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Casting Director Erica Palgon helps open your eyes and mind
Actors need to “be real, aware and awake,” says Casting Director Erica Palgon. They should “be awake to their surroundings and not live in a bubble.”
Known as an actor's casting director, Erica Palgon believes in pushing people to a higher level of awareness so they can bloom from being an actor into an interesting human being that casting directors will want to hire.
Over her 15 year career, Erica has gained an impressive range of experience at casting agencies including Susan Shopmaker Casting, Jerry Beaver, Liz Lewis Casting and Judy Henderson & Assoc, She has worked on projects for many successful film directors, among them Nancy Meyers, John Cameron Mitchell, Mark Waters, Tom DiChillo, as well as commercial directors Phil Morrison, Janusz Kaminski, Matt Aselton and Mark Pellington. At every job, Erica made sure to learn the ins and outs of casting from creative to the business side. She became aware of her own strengths, by opening her eyes to the world around her, and in August of 2009, she started her own company called Erica Palgon Casting …& Beyond.
Leading by example, Erica helps actors become more aware of every facet within the casting process.
BEYOND THE ACTOR
Q: Why should an actor be more aware of their surroundings and other people's needs?
A: Directors have a lot of pressure. They have clients they can lose at the drop of a hat if a shoot doesn't go well. The more you understand and are empathetic to that situation the better. If you have knowledge, and are making an effort, people will pay attention to that. It shows you have an interest in what they do and it will give you more confidence because you are making a point to say ‘I care about what I do.'
Q: What should actors know that would help them relax at auditions?
A: The more actors realize that casting directors and directors want them to do well, the more it's going to be a safe environment in casting and on the set. No one is going to feel intimidated. You will feel like you belong there.
What I try to achieve, what I make my company about, is not just covering acting. casting, or teaching - its encouraging exploration, passion and a collaboration of all elements. I tell actors to go back to that split second, that moment in your head that said ‘I have to do this I don't care what anyone else says. I want to act; this is what I want to do.' That alone should give you confidence, the fact that you had the guts to go take a class and pursue a career. Close your eyes, go back to that moment, and no matter what stage you are at, realize there is a driving force pushing you toward a goal.
BEYOND THE SIDES
Q: In addition to learning their lines, how should an actor prepare for an audition?
A: As an actor, know the commercials or goals of the director. Research, see the trends and be savvy about what is going on. If you do your homework, you aren't just doing it for yourself you are doing it for the people you are auditioning for. It's like any other job. Think of it as an interview and prepare. If you went in for a Coca Cola commercial, watch some of the commercials that have been produced lately. Coca Cola has a certain vision, an idea they are trying to get across, or if you know who the director is, look them up, watch their reels and it will give you a direction to start in. Go beyond what is provided for you by the casting director, research the things that will help you get a better sense of your audience.
BEYOND THE RESUME
Q: Why is it important for casting directors to see an actor's real personality?
A. Part of my job is to get to know people. I am selling these people to my clients. If an actor is an open book, it gives me more to go on outside of the acting and therefore vouch for and trust. I have to trust that they are going to be professional across the board when they show up to set and make the client happy and look good. I'm asked all the time, ‘tell us more about this person, experience, personality, easy to work with, etc... and I need to know or it's a hard sell. Sometimes this could be the defining moment as to whether someone gets the job or not. Again, always smart to put your best foot forward in every situation.
I am very open, whether in the studio or at a seminar, so actors will feel the same way. It's not ‘tell me you life story' but ‘what kind of person are you?' Treating people the way you would like to be treated, being on time, being prepared and on top of things. All those things and more, go a long way in how we see you.
Also, the way you perform, and ideas you come up with, helps me know what kind of person you are creatively, how your mind works looking at different material.
Q: What do casting directors expect before anyone even walks into a room?
A: Directors want that magic, that thing to walk in the door. Actors often ask ‘how do you get that' and I say ‘confidence.' I tell people that their job is to inspire us, me and the director. My job is to be inspired by them.
They should come in from a perspective of ‘what is the casting director's job and what can I do to help this person?' instead of ‘what can they do to help me?'
BEYOND THE AUDITION
Q: What should actors do after an audition?
A: The second they leave an audition they should write down what they did, how they feel about what they did and the tone. Almost like a journal as if they are reflecting back on what happened. Put yourself in the position of retaining what went on so you can review your notes. Also, make notes about what the casting director says and it also is good to note what you are wearing, especially for commercials.
BEYOND THE CALL BACK
Q: What happens behind the scenes that an actor should know about?
A: Commercials are the ultimate collaboration. There is so much riding on the commercial so sometimes they like one person and another doesn't look like their daughter. Decisions can be a visual thing.
Also, there are many people making decisions. Everyone is trying to be on the same page but the ad agency has needs, the director has needs and the actor must fill all their needs so they shouldn't beat themselves up. The fact that they got to a call back should be a pat on the back itself. You could be 1 of 50 people called back or you could be 1 of 10. It's a crap shoot and things change from the time you get the call back to when you show up. Certain things are out of an actor's control. Best thing to do is go in the room, be present and listen.
BEYOND THE BOOKING
Q: What should an actor know before they show up on set to shoot?
A: If you are booked to shoot out of country, make sure your passport is up to date; don't wait till the day before the shoot. Even if you are auditioning for something that you know will shoot out of country have your passport ready and make sure your driver's license is current as well. But ideally those things should be updated on a regular basis regardless of what you are auditioning for. Key is to be ready for anything.
Also, if you don't have an agent or manager make sure you are keeping track of your availability and make sure there are no conflicts with other jobs you've done. You have to do your homework and not fall into traps of last minute things, even if you have an agent or manager. You have to take responsibility for your own career. Treat it like a business. Be professional and put your best foot forward. You are going to affect many different entities, if you drop the ball in one way or another.
Everything you do should make you stand out as a professional person, a very nice package you are offering people. Let them take a breath, a sigh of relief that they don't need to worry about you.
BEYOND THE FILMING
Q: Should an actor reach out to you for a copy of their commercial or to find out when it's airing?
A: If you have an agent or manager, they can call the production company or ad agency and find out. However, it may be best to ask when you are on the set instead of after the fact. Just say, ‘Id love to get a copy is there someone I can talk to?' Be pro-active about it and professional. Learn who people are and be educated on the set. You are privileged to be there, that's part of your education and training in addition to your performance.
BEYOND THE OBVIUS POOL OF ACTORS
Q: Why do you look for unknown talent?
A: My biggest thrill is when a Director says, ‘wow that was really good casting. I've never seen these people.'
I take an interest in helping actors because I am helping my clients and myself by guiding people in the right way and helping them become more knowledgeable. I like thinking outside of the box. For me, it's about opening up a door of resources and finding pools of people to choose from because even if they aren't right for the current project they might be good down the line. The more people I can choose from the better.
BEYOND THE CLASSROOM
Q: What do you wish actors would do more of after they take a class with you?
A: I teach a cold reading class at TVI and it's mostly audition technique where one person is the reader, one person is the performer and then they switch. Many times, I leave thinking ‘I wish they could see things the way I saw them' because some things are so common sense to me.
One of my biggest goals is to help people be open to other viewpoints. When you are a reader, there is no pressure and I wish they would take that learning experience and apply it to in front of the camera because all of a sudden there is a shift from being a person, as they were while reading, to being an actor. That's why a lot of my teaching is based on improv. I have people just turn the script over so they don't use it as a crutch.
Also, actors need to learn that characters have flaws. They shouldn't apologize for making any mistakes. People don't speak perfectly. They scratch their heads and stumble along the way. The actors who stand out most to me are the ones who screw up more but use it to their advantage. They embrace their flaws.
Q: What forward thinking advice should actors take with them that helped you get to where you are today?
A: Be very open to learning and don't say no to anything. Especially with the way the business is now, you have to use everything as a learning experience. You don't know what is going to come of it. The universe is almost sending you messages, putting something in front of you for a reason. You might not think you are right for an audition but you may talk to someone at the audition that will be helpful down the road. Take everything as an opportunity, rather than thinking ‘where is this going to get me in my career?' Think ‘what am I going to learn from others and what can they learn from me.'
It goes back to that word – awakening.
Be awake, aware of your surroundings and alive. Enjoy where you are in your life and career. Live in the moment, have some fun with it, and don't take things so seriously. Opportunities will come. They might not come in the exact way you expect them to but if you remain open, they will come.
For more information, about Erica Palgon visit www.ericapalgon.com
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