Casting Director Dea Vise on Doing the Right Thing–Even in Hollywood

Casting Directors in studio

Over the course of a couple of decades in casting in L.A., Dea Vise has seen a lot of things–including some things that would curl your hair, as the saying goes.

But Vise says if she had to distill one tip for auditioning actors from all her years of casting shows and films like “America’s Most Wanted,” “God Is Not Dead” and “I, Robot,” it would be this:

“Wear underwear,” she says.

“Just make sure appropriate things are covered,” she adds, with a shudder that is somehow audible via telephone.

That hot tip comes on the tail end of a hilarious story in which a casting session attended by Vise and her business partner Billy DaMota saw them being subjected to, shall we say, more than they bargained for.

“This guy comes in and he was in a fur loincloth, and that’s all he was wearing,” she says. “So already it’s like…but anyway, we let him read, because we’re not dicks. So he comes in and does the scene. And at the end of the scene he was supposed to do a little martial arts move. So he goes to the camera and he decides to kick really high right above Billy’s and my head–aaaand he’s not wearing underwear. Billy screamed, ‘NOOOO!’ I was laughing so hard I almost peed myself. It was horrifying.”

So actors, take note: if you ever decide to attend an audition wearing only a loincloth–and don’t–but if you do, please avail yourself of modern undergarments.

But although the absurdity of being a casting director in L.A. creates the opportunity for plenty of laughs, there’s a well-known darker side to the business as well, one that Vise has battled for years.

She’s been neck-deep in the fight against the controversial practice of casting directors holding “workshops” for actors that amount to little more than five-minute general interviews–interviews that can cost the actor up to a couple hundred dollars. Recently, these workshops have come under heavy scrutiny by the L.A. City Attorney’s office.

“[This finally happened] after twenty years of me saying ‘this is probably illegal’ and the Casting Society of America (CSA) saying ‘we can’t police our members,’” Vise says. “And I said, ‘if you don’t police your members, the police are going to police your members.’ And 25 people were charged in April.”

The “pay-for-play” workshops have long been a thorn in the side of not only Vise but many other honest people who work in the industry–and they’re feeling some long-awaited vindication now that the legal system is getting involved.

“Everybody knows,” Vise says. “They claimed it was teaching. Sorry, but saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘Next’ is not teaching. They would make jokes. There was a group of casting directors that would call [workshop actors] ‘turnips.’ As in they just fell off the turnip truck. They take their money and they throw out their headshots as they walk out the door. It was just so dirty on so many levels.”

Indeed, that’s certainly the way the city attorney saw it–as did the eight individuals who have thus far pled guilty to the charges under California’s Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act.

However, Vise is quick to add that there are actual, legitimate classes taught by casting directors out there.

“There are some casting directors that teach real classes and we never had a problem with them, ever. Risa Bramon Garcia teaches a real class, and that’s totally different from these one and a half hour pay-to-play things.”

At any rate, the CSA kicked Vise out. But the good news is, even without those three letters after her name, Vise is still getting plenty of work. The CSA is just what it says in the name, a society, or “a private club so they can give each other awards every year” as Vise puts it. It isn’t a union and the group has no legal standing to bar anyone from getting hired to cast anything.

“It’s funny because I’m like the actors’ hero,” Vise says. “The actors all love me and the casting directors all hate me. [The CSA] said in a letter that I can reapply in a year, and I decided not to play nice. I’m just going to keep talking about them.”

At any rate, actors can be assured that at least one casting director in L.A. is on their side.

“I was an actor,” Vise says. “I love actors. I love working with actors. They are the most important person in the room. I’m not–I’m a gatekeeper, that’s all.”

And when it comes to advice for actors–above and beyond making sure all your bits are covered–Vise says you’ve got to grab the bull by the horns.

“The advice I always give actors is the same: make a list of your ten favorite movies that are recent,” she says. “Then look at who cast them. You’ll often find some overlap in the casting directors. You’ll often be attracted to people who are attracted to you. So find a way to reach out to that casting director–get your agent or manager to do it, or just send them a postcard or call their office and say ‘What’s your policy on general interviews?’”

That last one is another source of friction between Vise and the CSA–she posted an unflattering story on Facebook alleging that the office of Carmen Cuba (“Stranger Things,” “The Martian”) hung up on an actor when they did just that.

“Hey, all I did was post what happened,” Vise says. “And you’re mad at me? I’m not the one that hung up on an actor. [Casting directors] are not superior to the actors. I said it before and I’ll say it again: without actors we don’t have a job.”

And Vise is quick to point out that if you do cold-call a casting director, the worst-case is really not so terrible.

“One of two things will happen: they’ll either hang up on you, or they’ll say they’re not doing them now, but ask you to bring in a headshot.”

The bottom line for Vise is that actors are a vital piece in the puzzle, not “turnips” to be fleeced for profit, nor lowly creatures who aren’t even worthy of a perfunctory telephone conversation with an assistant to an assistant.

What’s more, she readily acknowledges that actors have one of the toughest rows to hoe when it comes to breaking into the business.

“One thing I do want to say to all actors is don’t give up,” she says emphatically. “It’s a really tough business but there are people out there who do care about you. And who realize that we don’t have a job without you.

“And break a leg!” she adds.

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