Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mariko Ballentine Casting

Mariko Ballentine Casting
November 2012

Dear Actors, Agents, Managers and Friends~   
Hope you are all enjoying this Fall season as much as I am. Click the above link "Autumn Leaves" for a most beautiful rendition by the late Eva Cassidy. 
Face Book has it's pros and cons.  One of my favorite pros is that I get to stay in touch with actor friends and see what they are up to. This may also be a con if you are one of my actor friends who writes something about the business, of which I obviously have strong opinions!

One of my actor friends wrote how he wasn't taking a particular "Avail" seriously because he felt that avails were essentially a cheap way to ensure a backup in case the number one choice falls out.

I immediately responded: "Nonsense! An avail is an avail!" He then replied, that he had been on countless "avails" to no avail, and had only booked once within all those avails. 

Ah! Another opportunity to "TEACH!"

For those who are unfamiliar with the term...when you have auditioned and usually after a call back, the CD might call your agent to put you on "Avail". This means that the clients are interested in possibly booking you and the CD wants to be sure you are "available" for the project. Once your agent is sure you are indeed available (double checking to see if you are free of conflicts and physically available for the shoot dates and by all means still wanting to do the job) they call the CD back and confirm the avail. 

On occasion the agent discovers that their actor is shooting another project on that very day...sometimes it's the agents mistake or an error by the actor by not informing their agent, and sometimes it's a booking that came in after the call back but before the avail. Merde happens. The agent would then notify the CD...the CD notifies the clients...and hopefully the actor wasn't the "first choice".

Yes, it's true that sometimes, maybe even frequently, CDs overuse the "avail". The reason this happens: Clients are sometimes very single minded, and do not like it when things don't go their way. If the actor that is in the "possible pool" is no longer available they might not be very happy! So after getting burnt many times, the CD overuses the avail.

What's an actor to do?
First of all, keep a log of all your auditions with important facts about each one: CD, Product, Audition date, Call Back date, Shoot date, Conflicts, Casting Facility, Was there Copy? Improv? An interview? What did you wear? Then... when you get that ever popular "Avail", check your calendar to see if things have changed, mark your calendar in REDand immediately report back to your agent (hopefully with a positive response) and then let it go! Go on with your life!! Don't drive yourself crazy by thinking about it!

If something important comes up (like another booking or anything that might conflict with that shoot date) call your agent! If it's another booking, before you accept that other booking your agent will quickly call the CD, and in turn the CD will check in with the client. The client will then book or release. If you are released...go do the other job! If they want to book...congratulations!! Now mark your calendar in GREEN!! 
I totally understand how the actor can become cynical and frustrated about avails that do not result in a higher number of bookings...but that's show biz! The point is, you can NEVER tell! Better to be the professional than disrespect the system and lose a job for you and your agent...AND make the CD look bad.
By the actor friend? He BOOKED it!!
"Maternity Leave"
I recently took my own advice, that I am frequently giving actors, "Happiness does not follow Success... Success follows Happiness".
As many might know, I had my Casting Dog, Buddy, for almost 16 yrs. When he passed, I just couldn't get another dog, so I got my cat Bailey. It took 2 years and 9 months (and a little prodding from an actress friend of mine) to finally adopt. I had every reason in the world to hold off on the responsibility of adopting, but a voice kept saying, "What makes you happy? What really makes you happy?" 

On Tuesday October 9, 2012 I gave birth to a 23 lbs, 8 month old black female Border Collie Mix, I named "Sammy". Sammy Oct 9, 2012

This is where my own advice to actors comes into play again: I've had a pretty slow October, and I always tell actors to see time as a gift... just as valuable as money. My "gift" was having a nice lengthy "Maternity Leave" in which I got to bond with and train my new Casting Dog. She is amazing by the way, even Bailey is getting used to her. I truly believe Buddy would approve~
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Mariko Ballentine 
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Friday, September 28, 2012

Mariko Ballentine Casting

Time for a Change...
September/October 2012

Dear Actors, Agents, Managers and Friends...

This is my favorite time of year when I always start reassessing life. There's a hint of autumn in the air, and it reminds me of the cycle of birth and rebirth. I look at how I've grown and where I need some adjustments. I always have to be reminded to be gentle with myself. Please be gentle with yourself as well~
"It's time for a change."  

Change is always happening we just aren't always aware.  I believe this is true for most of us. I wanted to write "all of us" but I always steer away from gross generalizations, usually.

Change is interesting.  It can happen slowly, so slowly that we don't see it, until we are almost on the other side.  Or it can happen suddenly.  Sometimes it takes a while to see that we really need a change. 

Change might need to happen in terms of how we look at things, how we do things, how we react to things, how we interpret things, and so on.

Have you ever experienced "beginners luck"?  Obviously it's luck experienced by a beginner!  In terms of commercial auditions, you could be a beginning actor, or you might not have been an actor at all.  But something about you, your sense of self, your lack of fear, or lack of knowledge about what you're "supposed" to do, or even more importantly: the lack of thinking about what you're NOT supposed to do, and then BAM! You book! And it all seems so easy.

Time marches on, and the actor starts to learn more about the business and it's not so easy to book. What happened? Well, they start to see what takes place behind the scenes.  They lose the inherent innocence that is at the root of beginners luck.  They see how "easy" it is to make money...and they want more.  They try to recreate what it was that they did the last time.  But in trying to recreate something they did yesterday, or last week, or even last month...they are not "present" in this present moment...and therefore the audition really isn't anything like that first time.

Then the actor takes classes, trying to learn the "secret" to auditioning and booking the role.  And depending on who they are, and how they learn, the classes are actually helpful.  They continue to audition and find some success! But time stands still for no one.

More time passes, and what used to work for the actor, no longer seems to get them the call backs, or the bookings.  The actor becomes unsure of themselves; they think they must be doing something "wrong", so they try harder. They try harder at doing it "right", they try harder at "listening", they try harder at getting "noticed"...but still nothing. 

There are the survivors...these are the actors who have been through it all.  They've been through the good times, the not so good times; they've had really good years, and not so good years.  And they are still here.  Most have found a rhythm, and they have full varied lives which include family, friends, day-jobs, hobbies and of course their acting. They are here for the long-run. 

I may be generalizing but somehow I think the survivors have found a way to reinvent themselves. They have accepted the change that comes with time, and changed with the times. Whether that's with their look, or their attitude, or their approach, they have somehow found a way to evolve. They have accepted this business as part of their "lifestyle". And they know that with everything else, the tide rolls out and the tide rolls in.
Tips...Little things that can make a big difference:

1-Actors: please confirm your auditions as soon as you get them.  Why?  When you don't confirm, the casting director becomes concerned that the session will be they start adding talent.  A session that is really meant to accommodate, for example, 120 actors will have 160 actors on the schedule... then, all of a sudden the actors who did not confirm show up, and everyone has to wait because the session is over-booked.

2-Actors: please print out your Bar Codes.  Why?  I know the casting facilities make computers available to you at the auditions, in case you forget your bar code.  But having multiple actors lining up to get their bar codes, slows things down.  And even then, the actor can only jot down the number and not the actual "Bar Code".  The Bar Code was created to expedite the logging in of talent in the audition room, and if you have the actual Bar Code, then all the Camera Operator has to do is swipe the code: Bam!  Otherwise they have to read your often illegible handwriting and type in the number, which again, slows down the process.

3-Actors: read the entire audition email that you receive when you get your audition.  That includes the shoot date, wardrobe, and any other details that you should know when essentially interviewing for a job.  Why?  You might drive all the way over to an audition only to discover you are not available for the shoot!  And if you had worn something with just a little more of the "essence" of the role, you might have been viewed differently.  This is indeed essentially like any other job interview; you should know as many details about the "job" as possible.

4-Actors: always have a head shot and resume with you, and if not on you, at least in your car.  Why?  I know these days with the internet you often are told you don't have to bring your head shot or resume.  BUT...often the casting director likes to have one, so that they can make notes on the head shot.  This is especially true during call backs, when the director needs to be able to remember who you are.  Also, you never know when someone wants your head shot!  This is Hollywood!

5-Actors: When you get your sides, whether it's commercial or theatrical, read all the parts!  Why?  Sometimes, the casting director will change their mind during the audition and ask you to read a different part...why not be prepared? 

6-Actors: Resist blaming your agents for not "getting you out". Why? It makes you sound inexperienced and unable to accept responsibility for your own career.

7-Actors: Be sure to have a flexible job that not only pays the bills but also gives you the freedom to audition. Why? No agent in their right mind will represent an actor who is unable to make their auditions. And, you can be one of the most talented people in the world, and still not book. Don't put yourself in a position of economic insecurity. Why? Whenever an actor "needs" a job badly in order to pay the bills, their instincts and creativity often flies out the window. 

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mariko Ballentine Casting

Hello Actors, Agents, Managers and Friends!
I think one of the most amazing parts of the Summer Olympics has been watching the Gymnasts on the Balance Beam. I sometimes trip over myself just walking, let alone doing acrobatics on a piece of wood that is 4 inches wide! How do they do that? Of course they practice...they practice balancing. 

Balance for the Actor

Actors have to practice, family, friends, health and so much more. One of the most important balancing acts I believe an actor must address is the balance between their heart & mind.

Yes the actor has to use their mind...this is, after all, a "Business". But one thing that I often notice about many actors, is that they think too much!

It's very easy for the actor to get into their head...waiting in the lobby and playing casting director, "Oh, that actor over there would be perfect!" Once they get into the room, if they are not greeted warmly, "The CD doesn't like me." When given some direction, "What do they mean?" And just in general, "I want to get it RIGHT!" Your head is the worst place to be, especially at an audition, which in the land of commercials may very well be the only performance you get!

There is a time and a place for thinking vs feeling. One of the ways an actor can "get out of their head" has to do with why they are in this business to begin with. What motivates an actor to become an actor?
What Motivates You?
In Daniel Pink's book, "DRIVE" he writes about motivation. Here is his TED conversation to give you a small taste of his wonderful book.
There are so many wonderful concepts to address in this book, but one that I connect to actors, is the concept of Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation.

Traditionally speaking, this is a world of extrinsic motivators. In our entertainment business this can be particularly true, and my belief is that those extrinsic motivators often zap actors of their creative juices, trap them in their head, and lead many Hollywood projects on the road to mediocrity. 

One of the biggest and strongest extrinsic motivators for actors is: money. People might think that actors make a lot of money, but that's only a small percentage of actors. Most actors do not make a lot of money, most actors have to do something else in order to be able to afford to be an actor. 

There is nothing more crippling to an actor than the fear of economic insecurity. Extrinsic motivators like fame & fortune are the exact thing that make an actor less creative, less willing to take risks, and more fearful of making the "wrong" choices.

Emphasize the Intrinsic

In a nutshell: 
-Be sure to have that flexible job that allows you to audition. This job will hopefully pay your bills, and steer you away from economic insecurity.
-Without the desperation of "having to book", you can stop trying to guess what everyone else wants and be true to your own UNIQUE self.
-Emphasize your Intrinsic rewards.

If the actor looks inward for their rewards...(INSIDE of themselves, instead of OUTSIDE of themselves), then I believe they will access more of their creativity, have more fun, be less in their heads and be more in their flow*. The irony? The potential of more Extrinsic rewards!

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Mariko Ballentine

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mariko Ballentine Casting
JUNE 20, 2012

Making Meaningful Connections when Networking
Greetings Actors, Agents, Managers and Friends!

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the CalCPA Young and Emerging Professionals event at the Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery. CalCPA is a professional organization of certified public accounts, and I spoke on the subject of "Making Meaningful Connections When Networking." 

I think many of the CPAs started off rather curious as to why a commercial casting director was the speaker for this event, and you might be too! I'd like to share with you a summary of what I spoke about because I think that making "Meaningful Connections" is a very large part of what we do in our industry!

The very first thing I did was to suggest we look at "Networking" in a different light. The word has come to mean (to some people) as an insincere and potentially manipulative way to do business. At the very least, most people usually don't get excited about the opportunity to network. I would like to change that perception!

1-Everyone is an individual and can find their own "take" on networking, there is no right way or wrong way to network, so long as you are able to accomplish your goals. (And in my opinion, also follow "The Golden Rule"*)

2-We all know how to network, because ever since we were children, we have always been connecting and making friends, which is what networking is all about. We may have started in the sandbox, continued through school and to this day "network" even when we don't know we are networking.

3- Establishing relationships today allow for life-long friendships that pay off in ways that we can never predict. This allows for sincere and honest relationships based upon "who we are". This is true with... actors and other actors, actors with agents, actors with casting directors, actors with teachers...AND actors (who are people too!) with every other human being we come across. NEVER know!

4-Practice looking at people in the eye all of the time! If they look into your eyes, then smile, nod, say hello. Networking (connecting & creating relationships) no matter how brief, is such a beautiful experience, even if only for that moment. Create this "habit". It works in all areas of your life and career.

5-Practice engaging in simple conversations anytime!  In the elevator!  In the grocery line!  On your early morning walk!  Practice "listening".  Practice "giving and receiving" in conversations.  Create this "habit". This opens you up to the human experience...something all of us can use more of.

6-All of these habits exercise your muscles for relaxed and confident interactions in all your business dealings. Practice makes perfect! Then you don't have to turn it on for interviews and's already there!  (Aside: No one is Perfect, I can attest to that!)

7-Take an Improvisation class! Learn to loosen up, be silly, and feel less self-conscious! You will gain a sense of self-confidence that you may never have known was there! Pssst!  Besides, it's FUN! (And YES I recommended this to all the CPAs as well!)

8-Face Book is a wonderful networking tool.  Set up a "Page" specifically for your business.  There is a way to link it to Twitter, so that your postings will go directly to twitter, keeping you in the flow and in the know! 

9- LinkedIn is also a wonderful place to connect and maintain relationships!  And don't forget to add your picture, so it becomes more personal, more identifiable!

10- Remember that social media can often come across as "taking", so remember to GIVE!  Create a Blog or a monthly newsletter and share your tips with friends and business associates... give it away!  It will come back to you 10 fold!

11-Self-promotion is a dirty job ~ but somebody has to do it!  YOU! Getting your agent is just the beginning. Now you have to do all the footwork (classes, student films, web projects, workshops, meeting & greeting) so your agent has substantial proof that you are as good as they sell you to be!

12-We make our own luck by our own attitudes! 

And Lucky #
13- Read Shawn Achor's, "The Happiness Advantage" and see how Happiness fuels Success!  Also check out: for other inspirational talks by remarkable people!

PS: And whenever moved to...don't forget to give people your "Name & Phone Number" (formerly known as your "Business Card") while saying, "Here's my name & phone number! Please let me know if there is ever anything I can do for you!" As Actors, you may want to have a picture of yourself on that "calling card". Head shots are great on auditions, but everyday life calls for something more portable!

BTW: whenever an actor sends a CD a "thank you note" be sure to have a little picture of yourself with your contact info (agent, website, reel etc...) This is a business, and we all know why you are making connections! And it's not just because I'm pretty! (Eek! No!)

*Just be sure to treat everyone the way you would like to be treated!
Mariko Ballentine Casting (Check out my new Website!)

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

From Mariko Ballentine Casting                                      Summer Time

Greetings Actors, Agents, Managers & Friends!
I had the pleasure of talking with one of my favorite agent friends yesterday. He told me that his agency always suggests to their roster to take the summer as the time to brush up, learn new things and improve their acting skills. He also mentioned a concern that some of his actors have expressed to him recently, and this is what I address today!
ARGH! I Had to Audition with a Jerk!

Frequently I get the question from an actor: "What do I do if I am in a group of actors, and given the direction to be friends for a particular audition, and one of those actors is a jerk who wants attention or is just plain inexperienced?

Sometimes the CD or the camera operator will notice the imbalance and make an adjustment.  If not there are a few options!

The impulse might be to feel almost embarrassed to be auditioning with someone who is coming across as a scene stealer, someone who has never learned the art of "give and take" in improv.
What happens in this case, is you cut off your nose to spite your face! You practically disappear in the eyes of the clients. You end up throwing the baby out with the bath water! (As you can tell I love idioms!) You've basically just thrown your audition.

On the other hand, you might start to unwittingly compete with the loose cannon, and then the entire scene gets completely out of control. You weren't even consciously wanting to's like being at an "All You Can Eat Buffet" and people start pushing, just a little, and you start edging yourself in to prove that you know how to keep up! And you walk out of the audition feeling "dirty" like you just participated in an orgy of sorts...eek!

Here's my suggestion:
Stay in character, stay truthful to the scenario and do NOT judge.

For example: You are in the audition room with 3 or 4 other actors. The CD tells you: "You are all friends having a good time at Disneyland, the camera is Main Street...go!" You and two other actors start to slowly get into the scene and create quick little relationships and begin to address the various characters at the camera. Meanwhile "Mr I Want to Make an Impression", is already jumping up and down screaming, "Mickey!!! Over here!!!  HAHAHAHAHA!!!" 

1-Stay in are almost always YOU at a commercial audition...under various situations, but almost always YOU.
2-Stay truthful to the have been told by the CD that you are 4 "FRIENDS" having a good time...
3-Do not JUDGE! This is where it gets a little challenging...our egos get want to tell the other "actor" to knock it off, but remember, you are FRIENDS! Your eyes start darting as if to telegraph to the other actors and especially to the CD..."I don't know this guy!" But you do! You are Friends!
Don't we all have a friend or two that is obnoxious? The one that wears the lampshade on his head at parties? The one that drinks just a little too much, talks a little too loud, and has an opinion about everything!? That's your friend. And yet you still socialize with them, and actually kind of like them when push comes to shove. There might even be a time or two where you step up to the plate to save them from themselves...and that's what you do at auditions as well.
I'm not saying it's your responsibility to "save" another actor from their own worst enemy, I am saying don't judge them. You have no idea what the client is looking for. Yes, I agree with a perfect world of perfect actors and auditions, everyone would be relatively skilled in the art of improvisation as well as in cold readings. But it's not a perfect world and especially in our chosen field, we must embrace the unexpected!
But What I Really Want to Know...

Is my audition even looked at when I audition with an actor that is totally unable to take the simplest direction? 

Remember this:
-In the land of commercials it's 90% your "look".
-Nobody knows what anyone wants, until they see it.
-You might be a brilliant actor, your partner might be totally inept and she gets a call back because of her ineptness (and her look) and you don't. Not because of the skill level of the scene, but just "because".
-We might not always act as if we love you, but if your "look" and your "vibe" is possibly right, you most likely will get a call back. 
-Frequently on call backs, when the paring is not "equal" the preferred actor is held to work with another more appropriate partner.
-In a sense, the cream will rise to the top!
-You will help yourself immensely if you remember to keep your sense of humor, and take care of your side of the street without judging your neighbors.
My Seminars & Intensives
Mariko Laughing While I Teach
It just so happens I have a lot going on this summer!
I'm just finishing up with casting for the Pechanga Resort & Casino, lots of terrific talent, thank you!

JUNE 13th I am speaking at the Cal-CPA YEP Networking Event!(Only for Cal-CPA members)
JUNE 16th I will be teaching a Parent & Kid workshop for the Asian Community, kids ages 4-8 and 9-12 
Private Sessions, Skype Coaching, Last Minute Audition Fix...all available to those who ask!
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Mariko Ballentine Casting

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Actors Auditioning with KIDS

Happy Cinco de Mayo
Mariko Ballentine Casting!
Dear Actors, Agents, Managers and Friends...
Thanks so much for all the great feedback on my last newsletter/blog! There were quite a few people who sent me their pet-peeves or observations to add to all my little tips that I gave is one that moved me to send out a Happy Cinco de Mayo newsletter a whole week early!
Auditioning with Inexperienced Kids
Mom-Actress writes:
Dear Mariko,
When an agent signs a child, they should explain in great detail to that parent how the auditioning process works. Details like signing in, slating, and listening to direction are really important. Since the majority of my auditions are now playing the mom to kids, I see so many parents sabotaging their kid's experience because they have no idea what they're doing. It's an agent's responsibility to send the parents and kids into auditions with the best knowledge available. Just my 2 cents. xo
Dear Mom-Actress:
You are absolutely right....
There are probably many different reasons why this does not happen on a more regular basis. I do have to say, however, that most of the agents I know, do try to get their kids (at least the ones who are a little older 5-6-7 and older) to take a commercial workshop of sorts.  
In the olden days I use to hold a workshop for parents and their kids
basically doing exactly what you are talking about...
I would paint a picture of what to expect, have the kids go through a "typical audition" and explain how the parents could help their child enjoy the process more...
But I want to address this issue in terms of YOU...
Since you are going out more and more as a might be feeling frustration not only as an actress, because you know this business etc...
but also as a mom because you are sensitive to that journey with your own baby.
Try to recognize what you have control over and what you dont.
You surely don't have control over all those moms & dads that aren't making an effort to at least get their kids up to speed so they at least have a chance....but my concern is more about what you DO have control over.....
You might not even be asking me this question, but I want to address it: What can I do when I am auditioning with kids that appear to not have a clue and how does this ultimately affect MY audition?
Whether it does or doesn't affect your audition, if you THINK it does...then it does:
-You see the kids not knowing what the heck to do
-You feel the energy in the room plummet 
-And then you feel like you just wasted an audition
I actually had an actor in last weeks seminar who spoke of a similar, yet a slightly different situation:
He was in the room with 2 kids who the Director seemed to be very interested in, but seemed to not be interested in our adult actor at all! He felt totally unseen and walked out of the audition feeling dejected.
In both circumstances, you simply have to be who you are, and try not to allow the external circumstances affect your audition, let me explain.
For the actor who is in the room with the inexperienced kids:
Just be who you are being auditioned for...the mom, the dad, the teacher, whoever...

In "real" life what would you do with kids who were inappropriate (either not moving because of fear, or being too rambunctious)?
You would probably take control of the the kid...forget about your own ego (it won't help at this point anyway)...don't wait for someone behind the camera to help the kid...they probably won't.
You might playfully get them to stand on the mark...
You might get down onto their level and show them where to look...
You might get them to say their name out loud...
You might even have to say their lines, "So you really want to go to Disneyland?" "Okay! Let's go!"
You get the picture...
You forget about do what real people do in relationship to kids that they love whether the kids are behaving, introverted, extroverted or deal with them using your love. 
And IF you are at all physically right for the spot...
they will SEE you...probably even more than if the kids were perfect.
On the other end, for the actor who is in the room and feeling invisible, because the kids are so darn cute (or even with another adult actor who appears to be getting all the love)'s the same thing.
Be who you are being auditioned for...
In real life, if people were fawning over your kids, fawning over your friend or whatever...remember this: the stories in commercials are almost always something are a family, you are best friends, you are stay in character, and love the ones who are getting the never know who is watching YOU...and love looks good on everybody!
Thanks Mom-Actress for the inspiration!
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