As a single mom of an 8-month-old girl, independent casting director Neely Gurman has just a quick moment to chat via phone from her Woodland Hills home as her daughter takes a rare nap.
“She’s hyper,” Gurman said. “She works more than I do right now. She’s a little movie star. Maybe she’ll end up supporting me.”
Actually the truth is that no matter how big her budding acting career gets, little Harlee Rose’s eternally busy mom will likely continue to bring home the bacon just fine. As a prime go-to CD for MarVista Entertainment, Gurman has no shortage of work, with credits like “Meet My Valentine” with Scott Wolf, and “Love Always, Santa” to her name.
“Those films end up on Hallmark or Lifetime or Netflix,” Gurman said. “I mean I do other indy films too, but with MarVista it’s been really fun because their films actually end up being seen somewhere.
“And I’m not really a horror casting director but I worked on an indy horror film, Dead Awake, written by Jeffrey Reddick,” she added. “He’s the guy who wrote Final Destination.”
In her years in the business, Gurman has seen it all, but when it comes to giving actors advice, her tips always seem to spiral around one particular point: preparation.
“I think it’s really important to be prepared when you go into an audition,” she said. “Bring a headshot. Even though everything’s electronic always bring a headshot because some of my directors–we’re old school. We still like to look at pictures while we’re in session. And also bring your sides to the audition. Don’t rely on the casting directors to have sides. One time an actor told me their sides literally fell out of their Jeep. It’s like ‘The dog ate my homework.’”
In a tight market for actors like Los Angeles, it’s vital to do everything humanly possible to stand out from the pack–in the right way. For Gurman that means actors coming into the audition room armed with all the tools they might need to do the job.
“It’s so competitive,” she said. “If people are planning on relocating [to L.A.] they already need to have some kind of preparation, whether it’s an acting class, or some knowledge of the business. They should definitely work on building a network right away. Get involved in acting classes, and casting director workshops. Those are kind of frowned on now, but there are some that are legitimate.”
But she also has some words of encouragement that may surprise some actors.
“We want them to do well!” she says. “It’s just heartbreaking when they come in and they’re not prepared, and they stumble on their words. I feel terrible for them.”
And as far as Gurman is concerned, there’s an easy fix for that. It goes back to her Rule Number One of being prepared: bring your sides with you.
“I never make them memorize unless we’re doing like a mix and match or something,” she says. “I think when actors try so hard to memorize their lines they just stumble and everything gets messed up. it’s like, ‘Pick up your paper. It’s fine.’ I’d rather have them focus on their acting and on their characters.”
But if there’s one mistake that really irks her, it would have to be one of the most rudimentary errors, one that you would think would only be committed by the rawest of rookies. Yet, somehow, Gurman says she still sees examples of it every week.
“Actors, you cannot take your own headshots!” she says, slowing down for emphasis from her usual rapid-fire chatter. “Get good headshots. If we don’t know who they are, we call them in based on their headshots. And if they’re not professional, they’re not serious about the business. Since we’re looking at their headshots online, they’ve got to look their best. Especially if they don’t have any credits.”
Gurman also emphasizes the increasing importance of having a good reel in this ever-tightening market. But make sure you use only your best work, and remember that CDs are not likely to stick around for a feature-length.
“You don’t want it to be five minutes long,” she says. “We get bored. A good reel is about 60 seconds long.”
Gurman also wants actors to know that, as the person who sent you your sides, she is quite aware of how long you’ve had them.
“Sometimes in TV we will give an audition at 9:00 at night to have a pilot audition the next day,” she says. “So we know you just got the sides. Just do the best you can. Sometimes a person who just got the material is going to do better than a person who got the material five days ago anyway.”
Overall Gurman comes across as an energetic, fun, but dedicated CD, one who isn’t going to let you slide into a role unless she’s 100 percent certain you’re right for it. But it is equally apparent that her love for actors and the craft of acting knows no bounds.
So if you ever audition for Gurman, just for God’s sake, don’t forget to bring your sides.
And don’t you dare take a selfie for your headshot.