Hierarchy of Who’s Who in the Acting Industry
You have decided to be an actor. Whether you have gone to college or have worked in another profession for many years, you have taken the first step. You declare, “I want to be an actor.” This is good. Your family and friends are shocked, but you don’t care. This is your dream. This is what you want to pursue. Where do you start?
You start where you are. Start with yourself. You must be happy with yourself. You must have faith in yourself because if you don’t, nobody else will (except maybe your mother). It is a journey.
Like Alice in Wonderland, you will encounter many strange things and meet many strange people who will tell you many strange stories. Some true, some not so true. Take everything with a grain of salt.
Breathe. Relax. Take a load off.
“Nobody knows anything.”
This show business maxim has been repeated time and again: “It’s a Business.” Like every business, there is a hierarchy of who does what. I like to call it the show biz “food chain.” There are stars, producers, assistant producer, assistant to the assistant producers, dog walkers, dog talkers, stunt dogs, the executive to the assistant dogmockers… you get my drift. Check out the credits at the end of any movie and you know what I mean. Everybody has a job. Everyone wants to make a living, and who can blame them?
My point is, as an actor, you should be aware of the people around you. You might not know what they do in particular, but it is your job to do the best you can. Be nice. Be friendly. Act like a human being and you should get along quite well. Nobody likes an obnoxious, self-centered actor.
Just remember without actors there is no show, unless you get into animation (and they still need voices). As an actor, you have very little control over who gets hired and why.
So again, why worry about it? Breathe. Do your job.
Most actors are intelligent, passionate human beings who care about the planet and all that good stuff. You have control over your audition. You do your best. You prepare your audition the best way you know how. You’ve broken down the script every which way, you’ve hired a vocal coach, you got a new hair color, you’ve jogged ten miles, you’ve fed the cat, you’ve turned around three times and tapped your ruby red shoes, you’ve sacrificed yourself to the altar of the audition gods and goddesses. You are Ever Ready, You are Xena, You are…I digress. You are prepared. They can’t take that away from you.
Acting is not brain surgery or cancer research. Have fun, because if you are not having fun, why put yourself through the misery?
The following are lists of job titles for people you meet on the way to getting an audition:
The client is the company/person who wants to sell his/her product. The Ferbo Dog Food company might want to sell new diet biscuits for overweight dogs. Let’s say they want to sell them nationally. They have a budget of $10 million dollars. The first thing they do is hire an “Ad Agency,” which translates into Advertising Agency.
They are hired by the client to do an advertising campaign for “Ferbo Dog Food.” The advertising campaign could be anything from TV commercials, product placement in movies, print ads, billboards, Internet advertising, you name it. Let’s say the campaign centers on “Ferbo the Wonder Dog” who loses 10 pounds in 10 days so he can enter the State Dog Show. Ferbo loves his master, Ralph, who is chubby and adorable, but must lose weight like his dog. The campaign is approved by the client. They want to start with some TV commercials in the larger markets, let’s say New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas. The Ad Agency now hires a Director to shoot the TV spots (commercials). Some directors work in-house and may even set up auditions at the ad agency, but a lot of the time they go outside and hire a Casting Director.
So the big question is, “What does a producer produce?” Most of the time, the Producers are the money people, or the people who have a direct line to the money people. They are middle people between the studio or advertising agency and the client. They will talk to the directors, and tell they them they need to fire or hire someone. They are usually the ones walking around a set with three cell phones. Sometimes you’ll see the “Executive Producer.” This person usually has given a lot of money to the project, but really is never seen on the set. They will have put their names on a project and given money, but may not wish to do more than that. Remember all this is not brain surgery. It is not an exact science. Sometimes people make titles up so that they can be on payroll. “Oh, he’s the guy that was hired to give massages and aromatherapy treatments to Ferbo the Wonder Dog. Please don’t pet the dog, its channeling its energy for the next shot.”
The Director sees what the client needs and begins his process. The commercial needs a suburban setting with a large pool. For now, the actors they need are: Ferbo, the Wonder Dog, Ralph, the adoring master, Cindy, his wife, Flem, the son, and Bob, the neighbor. The Director has a budget of one million dollars for this spot. The director needs to get actors. He can audition in-house or hire a Casting Director out of house.
The Casting Director may put in a bid and compete with other Casting Directors for the “Ferbo the Wonder Dog” commercial, or may just be hired outright. Once hired, they receive the “specs” or specifications for the commercial. The specifications will tell the Casting Director what kind of actors/actresses are required for the job. Gender? Race? Tall? Short? Green? Blue? etc. There are approximately 10 or 11 Casting Directors in Chicago. They will go through all their pictures and resumes and also look at people who are submitted by their agents that fit the bill. Auditions are held and actors are put on tape, at which time they are all submitted to the Director. Sometimes they are cut out of the tape, before they get to the Director, depending on how the audition goes. The Casting Director may ask the actors to come back for callbacks. Most of the time, the Director has final say on who is cast.
Agents have actors as clients. Of course, there are agents for everything: athletes, directors, dogs. Most agents take 10% of whatever their clients make. Managers make 15%, most of the time. Managers act like agents, but usually have one client or a few at most. Agents submit their actors to the Casting Directors for the “Ferbo” commercial. Casting Directors may ask the agent for people they already know, or they may see new people the agent suggests. Sometimes if actors have submitted their own headshots and resumes, they will be called directly. Agents are not casting directors or vice versa.
Actors must work to get auditions. They cannot rely on their agents to call them all the time. If you are known by the casting directors, this may help with getting more auditions. Keep in touch with people you know in the business, people you have worked with, etc. Work can come from anywhere. Keep your ear to the ground. If you get called in for the “Ferbo” audition, your agent is likely the one who will give you the call. You will go to see the Casting Director. You will be told by your agent what is required, where the audition is being held, by whom. They will give you the “specs,” what to wear, and whether you need to know any “copy.” Copy is commercial storyboards and the lines you need to know. Know your copy as best you can. Don’t memorize, but know it cold.
Studios include all the usual names you already know: Disney, Universal, Paramount, plus the countless other names of producers such as Miramax, October Films, etc. who are film or television arms of these bigger studios. Studios will finance the film and put their name on the film and generally distribute the film. The studio has a lot of say in how and when the movie or television project gets completed. Television operates about the same way. Many studios have become corporate entities. Disney bought ABC-TV. Paramount has its own network. Studios give the “green light” on whether a movie or television series will be produced, and how much they are going to spend on it. If a movie goes over budget or a television actor wants more money per episode, they are the ones who make the decisions.
A TV or film director does about the same thing as a commercial director. Most commercials have a lot of people working on them– you would think they were filming an epic. Movie directors are usually asked by the studio to direct a film, unless you’re Spielberg, who has his own film company. Directors are usually the final word on a film, unless you’re a megastar with a lot of clout. Directors audition actors for their film and cast them. They are responsible for completing their film on time. Directors for television usually have to shoot faster. They might have a week or less to produce a 30 minute or 60 minute episode of their drama or comedy.
Directors like to use the same casting directors they have used in the past. The casting director knows by experience what the director likes or dislikes. Again, the casting director will bring actors in to be put on video and then show it to the director. The director will use the recommendations of the casting director (if need be) to cast a part, but the director has the final word. Movie casting directors don’t have an office per se. They will rove from project to project and have the agent submit to them the pictures of actors they are interested in. Once the project is over most of the pictures get trashed. For television casting directors, this process might be slightly different. If they are casting for a weekly series, they might only have to help cast the people who are not the regulars on the series. In some instances, the casting director can actually cast the part. The first time the actor sees the director might be on the set. There are no hard and fast rules to any of this. In fact, there are no rules.
A TV or film agent operates in much the same way the commercial agent works. The agent will submit the actor for a part. They will give the actor any “sides” to read for a part, usually in advance. “Sides” are a page or two or a scene from the movie or television episode. Mostly you get the “sides” a day or two ahead of time, so that the actor has some time to prepare. Usually you don’t get the whole script to read. Sometimes you might be able to read a movie script at the casting director’s office or agent’s office ahead of time.
Actors auditioning for film or television usually get some time to prepare. They usually get the “sides” from the film or television a day or two ahead of time. Actors will usually be brought in to see the casting director first (unless they are known to the casting director) before they audition for the director. Again, prepare the best way you can. Do your best. Relax. They want you to succeed. They are rooting for you. They want you to get hired. It makes them look good. Everybody wins.
The producer is the person with the money. They usually have some say as to what will be produced for the season.
Theatres usually do not have casting directors, unless they are a fairly large theatre such as the Goodman or Steppenwolf Theatre. Smaller theatres will usually have the director watching auditions. Large theatres and some smaller ones often have “general” auditions, where actors audition to be seen for the whole season. They might not be auditioning for anything specifically at a “general” audition. If the casting director sees that you might be right for a role, they may call you in later to read for a specific show. Usually, you will get the “sides” for a part and often with theatre, you can find the play to read somewhere, unless it is a new play. If it is a new play, usually you can go to the theatre and read the play in the lobby.
Directs the play. Directors rehearse the actors and explain their vision to the set designer, costumer, and lighting persons, so that everyone is on the same page. The director is in charge. They usually have the last say on the overall production. Directors usually audition actors they have called in and want to see for specific roles.
Actors usually get their own auditions for theatres. Of course, if you have an agent who usually gets you auditions for commercials or film, they may be able to get you an audition for a theatre that might not otherwise see you.
Again, actors usually get their own auditions for theatres. They can send their resumes and pictures to a casting director or director at the theatre. Sometimes the theatre will call you in for “generals” or for a specific part. There are “Equity” and “Non-Equity” actors. “Equity” is the Actor’s union. “Equity” actors can only work in an Equity house. Being “Non-Equity” means you can audition for most theatres that are non-Equity, as well as Equity houses. Equity actors are guaranteed a certain salary depending on the number of seats in the theatre, while non-Equity may get little or no compensation. There are very few full Equity houses in Chicago. Most of the theatres in town are non-Equity, with some theatres that hire in one Equity actor and/or Equity stage manager. If you get called in to read for a role, you can usually get the entire play to read ahead of time. Be prepared to do the best you can and have fun.