In the ancient lore of show business, talent agents and casting directors have been called everything from necessary evils to, uh, well, maybe we better not go there.
They're defined in the public mind not by what they really are and do, but by the way they're represented via easy caricature.
Agents are portrayed as either smarmy glad-handers, like Sidney Falco in "The Sweet Smell of Success," or ineffectual nitwits who couldn't land a gig for a two-headed bearded lady in a carnival freak show.
Casting directors are typically portrayed as the third type of professional closely identified with a couch " the first two being Sigmund Freud and the Mathis brothers.
Another misconception is that there isn't much difference between the two jobs. They both deal with finding work for actors, so they both work for the actor, right?
According to Chris Freihofer, a Norman casting director, he doesn't work for actors at all.
"Casting directors are hired by producers to suggest actors who might be right for specific roles based on gender, age and physical attributes," he said. "They hire us to make their job easier. A casting director does not represent or take money from actors.
"When the producer contacts me and lets me know what he's looking for, we send out audition notices to talent agencies. They may re-send the notices to specific actors on their books, or issue what's known as a 'cattle call,' in which everyone gets the word. We might also call the non-represented actors we think might be suited. That's the biggest way we offer suggestions. Ultimately, the producer and the director make the final choice."
Margie Madden, director of Oklahoma City's Magna Talent Agency, agreed.
"Talent agents represent individual talents. We look for all opportunities for our clients and submit the best names and faces to the casting director," she said.
Both Freihofer and Madden surf for actors in the Oklahoma talent pool, but they go about it in different ways. With talent agencies, for the most part, local performers come to them.
"We'll represent anyone with headshots " professionally made photos of the actor posed differently, with different expressions, wardrobes " and the right combination of training and experience," Madden said. "If they don't have these things when they come to us, they have to be willing to get them."
Makes it sound easy, right? All you have to do is find that program that proves you played the sheriff in a community college production of "Richard III" in 1989 ("No, my good lord; therefore be patient"), get a photographer to click off a few snaps " don't cut corners and try to use that trio of photos, full face and two profiles, with the booking number underneath " and voila, just like Nick Nolte, you're a professional actor.
Although Madden makes it sound easy, breaking into the business isn't.
"This doesn't mean that we never reach out to someone who appears to have talent, but it also doesn't mean that we never turn anyone down. We can tell that some people are just not serious about a future in this business," she said. "One of our clients may do a commercial and a friend asks him what he got paid. He says $350 or whatever, and the friend says, 'Hey, I could do that.' Well, they probably can't."
Another group Madden avoids are children under the age of 6 or 7, as they often come with particular acting baggage.
"They should be able to read the script," she said. "By not representing the really little ones, we avoid having to deal with the worst of the stage mothers."
What are the opportunities for work in this market? Freihofer said hundreds of films have been shot in Oklahoma in recent years, including everything from Hollywood productions like "Twister" and "Elizabethtown" to locally produced and financed indie flicks, to commercials and student projects.
"I've just worked on my third film for 2008," he said.
According to Freihofer, the key to living in Oklahoma and making a living as an actor is flexibility. A member of the Screen Actors Guild, he said "all actors deserve to be paid, even if the production is small or has a miniscule budget. The producer can buy them lunch, or pay gas money. No one should have to work for free or, even worse, lose money by taking a job. Oklahoma is a right-to-work state, which means that you don't have to join a labor union in order to hold a job. This can cause some confusion with SAG because California and New York don't understand right-to-work."
Madden may be more pragmatic.
"The trouble with the small, locally produced projects is that they often don't have the budgets to pay extras, and sometimes even actors with speaking roles," she said. "Frequently actors work in those productions just for a line on their résumés and a copy of the finished film they can use as audition material."
So then the non-acting civilian may wonder, why stick it out?
"What this market is good for is breaking into the business," Madden said. "No one should think that the talent that stays in this market is any less talented than people who move away. A lot of actors like living in Oklahoma. They were born here and they want to raise their families here. Also, they can hold regular jobs and still do some film and commercial work."
And as for that most infamous element in the casting process, Freihofer wanted to make one thing absolutely clear: The idea of the "casting couch" is a casting director urban legend, at least these days.
"Yes," he admitted, "I have a couch, but it is in the lobby of my office. And the lobby is a very public place." "Doug Bentin