Brooke Thomas & Mary Callahan

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Winners "Favorite Commercial Teachers"


Frenemy Schenemy

Last week, Brooke and I taught a class with 5 other casting directors from different offices. Say what? Yes, it’s true. We shared a night with our competitors.  Wait, there’s more. They happen to be people we laugh with, people we like, people we “get”. Every single casting director in the room was from a different company. Some of us just came from a grueling callback with clients, some of us had just gotten the great news of a big budget movie to cast, and some of us had just had gotten over the flu. But all of us showed up. We always do. As a matter of fact the class almost always runs overtime because it’s fun and we like our jobs. Here’s the true Hollywood story…
It was a few years back that Brooke and I decided to invite casting directors from other casting offices into a class hosted by us. It was unheard of for commercial casting directors to talk to each other.  It was tricky.  You see, the business is known as being very competitive.  We only really knew one or two of them. The others, we only knew their names.  We did know actors liked them, agents liked them and so we figured we’d like them too.  So when you hear these names throughout the years, you want to meet them.  You kind of want to be friends with them.  I say why not? Why couldn’t competitors from different casting offices be friends.  What was wrong with asking them to come see our students? Our students should be seen by these offices.  So we got brave. We sent out the invite. I wish I saved that first email invite. I bet it was really dorky and we were trying to be cool. (Well, Brooke was.) Guess what happened? To our delight they all said yes! What’s even better is we do it a few times a year now. And everyone benefits.  Genius.
There’s something really amazing about sitting in the room and hearing from people who do the same job as you. Sure we all have our inside jokes about an actor not making a callback because his dog forgot to set his alarm.
But moreover, it’s interesting and enlightening to see how other people “direct”.  To see what other people in our business look for and like.  I would think this goes for actors too. Watching, laughing, learning, enjoying your competition working at their job. In the end ,it’s the respect thing. It’s understanding that we are all very different, but if we are good at our jobs we succeed.  I would not hesitate to call any of these competitors, my friends, on advice.  I’ve also called a few to make sure they know about a certain actor I think they should know in their office. Sometimes I get a call from one of them about a SAG rule or maybe I have an actor who’s on first refusal for me on a job and they know their client really wants them for theirs, so they call me to see how interested my client is. It’s the biz. That’s cool. We’re friends.
Look, in the end, we all have to do our jobs. I’m not saying I don’t want to be the busiest office in NY. That would be a big fat lie. We all do. Busy keeps the doors open and we all like being busy. I’m just saying it’s really good to know the people in your field. Why not have lunch with the Queen Bee at a different company? Maybe she’s dying for you to ask her.  Maybe she wants to pick your brain. Mutual respect goes a very long way in this business (or any business for that matter). Bridges should be walked upon. Bridges should be built. Of course there is a motive to our madness. When Brooke and I retire the plan is to go out commercially in our 90’s. We need these people to like us. We need to be at the top of their list.  Deep down we know it’s bound to happen. Now, let me ask you something…Where’s the Beef?



To Join or Not to Join...


So many questions surround the “SAG/AFTRA (union) vs non-union” work for actors.  Here are some answers. On a side note, as much as I love that SAG and AFTRA have merged it is a pain in the ass to type SAG/AFTRA every time so I am going to refer to them as SAG going forward. 

SAG is the union with represents all television and film performers.  When you work on a SAG production you are paid according to the rates and rules that SAG determines.  When you become a member of SAG you can no longer work on any projects that are non-union (not working under a SAG contract).  Non-union work refers to any project that is not done under a SAG contract.  This means that the production determines what you will be paid and how long you will work.  No residuals will be paid to you as non-union productions pay talent on a buy-out basis.  I realize this content is very dry but good to know. Here is a funny dog pic to keep you going.

One question we always get is “Should I join the union?’

The answer is, you should join when you have to. When you are non-union you are living in the best of both worlds.  You can do non-union work (and there is a lot of non-union work out there) and you can do SAG work as well but only for a limited time.  Let me explain. When you book your first SAG job you will be given a waiver known as a Taft Hartley (here).  This registers you with the union and puts you on their radar. After you are waivered as a principal performer, you have 30 days in which you can still work on SAG projects without officially joining the union.  After 30 days if you book a SAG job, you must join the union to be able to do that job.  Joining the union currently costs $3000.00.  So think carefully about which SAG jobs to accept when you are a must join.  Don’t accept, say a SAG industrial job as it only pays between $490-$610 and you would have to pay $3000 to do the job.  Doesn’t make financial sense.  As long as you are not a member of SAG you can still work on non-union projects.  Once you become a member you can no longer work on non-union projects.  Get it?  If not, please re-read.

Another question we get is “Will an agent work with me if I am non-union?’

The answer is yes (if they like you of course).  Agents will represent talent regardless of their union status.  There are some agencies that are SAG franchised agencies.  This means that they can only submit talent on union projects.  They can submit both union and non-union talent because if a non-union talent books the job they can get a waiver (the Taft Hartley I mentioned earlier).  There are agents and managers who are not SAG franchised and they can submit talent on both union and non-union projects.

Okay, that’s enough about this.  Next week will be more inspirational blogging by Mary


The NO Story

I remember when we first started teaching, Brooke would talk right away to our students about rejection. At this point she had 2 kids under the age of 6 and I was in a beautiful, young and fun relationship with no clue about kid-dom.  I found the story truly inspirational and funny. I call it the “NO” story and I still reflect on it pretty much daily. It goes a little something like this.

From the moment we are born we hear the word no. Yes, most of us are lucky and have parents who want to swaddle us and make us as comfortable as possible, but we are still told we can’t eat the ice cream, we can’t eat the legos and it’s time for bed.  As we get to be toddlers, we decide that we don’t like the word no at all, so when we hear it we throw a raging fit on the floor in the middle of Target because we can’t have that ridiculous toy we will never play with anyway. Even if our parents drag us out of that Target by our un-brushed morning hair, we still feel better to have gotten that rage out. Imagine if we could do that as adults.  Well, we can’t or we certainly shouldn’t. We are adults and it is unacceptable to do that anymore. So to deal with the pain of hearing no, we avoid it. So we stop asking. We become fearful of “NO”.

Actors, writers and creatives have it the worst. You will be rejected constantly. Know this, practice yoga or meditation and deal with it. Clearly, in casting, we see it every single day. Rejecting is part of our job and we don’t get giddy doing it. We simply can’t see every actor. How do we decide whom to say yes to? We say yes to who we think is right for the job. Not who our best friend is or whom we like the most but who is closest to the character breakdown given to us by the agency.  Our job is to show the director and the advertising agency a perfect fit. They pretty much decide from there. Someone wins the part- and the other 99% don’t. 

Listen, this business is for tough bloods, gamblers, believers, survivors. I’m glad to meet them every day. I could name the many thousands of talented people I have seen been rejected for a Verizon, Bud Light, Olive Garden or 1-800-Carsforbars commercial but there are (Ed Helms), JUST (Jim Gaffigan), TOO (Hayden Panettiere), MANY (Ty Burell), TO (Nick Kroll), NAME (Aubrey Plaza,Kate McKinnon, Matt ServittoGeorge Clooney). Okay, maybe not Clooney.  The point is, they kept asking. And you should too. Now, shut the front door and scream into your pillow, it’s cold outside.


How Do I Get an Agent?

A common question actors ask us is “How do I get an agent?” Our answer is counter-intuitive. In fact, we don't like to answer it. Let us explain. Our advice is to stop thinking about trying to get an agent and focus instead on getting work. You are actors, not agent seekers.  The phrase, "if you build it, they will come” from Field of Dreams could not be more applicable in the agent hunt process.   If your head is focused on finding an agent your work will suffer.  Instead of killing it in your off-Broadway show or improv gig, you’ll be thinking about hoping so-and-so is in the audience to see you perform and potentially sign you.  Not good.

So, where to find work on your own?  Here are a couple of suggestions.

  1. Sign-up to Casting Networks and Actors Access.  You can post your headshot and resume and find auditions that you can self submit on.
  2. Sign-up to our site, and get audition notices from Brooke and Mary.
  3. Get involved in the improv theaters.  The Upright Citizens Brigade, The Peoples Improv Theater and the Magnet Theater all have great classes and opportunities to get on stage and strut your stuff.
  4. Take a class. Take an improv class, an acting class, a commercial class.  Keep studying.  Keep fresh and at the ready.
  5. If you’re funny try stand-up.  Go to an open mic night and take the plunge.
  6. Write your own stuff, grab a group of friends and make your own web show.  Everyone has the capabilities now to showcase and promote on the web.

After you are super busy doing all of the above, get in front of agents and casting directors.  These are the folks who can assist you in your pursuit for work.  The key word here is ASSIST.  Agents don’t do the majority of the work.  You do.  Research who you want to meet.  If you are focusing in commercials get in front of casting directors and agents who focus on commercials, if it’s theater get in front of those folks and so on.  Now, you probably want to know where you can get in front of those folks.  Well, here is a couple of ideas.

  1. Places like Actors Connection, One on One Productions and the Actors Greenroom offer opportunities to meet and get in front of agents and casting directors.  They also offer classes and workshops.  Make sure you research who you want to get in front of to get the most bang for your buck.
  2. Brooke and Mary offer special, small events with casting directors and agents periodically throughout the year.  Check for the upcoming events.  They sell out quickly.

Above all, don’t sit around complaining that nothing is happening in your acting career.  Make stuff happen.  Take control of what you can control and let the other stuff (the stuff you can’t control) go.

Hope this helps!


Getting Risky and Frisky with Mary Callahan

Hello my fine people. Mary here. I’ve decided to start blogging. In the past Brooke has posted a few things, but I have some deep thoughts I want to share. And it’s not often I think deep.

Brooke and I have been teaching our classes for over 13 years now. I think. Isn’t it funny that we honestly don’t know how many years we’ve been teaching? It would require a small amount of research, and we just can’t bring ourselves to get that job done. (I blame Brooke) We do have a polaroid picture of us with our first check from our first student. (back then checks were the thing!) It’s a beautiful picture. My hair was kind of orange and I wore dark red/brown lipstick. Brooke was Pamela Anderson blonde. I’m 98% sure one or both of us was wearing a turtleneck. And although we had big grins on our selfie faces (yes, it was a selfie- B and M invented those) -we were scared. Start our own business? What if it didn’t work?  Two people teaching together? What if we didn’t teach well together? What if everyone hated the class?


Here’s why I’m talking about risk taking. Many of you are doing it. I see it in emails, I see it on television and I see it on Facebook. It makes me so happy to stalk you. And you should be darn proud of yourself. It doesn’t matter if you end up famous (although I like that some of you are now and still message us and stuff), I don’t care if you risk creating your own web show, taking a stab at stand up, or having a baby in the middle of your career. I just love to see that you are making bold choices. Getting it done. Y’all are getting risky and frisky. And I Love it.

I’m so proud of myself for the moment Brooke and I decided to go full force with B and M. We did it and never looked back. I’m proud when people from my neighborhood ask me about it with surprised eyes.  I’m proud to tell my parents how successful the classes are going. I’m proud to tell my daughters about it in a few years when I get to give them the “inspirational” talks about fighting for what makes them happy, because teaching all of you does just that.  And of course, I’m proud to be an American. (had to)