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Top tips from US casting directors

In November, the Equity Foundation hosted 2½-day casting hothouses in Sydney and Auckland, giving actors the chance to participate in workshops with some of most well-regarded casting directors in the business

Feature-film casting director Margery Simkin and CBS Television Studios’ Matt Skobalak were flown in from LA to host workshops. Here, Lizzie Franks asks them for some inside tips

casting hothouseL-R: Equity director Sue McCreadie, Casting directors Matt Skrobalak, Christine King, Margery Simkin, Nikki Barrett

MARGERY SIMKIN
A veteran of countless movies, Margery Simkin’s credits include Hope Springs, Avatar, Top Gun, Erin Brockovich, Marley and Me and Beautiful Creatures

What are your tops tips for a good CV?

Have a photo that looks like you really look. The goal is that when you walk into a room, if someone doesn’t know you, you are recognisable from your photo. If you have facial hair or extreme hair for a role, that is an exception, but make sure you have one that is what you would look like ‘normally’. If you normally have facial hair, make sure there is a clean-shaven photo also available to view. Online systems like Showcast allow you to upload multiple photos and easily update.

CVs should be informative but concise. When deciding what to include, think, “What about this information would help a decision-maker decide if I am right for a role?” Example: while it is great that you have taken a course to better your American accent, does that really matter to a casting person? Or is it just as informative to list Standard American as a skill?

margery simkinMargery Simkin's workshop at Equity's Casting Hothouse

What is the biggest misconception actors have about the casting process?

That we’re not on their side. We are. We hope that every actor who walks through the door is right for the role.

How competitive is the casting process for a feature film in the US?

After sending a breakdown to the agencies in Los Angeles for a day role in a big feature film, within two hours I had 1,140 submissions. That was a big feature and a lot of people wanted to get in on it but typically you will have 300 to 400 submissions within an hour of putting a call out.
 
What is the one thing Australia and New Zealand actors most need to work on?

Perfecting their Standard American accent.

MATT SKROBALAK

As vice president of talent and casting at CBS Television Studios, Matt Skrobalak currently oversees casting on numerous TV series and pilots, including CSI, The Good Wife, Hawaii 5-0, Blue Bloods and Vegas. Matt has been coming to Australia and New Zealand to scout for talent since 2005

matt  skrobalakMatt Skrobalak's workshop at the Equity Foundation's Casting Hothouse

Do you need a US agent before heading to LA for pilot season?

The Australian agents, while talented and fantastic, just don’t have the depth of relationships with US casting directors to assure their actors will get in the room and get the opportunities. I always advise actors without US reps to stay home and self-tape or avail themselves of auditions with Australian CDs hired to work locally on US pilot searches. There are definitely a lot of opportunities for that in Australia, as most of the major studios work with Australian CDs on select pilots.

What is your advice for recent acting-school graduates?

Don’t rush over to LA too quickly. Get some practical work experience at home first.

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