Lack of diversity is one of the reasons that I don't go to most theatre very often (or have any qualms about torrenting mainstream movies) - most shows don't reflect the diversity of my community, not just in race but on many other axes. I am not only disinterested in seeing these performances, I would rather put money towards something that provides acting opportunities for the range of people in my community. I have ethical concerns as well - I can't tell if the lack of diversity is due to a lack of applications (as in your case) or due to outright prejudice from the casting chain (writer-producer-CD) - something I have fought against as a producer on many occasions.
Here it sounds like the problem is a lack of applicants. What to do?
As a nonprofit admin turned business owner turned producer, I have learned that when there's an odd demographic skew in applications, something has gone funny with outreach. And if it's not corrected, we'll wind up with a sub-par applicant pool. Fortunately, it's easy to fix.
I recently shot a music video about transgender people and I found eight transgender actors to be in it - plus a couple trans extras. It's attached to a TV show that has three transgender leads, three trans principles, and two trans actors ("actors" is the TV term for "bit parts"). A lot of people - okay, almost every seasoned film professional I spoke to - thought this was an impossible casting attempt for even a high-budget show with an international reach. And yet we found 6 people in Vancouver, 1 on the Island and 1 came in from Montreal. If I can find transgender actors without breaking the travel budget, I think there may be some nifty ways to get some more racial variety in theatre applicants going forward.
As near as I can tell, the biggest obstacle is as follows: People who are less-castable or who are cast poorly are *often* likely not to apply where they assume (or rather, have learned due to experience) that they will be wasting at least a day prepping and auditioning - even if the breakdown doesn't specifically exclude them. The more experienced actors have agents, and agents are *even more* reluctant to do this. For example, a breakdown may not mention the physical size of a character, but fat actors have learned not to bother applying to anything that isn't explicitly written with a large person in mind as they will only be wasting their time. In my case - I'm not *that* badly off in terms of castibility, but I have learned not to apply for most romantic (heterosexual) roles on account of my gender-variant appearance - there are tomboys who like guys (I am sometimes one of them), but I'm still not considered. Unforunately, hetero romantic roles are about 80% of female leads - so I don't apply for those. But anyways, something similar goes for for non-local/non-american accents, trans status, plain-looking people, and race, among other factors.
So. How to find those motivated actors?
To get around this as a producer, we:
1 - Make it crystal clear in our breakdown that we want a variety of human beings. In the case of race, we don't just write "all ethnicities" as for some reason, agents don't get that this means exactly what it says. We have learned to either write "ethnicity preferrred" (the TV term for "POCs welcome. No. Seriously. We mean it."). Or we write four identical breakdowns for different racial groups - "25-40 female" becomes "25-40, female South/East Asian; 25-40 female, Aboriginal or Black; 25-40 female, Arab or Latina.
2 - Make sure that the breakdown gets in front of people who have given up on reading mainstream breakdowns. Facebook groups. Tumblr. Community bulletin boards. Asking people for help spreading the word. If the role is not token but respectful, producers can usually expect enthusiastic support.
Do this, and you'll get a wider variety of applicants and a better and more motivated cast. (The funny thing about less castable actors is that when we get a decent role, we will generally bust ass on it because this is probably our only shot this year.)
Plus, you'll get a fresh new audience who will love your show all the more for speaking a little more to their friends and family.
- I'm also available for consultation ;) -
Also, a vulnerability
Constantly amused - use humour as a defence
On a different emotional and intellectual level, maybe two levels up intellectually
Hard to integrate intellect and emotions
Pain is always there, just below the surface
Disappointed in people - because people are capable of so much more
Have stared into the abyss, multiple times and it has stared back into me (given the source, this is really saying something)
Hide it well - it's part of your strength
Medics who are also soldiers
Scientists who are also soldiers
Good technical knowledge
Someone who's not afraid to go rogue
Someone who is inherently a good character. Not a hard-core villain.
Not afraid of the confines of society
Good grasp of ettiquette, but willing to ignore it
When shit gets real, you're a good person to have around
Can be cute - makes me smile
Have big and thought-out emotions under good control, can't help but show small ones
Can be really passionate. Can you play a character whose passion goes sideways and has a big falling out.
Could rub people the wrong way. It's sad, but you have bigger fish to fry.
I think I may have made a mistake in matching a stage name to a work-finding strategy.
Having recently done casting using Breakdown Express as well as email submissions, I've learned that actors appear with name and headshot only. Most actors who apply don't bother to read what they're submitting for - and the same sadly goes for some agents. As a consequence, for most parts, the CD/user is faced with a wall of 75% totally unsuitable actors ad 15% actors who look like every other actor. If someone sees my name and headshot, they assume I'm a fairly unremarkable-looking young white dude, like about a third of the actors out there, only shorter and not as good looking.
I've found that "Robbin" is *great* for low-budget "we just need a warm body" male and creature roles - I've got some auditions, a lead and two principles, this way. But for gender-neutral roles, the only way I hear back is if I include a message indicating that I'm female, and even that is shaky, in part I believe, again drawing on my past experience on the casting end, because I think people scan email submissions without reading them.
I also signed up for extra work, under the name of Amy. I quickly had to start turning down gigs because I was just getting too many (minimum-wage) offers. The reason I believe is that, for a woman, I look "interesting." And InspirationAll specializes in diversity. But I'm still
Thus, I would suggest is going back to "Amy" as a stage name for all female and gender-neutral roles.
I've asked around, and it seems that most of trans-spectrum butch looking transgender actors maintain two profiles, one in either gender. If you feel comfortable submitting me for male roles under the name of "Robbin," I might get some bites. If you feel this would be unwise, then don't. I may continue to do it myself if that's okay with you.
Two quick pieces of news - should I have run these past you before accepting?
1. I got an SAE extra gig as a welder on Wayward Pines S1E9. As indicated in the breakdown, I was completely covered-up with cowhides, gauntlets, face shield and respirator.
2. I just booked a little improv gig with some more work likely to follow in the summer. It's super low-budget ($60) so I hope it's okay that I didn't check in first - I didn't realize we were getting paid at all. But they'll send the cheque to [Agency].
(part of a longer email conversation)
From an FB thread:
I know we're not supposed to say this in film or in social justice circles, but here it goes anyway.
--- Ahem ---
--- Usually there are really good reasons for the decisions we made.---
There. I said it. And it's true. We write politics in our show with an eye to detail that rivals how Tom Clancy writes airplanes. Every fucking line. And when something problematic comes up in editing, we go over it and fix it, even if it means cutting 'A' material.
I know this is a messed up industry but we really do put a lot of time, energy and knowledge into being better. It's not perfect. It means that everything takes longer and we operate on a tinier budget, but I think we get some good results. So please give us the benefit of the doubt.
But, in case you're curious, here are the questions we frequently receive, and here are my responses. Some questions are well-meant, well-thought-out and kind. Some are... not.
Q: Why is there so much bad stuff about being trans? Shouldn't this be more uplifting?
Q: Why is it so upbeat, don't you know that being trans is hard?
A: These are really, really good questions. To be responsible to both the good and bad aspects, the hope and the realism, we have to be somewhere in the middle.I wish that all of the questions we get could be this heartfelt.
Q: Why not cast a normal (i.e "cis") person in a trans role role?
A: This is a show about a marginalized group. It sends a pretty wretched message if we make a show about the a marginalized group in which we don't hire members of that group and instead put members of the majority in makeup.
Q: Why are you trying to cast people of colour?
A: Because this show is set in Vancouver which is a racially diverse city. And because the status quo methods of hiring actors are deeply, deeply racist. We need a change.
Q: Why are you open to all body types and accents?
A: Because this show is set in Vancouver. And because the status quo methods of hiring actors are deeply, deeply sizist and xenophobic. We need a change.
Q: Why does [this character] look like this?
A: We didn't have a lot of people to draw from, and we wanted to actually cast trans people. So if someone could pull off the role, they got it. For cis people, we went for those who could handle the Trans content well and who were available and willing to work on a independent shoot. (See below regarding The Union)
Q: You lead is very pretty. Why is she the central trans person?
A: See above. She was cast in a different role, but we had to re-cast the lead with less than a week to go before shooting and our options were to break the law by bringing in an American without papers (which didn't work last time and cause the shoot to be postponed), cast a cis person of colour in a trans role, cast a white trans person in a role for a person of colour, or cast her. We cast her. As a consequence, we're re-writing the series to reflect the change in power dynamics surrounding passability.
Q: Why are you erasing the experiences of non-hetero trans people?
A: Who said that anyone on this show was straight? There are heterogendered relationships involving trans people - subject to their own social pressures and risks of violence. There are gay relationships. There are non-binary genders that fall outisde of gay and straight, and the romantic life of one such person drives the plot of the first episode. And some characters' sexuality will change over time. It's all in there.
Q: But why did you cast that person from that particular demographic?
A: The characters are broken down by age. Other than that, some are trans-only and some need to look cis whether they are or not. The lead must be a trans woman of colour. Two non-central roles needed to look to look "like typical actors," but this refers to our deconstruction of looks-privilege in the show, not ethnicity or age. Other than the above, we're pretty open. If someone got a part, it usually means that they rocked the audition.
Q: But, for [this other role] do you think it's a stereotype if [this actor] plays it?
A: Might be. Not sure what to do about it other than make sure all the characters are fully fleshed out human(-ish) beings. It's a romantic comedy layered over an action-fantasy with the corresponding dangerous, unpleasant and/or magical character types. Can you think of what underrepresented ethnicity or body type should play a violent criminal? A witch? A controlling boyfriend? A helpful magical creature? A creep? A catty bastard? A corrupt cop? Or will it be slender photogenic white people all around?
Q: You didn't send me a breakdown. Why?
A1: Only people on the Hollywood 'A' list get sent breakdowns. We posted it on the company webpage, the series Facebook page, about 40 other groups, and internet forums. We paid people just to circulate it around the world. And of course we put the breakdown on the usual places where one posts acting breakdowns. Look there.
A2: Because you said you couldn't work here.
Q: Are you serious about casting trans people and actors of colour? Or are you just out to say that so that we can't sue you. I bet it's the latter. All you media types are the same.
A: Yes, we're serious - see our shows to date. No, we're doing it because it's smart and its just. Yes they're jerks. You have good reasons to be angry - this industry is horrible. Please send in an application because you actually seem to grasp what this show is about. And if you have any tips on how to do outreach to marginalized actors, we'd love to implement them. And if you tell us to fuck off and don't submit an application, then I guess there's not much more to do is there?
Q: Why are you asking for money? Shouldn't this be free and open source? Plenty of people make software for free. You're a bunch of greedy capitalists.
A: We need to feed and pay our crew, rent space, hire a lawyer just to put it on TV, pay an accountant to make this a legal film corporation, pay the city for permits, rent gear and buy things like tape and stationary. As for the analogy - people who write software for free fall into two categories: those who don't need the money, and those who really should be getting paid for their work. This whole "do intellectual work for free" thing only works for people who have enough economic privilege to work for free. Otherwise it impoverishes artists. It's apparently still illegal to print our own money, so we're trying to get people to send us some in exchange or a good or service. If it's any consolation, we're sure not making a profit.
Q: What the fuck is wrong with you? You're awful human beings. I can't believe how much you've sold out.
A: Please don't talk to our underpaid staff like that.
Q: How dare you criticize my tone? Don't you know that's a form of derailing social criticism?
A: Comrade, you're being such a giant jerk that we can't engage in dialogue with you. Actually, we're not even sure what you're angry about. No - that's not true. We're not sure what the thing that angers you has to do with us. We're actually sitting around, trying to figure out what exactly we did that led to this, but we can't make heads or tails of it.
Q: I can't believe that [this person] didn't wind up cast in [that role]. Why did that happen?
A1: Because ze had a contradictory commitment.
A2: Ze got sick.
A3: Because the role is for a trans person of colour and ze is not a trans or a person of colour or both.
A4: Because the conservative government and the union don't believe that low-budget films should be able to hire foreigners or non-landed immigrants. High-budget films can hire anyone they want.
A5: Because zer application got lost. I'm sorry. We've made changes to prevent this from happening again.
A6: Because ze wouldn't answer our attempts at communication.
A7: Because ze applied after we shot the show.
A8: Because ze kept spamming the office and wouldn't stop when we asked so we instructed our email program to filter out anything from zer address.
A9: Although zer breasts did look nice covered in racing stickers, we really need more to go on before we could cast.
A10: Because ze's in the union and won't suspend zer membership or leave. Three of the ten reoccuring cast including myself have left, declined or suspended union membership so this was not an obstacle for them. (See below on why this is not a union show.)
A11: Well, the breakdown says "trans-spectrum people only" and ze fits the definition of the word "trans" and they definitely fit the definition of the word "trans spectrum," and ze really is an excellent actor, and so if ze applied, ze probably would have landed the part. But ze didn't apply.
A12: Because ze didn't prepare. Ze had six months to get ready and didn't. Ze didn't read about acting. Ze didn't practice acting. Ze didn't watch movies and take notes. Ze didn't even come to free lessons.
A13: Because ze sent in a fine audition tape, except ze read it as a downer-drama when the show is a comedy. When we asked zer to spend five minutes to read it as a comedy, ze insisted that we pay zer to do that, and insisted that we contract with zer particular provincial actor association whether or not we hired zer. And we would be willing to do that paperwork if we cast her, but we won't spend a week of labour and a chunk of money so that we can see one person for five minutes.
A14: Because ze harassed other actors in a transphobic manner. At least we're pretty sure that ze did. One crew member said ze'd look into it and resolve it later changed his mind without telling anyone, and asked us if we'd hire the problem person anyway. We hired someone else.
A15: Because ze can't act. At all. When ze sends in a tape, ze really needs to watch it first. Or get a friend to watch it. All ze has to do is pretend they're an imaginary person and say the lines. Most kids can do this. I don't know why so many adults can't.
A16: Because ze showed up for a major part without having even read the lines.
Q: Why isn't this show union?
A: Actually, it has a lot of union crew. It's just not with the performers' or writers' unions.
There is exactly one out trans person in the provincial acting union. She put her membership on hold so she could work with us because despite having 20 years of experience, she has had no work since she came out. The union diversity body won't return my calls. The union's attempts to keep out Americans would also forbid us from working with anyone without Canadian Landed Immigrant Status, which would exclude a lot of the people I train with - people I'd like to hire. Further, as I found out recently, even when it approves scripts, the union seems fine with having cis people go out for trans roles. I don't feel that the union gives a damn about working with trans people or immigrants. Even were this not the case, while they have low-budget contracts for shorts, and some case-by-case exceptions for film, we were led to believe that getting a contract for a low-budget TV show would be impossible. So we're not on contract with them.
On a side note.
I had the opportunity to go out and produce an action movie, one that is now on the road to make *a lot* of money. And while I helped them revise the script to reduce imperialist and sexist overtones, I I turned it down because I didn't think it was sufficiently socially just. But had I taken them up on it, I'd have more cash than I know what to do with and I would never have to defend my political decisions even if we used the original script.
But is making a socially responsble show different? Isn't being responsible key to the support we receive?
We do have community support. Our crew has worked for wages that are barely enough to live on, and sometimes not even for that. There would be no show without this. And I am deeply grateful to them.
During Kicktstarter, some people gave us money, but most people looked at our resquest and didn't contribute the bargain price of eight dollars for their own DRM free copy of a full TV season. Some were broke - but they worked to give us us amazing social media reach. For them, I am grateful.
But many people's support seems to entail clicking "like" on an article and, I suppose, thinking good thoughts. It doesn't translate into anything tangible, anything we can use. It doesn't make a show. It's fandom, and fans can carry shows - but only when the fans can help the show get made. Usually this is because fans tune in to watch on ad-supported TV, but we are not on TV, so it doesn't translate over to new media.
The action movie, by contrast, gets support of millions of dollars, cheap gear, locations, and top-notch everything.
I stay behind to help people wrangle enough bins to clean up the mess, offering my own supply of bins
An instructor wants me to help a student overcome her computer addiction.
And then I am read the small print - you have to run in all three.
In helping others, I have lost the time to help myself
I've spent a lot of time doing that in the last few days: helping a drunk neighbour find her car, acting as a counselor. I helped someone scout for trans actors, but in not sticking up for myself, probably lost the chance to audition. And money is tighter than I'd likeAnd in not helping myself, I have restricted my ability to help others in the future. And also set myself up in a "I lose / you win" kind of situation.
Further:What else to do:
As a manager - look in a human resources textbook for the chapter on equity hiring. It's 30 pages that will change your job.
As a creative - when someone asks for your input, push for diversity in casting on all demographic fronts. DIscuss breakdowns. Circle stereotypes and assumptions in red pen and explain them to the writer.
As a member of the community - Buy tickets and help promote only those companies that would actually hire from the range of people found in Vancouver. And... more long-term... any organization that receives over a quarter million a year in government money has to have an equity hiring program. I want to push for this in all industries and see that casting is held up to the same standards as every other kind of HR. I should really talk to my MP.
For the curious and queer: from a recent email to someone who had asked for input on casting trans people
Cool. What's the timeline from here?
Twelve is actually pretty small. We got about a hundred trans people auditioning for The Switch. I think there are a lot more people to reach. With the general call for The Switch, we found that about 50% of people couldn't really act, and only about 15% were sufficiently directable. But of the six people we cast, only one had a demo reel. So I'd suggest increasing the volume of actors.
You could get a *lot* more applicants if you could write a post as [TITLE OF MOVIE] that can be shared. It could go out over social media very fast that way as people will re-share it. The deadline is January 5th, so I'd recommend writing it today. Make sure *not* to include a demo-reel requirement (of everyone who applied to The Switch, only one had a demo reel). Be clear and simple in wording - apparantly most people don't know a "CV" is.
I'm not sure where you're sitting on this, but I wanted to be clear on the following. I would like to see this project succeed. The reason I am checking in so much is that I really do hope you find a rockin' trans person for the role. A pro-trans rom-com would be a great addition to the media roster - good for you, good for everybody.
Dan said that you might go with a cis actor but I would very strongly recommend casting a trans person, not just for political reasons, but for practical business ones.
But to touch on politics before moving on to business: my concern is what the dialogue will be if you cannot find a trans actor that you like and decide to cast a cis person. If this happens, people will ask "why not cast a trans person?" I've seen other directors field this question by saying "we looked but couldn't find anyone" - when they didn't actually conduct much of a search (or in one case, shortlisted a local trans actor, then cut her for a US cis actor). The message that the public takes away is "there are no good trans actors out there." This is not only incorrect (we found 5 capable trans actors in Vancouver alone), but it makes it even harder for trans actors to find work.
Onto business reasons: when we looked for community support for The Switch, one of the first questions we got from almost everyone tied to Queer things was a very cautious "so... are you casting trans people?" When we said "Absolutely yes!" the person asking the question immediately relaxed, and usually offered to help us promote the film. Since then, people have given us free accounting services, free space, free access to RED cams, discounted labour in every department, and a lot of social media exposure. We have had to politely decline many offers from eager volunteers.
By contrast, Queer Film Festivals have, in the past, got pushback from communities when they showed films about trans people that don't have trans people in them - as well as when they showed films about trans people that only have trans people as walk-ons. And since there are more queer movies to pick from, and the transgender media dialogue is picking up, this resistance is only getting more intense. Three years ago, I saw successful efforts to keep film festivals free of Queer movies that Trans people found objectionable. And now, arts film festivals are starting to feel the pressure, as are cable networks.
Things are changing fast. "Transamerica" (trans lead and principle played by cis people, one trans walk-on) was something of a darling when it came out eight years ago - I remember watching it in a room full of trans people, who adored it in 2005 and about one in five trans people had purchased a copy. But now it's viewed as 'problematic' and would not get programmed or receive much VOD traffic. Even two-year old movies are suddenly left out in the cold. No-one I know has bought a DVD of Romeos, and most of what I heard upon leaving the theatre was "It was a good film I guess, but why did they slap fake boobs on a cis guy?"
Conversely, I've seen some work get a lot of promotion within Queer festivals, just for having trans people in them. This got shorts over the cut, and moved B-features into A slots. When The Switch was *just a webseries*, GLAAD called me up to check in and the Huffpost did a story on us.
If you can give me that post, you can probably find a solid trans actor and get lots of positive media exposure. I can even draft it for you, but it does need to be a post coming from [TITLE OF MOVIE] .
Can you do this?
(Huffpo won't verify my Facebook, so I'm jus tposting it here for now)
Mr. Leto, I hope you read this. I'd like to hear your thoughts.
I'm the producer on the world's first transgender TV show (welovetheswitch.com). We have trans actors playing trans characters. People ask us 'why?'
The numbers are clear: roles in film and TV are disproportionately written and cast for the majority. White. Male. Cisgendered. Straight. Able-bodied. Domestic accent. Thin. Good-looking.
Minor roles go to the majority unless otherwise specified. Before 2007-ish, networks told casting directors that "lab techs are male because female lab techs would be screwing the boss." Unless a character is listed as "open ethnicity" it means that the character is white. If it doesn't say that they're fat, the character must be slender. No-one uses a wheelchair, a cane or crutches, no-one is visibly mixed-race, no one has scars, and no-one has a non-middle-American accent unless it's a plot point.
When an actual minority role comes up, actors in that minority are told that they "don't have enough experience." The role goes to the majority. Often in makeup. Usually poorly. Minority actors are shut out.
I would *love* to see trans actors playing cis people and vice-versa, but what we get instead is almost no work for trans actors at all, even in "uplifting" films about us. Same for actors who are disabled, mixed-race, fat, or have a "different" accent. Or who are more than one of these.
It's wrong. And it needs to change.
Please feel free to mention this in future interviews.
Dropping into character, I learn things from them.
A couple weeks back, I put on some headphones with a character playmix on it. It was Areli. I sank into her, skulking down the subway. People uneasily slinked out of my way.
I can get advice. it ranges from "life's short - pursue your sexual interests" to "you are a lightweight, Vase has a drinking problem. Not a good mix."
I don't know if I'd like to be Areli or Vase. Not often anyways.
But two nights ago, I asked
"So, what would I do if I were that version of myself that I feel drawn to?"
I listen to that, to her.
Now? Bitch is trying to get me killed. Or change me for my own health. Whichever.
Make up a character. As you do so, describe the ways that you and the character differ, as if you were being appraised by a third party who knew you both very, very well. Go ahead and invent contrary aspects of your character. Trend towards character aspects that you'd like to play, to be, for a little bit. You are building a vacation persona.
The next stage I tried was designed for writers supposed to flesh out the character. You pretend to be a journalist or PR person or whatever in the world of the story, and you write an interview.
But, this being a larp character; one I play rather than write, I put two chairs facing each-other then switched back and forth until Janet kinda took over and started asking me questions, then scrutinizing my answers. Picking me apart. Knowing me very, very well. But from the perspective of a different person who's gotta get along with me. She starts going after why I want to play a contrasting character, draws some blood. It's good.
Sorting out. Things clicking in my head. It worked in a way I'd never expect it.
I got her some props, some appropriate costuming. Keep her up for longer in the future. This is good.
And I want to try this with a second person.
Oh yeah - anyone have advice on getting into a character or putting on a mask?