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Episode 259: Interview with Casting Director Maribeth Fox

business tips Nov 22, 2023

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About Maribeth Fox:

Maribeth Fox has worked with Laura Rosenthal Casting for fifteen years and has had the privilege of working alongside major talents like Todd Haynes, Paolo Sorrentino, Oren Moverman, Joachim Trier, Ed Burns, Mindy Kaling, Anton Corbijn, and Lisa Cholodenko as well as up and coming feature directors, Guy Nattiv, Olivia Newman, & Paul Downs Colaizzo.

Favorite credits include Olive Kitteridge and Mildred Pierce both for HBO, Jay-Z’s music video for Smile, Wonderstruck with Todd Haynes, A Quiet Place, Modern Love for Amazon and Liz Garbus’ narrative feature debut, Lost Girls.

Two of her three films at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival broke sales records, Late Night and Brittany Runs A Marathon.

Most recent credits include Sharper for Apple TV, directed by Benjamin Caron, Bottoms, produced by Elizabeth Banks, Murder Mystery 2 with Happy Madison, and the upcoming A Different Man from Killer Films and A24.

How did you become a casting director?

I learned how to work with actors, what they need you to tell them, and what they don't need you to tell them about ego. And I just decided to spend five to seven minutes with actors instead of a career with them.

So I switched to casting, and I worked for CBS primetime casting for two and a half years, which was a really good learning experience, but corporate wasn't for me.

I wanted to do more film, and I wanted to be freelance so my eight-week job with Laura turned into 16 years.

How does a casting director get a film job?

So oftentimes, we are one of the first people hired and production companies hire us, producers that know us, that know what The material is that we're drawn to.

Sometimes we're hired by our directors who you hope to get repeat business if you've worked with them before.

The first thing we'll do is read a script to make sure we're creatively aligned and feel like we strategically know how to cast the job. And then we're offered one of two situations.

The first situation is. Attach names to this to green-light the rest of the financing. So we do that side, and then sometimes people come attached to a film, which is wonderful news.

And they're like, “We just want you to cast this movie if you like it. And this is who's doing it.”

So we're normally found by producers and directors, and we're one of the first hires.

So, just a question I have: if you are asked to attach a name talent, and let's say it's one part, let's make this real simple, Sure.

How long does it generally take to cast a film, would you say, to attach that kind of name talent if it's a good script?

It's a long time.

It's a long time, so much so that Laura has received producorial credit on quite a few of her features because of the time, attention, and effort it takes to get those attachments in place.

You think about somebody, let's say you're offering something to somebody like Julianne Moore. It could take a month for her to read it. Not because she doesn't read quickly but she's got a lot going on. And somebody of that ilk, their whole team, has to read it.

She has to read it. Everybody has to have an opinion. They have to have a discussion about it. And so we try our best to set respectful boundaries with agents and managers to say, “We really need this to be read by this time.”

But if a creative team is invested in a certain person, oftentimes, that deadline will stretch.

So you could be with one actor for a month or more.

We try to get them sometimes to line up like their top three for each part if we're doing more than one part so that if there is a pass, it's not an utterly crushing situation.

The producers knew that a writer strike was imminent, and I was a little shocked to hear what you said, that you stopped getting calls about six months before.

Can you talk about that and what that was like?

It's helpful to know just in terms of our similarity to what actors go through that a lot of our business is independent film and that really continued. That was not a problem. We were still getting calls. We were still getting pings for that, but in terms of the book of business that would streamers and network, which is a lot of people's businesses, they anticipated the strike.

And normally, we have no shortage of things to read, think about, sign on to, or not sign on to.

And I think all casting directors experienced a similar shut-off. That was very different than the strike in 2008 where we were out of work for a little while, but no big deal.

But yes, like the work has been. It's been different this time around.

How has it been different, do you feel?

So I think a lot of people feel, there's a lot of feelings this time around. Where, as there should be, right? I obviously heartily support the actors and what they're going through, and it's, it's time, right?

It's time to do this and ensure everybody gets what they're owed fairly. And also, I think there is, within the SAG interim agreement, there's some stuff where I think we all need to work together in community to understand what everybody does and what everybody is going through and maybe have a little bit of empathy and open conversation and understanding because right now, it has felt a little bit of an angrier time and I understand it.

Also, It's hard to think about what life will be like after the strike ends, and I don't know.

I think a backlog of projects stopped right before the strike or started to shoot, not believing the strike would fully happen. And those are the things that are going to start to go first. And those things are already crewed up.

So, from my perspective, could it be an influx of new work? Maybe. I sure hope so. But also, we have to think about all the stuff that got interim agreements is stuff that mostly was already staffed.

And so I wonder how much the huge influx, or if it's just going to be figuring out what's actually going to shoot now and what's going to be put to the side.

The great news is that I think you're right about the flood. And actors will feel it. And start to work and self-tape again. And hopefully, it'll get back to business as usual.

And I think what's very important for actors to understand is it's not only you who is on strike, it's everybody.

I'm so proud to stand with the actors that I love and support in my day to day.

And absolutely, we are with you a thousand percent. And also, it's real, right? Many people have turned to survival jobs that they haven't had since they were 22.

Everybody's done. Employment is out. And you live in an industry town, so every business is thoroughly affected by the lack of availability of income for people.

The actors are the ones who are fighting and are going to get the benefits but do remember when you get on the set, there were a bunch of other people who were fighting right along with you, who are not going to get necessarily, the benefits that you were fighting for.

They were supporting you, but the hairdressers aren't going to get any more pay, or hair stylists, the grips aren't going to get anything.

I think that AI is an existential crisis for actors, and I don't think that is something I cannot give up my voice and my likeness and have you pay me once and that be okay, so I do think it's a worthy fight and as you said, it's a definite fight.

I also think it's in the forefront of what humanity will be dealing with. Bartenders will be dealing with it, taxi drivers will be dealing with it, it just has come. Not here first, but here.

We don't do any background casting, and I don't know what that life is.

But I do think about that entire loss of an industry. That will go first, right? And it already has started to go. They take your picture; they can pump you in if they need an arena full of people. I've had many family and friends during this time try to like talk in a fun way about chat GPT and those types of services.

And they're like, have you played around with it? I'm like, no, I don't want to help it get smarter.

And I think it will have real ramifications, and it already is having ramifications for our industry. No, I'm not going to hang out on that service, but thank you so much for asking.

What do you want actors to know [00:18:00] about self-tapes?

So many things. The first thing is it's a grocery store sample. If you're at Costco, yep, that's exactly right. If you're at Costco and the old woman is serving you pizza, you're not going to steal the whole pizza. You're going to take your sample of a square.

We do not expect a fully baked moment for a self-tape. I think artists are artists, and folks are getting bored. And so there's a lot of Heavy wardrobe, heavy movement choice the ability and the time to make almost like a short film.

It's not the job.

A self-tape should look different than how you would behave if you're on a set with a DP.

I think the other thing that I've noticed that I've started to see as self-taping goes on and on, as a public service announcement for actors, is... You're getting too good at them, and I'm going to explain more.

I think actors are really great at self-taping now, and it can almost feel robotic at times. Because they've gotten so good at knowing and thinking about, their mentality has shifted from what I want to put forward as an artist that's unique to how can I get this job by thinking about what they might want.

And so then they know what pace to do. They know what tone it is. They've done their research and all of those brave, bold choices start to get ironed out and it's safe acting work.

It's still beautiful work, but it's safe because they're so good at it.

They know exactly what they might want instead of infusing their own artistic uniqueness in the mix.

And I think casting directors hear the plight of actors, and I think something great that's going to come out of the strike is, I think there's going to be more options offered.

So some actors love the self-tape process and bless, please, if that's how you feel comfortable, wonderful. I will still take time to adjust you via Zoom. If you need an adjustment, if I get your self-tape and there's something close to there, I will still take time for you on Zoom and say, hey, and we'll workshop it together.

But then there's, we really do hear actors that they want more of us again.

I do think that in-person chem reads and callbacks will start to come back.

In the meantime, I think casting directors are far more open to reopening Zoom rooms, to make sure that we're available in some tech-helpful live way so that we can make better connections with actors.

I still get lovely, vibrant self-tapes on everything that I do. But generally, I think, there's a mindset that I've been thinking a lot about that actors carry that is, I think trained into a lot of people that it's just a scarcity mindset.

And so you come out of school and you're told that your job is so hard. There are so many people competing. You're in constant competition. There's not a ton to go around. SAG releases their statistics that only 3 percent of actors are working. And it creates this mindset that can be helpfully hungry and eager.

And it can also really destroy the artistic spirit of what an artist has to offer.

I think within that scarcity mindset, the goal of this is how I feed my family. This is how I gain health insurance, pension, and welfare. And I can't make that brave, bold choice because we don't have a casting director anymore.

You don't have us in the room to be like, “Okay, let's just do that a little bit faster here. I know the director wants this. Let's just clip it up.”

Or give you a simple redirect that could really change your performance.

Now, a lot of us are doing that. We are adjusting people who give great self-tapes.

Actors feel like I've got one shot at this. I'm sending it off into the void. It better be exactly what I think they want.

The one thing that I have always stood by is that it's one audition in a lifetime of auditions.

I am going to get the opportunity to audition again, and there is enough work for everyone.

What's important for me is what's going on in the work.

People ask me, “what do you look for in an actor?”

And I'm like I'm looking for the actor who shows up a bit early, not too early. Knows they are, knows themselves. They are good at their job and I'm also looking for someone who when the work starts, they're focused on the work and not what I think of their work.

Actors do have it tough in the sense that, it's the only art form where you have nothing to stand behind.

You’re not painting a picture to show me. You're not singing a song, which is separate from your acting. You're not doing a dance, which is your body and your emotions. But it's just you; it's just your subjective raw emotion.

And I think what a lot of actors specifically, I love my New York actors in our market, they've all been to school. They're all crafty, great actors.

And I think that a lot of actors think, “Gosh, I must be doing something wrong.”

And so much of film and television is just subjective look-based. If you're in an audition with me, you're probably a well-trained, good actor.

And so it's not about someone being such a better actor than you are. It's about the dinner party atmosphere we're trying to create. And somebody was a better fit. So we invited that person to the dinner party and not you this time. And that's hard.

You can be the most talented actor in the world.

You get the opportunity, but ultimately it does come down to who doesn't blink at the end.

And I also feel that it's the person who knows they are good at their job.

And what I want to give actors the perspective of is, you know what? Maybe you're doing everything right.

Maybe you're doing everything right. And you just need to keep doing that.

Because a lot of times, it's about what's being written. Are there roles for you right now that really fit your marketing package and your type?

Do you fit the world? With our eyeballs. And so that has nothing to do with your craft a lot of the time.

You do have to think about this as a business. And so you think about putting somebody on set, and when we get to cast somebody and it's their first job on a set like that's a great day.

There is like buoyancy and adaptability that we're looking for in people to be able in that callback setting to turn something on their head if needed, to be able to take direction quickly. And if they're not understanding what we mean or what the director means, ask a question. Nobody's going to think you're stupid.

Nobody's going to think you can't hear it well, or like that you don't agree.

It's okay.

We all have days when we're not that great at our jobs.

If I give an actor a direction that's not clear, I don't want them to yes to me and nod their head. I want them to ask me a question and follow it up. If you're not understanding, then the two takes are going to look exactly the same.

Read the directions out loud.

I think it's really important that when you get a breakdown and, they say, submit it this way and, specifically, do your slate at the end.

One of the things that I encourage the actors I work with is to really, read the directions out loud, then you know you've heard it, and highlight anything that's specific.

Speaking of breakdowns, I think. A lot of times, people's focus on the breakdown will be the small adjective-filled description that we write instead of knowing that if you've got the audition, the breakdown has already done its job, that part of your job has already been done, your agent or manager or you submitted yourself based on the breakdown.

I saw your headshot. I selected you. Now it's done.

So you briefly look at the breakdown and ensure you're in the realm, but actors often get old breakdowns. And it's not because we're lazy. It's because we don't want to resubmit a breakdown with a subtle change to hundreds of agents and managers.

So if an actor gets a breakdown and they're 55, the breakdown says 30 to 40, they freak out or they think their manager or agent isn't doing a good job.

It's you just got an old breakdown; you don't have to worry about that anymore.

Focus on the work.