As every seasoned actor knows, there’s nothing like learning by doing.
It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to learn how to do: you can read all the books in the world, you can take all the classes, you can watch all the YouTube instructional videos. But without DOING it, whatever it is, you will never master it.
Just ask Nancy McBride, founder and owner of Reel Kasting Productions, a central Florida-based, national casting company. And how did McBride master the ins and outs of casting? She carted her own children from audition to audition for years, and posted her accumulated wisdom on an online forum.
“I started off as a parent in the industry trying to maneuver through it with my kids who wanted to act, and just learning the different scams,” she says from her Cocoa Beach, Florida office. “Every time I had a question, I knew there would be someone else who had that same question. So I was learning from other parents, and I started a forum on ‘parents helping parents’ of child actors. And it became the biggest forum like that in country.”
And as time went on, McBride found that many of the questions she was getting were of the “Hey, we’re casting a film and we’re looking for a kid like this…”
But as her own kids were finding a great deal of success – she traveled the country for two and half years with her son and two oldest daughters while they booked feature films, national commercials and television shows – McBride declined to call herself a casting director even as she was doing the job of one, simply to avoid the potential conflict of interest.
“Then when the film market crashed and people weren’t paying for travel anymore, I just stepped in and said ‘Now it’s my turn,’ McBride says. “So I started casting and my kids went off to college.”
Fast-forward 15 years, including five working mostly kid’s casting, and now McBride is a national casting powerhouse, casting features and television shows across the country including “The Legend of the Red Reaper,” “Immortal Island,” and “King Charles.”
Here are a few nuggets of wisdom for actors from McBride.
On auditioning and blowing it:
“My oldest daughter had her first audition ever in front of student filmmakers, and I thought, ‘This is a good way to get her skill set up.’ And she fell so flat on her face. Came out crying. And I was like, ‘Why are you crying? What you learned there is what you’re lacking.’ Every audition you’re going to have to learn something. The reality here is, there’s no need to cry. That’s not Steven Spielberg. He’s a student. Don’t worry about what you did. Just learn from it, and fix it for next time.
On booking (and not booking) the role:
“You need a thousand auditions before you’ll book a job. That’s what I told my kids. Go in there as if you are practicing your audition skills only, and you are mastering those skills, and your interview skills. And so every audition [with her kids] we’d say, ‘Okay, 998 more. 997 more.’ Then we stopped counting after a while. And soon they’re going in there with confidence, they’re looking them in the eye, they’re shaking hands, they’re presenting personality – they gave them what they wanted. And they realize that now they get it.”
On kicking yourself when you’re down (after the audition):
“Actors will sometimes beat themselves up over their skill sets, and their skill sets are spot-on. Sometimes it all comes down to looks, and matching. If you’re casting a husband, wife and a child, it could just be that you weren’t the perfect look for the child. I’ve been in casting final callbacks where we had pictures on the wall and it came down to the shape of the nose. The shape of the chin. Especially when we were matching kids to adult talent. Sometimes talent doesn’t hear that.”
On child actors and their parents:
“I’ve seen parents yell and scream at their kids, ‘Oh, you’re not doing it right, you need to put more effort.’ That’s why parents aren’t allowed in the room. The best question I’ve ever heard was when my son walked in to a casting and they asked him, ‘Do you want to be here? Or are your parents making you be here?’”
On demonstrating your passion for the business:
“If you walk into that audition and you haven’t learned those sides, then you need to re-evaluate what you’re doing there. Those actors that show up with that piece of paper in their hand don’t get a second look. Because you’re not taking it seriously. I have two feature films I’m working on right now, and those are with [first-round] video auditions, the easiest auditions of all. I have ten talents that always have their video in within the first 24 hours of that notice being out. To me that’s a star. Because they showed that passion.”
On bringing your best energy and attitude to set:
“We booked this one girl from her pictures. It was just a road test we were doing for a feature, an equipment test before we started shooting. Her face wasn’t seen; we basically needed a warm body. And when she came in, she was just a walking attitude. She was inconvenienced the whole time. If she had come in and just been fun and bubbly, she probably could have walked her way in to a lead role, because she had the look they were looking for, and we were still casting. But the director said, ‘I don’t even want her as an extra.’ So personality is a lot, especially to book your next job.”
On going to the callback, no matter what:
“Recently I was doing a feature film, and we were doing a video audition, and the director liked this kid. So I emailed and said we like your kid, we need them here on this day for the callback. And the mom replied, ‘Well, we’re on vacation right now, why don’t we do another video audition?’ So I told her, no, we’re not interested in another video audition. If he can’t make it, he can’t make it. And we literally took him off the list. I get a call a couple days later from his agent, the mom must have realized she made a mistake, and he says, ‘I understand he’s called back for this, we wanted to follow up and get the information for that.’ And I said, no, the mother said she wanted to do another video audition, and I told her we weren’t doing that, so we took him out of the running. So the child lost the opportunity. Lion’s Gate picked up that film. It’s like top ten, top 20 actors – for a movie I’m casting now, it’s top five. So you’ve gone from 100 submissions down to five. So you need to go. It’s important for you to meet the director in person, shake his hand, and we can see if you can take direction, and change things when we ask you to tweak something. Those are the things talent needs to know: if you get a callback, you HAVE to go.
Nancy McBride’s Reel Kasting is based in Florida and casts nationally for feature films and television.