Bess Fifer is the Casting Associate for Netflix’s series Daredevil as well as other well known entertainment productions such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Bess has several new projects underway. Twitter: @bessinthecity , #daredevilnetflix , @netflix
Bess Fifer is one of the most well known Casting Directors / Casting Associates in New York. Her stamina and will to survive in the Big Apple goes hand in hand with the slogan The city that never sleeps. No matter what time of day or night I contacted Bess for this interview, her response was immediate. Just for fun, I tossed her an email at like 3am and BAM, a response came right back.
Which brings me to how important communication is in our business of show business.
As an actor, it’s not just about the role. It’s how you communicate and handle yourself. How you connect with others (ever hear of a chemistry test?) It’s about leaving an impression that is so strong, that even if you’re not right for the part you’re auditioning for, the Casting Director will remember you for a future character.
Some of you are scared when in front of a CD, some of you are there to have fun and some of you just don’t have a care in the world. But you all have the same burning questions: What is the CD looking for? What can I do to be memorable? What will it take for me to get this part? What could I have done differently? Better?
Take this opportunity to dive right into Bess Fifer’s mind because her answers, baby, are going to help you improve the craft of auditioning.
Why did you become a casting director? How did you get into the business?
I had been in the arts all though high school and college but was looking for my place in the business when I took an aptitude test Casting Director showed up as a perfect match for me. And the rest is history.
You’re an independent casting director who also freelances with various casting offices in New York City. How exactly does that work?
I do not have my own company and generally do not actually â€˜partner’. I do projects on my own as an independent Casting Director and also take work as a Casting Associate to another Casting Director. In that instance my responsibilities change based on the need of my employer.
What exactly does a Casting Director do?
I am hired by a production to search, find and present actors for all speaking roles in a feature, television show or commercial. Most jobs start with idea lists, which are massive lists of actors we think would be great for a role. After that comes breakdowns, talking to agents, more lists and auditions. I then present the best options to my team for their feedback. If I’ve done my job well they have a great group of actors to choose from. I then make the initial offers to talent.
How do casting directors get paid?
Depends on the type of employment. I am a freelancer and not a full time employee of a larger casting office so I get paid by the production directly. In the past I have worked for a salary that was paid by my immediate boss.
As a freelancer, do you have a corporation?
I do not but it is a goal for 2015.
You worked at Telsey + Company Casting before branching off on your own. What’s the most valuable lesson you learned at Telsey?
I got my start in casting at Telsey + Company so most of what I know stems from the seeds that were planted there. But Telsey is the place where I found out I was good at my job.
Do you rent out space for each particular casting like at Endeavor Studios or one of the other studios? Does the rental fee come out of YOUR pocket which is part of your bill to the client or does the client pay for the studio themselves?
This is different per project and is usually hammered out in the finalization of my contract. But generally any expenses that I occur are paid for by the production.
What do you get out of doing events?
Events are one of the best ways for me to see new faces so I definitely get a lot out of them. I think the bigger question is what does the actor get out of them. It’s for this reason that I try to make even the 1 on 1, person to person, seminars into an educational experience. So not only does the actor get a chance to show their art, but hopefully they walk out with a greater knowledge of how to succeed in the audition room.
What goals do you have in life?
To be happy in my work and to make time for vacations.
From a CD’s point of view, which do you prefer: Open Casting Call or by private appointment?
Depends on my needs. I have had great success in open calls but they are the most effective when what you are looking for is so very specific. When there aren’t files of actors that are right for the role it’s important to do a more grass roots search. Advertise online, get people in that you don’t know.
How do you know if people lie on their resumes?
The special skills section on a resume is my favorite because it shows a lot of the actor’s personality. And I love to ask to see a special skill.
How are CD’s able to tell if a person is right for the role?
I can’t answer that question. I think we all come at it from our own perspective. Does this feel real, Is it authentic, Knowing my director’s taste, does this fall into his/her view and want for this role…
What does belonging to CSA do for you? ( http://www.castingsociety.com/ )
Being a member of the CSA is what has allowed me to work as a freelancer. Without the community here in NY I would never have made it on my own. I am so very lucky to know so many of my fellow casting professionals and am always honored when I am referred for a job.
Do you get to read scripts in advance so you can better cast the character or are you given the same breakdown an actor is given and you really have no idea what they are looking for?
It’s very hard to do your job well without a script. Otherwise you need a really good idea of what the arc of the character is going to be. If I don’t understand a character then I won’t be able to find the perfect actor.
Do you prefer to audition actors off book or you don’t mind if they have the sides with them?
Off book for sure, but I have no issue with sides being held as long as they are not a crutch.
What makes someone stand out to you, even if they’re not right for the part?
Someone who loves what they do enough to enjoy the audition process will always stand out.
Should actors send you a thank you note?
I don’t think a thank you after an audition is necessary, but if you book a job it is always appreciated to get a thank you.
What’s the worst experience you’ve ever had as a CD?
Early on in my freelance career I worked with a young director who really had no idea what he was looking for. It made all the auditions pointless.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a CD?
When a schedule or budget prevents me from being able to try new people or new things.
Do you get to visit the set?
Generally you can always make a set visit if you like.
Have you ever been scared about not being able to pay your rent?
I get scared about paying my rent every month.
Have you ever been asked to RE-cast a role?
Yes. But things happen. Someone you hired for a one day role books a national network commercial. A director and an actor don’t see eye to eye. Injury, illness, death.
Everyone knows the Do’s and Do Not’s for auditions. What’s a Do Not that no one knows?
It’s human nature to walk into a room and apologize. I’m sorry, the subway was crazy. I’m sorry, I just got these last night. What may seem like simple self deprecation can actually come off as I know you have high standards, but if you could just lower them a bit for me that would be great.