Casting director FRANCENE SELKIRK-ACKERMAN comes by her interest and enthusiasm for the casting process naturally. Originally from Astoria, New York, Francene’s father was a ukulele player in the heyday of vaudeville and her mother was pretty and talented enough to be a contestant in the Miss America pageant.
“Show biz was in my blood”, Francene tells us. “I went to the High School for the Performing Arts; joined the New York City Theatre Workshop, where I was able to study both traditional and avant garde theatre; studied and performed with an African dance troupe, as well as other avant garde dance groups. I attended Pace University, in New York, and then…traveled around the world!
“Like my dad, I play the ukulele, but unlike him, I knit (very soothing, by the way) in my down time. I’ve also raised two terrific children.
“Professionally, I’ve cast a gazillion commercials over the past 17 years, as well as a number of television shows, including “Significant Others” (a semi-improv show for Bravo); “Free Ride” (another semi-improv show, this one for Fox); “The Naked Trucker and T-Bone” (Comedy Central); and currently “The Spike Feresten Show” (Fox); as well as pilots for Oxygen, Comedy Central, etc.
“Before I began casting, I was a freelance commercial producer. I got into casting with the help of a director, David Wild, who believed that I could “talk ” to actors. I love him for that. He was very generous. He gave me my first 2 jobs and I never looked back. Mick Dowd, an old friend and amazing casting director, gave me non-union or real people jobs that he was too busy to do. He’s the bomb.”
We asked Francene to describe some of the common mistakes she observes in her casting office. “This may surprise you, but I find that many actors sabotage themselves in the waiting room, before the casting director ever sees them. They see someone who looks like the storyboard, they’re already nervous, and they get into a negative frame of mind. Then they don’t do their best work. I think actors should come into the waiting room, assess the situation, see where to go, be prepared (if the script was available beforehand, know your lines – if not, arrive early and learn them there), see if there is any paperwork to do…then go in and rock the audition! Work on the script – know where you are, whom you are talking to, and what you can add to the scene! Not clear? Ask a question…!
“In a commercial audition, we don’t have time to edit the tape that we present to our producers very much. That’s why we want the best actors…the most skilled actors…coming in making us look good. An actor will get a callback IF:
1. They have a good look for the part
2. They have done a great audition.
“It is usually the Director and the Advertising Agency who decide who comes to a callback. If I think they have forgotten someone, I will ask if I can add that person back in. I take a lot of chances in commercials to see new people and present those great new faces to my producers and directors.”
When it comes to theatrical projects, Francene knows from experience that the stakes are much higher. She cannot send anyone to producers unless they are, as she says, “pretty darn good”.
“I know there are actors moving to Los Angeles and Hollywood every day, just as I did. Why can’t it be them that get booked and have a career here? I suggest studying, taking lots of classes, understanding the business, marketing themselves, getting an agent, getting in the unions, being pro-active…!”
We asked Francene to share her thoughts on improv. She didn’t hesitate: “I think every actor in Los Angeles should take Improv classes. Most commercials that I cast, even if improv is not specifically asked for, the actor knows that by ‘being improvisational’, meaning loose and not afraid to take chances, they can show their stuff, their talent, to producers and directors. I am fortunate to be able to cast commercials and TV, so the actors that I bring in want to do more than commercials, I presume, and I do a lot of comedy. Needless to say, the more comfortable they are with improv, the happier we all are with their performances.”
Francene was also quite adamant about the importance of having the right headshots and shared her insight about how selections are made from among the hundreds of submissions that are made on-line.
“Headshots are as big as a thumbnail on a computer screen. If the casting director is interested, he will want to look at the resume and other pictures. The Main Shot is the most important, because that may be what we run across when we’re searching for a ‘type’ (meaning when no actual submission was made). Look at lots of photographers’ websites before you decide who you want to shoot your headshot. Color is in; black and white is out. Let your agent (if you have one) help you pick your pictures. New actors always think they have chosen the right photo, but most of the time it’s a picture for the family. Never look away from the camera. Work the camera. Have a secret or a joke going behind your eyes. And this is very important: Know your type.”
All of this information and much more is shared by Francene in a class she teaches with Judy Kain, a working professional actress who books both commercially and theatrically. They are about to begin offering intermediate and advanced classes for all ages.
(Judy Kain also runs Talent To Go, in which talent takes scenes right into a casting director’s offices, to help actors be seen by offices that might not otherwise call them in. Francene has used the service herself and is very much in favor of it.)
If you’re interested in finding out more about Francene and Judy’s classes and/or Talent To Go, you can contact their coordinator, Pat, at (818) 704-1817. Here is a link you could check out, too: www.talenttogo.net