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An Interview with Casting Director Judy Belshe
How did you get started as a casting director?
It was a process. I was living in Orange County at the time with my 4 kiddos. We'd done a little extra work (making me an expert!) and there were some folks that wanted me to represent them... why I don't know. So I tried being a talent manager. And as any good manager tries to do, they look for an agent for their talent. I went back and forth to Hollywood to find representation for my clients. You see in those days in Orange County an AGENT was someone that sold you a house!
Well, I had a hard crew to draw to. I represented an out of work Mouseketteer, A lady auctioneer and a cruise director that never docked! The agent that I was hounding said to me, "I don't want to represent your people, but you've got guts! Why don't you come to work for me?" That was my beginning.
Did it take long to establish yourself?
I bumped around town for a while learning the ropes. At that time the famous restaurant Schwabs was still around and Chuck Mitchell, "Porky" from the movie was showing me the ropes... it was all so Hollywood and to top it all, SAG was on strike! So I learned when there was nothing to really manage. I made a lot of friends. Most I have still today. That was my beginnings as an agent.
But as many of you know this can be a bootstrap business. So when I couldn't find the folks I needed to help me with my talent, I decided to become who I was looking for! I determined that I would become a Casting Director. You see there is no real mystery about this business. If you want to be in the business find out what part of the business is willing to pay you to do so. Casting worked for me. It allowed me to be with my children. As an agent I talked to some of the Directors that were hiring my talent and asked if I could trying casting for them. That was the beginning.
Was there any one thing that drew you to the business?
What drew me to the business? I love talented people. I love to watch talented people. I like helping people get to their goals. But in reality it hooked me. I don't know why I didn't quit when I was making $30 a year! Or in the following year where I was earned the whopping sum of around $1500. I just stayed in there. I quit every week... but I never stopped.
Persistence is definitely a key to success in this business, not only for actors. In your own words, what are the qualities of a good casting director?
To me a good casting director is someone that sees as many people as possible for every job. And also remembers as many people as possible from the former jobs. So that for as much as time will allow, a lot of talent gets a chance to be seen. There is a satisfaction to the talent, if they just get up to bat for something. That is the talent side.
I also have to think about the producers need. They don't want to see the same people over and over again. They will move on to other CD's if I can't bring them fresh faces. And even though the producer knows a lot of folks, and has hired a lot of folks, they usually want to see more. So there is a balance that is needed to help all concerned on every project.
Let's talk about the audition process. When you audition actors, what are some of the qualities you look for?
Someone who has done their homework, studied if they had the sides. Someone who pays attention. You'd be surprised how so folks appear to have been shot from a cannon to the audition. They have no idea what there are there for. There is just so much that goes into looking and being professional. The interview, the clothing, the proper training, the tools and skills. So much to create that professional person.
How about things that you don't want to see?
I don't want to see people with perfume or after shave. Sorry folks it makes me deathly ill. I don't want a loud mouth in the outer office. I don't want to see a ton of kids from one family when I only called for one. I don't want to see the entire family tree sitting in the outer office! One parent One Child! This is there time..not a family reunion.
It makes it hard for the other actors to study. Sometimes I hear voices thru the walls, (unlike the ones in my head) It's really hard to tape a scene when that is going on. I don't want to see food in the office. You can check in any office for dead bodies and you will find that no one has died from starvation on an audition.
What are some of the common misconceptions you think actors have about casting directors or auditions in general?
The big one is they think we can just hire them! I get it all the time on the Internet. "Hi, I want to be a star how about you just give me a little job to get me on my way." I try and try to explain that it doesn't work that way. I explain about classes and training, pictures.....then I get the "Rip-off" dialogue from them. So, try as I might I just can't reinvent the audition/training wheel for them.
This is a business like any other business. People spend a lot of money on training to become doctors, lawyer, accountants, etc. Why do they think a Zillion dollar film will hire them with no experience?!?
There are times an actor gets lucky and gets a part before there is even a head shot. But I've seen those actors take the money and turn it into a career by training. You see, the first time is luck. It can happen again, but you have to make it happen.
Let's talk about some of the things you do to help new actors. I understand you've written a few books.
Helping actors is the main reason I wrote my book, "The Long Shmooze: Everything The Gate Keepers To Hollywood Don't Have Time To Tell You ....Again!"
I discovered no matter how many times I helped someone... they didn't write it down and I ended up repeating myself. So, I wrote it down for them! And for the parents I wrote: It's a Freeway Out There! The Parent's Guide To The Film and Commercial Industry.
My books have been very helpful to those starting out and afraid to ask questions. It covers a ton of questions and answers for talent. I questioned Casting Director, Agent, Managers, Talent, Prod, Dir, to get as well rounded of answers as possible for the talent. The books are on sale from my website, at Amazon.com or at Larry Edmonds in Hollywood. And on request by my name at any book store.
Any parting words of wisdom to aspiring actors out there?
You see this business comes packaged like a mystery. Everyone's road to discovery is different. We have celebs that are there because they are good actors. We have celebs that are there because they slept with the Prez (wouldn't want to be in that class!) We have celebs that are in this business because they are just RICH! And we have the working class that are in millions of commercials, co-star and character actors and we still don't know their name. There are so many ways to be in this crazy BIZ! It's like being on an octopus ..no matter what sucker you are stuck to...you are still in the biz!
Judy Belshe is a Los Angeles based Casting Director and host of America Online's Culture Cafe.
Copyright © Judy Belshe & Joshua Siegel. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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