Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to avoid the "casting couch"


One would have to be incredibly naive to believe that the “casting couch” does not exist in Hollywood (or more correctly -- East Hollywood). Gwyneth Paltrow, in a recent edition of ELLE magazine (I never miss an issue) said that early in her career, despite her parents’ stature in the industry, she was propositioned during a casting session. She quickly bolted but said she could see how someone who didn't know better might worry that, “'My career will be ruined if I don't give this guy a blow job!'"

These tend to be non union situations. As a producer and director I’ve been involved in many casting sessions for pilots and TV series. In every one there’s a casting director, a committee of producers, the director, and sometimes network or studio executives. Within that group there is almost always one woman, usually more. The actors have agents and managers.  Everything is handled on a professional basis. Actresses can take comfort in knowing they were rejected not because they refused to give oral sex but because they were too tall, too short, too ethnic, not pretty enough, too pretty, too old, too skinny, too pale, too dark, not funny, not likable, not related.

And young actresses, if a TV producer propositions you on the side and promises you a part on that big NBC show he says he runs, here’s a news flash: He CAN’T. All network casting has to be approved by the network. It’s gotten so ridiculous with the networks these days that even one and two-line parts now have to be approved by the network. So the best you’re going to do is sleeping with a producer to become an extra. And won’t you feel stupid when the extra right next to you got there by bidding $25 at her school’s silent auction?

Projects that resort to the casting couch are probably not projects that you would want to be in anyway.  Trust me -- YOU DO NOT HAVE TO COMPROMISE YOURSELF TO GET INTO THE BUSINESS.  And chances are if you do you still won't get in, or you will but realize it wasn't worth it. 

But how do you know going in to a casting situation that it's shady? Good question.  Rarely is "must sleep with me" on the breakdown sheets.   So here are some warning signs.  Yes, they are facetious but also true.

You may find yourself in a casting couch situation…

… when the casting session is held in an apartment in Pacoima.

… when there’s no script.

… when the producer’s first question is “Will you sign this document verifying you’re 18?”

… when the project is the MOTHER TERESA STORY and you’re told nudity is involved.

… when you Google the producer and it takes you to SmokingGun.com.

… when he’d prefer not dealing with your agent because he’s an artist not a businessman.

… when he looks like Fredo from THE GODFATHER or Bob from BECKER or Steve Buscemi from anything.

… when there’s no one else in the room.

… when you learned about the casting session from a handwritten note on the bulletin board at Safeway.

… when there are bars on the windows of his office.

… when he has seven video cameras in his office and one is built into the floor.

... when he wears an ankle monitor. 

… when you’re the only one there to audition.

… when you recognize him from BIG BROTHER.

… when the script is CHINATOWN by Robert Towneger.

… when it’s a student film but the director is 60.

… when you feel the least bit suspicious for ANY REASON.

I hope you never find yourself in one of these situations.   Best of luck. And I look forward to seeing you one day in a real casting session, where you have a drive-on to the lot and everything!

18 comments:

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Max Clarke said...

This post should be required reading for those pursuing an acting career.

barnez28 said...

Awesome, witty examples of when a girl should know she is not going to be in a movie. It is also another sign for a woman to think "maybe I should quite trying to become an actress and go into playboy or something," haha.

gwangung said...

Ulp.

I've held auditions where I fit FIVE of these conditions.

(To my credit, I hope, I recognized that at the time and let the auditionees know it looked skeezy, and we had no problem having their 6' 4" boyfriend wait outside the slightly ajar door).

Mark said...

Been a very long time, but when I still played nice high school & college-aged boys, I was in more than one casting situation -- all on first-time general meetings with casting directors in studio offices -- where their were inappropriate sexual advances from men.

Glad to say that in the early 1980's SAG got very aggressive about this issue -- including an anonymous reporting hot line -- and some of these jerks were "retired."

D. McEwan said...

West Hollywood too. Your assumption that only females get hit on at casting sessions is surprisingly naive. I've known considerably more than one male performer who got chased around the room by lustful "casting directors" or "producers." "You're perfect for the role. Let's discuss it over dinner in my apartment, which oddly enough, is only two blocks from your neighborhood." That street definitely runs both ways.

What is really insulting though is, it never happened to ME! What am I, chopped liver?

Rory L. Aronsky said...

when he looks like Fredo from THE GODFATHER or Bob from BECKER or Steve Buscemi from anything.

Bob is touched. Bob is honored that you'd elevate him to the same league as Fredo and Steve Buscemi.

(Still loving the episodes in syndication.)

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Ken,

Typo alert. Fourth paragraph, first line, "Projects that resort to the casting cast"

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Thanks, Ken. There's goes what little sex life I had. What a pal.

Matt said...

Completely unrelated, but would you please come to Kansas City and be the Royals manager? Please?

Here's my take on why you would be so much better than any of the 30 managers we've had in the last 15 years:

1) You know baseball, which is a plus, but evidently not a requirement here.

2) You wouldn't overthink things. You know the realities of baseball, that most stats are ridiculous. "hmm...Groenke is 3-4 against left handers when it rains on Saturday, so I better go with O’Sullivan. Wait...who the fuck is O’Sullivan again?"

3) The press conferences would be fucking outstanding. You would immediately endear yourself with every sportscaster in the city (now that Whitlock is gone -- what a dick).

Please, consider it. Yost would most likely welcome having someone else on the chopping block of this failed franchise.

Shawn said...

Do you honestly believe that just because an audition takes place in front of a committee that includes a woman, no one in the room would ever, for example, call an actress the next day and say, "Hey, you were really great yesterday. Are you free to meet me sometime this week to discuss the role...?"

Pat Reeder said...

So you're saying that the stars of "The Girls Next Door" didn't have to sleep with someone to land those roles? And how about Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian? If they hadn't had sex with someone on camera, they wouldn't have showbiz careers at all.

BTW, having worked in corporate video years ago, I can also assure actresses that if they lost roles in that field, it might not have anything to do with sex. I've sat by stunned as casting directors rejected perfect performers for scripts I wrote in favor of much inferior actors. Once it was because they preferred the tie one guy was wearing, and in another case, they didn't like the fact that the actress wore her hair up. I tried to argue that if they got the gigs, they might be willing to wear a different tie or recomb their hair. But I was only the writer, so my silly arguments cut no ice.

VP81955 said...

The inventive invective (in other words, blue language) the lady in my avatar (Carole Lombard) was famed for using was designed as a defense mechanism against being forced onto the casting couch. It worked for her -- heck, she even ended up on good terms with Harry Cohn, something few actresses could claim. (Then again, Harry usually gave Carole better film vehicles than she was getting at her home port of Paramount at the time.)

Saverio Guerra said...

Hi Ken...Let me say it for myself. Bob IS touched that you thought of me. I was pretty slimy. Guess I nailed it. Thanks! Hope you're well.

KEN LEVINE said...

Savario,

You were one of the most fun characters I ever got to write.

Cheers,

Ken

anonymous said...

I wonder is SAG ever got wind of the rumored casting sessions for THE DOORS where women hoping to be cast as extras were being asked to do incredibly degrading things, things supposedly witnessed with great enthusiasm by director Oliver Stone. I certainly hope so . . .

JoeyG said...

Here's how the casting couch works. It doesn't work in the way everyone thinks, by getting propositioned by a casting director in an office. It's more discreet. How you say? Example: Attractive girl is at a party, or restaurant. She meets a producer, director, casting director etc. Girl: "I'm an aspiring actress!" Person of power: "oh, that's great, I'm a ........, here's my card, send me your stuff." Girl sends stuff, nothing happens. Girl follows up, they meet for coffee. Still nothing happens. Girl follows up a few more times, is desperate, and starts to flirt with person of power.

Ok, at this point. The director/producer whatever, owes you nothing. If she takes the chance and starts to sleep with him on a regular basis, he may help her out in the long run. I've seen it happen. They will not give you a part in a film for a blow job and cheap sex. But producers do hook up their girlfriends or fbuddies. MOST girls who do this claim they like the person and that's why they get work.

So it then comes down to who you know. Your boyfriend is a producer or director, and that's how you got the part.