The Casting Assistant- 1998
I am nervous. I step into the subway car, and on top of my nervousness for my first day on the job and fear that I’m not wearing the right thing, I am literally sandwiched in between people and have to remind myself to breathe. How do New Yorkers bear this so early in the morning? My stomach is doing flips in response to my nerves. I keep waiting and watching each stop intently so I don’t miss mine: 50th and Broadway. I climb the subway stairs to the open air and I am so anxious from the subway experience that I’m sweating, and now I have to find the building. I take a deep breath: Which way is north, south, west, east? I find my bearings and walk north.
I enter the glass revolving doors at 1325 Avenue of the Americas and walk into the high-rise building with sky high lobby ceilings and check in at the front desk.
“Name and ID, please.”
They call upstairs for clearance.
I really don’t know what to expect the Warner Brothers casting offices to look like. Do they have a big room or a stage somewhere for people to audition? This industry is a complete mystery to me. I step off the elevator on the 36th floor and press the button for entry into the floor. Behind the door, the first thing I notice are the huge framed movie posters, and second, the cubicles throughout. Almost every office door around the perimeter is closed except one which is propped open about half way. I stand near the door hoping someone is in it.
“Excuse me, can you tell me where Phyllis Huffman’s
“Are you Mo?”
I smile. “Yes.”
“Hi, I’m Karyn. Nice to meet you. Phyllis doesn’t usually come in until about 11am. If you can answer the phones in the meantime, that would be great.”
“Sure. How would you like me to answer them?”
Just say, “Casting.”
The offices look like “important people” offices. Phyllis shares hers with her colleague Karyn. It’s spacious with windows lining the entire wall and views of the city. Their oversized desks are facing each other like partners desks. The carpet is blue grey, and every wall you look at has poster after poster of TV and movie billboards.
I sit down in the cubicle outside their office and take a breath. I made it. I feel overdressed. Karyn is in jeans and a button-down. I wore a black skirt and a blouse because I figured that was a safe bet. Better to be overdressed than underdressed.
I mean, when I say CLUELESS, I am absolutely the equivalent of being in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language. Let’s hope no one important calls. The Panasonic phone gives out a pulsating electronic ring and I try not to panic.
I walk over to the door, “Karyn, Jo from Abrams is on the line.”
“Great, I’ve got it, thanks.”
Whew. An hour later, Phyllis comes walking quickly through the door.
“Just give me a few minutes to get settled and then we’ll talk.”
About fifteen minutes later I hear, “Mo.”
“Why don’t you come in here now.”
“Sure.” I’m there in a light second.
“Okay, so right now we are working on a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie and we just put the breakdown out.
Submissions will start arriving by end of day.
Where’s your notebook?”
I look at Phyllis with a straight face.
“Do you have a notebook?”
“Not with me.”
“Go to the supplies shelf and grab one right now. I want a pen and notebook in your hand at all times. Don’t walk anywhere without it, especially my office. There are too many things going on all the time here and constant interruptions. There is no way to keep track of it all and remember what you need to get done other than writing it all down. Okay?”
LESSSON 3: CARRY A NOTEBOOK AND PEN WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES, BECAUSE NO ONE CAN REMEMEBER IT ALL – NOT EVEN THE EXPERTS.
I’m back from the nearby supply shelf in a flash, standing with my steno notebook and pen in hand. Phyllis continues as if I hadn’t left, “Great. Now, Karyn and I can’t take every call from the Agencies. Just give me or Karyn a note if we’re already on the phone to tell us who they are and we’ll tell you if we need to talk to them. If we’re too busy, we won’t even look up and in that case, just take a message.” No matter how many questions I throw at Phyllis, she is consistent in her energy: fast-paced, sure, but still somehow in control and relaxed that we would get all the day’s tasks done together.
In my head I note:Always have my notebook and pen in hand, or Phyllis may strangle me.
Right now, Phyllis is talking a language I have never heard before- Talent Agencies and Breakdown Services. She is so respected in her field, that it takes little to nothing to convince anyone of her vision for a character. It takes a great deal of emotional intelligence and foresight to envision how the words on a page will best translate to the screen. This is her genius.
I feel curious, nervous and uncertain, yet at the same time I’m certain that I am where I’m supposed to be. The question is, can I do a more than good job? Will I be considered good, bad, or just average? I do not want to be average. I don’t know how to gauge this, but I will put the effort in to be the best at whatever is given to me. I’ll keep my mouth shut about how much I don’t know- I think they call that street smarts. Here we go, entertainment world.
I am learning as I go. For example, I now know: actors have Agents within Talent Agencies who submit them for roles. They source this information via a service called “Breakdown Services.” Breakdown services is a company that takes each production and publishes a breakdown or release of casting information including the role descriptions and specifics such as if it is an episodic, independent, commercial, or feature film. It tells you the dates of production and provides character summaries. It is the CliffsNotes of the casting world. Again, I’m just going to act like I have somewhat of a clue as to what the hell is going on and hope they can’t read the truth all over my face.