BWW Exclusive: Award-Winning Casting Director, Jen Rudin, Talks Casting, Kids, Stage Moms and More in her Debut Release, CONFESSIONS OF A CASTING DIRECTOR
Jen Rudin is an award-winning casting director who began her career in show business at age eight. As a casting executive at the Walt Disney Company, Rudin hired actors on Broadway in The Lion King, Mary Poppins, and The Little Mermaid and in Disney movies like The Incredibles, The Princess and the Frog, Chicken Little, and Brother Bear. She now owns and operates Jen Rudin Casting, which casts for film, television, animation and theater from New York to LA.
In her debut book, CONFESSIONS OF A CASTING DIRECTOR, Jen covers everything from finding an agent or manager, using technology to your advantage, the demanding world of child acting, the pros and cons of New York vs. LA, turning a callback into an offer for the role, and more.
BroadwayWorld caught up with Jen for a one-on-one exclusive, where she offers an inside look at her latest release.
Congratulations on the book! You seem to have covered everything an aspiring actor and parent needs to know about this business and offer such a detailed account of both the glamour and reality of the business. Tell us how you got your book published and what you hope to accomplish by its release?
I got inspired to write the book when I was on staff with Disney Theatrical. I was going around the country conducting auditions and open calls in various cities and I kept seeing actors make some very basic mistakes at auditions. I started keeping notes - what to wear, what to sing, etiquette, the waiting room - and so I really got inspired to write a book on audition tips and tricks in March or April of 2009; but because I was on staff with Disney, I needed to get approval by Tom Schumacher, and he was very encouraging. He just wrote his book, 'How Does the Show Go On,' and he said, "This is your book. These are your audition stories. Go for it!"
What I hope to accomplish... I want to help actors because it's a challenging process to walk in and give an audition. There are so many easy things that people can do to make simple changes that will impact their auditions, and hopefully this book will help them get more callbacks and ultimately book a job.
What's the best way to prepare for an audition, and how can you avoid common mistakes?
We made a dos and don'ts promo video that makes me laugh when I watch it. That's some of the basic stuff - not being prepared, walking into a room and saying the wrong thing like, "I just got the script last night but what I read was really great" and things that immediately make the actor appear flaky, unprepared and insulting to the playwright if the playwright is in the room. So, preparation is key. Actors can't control much, but you can control spending some time with the script, being smart and investigating if there is a full script and then reading it, canceling whatever plans you may have that night, staying home to read the script and then sorting out your schedule the next day. And then the rest you can't control - you don't know if you're going to get the part, if you have the right look, what they want, but you can control getting yourself there in a professional fashion.
You've highlighted various horror stories from actors throughout your book. Is there a common thread? What's the single biggest mistake you've seen young actors make at auditions?
I think not making clear choices with audition material, being unprepared, and lying about age, weight, height - It shows. When someone does come in and they're prepared and they know their script, it's just fantastic! Then you really see someone acting -- doing what they do best.
What advice do you have for moms or parents/families and their child who wants to pursue acting?
I think the key is for parents not to get hysterical about stuff, and unfortunately today, stage parents do get crazy because of the internet and all the plethora of material and information. When my mother took me to auditions, she didn't get crazy because there was no internet. You got the phone call, you went to the office, you picked up the script, you xeroxed a copy, then the next day you went to the audition. But now there is so much bad information out there and people tend to spiral out of control and you lose their sense of reality. I do think it starts at home with the family. My favorite child actors are ones who have other things going on in their lives - they play sports, they sing in church, they like to read, they have other interests.
Have you seen parents actually HARM their child's chances in this business?
Yes I have. Remember it's a very small world and everybody is only as good as their name, so if we're going to hire a child, we hire the family. It's very important for the parents to be professional, to be responsible, and realize that their job is to be an advocate, a diplomat for their child. It's not about them it's about their child, so they have to behave properly and be very low maintenance to everybody else in the film or theatre industry.
As a child, if you have to turn down job because of a family decision, will that ruin their chances for other opportunities?
Each casting director is different. I know that some are more supportive of families than others, and others just want to make sure the role gets cast.
You want to give your child the opportunity to go to auditions, but the reality is that when you show up at the audition, you could potentially get the part, and if you can't say yes then you should probably shouldn't go. On the other hand, you don't want to turn down an audition because you'll look like a snob, so it's hard to think these things through from start to finish when you're just so caught up in the moment. Agents will get mad if you show up and then you say no to the job, because to the casting director they look like they can't produce the talent and that's not good.
If you're a parent of a talented kid who does several local community productions, when should you start thinking of hiring an agent, and how do you go about that process?
When a complete stranger leans over and says, "Wow, your daughter was extraordinary in THE SECRET GARDEN," or, "Wow, she's really got something!" It's when a completely objective person makes a comment about your child and they're not a relative - that's when you might want to start thinking seriously about it.
It's good to get references, so if there's someone in town who knows someone who can make an introduction, that's always really helpful. Then you google talent agencies in your city or in New York and you don't necessarily need a formal headshot for the child -- just a current photo, and know their current height, weight, and list some of their special skills.
In your experience, do you believe that talent is more important - or being at the right place at the right time?
It's a mix of both. Casting is about timing, it really is. It should be about talent, but it often is about timing, especially for kids - are they the right height, the right weight, are they ready to go now, are they too short or too tall, are they trained properly and ready to do eight shows a week? They can be too tall, which is often frustrating, especially in a show like MARY POPPINS when someone is finally ready, but they're already going to be too tall. With boys, you could always see by the size of their shoes and with girls, you could tell if their legs were starting to get really long.
Do you think someone living in NYC has an advantage when it comes to casting?
Well, you have to be realistic and think, "Can I really get here on Thursday at 4:00? What is it going to cost to buy airplane tickets? And by the time we land, what kind of state is my child going to be in when we actually get to the audition? Will my child be exhausted? Get sick on the plane? Will there be bad weather?" You need to think through the entire scenario. Meanwhile, kids who live in New York just go after school and it's much easier.
From a casting director's perspective, does it matter whether a child is from New York or out of town?
Yes, definitely. We always try to take the out of town ones and put them on the tour because the parents get per diem and they wouldn't lose as much money as they would if they had to move to New York to be in a Broadway show. I am very clear that you're not going to be making any money by the time you park your car and leave your child, pay the Coogan account, pay the agent, pay the babysitter, but you want to make your kid's dreams come true, so that's the important thing.
One time a manager called me and said, "Why can't she get Broadway? Why does she have to go on tour?" and I said, "If she doesn't want to go on tour, then there's another girl on the list." You can't demand those things when you're first starting out you have no credits. I remember seeing Camille [Mancuso] and Tyler [Merna] in MARY POPPINS in Philadelphia and sending a note to Tom Schumacher saying they were fantastic and they should be on Broadway, but there's still no guarantee. So I think you take whatever's offered to you, especially when you're first starting out.
Should you work with professionals prior to an audition? Do people tend to overthink if they work too much? How do you find the balance between being natural and prepared?
You want to be prepared, but you don't want to come in completely manufactured. I think it's good to work with a coach because you can't assume the casting director's going to have time to explain anything to you. But you also don't want the coach to ruin what's natural to the child, so it's a fine line. There are bad coaches out there who have no credentials, so you have to be careful.
As a parent, you do not want to coach your child unless you are a professional actor. I stress the importance of kids reading out loud every day, so when you do throw something new at them and they stumble through it, how can I hire this person when they can't read? Parents need to be aware that their children aren't perfect, and I've called children's agents when I sensed someone has dyslexia and said, "I'm doing you a favor here. This person can't read," and the agent always thanks me because that's a really big issue.
You say you love to make that first call to tell someone they landed the role. Describe how that feels.
Awww... whoa, that's the best part of the job because you're making someone's dream come true. I love to make those calls and I'm always enthusiastic, especially if they've been through a really tough audition process or we've waited and waited and waited on approval for something.
I got to tell a little boy from Kentucky that he was going to get to to go Disney to test for one of our animated movies and he had never been on an airplane. His father worked for a pretzel company and drove a truck and they had never been out of the state of Kentucky. That was a really good story, knowing that you're making a difference in someone's life.
Do you prefer casting TV, film or theatre?
I spent so much time casting theater when I was at Disney Theatrical, so now I mainly focus on TV, film and animation stuff. I actually think it's easier to test for a pilot than it is to get into a Broadway show because if they can get one good film audition and it gets into LA and they watch it, like you, and the timing is right, then you might get on a plane; but the Broadway auditions can be exhausting and often go on for months.
Is it hard is it to switch from TV or film to stage and vice versa?
Absolutely, and every theatre person thinks they can get into film and TV, but it's a completely different world. Your dynamics are different, understanding the camera angles, where the camera is, where it's going to be, where am I looking, how big should I be, it's a completely different world, and that's why I teach workshops for kids, because all these musical theatre kids I bring in for TV/film, the feedback is always that they are just too theatrical, they're too big, they're not right for film and TV.
What is your opinion of reality shows, and do you think they do more harm than good?
Yes, I do. I think you really have to think hard about being on a reality show. They know what they want to see in certain episodes, so you're really signing away the control, especially if it has to do with your kids and family. You have to be SO careful. I've had offers to have someone come to my office and do a reality show, but I worry that it could ruin my reputation as a casting director because what happens in an audition room is private. For the kids in the GREASE show, it was how they got discovered and it helped them get to Broadway, but not in a way that is typically the norm.
How important is social media and personal websites, and should kids manage these things on their own, or have them professionally managed?
I think a good basic website is important for any actor, and if someone's technical in the family and knows how to do wordpress, then that's great, but I'm very cautious about pictures and I never think anyone should ever have a home address on their resume. Every parent must manage the Facebook and Twitter pages. When you're just starting out, a basic website is really all you need.
What's next for you?
I want to write a follow up book for stage parents about the seduction of the business vs. the day-to-day realities. I hope that my next one will be exclusively for parents. I'm starting to think about it, filtering in the realities and showing that there are aspects that are not glamorous about this business. Even the name "stage mom" itself has such a negative implication and parents are never asked what they want or what their opinions are, so I think it's important to write a book exclusively on that topic.
Want to learn more? Jen Rudin's 'Confessions of a Casting Director: Help Actors Land Any Role with Secrets from Inside the Audition Room' (Harper Collins/It Books, 2013) is now available. For more information about Jen, visit www.jenrudin.com and follow @RudinJen