a hurry, etc
  • Another $20 went to pay John to schedule callbacks, which were hosted by the client themselves

At the end of the day, that left $105 in my pocket. 5 hours of auditions, plus time training John, plus making selections of who should get auditioned (who fit the demographics/looks the client wanted), plus developing extra code on the website in order to play the videos, plus encoding and uploading the videos, meant I got paid less than $10 an hour.

Misconception #3: We play favorites.
Reality: Not really. Clients almost always make selections themselves; very rarely am I (or John or Anne) given the opportunity to pick people ourselves. When we do, it's typically for large crowd scenes where individual faces won't be seen anyway. If a client asks for recommendations from a list, I will put in a good word for reliable actors I've worked with in the past, or about whom I've heard good things from past productions, but even then, the end decision belongs to the client.

Misconception #4: We're a big company.
Reality: Nope. I'm a sole owner/proprietor. I do hire my friends to work on specific projects (Anne and John to help with bookings, Lee and Jim for wrangling, Mark and Melissa to help with auditions, and Peter to post notices), but everything else I do myself: negotiating with clients, website development, invoicing and banking, answering support emails, etc. Someone once called asking for the payroll department, which completely took me aback.

And finally, Misconception #5: This is my passion.
Reality: No. It's not. I'd much rather be on set, or working as a producer on pre- or post-production, intimately involved in the movie-making. Extras casting is something I know how to do, and can do well, but it's not my dream job.

I can understand why people might believe some of these. For my predecessor Matthew, casting/extras casting was all he did, and it was his passion. He actually left his full-time job at the Red Cross because the casting business was picking up with national and local commercials, feature films, and lots of smaller independent shorts. He was booking all sorts of people for all sorts of productions, it became his "real" full-time job, and he loved it.

Though I have enjoyed some parts of the company, at the end of the day I'm not Matthew, and I'd like my life to go a different direction. Perhaps that is Misconception #6: this is what I want to do with my life.

1 comment:

Mom said...

There's wisdom in the statement: "To understand, walk a mile in the other person's shoes". Even then, there will continue to be misconceptions. This blog post sets at least some of them straight.