- Thursday, Mar. 10, 2016
As commercial casting directors, it’s not often that we have the opportunity to work on a project with which we have a deep, personal connection. It’s more likely we have some basic knowledge of the products we cast for, or if we’re lucky, we might have the familiarity of using them in our daily lives. A genuine life-changing connection with a product we work on is rare, but that is precisely the experience I recently had and was able to use to the benefit of the job.
Last year, I was diagnosed with advanced aggressive breast cancer. The initial diagnosis was probable stage 4. The doctors believed it had spread to my liver. I started treatments right away but lived for months with the belief that my chances of remission were slim.
Thankfully, later tests revealed that the initial diagnosis was incorrect. My cancer was only ‘locally advanced’. I finished my treatments and am glad to say I am in full remission and healthier than ever.
As serendipity would have it, just after my treatments ended, I was asked to cast a commercial for one of the very pharmaceuticals that had literally saved my life. In the spot, our Hero character has just had her first chemo treatment and is feeling its effects. I could relate.
During my cancer ordeal, I was very private about my status. Only my family and close friends knew what I was going through. But when I had the chance to cast for this product, I realized that by gathering my courage and ‘coming out,’ I had an opportunity to use that experience to enrich my own creativity and work with talent on a deeper level.
It was powerful to stand in a casting lobby full of top-notch actors and share my personal story of what going through cancer and taking this particular medicine felt like. I was able to convey physical and emotional nuances that I would have never thought of, had I not gone through it myself. The actors, being some of the best in the business, took the direction and ran with it. Many of them continued to ask questions about the physicalities and inner life of a person in that position. The results were wonderful and my clients were thrilled. By opening my personal life to the actors, they had been able to create more authentic, honest performances.
This approach can get great results with real people interviews as well. One example, albeit much less dramatic, was with a weight loss program that I cast for many years. Weight issues can be very challenging, even embarrassing for people to talk about. I found that by starting a conversation with the real people off-camera and openly admitting to my own ongoing challenges with weight, I was quickly able to form a bond with them. By the time I started recording the interview, they were relaxed, comfortable and thoroughly enjoying the experience. They hardly seemed to notice that the camera was on. We were just a couple of friends talking about a shared struggle. The results were tremendously successful.
We commercial casting directors standardly use the director’s treatment, our conversations with the director and clients, and the scripts themselves to guide us in directing and interviewing the talent and real people we audition. While often the scripts that come across our desks don’t lend themselves to much personal connection, there are situations where reaching into our own lives can be another avenue of pushing the boundaries of our creativity and giving our clients an even better quality product. Certainly, with many real people testimonial style projects, that holds true. We can take a page from our favorite ‘method’ actor’s notebook by creating own brand of ‘method casting’. And it doesn’t have to be so dramatic as a cancer diagnosis. From birth control to banking, if we look, we might find new and more connected ways to direct our sessions. It can feel vulnerable and even a bit scary to open up our personal lives to the talent, real people or clients we work with; however that may be precisely the risk-taking that can help our actors and real people bring their best and most honest selves to the table, hence bringing our best as well.