Pretending Can Be So Much Fun!

We were hired by our client International Culture Exchange Group to create a television commercial campaign to promote the upcoming event, Global Winter Wonderland, which took place in Santa Clara over the 2011 Holiday Season. (See Susan O’Connor Fraser’s blog post Global Winter Wonderland – A huge marketing success! to read more about the project.). Since we were creating a spot for an event that didn’t exist yet, had not been built, and had never been held in the U. S., we had to come up with a creative way to get viewers excited about a new cultural event never before been seen and was even less understood by our Northern California audience. We wanted it to capture everything the event held from amazing Chinese Lanterns to food, shopping to entertainment but without good existing footage of the event we decided to shoot the spot on a green screen stage, put stock footage as the background and then once the event was in full-swing we could shoot the backgrounds, drop them into the original spot and then start airing a new spot with the “real” backgrounds.

Once we had the concept and the stage, it was time to put the call out for auditions. Tam Communications likes to use Casting Networks San Francisco (image & link to SF Casting) for on-camera actors. Similar to my recent blog about the current process of how we are now booking off-screen/narration talent (See my entry – Finding Great Voice Talent), we can easily post what we need and immediately get a large number of actors to choose from. Since we needed a relatively large cast of all ages and ethnicities, we had an enormous pool of applicants–I’m talking nearly 1000 people responded to the audition posting. We only had a day to see as many people as possible, which meant breaking down the talent into groups of about 15 to 20 people each. We didn’t take everyone mind you who responded to the post. We narrowed it down to a few hundred. Once you get the range of faces you’d like to see—to represent the vibrant ethnic diversity of our Community—now comes the tedious task of scheduling 300 people into the day so you don’t end up with everyone wanting afternoon auditions when their kids get out of school. It takes about three days of work; organizing everyone, scheduling them, emailing them, talking to them, having people change, cancel, and change again.

On casting day we had about 300 people that we saw in 8 hours, in 15 minute increments with a half hour lunch. These kids and adults had to improvise situations since they had no idea what the event was about When they walked in the door. With each group we repetitively went through the task of explaining what Global Winter Wonderland was all about and then it was time to direct them so they could respond to what they were “seeing”. “Imagine,” Susan or I would say, “you’re walking through a village of beautiful lights and to your right is the Eiffel Tower, you’re your left the Taj Mahal.” Then “now you’re in a dinosaur maze and T-Rex leans his head into the maze just as you come around the corner. Now give us your best dinosaur roar.” Jill video taped each group, we gathered pictures, we took notes, and by the end of the day, we were exhausted and overwhelmed by all that we had seen. Overall, the actors did an awesome job and we had a ton of fun, but we were beat.

The next step in the process was to narrow the list even further. We had budget for 20 and probably 50 really great possibilities so it was difficult. So many great kids and adults had to get cut from that final list. Then came the part of contacting everyone that got the part. We also make it a practice to contact those that did not get the part so they’re not left hanging and wondering; I know this is one thing that differentiates us from other production companies (or at least that’s what talent has told us). When I contact them besides breaking the news, we want to thank them for their time and to make sure to look for us again for future auditions. I also use it as a time to help some of the parents with some feedback on what their children can work on for future auditions. If we find talent that we really like that was not a good fit for our final casting, we always encourage them to come again because the next time their chances are very high to be hired. I have already seen that happen a few times. We also like to re-hire talent that do get the parts and really enjoyed on set and will always bring them back in for auditions if the role is right.

Casting for production is just one of my responsibilities that I find extremely stressful, at times, but totally enjoy it all in the same breath. I look forward to our next casting opportunity.