In this episode we explore the creative mind of casting director and producer Brenda Ambrize. She has been working on both sides of the camera for over 20 years, Brenda started her own company Ambrize Production Services in 1997, which handles all aspects of casting and production.
Brenda gives us a valuable insight on the inner workings of the entertainment industry, how to recognize good opportunities for our careers and how to take advantage of them, including strategies to effectively deliver what the director needs, and the benefits and disadvantages of virtual auditions nowadays.
Some of her recent projects include: -AMEX/Delta Travel Stories/Yellowstone; NBC/PGA promos; Advance Auto Parts; HEB Holiday Campaign/Hispanic market; VH1’s My True Crime Story; the feature film The Answer to My Prayer, and USAA’s Army/Navy spot.
Brenda also freelances as a Supervising Producer for an in-house video studio in the tech industry.
You can follow her Facebook page facebook.com/brendajambrizecasting where she posts projects you can submit to, especially if you live around San Antonio, Houston, Austin and Dallas.
**Visit www.nickymondellini.com/podcast and download the ebook “Learn to handle the NOs of the industry” for free, and subscribe to receive La Pizarra’s monthly newsletter with news about new episodes and various resources for the best development of your artistic career
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** Visit https://www.nickymondellini.com to learn about the work of actress, host and voiceover artist Nicky Mondellini.
Nicky Mondellini is an internationally known artist with more than thirty years of artistic career, her voice is heard in commercials on television, radio and digital platforms worldwide. She is the host and producer of La Pizarra since 2020.
Her work as an actress includes more than a dozen telenovelas, and drama shows, classical and contemporary Spanish plays, short and feature films, and the hosting of morning shows in Mexico and the United States, as well as on camera commercials, and advertising and corporate videos.
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Presenter: This is La Pizarra, a place where we explore creative minds in the entertainment industry on both sides of the mic and the camera. Here is your host, Nicky Mondellini.
Nicoletta Mondellini: Welcome to another episode of La Pizarra. My name is Nicky Mondellini, and I’m very happy that you’re joining us today. Have you ever wondered what the life of a casting director is like? Well, stick around because you’re about to find out. My guest is the one and only Brenda Ambrize. She is a casting director and producer with over 20 years of experience.
After working on both sides of the camera for several years, Brenda started Ambrize Production Services in 1997, a company that handles all aspects of casting and production. Some of her recent projects include producing for American Express, Delta Travel Yellowstone, NBC, PGA promos, casting for Advanced Auto Parts, HEB holiday campaign for the Hispanic market, VH1’s My True Crime Story, the feature film The Answer to My Prayer, and USAA’s Army Navy Spot.
Brenda also freelances as a supervising producer for an in-house video studio in the tech industry. Before we go on with the interview, I want to remind you that all episodes of La Pizarra are available on nickymondellini.com/podcast, where you can also download for free my new e-book, How to deal with the “No’s” of the industry, which is in Spanish, but you can also sign up for our monthly newsletter, which is in English and Spanish. That one has previews of upcoming episodes, as well as resources for your creative business. Now, let’s go on with the interview. Brenda. Hi, thank you so much for joining me today.
Brenda Ambrize: Absolutely. I’m looking forward to it.
Nicoletta: Okay. I have a bunch of questions about the casting process and everything, which is your specialty, that and production. Before that, I just want to know a little bit about you, about what got you started down this path in the entertainment business.
Brenda: What’s interesting is I always loved entertainment, even as a child. I loved to read, so I think that piqued my interest in drama and stories. I was reading since probably I was three years old. My mom and my dad loved to read, so they really encouraged us to read, took us to the library all the time. I think through books, for me, that helped me to escape into another life. I loved just the mystery. I think at one time I thought that I was going to be a mystery book reader, because I loved figuring out things, and I thought, “I’m going to write books.”
Even as a kid, I was producing talent shows in my neighborhood. My neighbors had this garage, and we would do little plays and skits, and I was producing it back then. I loved to dance. I took dance ballet and tap. Again, I was always interested in that, but when I was a kid that seemed so far, out of my reach. Unlike today, where everybody has a YouTube channel, or they’re TikTok stars or influencers or whatever. At that point, it still felt like that was just a dream, and it was just so out of reach.
I grew up dancing, and when you’re in high school, you pick one or the other. As soon as I hit college, I took my first drama class, and that was it. I went into for pre-law, and I switched my major to drama. My parents were like, “What are you going to do with that?,” and I’m like, “I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out.” That’s what peaked it, is like I was always interested in that. When I took theater, it was a very experimental theater when I first got into it, when I thought I was going to be doing Oklahoma and the big stage things, and we were doing really weird things. It opened up, just to try other things and not just stick with what I thought that I wanted to do.
That’s my interest and my desire to be involved in some way in that arena, was from when I was very little, but I never saw me doing what I’m doing now. After I got my degree, I thought I was going to New York, I was going to be a theater actor because that was real acting, is what I thought. You didn’t want to do commercials, I didn’t want to do TV. Again, that’s probably an attitude that was fostered in my theater courses, where that was the real thing.
I got out of college, and I was teaching theater, I was teaching fine arts, I was teaching dance. I was the fine arts director at my church, and I was directing a play, and someone walked in to audition, and he was in the film industry. After we met, and we talked, and I had cast him in a small role in my play, a production came up in his realm, they said, “We need a dance coordinator, a talent coordinator,” and he says, “I know just the person,” and so they reached out to me.
Really, that’s how it started. This company was a really big company, they did everything in San Antonio. I got hooked in with them, and so I started searching for dancers to come on to this show. It was an international Hispanic show, it was supposed to be the Latino American Bandstand. They would bring in international artists that I didn’t even know because I didn’t listen to that kind of music. It wasn’t Tejano, and it wasn’t Conjunto, it was the international flavor, people from Mexico and Argentina and Spain. It was very interesting. I started looking for talent in clubs and such.
Then, when we got to the actual show, we would tape four shows a month. One Saturday we’d have four shows we would do, and it would come on like, I don’t know, I think it was Saturday afternoons or Sunday afternoons. I had to literally get out on the dance floor to help people move, react to camera, have fun with it. Through that, I ended up doing one little bit every show, and I brought in a former dancer that I had taught. We would dance one number with the host of the show, who at that time was a very popular singer. He had just been in a telenovela, so everybody knew him and was in love with him. His name was Franco.
We would do a little spiel, he would sing one of his songs, and we would get out and dance with him. That’s how it all started, but I was doing it all part-time. I would do it after I got out of my regular job. I would work two weeks out of the month finding dancers, we’d do the show. From there I met other people, other professionals in the field, and they just thought, “You’re good with people, you’re good with youth.” There was a big promo for Coca-Cola, and they’d have 200 kids that they needed managing and wrangling, they were like, “Brenda,” or little dance bits and so.
It really just started that way, just using the skills that I already had, which was managing youth, managing plays, managing dance, things like that. I would get called into different things that I didn’t even know about, like, “There’s a show in Holland, and we need some graphics. Can you come in and dance a little routine? We will use CGI to create your moves, and then that was going to be the opening for that dance show.” There were things that were out of the realm of what I understood to do. I was like, “Oh, you’re going to pay me that to come in for an hour? Okay, I’ll be there.”
That’s really how it started, I met the right people. I know in this business we always say, “How do you meet,” but it’s like, I met people, and opportunities opened up at great times where I was able just to walk straight in and do things. It really came back to relationships, people that I met, they trusted me after I was able to do what they wanted me to do, and I think many times that’s what I tell people today. I’m like, “You have to make your own opportunities, but at the same time recognize when there’s opportunities for you.” That’s how I did it.
This company liked casting their own projects, so they didn’t hire a casting director. There was another young man who’d been doing it, and I went in to help him once, and then I took over. It was just one of those things, he was moving, and they were like, “Oh, you can continue doing it.” That’s really how casting started, it was just this one company who said, “You work with people, why don’t you cast our projects for us?”
Nicoletta: Wow. What an amazing break, but definitely I think you did have all the elements for it, and that’s why it just started progressing from there, and from one project to the other. That’s wonderful how it all developed. Then, when is it that you started your own production and casting company?
Brenda: I think that that all was happening probably– Oh gosh, this dates me, but there you have it, like the late 80s, early 90s, I was working on the show and working on these little things. In 95, I had a friend that was opening his own CGI company. The same person who had walked in to audition for me, we hit become friends, and I had become friends with his whole family. He was leaving to open his own CGI company.
I went in that summer to help them open the office. Halfway through the summer, he goes, “Why don’t you stay on and produce for us?” I went, “Well, I’ve never produced computer graphic stuff.” He’s like, “That’s fine. I think you’re sharp enough to do it.” Everything almost that I’ve done in this business, Nicky, has been baptism by fire. Like, “Can you do it? We trust that you can do it.” I’m like, “Okay.” [laughs] It’s like, “Let me go find out, learn.”
I told a director friend that I worked with once, he was bidding a job, and he’d bid it with me, and he’d bid it with someone else. That person said, “She’s green in the industry. She’s pretty new.” He came back to me and I think back now that it was a challenge, he wanted to see how I would react to a little bit of an obstacle and adversity. I remember that I thought for a moment, and I’m like, “Don’t just answer right away.” I thought for a moment, then I said, “Well–” He’s exactly correct. I said, “I haven’t been in the business as long as he’s been in the business. What I do know is I will work hard, I will get what you need. What I don’t know, I’ll find out. I’ll do my very best to do the best job I know to do for you.”
He says, “It’s good enough for me.” He was really my first director, and I worked with him for years. It’s different things like that I tell people sometimes. You have to be confident in what you can do, but be totally honest because you don’t know everything. Even after all these years, I don’t know everything. I’m constantly learning. I think that, especially– This may be pushing a little further, but the pandemic for me was a prime example of sink or swim. You’re going to learn new skills, you’re going to find different ways to do things, you’re going to put yourself still out there so that you can continue working, so you can continue working in the industry that you love.
I’d love to see what everyone did during this time, like yourself, for instance. [laughs]
Nicoletta: Yes. We all had to adapt. We all had to make things work and learn, just like you. A lot of people that, for example, in the voiceover industry, in big cities that usually went to professional studios for, I don’t know, video games or animation, dubbing, anything like that, or even commercials. All of a sudden is, “Well, you have to record from home.” Many times, big companies were able to send recording kits and everything for actors to do that. but other times no, it fell onto the actors to have to procure everything for themselves. It was a bit unnerving, but everybody learned so much from that, definitely.
For you, for example, what are the things that you like now that have changed from the pandemic that are not going back to the way it was before? You and I were having a conversation not so long ago about how everything is virtual casting, all self-tapes. How much of that is really saving time for you? How much of it is you wish things were the way they used to be?
Brenda: I think probably the thing I miss the most is being able to interact with talent. After you’ve been in the business, especially as long as I have, I’ve seen people grow up. I’ve seen kids that I saw when they were little, and now they’re teens, and you see people go through their different stages of life. That’s a wonderful thing because you know them. You know what they can do. You have confidence in being able to extract the performance that you want, those kinds of things.
I can say there’s nothing that beats seeing somebody in person. I will always miss that. I think that there are still arenas in which it’s important to actually be able to bring people in and talk to them. I know in speaking to different people or speaking with different people, that’s probably more in film, maybe TV, where you still are going through that virtual self-tape for the first, second, third round, and then maybe the fourth round is when the director wants to interact with the talent.
I think that’s what I miss the most when I see people, maybe in our Eco Cast or the live virtual callbacks. I love it. People are like, “Oh, I’ve missed you. I’ve missed seeing you.” It’s the same for me. What I do like about what’s happened, what happened in having to do the virtual casting or the self-taping, is that it has allowed us to see so many more people than we would. Because I go long.
If I start at 9:00 AM or 10:00 AM, I would go until 7:00. However many people I needed, and even within that, because as a casting director I like to spend time with people, so I’m not rushing them in and out. I started as an actor, and I thought, “What is somebody going to get from my slate?” They can’t possibly get anything from just like, “Hi,” and I’m out of there. I’m like, “What do they get?” I always had an empathy for actors because I thought, first of all, especially if you’re coming in from out of town, you’re driving.
All the challenges that can occur with being in traffic, having to get someplace, and then you have to arrive, then you have to get that energy back. Then you see a casting director for maybe, if you’re lucky, 10 minutes, and then you’re back out the door and in the car and heading out. I remember I was at an audition, and I walked out to the front and this actor said, “Oh, my gosh. How long am I going to have to wait?” I don’t think we were way behind, but he walked in and saw several people waiting.
He was like, “I had to drive. My trip over here was so long.” This is in Austin, we’re thinking he’s driving in from Houston or Dallas. My assistant said, “Where did you drive in from?” He goes, “North Austin.”
Brenda: It was like, “Okay, talk to one of these people who just drove four hours to get here for an audition.”
Nicoletta: Exactly, yes.
Brenda: I understand that. I understand the frustration. As an actor, I would think, “I’m driving,” you get behind because of an accident, you’re running into an audition. You do it, you get out in your car, and you’re just like, “Oh, bad, bad, bad.” I felt like with the virtual auditions people can make it work within their time frame. They can take their lunch early and go to a quiet place. They can close the door to their office. They can make it work early or late. I just think that now I can send a casting out, I just did this week. I got probably close to a thousand submissions. Now that’s a lot of people to go through.
Nicoletta: Oh my goodness.
Brenda: I could invite a third of them back that I would not have been able to do if I was seeing them in person because I was only going to see. I have seen 150 people in a day if I have just seen them. That’s unusual, most people were seeing– I remember someone saying, “Oh, my gosh, you’re seeing 50 people. That’s a lot.” I’m like, “That’s really not a lot for me, because I would try to see as many people as I can.” In that respect, I love that.
I have to say that I have directors that have said they hope they never go back to in-person because, again, they’re seeing more people, they can quickly go through people if they just think that person didn’t do it for them. They’re also able to not just see 70 people a day or 80 people a day or whatever it is. They’re seeing as many people as I can potentially put before them. They’re seeing more people than– They’re seeing actors that perhaps would not drive down from a city, but will drive down for a booking.
Now it’s opened up their realm of who they’re seeing. Then I think it also has allowed talent to really focus on, I think, their performance because they just have to turn the light on and walk into their room. I think the distractions are gone. In that respect, I think that that has been good for everyone. Then I think, finally, I think financially it’s just easier. I always had a lot of empathy for people who first round, second round callbacks, and then they go to the booking, and you’re going, “They’ve done three or four round trips already.” That’s a lot.
Nicoletta: It is. It is tough.
Brenda: Especially in a market like ours where if you want to work you’re going to go to everywhere that’s asking you to come.
Nicoletta: Yes. Oh, for sure. I remember, every time I had to drive to Austin for an audition, it was going to take me at least 7 to 10 hours of that day. Just to be prepared, drive over there, depending on which part of Austin, taking into account the number of people that were going to be there. Then just, of course, the audition was what? One, two minutes, and that was it, in and out. Then go back, then you’re hungry, then you want to eat something, then, of course, the drive back, and then you hit traffic again. It was really frustrating. Then the callback, then the booking. Like you said, it’s definitely frustrating.
Right now, it’s a lot easier to do it that way. I don’t know, sometimes I feel that, there’s several things that we also have to learn with technology and how to feel more comfortable with just doing it on our self-tape. What are some of the pet peeves that you have or things that you see in tapes that come in, and you’re like, “Oh, please people, don’t do this, don’t do this”? Something that you really wish actors wouldn’t do, just to make your job easier and to make ours, just be on the same page.
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Brenda: I think, and I was going to say because we encountered some of these when I first got on too, is you want to be prepared. I understand that there were times where something might have happened, and a person wasn’t able to be as prepared as they thought. I think more than anything, even before we might have done an occasional self-tape for the first round, I think if anything, as an actor I’ve always told people, “You’re your own best advocate, you’re your own best cheerleader, so make sure that you’re doing everything you can to put yourself in the best light,” because unfortunately, I know people.
If I’m seeing them in person, I can say, “Let’s do that again and try this”, but you can’t do that on a self-tape. I try to be very specific about instructions, but I think more than anything, I think the very first thing is people have to read the instructions. I know, I’m very detailed, I try to be very detailed with what I want, I give examples, things like that, but to read everything because so many times the answers to your questions are in the document that’s attached. Secondly, one of the most important things I tell people is, “Make sure we can see you well, we can hear you well. Make sure that you have a non-busy background so that you’re the only people, the only thing that we are paying attention to.” To make sure that all their equipment is working well.
Lastly, just to make sure you have a good internet connection, because I can tell you that in callbacks, that’s the first thing, I can hear a director might hear going, “Let’s move on, let’s move on”, when somebody’s–
Nicoletta: They freeze.
Brenda: Yes, their technology is not working for them. I’m say, “Okay, let’s try this again.” Now, I was going to say one of the interfaces that we use I’m able to throw them back in the waiting room and texting them going, “Let’s try to get this going”, but some of it just doesn’t work out. I think that that’s probably the most important thing. I send that out always, “Work on your lighting, work on your sound, make sure we can see you well, make sure your internet is working well so that you give yourself the best opportunity to shine. But of all we’re looking at is like you’re pixelated, your audio and your video are not syncing up.” The director’s ready to move on.
Nicoletta: I understand. Time is money, and you got to get things done, you have to select the people that you need. Yes, man, that is so hard. Speaking about, if there’s scene one, scene two, and the slate, what do you prefer? Everything in one file, or you want separate files? What works better?
Brenda: I prefer separate files because people could click. I think that I can also maybe remove something that I think it’s not working as well. I think, “Oh, I love first take, and third take, second take, then I can remove anything.” I used to be able to do more editing because then I would try to make sure I was putting in the best things that were working. I may do that occasionally, but at this point I like to be able to look at them and then say, “No, let me hide that take. I think these two takes are best.” For me, I prefer that other than one long-
Nicoletta: Long video.
Nicoletta: Exactly. For example, do you usually ask, or you specify that in the specs that if you want one, two or three takes?
Brenda: I do. I’ll specify that at least two takes. I don’t want people to give me a 30-minute audition unless it’s warranted. I do at least two takes. I’m hoping that, when you say that, they understand that I want them to show me their range and what they’re doing. Sometimes I get the exact thing. I do love the actors, or they’re more intuitive, they understand, they’re going to give that to you. I try to say that in the instructions as well, like, “Let me know what you can do. The director’s looking for this, so let’s see how you can give him that.”
Again, that’s not to take away from what an actor brings to a particular character, because I have seen times where a director will say, “Wow, I love the way he did that. That wasn’t anything that I would have done that way.” That’s what an actor brings to a role, but at the same time I will give instructions like, “This is what I want to see in your slate. Give me a little personality profile that tells me more about you. I don’t want to know, ‘I’m an actor’, I know you’re an actor. You’re already standing in front of me. I want to know more about you, what makes you tick”, or something I may not know, like, “Hey, I just came back from wherever and this was amazing.”
It helps me see them in a different light. It feels like I get to see a little bit more about who they are and what makes them go. That’s an important part for me as well.
Nicoletta: Also, I would say, maybe in those two takes or in every one of those instructions, if people give you exactly what you’re asking for, you will see that that person is easy to direct, right? That is someone who is going to be able to pick up all the instructions, and be able to give exactly what you need or what the director needs. Just assume that and give it right away, right?
Brenda: That is great because that’s exactly what a director will say, “Because, you know, he doesn’t knot a lot of range”, or, “I’m going to have to work really hard on set with him.” “I like everything about him, but it was just this.” It’s interesting because, again, I know actors pretty well, I know some actors better than others, but you don’t like when you’ve seen people for so long. I’m like, “You can get that out of them”, or I think, “Just give them another opportunity.” I think that that’s where my role comes as a casting director.
It’s like, “Okay, they’re better than that, they’re not having a good day today, but try this”, or we’re already deciding, and they can’t decide on a role. They got this, but they’re not real enthusiastic about their options. I’m like, “You should look at this person again because I think you might have missed them.” It happens, you’re seeing so many people, and then they come back up. “Okay, put them back up on the screen. Let’s take a look at them”, and they’re like, “Oh yes, wow. Yes, let’s start them in the mix.”
I think that you are very right. Time is very limited, especially because productions change so much. They want so much in one day. They are looking for actors who are quick, who get it, who’ve got that range, who can switch and are not intimidated by someone saying, “No, I don’t want it that way. Try it this way.” That is one thing that I like to emphasize to actors, is like, don’t get married to your performance. Don’t get married to the way you did it.
Be open to instruction because the director’s only going to be interested for that short amount of time. If he wants you to do something, and you don’t get it, or you’re not listening, then he’ll like, “Okay, well, let’s move on”, and it’ll be as simple as that. Let’s move on when I know that that person could have probably done it. After that, it’s like they’re not interested anymore.
Nicoletta: Yes. My goodness. Yes, be careful of what you do and just give everything you want and give contrasting takes, so they know your range, or they can see that you have a range. When you’re talking about those 1,000 videos that you’re watching, my God, just that number keeps going on in my mind. I’m like, “Are you serious?” How long does it take you to just go through 1,000 videos?
Brenda: I try to watch as I go along. Let’s just say now I give people five days to get their submissions in. There are some people that same day I send out an invite, I’m getting videos. There are some people who are just on it, but the majority of people, for instance, if I set a timeline for tomorrow at 10, I’m getting a great a lot of them right before 10 o’clock.
Whether they just took that long to decide, did it over the weekend or they did it and then, oh, we need to upload it or whatever it is. I try to watch over it because that’s just overwhelming all in one day. I do try to watch every single thing that comes through. As they’re coming in, and I see there’s five of them, and I’ll watch those five. There’s 10 more the next day, so I try to get them in little chunks like that.
I’m going to say something similar to that. In two projects in this last year, when I sent the links, the director was so overwhelmed with how many options there were, that he was like, “I can’t do this. You need to call it down for me and just send me who you liked.” Then I remember getting off the phone and saying, “Who’s directing this?” I’m happy to do it, but I thought, “Wow, you’ve got all these great options, and you don’t want to go through them.”
I understood, there’s just so many things that he had to do. They were scouting, they were doing many other production-related things. He just thought, “I can’t come back tonight and go through even 500 of them or 300”. I think I’d given him 300 options.
Nicoletta: From 1,000, you narrow it down to 300 and still he’s like, “It’s way too much”.
Brenda: No, let me tell you that, though. I never leave people out, I don’t. I know some people do, I don’t. Now, I may get 1,000 submissions and I might send out, I don’t know, 400 invitations. My rule of thumb has always been that I usually get about 30% back, 40% back. Not everyone who I invite bothers to submit an audition. It could be they have a conflict on a shoot day or are not available for a callback, there’s some of that.
Which is why I end up inviting so many people because I know that I’m not going to get all of that back. I always feel, unless it’s just really bad, audio-wise or video-wise, or they only submitted a slate but not a performance or what such. I feel like if that person showed up and took the time to submit an audition, they should be seen. I go ahead and submit everyone that comes. At that time I had sent him about 300, and he was like, “I can’t do that. Narrow it down to about seven each”.
I’m like, “Oh my gosh.” I didn’t. I came back, and I still gave him about 30 people per role, and just thought, “Here’s the 90. You can go through 90 people.” I made him do that because he would’ve been happier to go through 30. That happens very infrequently. That’s the process of it. I’ve always in talking with other colleagues, when we put our specs out, we try to be very specific. I’m not just saying any ethnicity male age 30. I really try to give some characteristics of what I think we’re looking for and such.
Sometimes it feels like they just threw the kitchen sink at it because you’re going, “Okay, that person is not a 30s, 40s mom. That looks like somebody who’s still in college.” Again, I understand that you can be in college and have kids, that’s not the point of it. It’s like, it’s so off of the spec that was requested. In those things as well, when you know people, you also know that’s a very old headshot. I didn’t know them, I might select them.
Again, in that respect, that’s part of what you miss because you do get to know people, you get to know what they’re doing, you get to see their growth. I can look at a picture and say, “That person’s perfect, but don’t look at the headshot because they don’t look like that anymore.” They recommend, “Hey, get a new headshot when you can”, because I think you would be booking so much more people that actually see. You either look 10 years too young or you’re looking 10 years too old, and it doesn’t show who you are. Anyway, but it is a [unintelligible 00:36:48]
Nicoletta: Please look like your headshot, like your most recent headshot, right?
Brenda: Look like who you are because that’s also clients and directors in my ear is like, “Okay, they sure don’t look like what we thought they were gonna look like and such.” Not obviously now we have the advantage of being able to see them beforehand, but many times when they wanted to just like, “Hey, let’s just do a headshot cast.” That is not a good idea because these folks don’t look like this anymore. I think, yes, that’s very important. Look how you look.
Nicoletta: I want to ask you about typecasting. Many times, and I’m speaking, I have to confess, of personal experience, but it’s happened to other people that I know, that in the specs, it’s all in my profile, speak Spanish 100% like a native, whatever, and they’re looking for a Latina woman. I do my casting and I show it and I send it, but someone goes like, “Wait a minute, she doesn’t really look Hispanic”.
That has happened many times. What do you do that–? Because you know people that speak Spanish and in other countries, they don’t only look as one type, they can look many different ways. In different skin tones or hair color and stuff. How is it? Is it very narrow there? Like, “Oh no, if it’s a Latina woman she definitely needs to have darker hair, brown eyes”, or whatever. How do you handle that?
Brenda: I think it depends on who you have as your creative. If you are doing a national spot, then that’s when they– Over the years, there’s been so many little keywords that they give you, for what they’re looking for. You learn like, “I know that they say this, but this is really what they want.” For instance, let’s go in ages. “We want a 45-year-old mom.” I’m like, “They think they want a 45-year-old mom, but they don’t. They want somebody that’s probably mid to late 30s.” They’re like, “What do you–?”, and I said, “I’m just telling you”.
I always hedge my bets. I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to give them those mid-40s moms, but I’m also going to give them some late 30s moms, maybe even go tweak it and go a little bit younger.” Because many times they think they know what they want, but they may not. That’s not to say that all, then just their minds are thinking, “This is what it is,” and then they realize, “Oh, this is what a 45-year-old mom looks like. This is what a 35-year-old mom looks like.”
I’m going to get back to your question on this, but I’ve always told people, “I look young. I think I can do this”. I’m like, “Okay. You really look great, you may look young for your age. If I put you in a room with a bunch of 20 year olds, you’re going to look like a 32 year old”. There’s nothing wrong with that. They’re looking for a 22 year old. I always tell people, “You may just look amazing, but when you’re around the actual age of what they’re looking for, you will be able to tell that.”
I go back to creatives know what they want, or they think they know what they want very well. I may have one creative and they said, “We want Latinas and we want them to look like South Texas.”
Then I know what they’re looking for with South Texas. They are wanting the darker hair. They’re wanting what we call más morenitas. Whereas if we’re shooting something that’s going to be national, then they’re looking for Mexico City type looks where you have the lighter skin, the lighter hair. You may have blue or green eyes. It really depends.
For a long time, the Colombia look was very, very popular because it had the fairer skin with the darker hair, and it had the very neutral Spanish, which is what they wanted because it played better across– They didn’t want anyone to be able to know where they were from so, they could be more representative of everything. One of the specs we would give was to dialect neutral. I think, again, it goes back to where the market is, who they’re looking to market to.
Here in Texas, it’s like, “Okay, well, this is going to show in South Texas, San Antonio on down.” Or this is going to show, this is going to be in Dallas and Houston and Austin. Or this is going to be up in northeast part of the nation, or this is plain. I think it really goes back to that, and it goes back to who the creative is and what they’re thinking they want. I did some casting in Chicago. I did some casting in New York. I’ve done some casting in California, Miami. I can tell you that the groups are different.
I did some casting in Miami, and I needed a grandmother, and I could not find a grandmother that looked like a grandmother. They wanted to look like a grandmother. I had grandmothers that looked really good, very young, and dressed that way, and so I ended up having to fly my abuelita in from San Antonio, Texas.
Brenda: Because there was like, “Oh, no, everybody had a tan. Everybody looked great.”
Brenda: It’s like they did. Again, in that creative’s mind, their abuelita look like an abuelita. The little, short hair and maybe the glasses and moderately fit. They just wanted somebody comfortable that looked like somebody you could squeeze. It really goes back to who the creative has in their mind. We’ve had to fight that because in your case, I’ve had a colleague say, “Nicky is fluent Spanish. We should submit her, even if she doesn’t look the specs.” We do do that.
I know I do that. It’s like, “Okay, so this particular actor probably doesn’t look as Latino as they want them to look, but they’re so good.” The acting and the accent is going to win over. Then it’ll work. I think– Especially because I think there’s been so many strides in the Latino market that they’re beginning to understand that there’s so many of us that all look different. We speak a little bit different. We may have some different experiences. There’s some diversity there. I think that that’s good.
When we don’t all look alike, we don’t all live in the same areas. It’s a little frustrating on my end sometimes when you see some of the stereotypes that you still see because you’re going– You still have this idea that this is how it is. It can affect everything as far as what type of houses we live in, [laughter] what type of decor. Are we trying to get this across? It all goes back to just, again, the market. If you’re casting for the Rio Grande Valley, then they have an idea of what they want.
If you’re casting for San Antonio and Corpus Christie, if you’re casting for Austin and Dallas or other parts of the country, definitely they have their idea of what that particular look should be. I love when somebody comes in and knocks them back and they’re just so excited that, “Oh, my gosh, this person is so great.” I do know that we do try to push back against that, and we always try to bring people even if they don’t fit that exact spec, but they fit in every other way, then we want to give everyone an opportunity.
Nicoletta: Okay. All right, then I’ll take a note and I’ll do those auditions more confidently instead of thinking, “Now, why bother? They’re not going to pick me again because I don’t look Latina.”
Brenda: Again, I think that you’re exactly right, is that if you get an invite, somebody wanted to see you and somebody thought that you could do the part. When you think about how many people do submit and you made that cut, like I just got almost 1.000 submissions for three roles, you’re going, “Somebody wanted to see you.” There’s all these many people. I think probably I ended up seeing maybe 60 people in each category. That was a lot of culling down.
I always tell people, take advantage of when you get called in to an audition, because I know, at least for myself and a couple of the colleagues I’m pretty close to, it’s like we’re not wasting anybody’s time. I always try to encourage that because sometimes people just, “Oh, let’s throw them in.” I’m like, “No, no. Only throw them in if you really want to see them and you think they have an opportunity to get this, because why bring somebody, drive somebody in if they don’t have a fighting chance for the role?”
Nicoletta: Correct. My goodness. Yes, that is amazing. I’m definitely in awe of all the time that you spend in seeing everyone, and so just on behalf of all actors, thank you so much for all that time that you spend seeing everybody, because for sure, that is great to see and to know that the effort that we put into also being ready and having our equipment and all that is just working with you.
Then so many times we get so nervous, we get less nervous, I guess, when we’re on self-taping than we were when we go there because you’re thinking, I don’t know what, so many things that go through an actor’s mind, as though the director or if the client is there and then it just makes us more nervous. Actually, you guys want us to do well because you want to be presented with all those possibilities. You want more good people to choose from.
Brenda: I always tell people that is like– Again, I went through a gamut of casting directors that I went, “Oh, my gosh.” I had one experience where I took a day off from work. I flew to Dallas for an audition. I was very excited about it. I rent a car and I go to the audition. I was always told, “Be about business,” all right? This is a professional opportunity. I went in, it was a SAG, a Union shoot. I went in, I signed in, and I went and sat down.
I didn’t socialize with anyone. I rehearsed, and then I just opened a book and started reading, and I just sat there quietly. Somewhere or the other, I was overlooked until they were like, “Oh, my gosh, what’s your name again? It’s probably past the half hour that you’re supposed to be kept there an hour.” I remember I get ushered in right away, and I get asked for my head shot, and they look at my head shot, and they slam it down. She’s like, “How old are you?” I give her my age. She goes, “Well, you don’t look it.”
At that time, I knew my audition was over, effectively over. Anyway, I did my audition. I thanked them, walked out, signed out, got back in my car, drove to the airport, got back in the plane, and I landed. It was about 4:30 PM. I remember calling my agent and asking, “Hey, when you could actually walk in and go talk with your agents?” I said, “Hey, if you have a few minutes? I’d love to come back in and talk to you about what happened today.” I took it as a lesson. I said, “Okay.” I sat down before and I’m like, “Okay, let’s talk about submitting me for things that I have a fighting chance for.” I said, “Because today this is what happened.” I said, “Again, I don’t know she could have been one of the ones at the end, whatever.” It didn’t go well, and I don’t want that to happen again.” I left because she and I mapped up.
“Let’s talk about what I was drawing and let’s talk about this and whatever,” and just for the future, because I thought, I don’t want that to happen again. I can’t help the way I look. I can’t help that I was exactly the age you asked for, but I looked younger than that. I can’t help any of that. You didn’t even see my performance. I go back to that because I think that I learned from that, because when I started casting, I remember a talent saying, “Boy, you’re still cheery, and it’s almost the end of the day.”
I said, “It’s not your fault you have a 5:50 PM appointment. You couldn’t be here at nine o’clock when I was fresh.” You have to be the same for everyone throughout. You have to be patient. You have to be willing to help everyone through. I think I’m a teacher at heart. If someone’s coming in, someone is struggling, someone is like, “Oh, my gosh.” I’m like, “It’s okay. Let’s try it again. Let’s cut it here. Let’s try it again. Try this.”
I think that that’s important that when you come in, you do want to feel like, “Hey, they’re rooting for me, or they wouldn’t have called me in, A.” Then B, it’s like, I want you to look good because I want the client to say you gave me good options. I’m not looking at this and thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I’m not seeing anybody I like.” It’s as much a desire for us, for talent to do well, then for us to just say, “Okay, you’re out of here.” Like I said, I had a few experiences where it was, “Oh, my gosh. What did she get from my slates?” Like I said earlier.
I tried not to be that way. I tried to make every opportunity be a positive opportunity for people. Even if they did come in and they did not come in prepared, I even sent people out and said, “Okay, why don’t you get out, give yourself a little more time, go breathe and come back in.” That I give them another opportunity to shake it off and come in and do a better job. That’s how you can do. Then the rest is up to the actor in front of the camera. I think I’m not one of those old school casting directors. I did have an opportunity to work with that person who did that to me later as a colleague.
Nicoletta: Really? Wow.
Brenda: I remember telling her about it. She didn’t even really remember it. She said she was like, “No.” I’m like, “Oh.” I said, That must mean you did that too often.” I told her. She’s like, “No.” It was so funny because I could then tell her later on. I’m like, I said, “No.” I take it as a learning experience. I said, “I learned from that, I grew from that.” I never allowed that to happen to me again. I wanted to be put into a position to succeed. Through adversity, you grow. [laughter]
Nicoletta: You definitely do. Yes. My goodness, that was amazing. How can people follow you? Do you have a place where you put casting notices to make it easier? Because, of course, I mean, it’s mostly through agents. People can also self-submit to you or how does it work?
Brenda: I haven’t– I have been trying to get my website back up again. I haven’t had it up in a while. With the advent of all of the casting places that people can upload their pictures to and their resume and their media and such. It didn’t seem it was something that I needed to do right away. I put it off. I really should do it because I would love to have a place where I could have– Especially people who want to do smaller projects or want to do some extra work just starting out. Now, I do have a Facebook casting page.
It’s just called Brenda J. & Brice Casting. I post projects there. If it’s something that’s a little bit different or I need somebody that’s a little unusual, I may put that like, “I’m looking for a bodybuilder or I’m looking for somebody who can ride a horse or I need a kid who can skateboard.” I may put that out there too. I do have a nice number of people on that. I also– Because many times agents don’t really want to bother with the extras. They may submit, but that’s not really where they want to put their energies.
I would put, “Hey, I need 10 extras, and this is what it’s paid job.” I had a nice number of people that always submitted for that, and I always tried to honor their willingness to do that because many times, actors don’t think about doing extra work, and I get it. I get there’s a place where you’re like, “I’m not going to do extra work anymore.” If you’re a working actor and you want to stay busy and you want to be on set, there’s opportunities out there to work. If it’s in your neighborhood, if you’re not having to drive– I’ve had people drive in crazy amounts to be an extra.
I thought, “If I knew you lived there, probably wouldn’t have picked you because I’m thinking about the driving in and such.” I do post there and I have an email that they can self-submit to. I do have an Instagram. I’m not necessarily very active on it. I would say that probably that’s where I do most of my posting there. Is on that Facebook page.
Nicoletta: Your Facebook page. If it’s okay, I can post a link to it in the share notes.
Brenda: Yes. Absolutely.
Nicoletta: People can do that and look at it. Of course, people that specially live around San Antonio, Houston, Austin, all that area. Wonderful. Okay, Brenda, thank you so much. This has been amazing. You answered a lot of my questions, and I know the questions of a lot of actors that are listening or watching this interview. Is there anything that you would like to say as a piece of advice for people, for actors? More than what you’ve already said already, but something that you would have liked to hear, like when you started your career as a performer and as a casting, just as a whole in the industry. What is something that you can share with people?
Brenda: I would think, because when I first got into it, like I said, it still seemed like there were so many layers between me and where I want it to be. I think now I would tell actors just to take advantage of every opportunity, every advantage that they have. Now you can actually people who want to do their own scripted things and they’re tired of waiting for something that they can do. I have seen actors write and produce and act in their own short films. I’ve seen them do features, YouTube channels.
I think that there’s so many avenues out there to promote yourself, to keep working when there is no work. There’s a slow period and auditions aren’t coming your way. There’s ways to participate in your local theater to maybe check out what local universities are doing because they’re looking for actors to help them with their thesis and with their final projects. I think of anything just to be confident in who you are and to work on your craft.
I know that people say that all the time, but it’s like if you are serious about what you love and you want to do something– Even like Nicky, you and I, who have acted in our own markets, we’ve done some amazing things, we’ve done some small things, but it was something that we love doing, so we just did it. Even if we will never be striding across the stage and collecting our Oscar. It was still something that was so important to us. Then you work on those things that you love. You put the time in, you put the energy in.
You don’t do it by half. You put everything into it. I think that sometimes we want things, but we don’t want to put the work into attaining them. I would say that majority of actors do. I always have told actors, consider whether there’s something you love and you want to do and you would love to do, be a working actor and live, or is it a hobby? Because if it’s a hobby, then you want to do it today and then tomorrow, you don’t want to do that anymore. I would say that I always reached high, but I was also satisfied with the hurdles that I cleared. I was always happy that I put my time into this and was happy with how it came out. I think that we have to hang on to that, look back and gauge yourself on what you’re doing and what you’re achieving, and not compare yourself to others because we’re all different. I could never be an influencer to save my life. It’s too much work, what I’m saying? Good for them if that’s what they want to do. I love when you see people working on things that make them happy, whether it’s a short film that they do. I worked with a young lady who did as a tribute to her grandmother. She did this really wonderful short film.
I thought to myself, that was something that she wanted to do. That was a dream that she had of putting something out there, even if it’s something she never does again, so she made goals. I think it’s set doable goals with the big one there but keep making those strides to reach what you want to do. I think that then you will be happy with where you are and you’ll keep striving, but you won’t be unfulfilled. Because I think in this field, we can feel unfulfilled. I think, “But you’ve done this and you’ve done this and I’ve never done that and you’ve done that. That’s amazing.” I think if we can set realistic goals and then set the higher goals and then just keep taking those strides to them.
I wish somebody would have said that, because I wanted to hit the ball, their home run. I wanted to hit the touchdown from the get-go. Judging myself on how many callbacks I got back or how many jobs I booked. That’s just a part of who I was as an actor, who I am as a casting director, who I am as a producer. I always felt like what’s going to be mine is mine. I’m going to work on getting what’s mine. I think that’s been my mantra.
Nicoletta: Well, I think that’s wonderful advice. Wonderful advice, so true, definitely. There’s so much we can do nowadays with technology. You could start a podcast. You can do anything, web series on YouTube. There’s so many things. Definitely, I think you’re right. You also shed a light on what you can see or your range of what you can do. It just helps to reference people, either casting directors or producers, to that work. Then they’re like, “Look at that.” They see more of you, your personality and everything you’re able to do.
Also, if you’re someone who has started producing something, you also have that other side of the business, that aspect.
Then when you are on set, finally, when you book something, then you work better with everyone there, with the team, because now you can relate and you know the amount of work that it takes to produce something. I think that’s wonderful.
Brenda: I think no one does what we do and doesn’t know how hard it’s going to be to do what it is. You can study, but there is just that little something, I always love it when I see an actor. I’m like– They have that people always say the je ne sais quoi, they just have that spark. You’re going, there is a ton of talent people, talented people that never perhaps reached what we think is the pinnacle of success. I think there’s so many incredibly talented people that are doing so many wonderful things in their backyards. That’s what brings joy to people.
That’s– When you go see a local play, when you– Whatever it is, whether it’s music or it’s film or it’s theater, there’s somebody bringing joy to somebody who’s sitting in an audience. I think that there’s so many opportunities now, and I’m going, if you’re frustrated, and it’s because you’re not out– You’re not getting out there and just like, “What am I going to do to break this one barrier. How can I get past this barrier so that I’m on the next step.” You can look back and say, “I was there, but I’m not there anymore. Here’s where I am.”
I love when I’ve seen people do that. They break through and you’re going, “They weren’t okay with just status quo.” They decided, “I’m going to get out there and I’m going to do it.”
Nicoletta: Yes, exactly. Well, thank you so much again, Brenda. That was wonderful advice. I’m going to put your– The link to your Facebook page there, and people can follow you and see what you have going on, and maybe, apply to whatever comes up to them. Anyway, just on the other hand, we’ll just keep working on our self-tapes and trying to read all those instructions exactly how it is so that we can help our beautiful casting directors do their job properly.
Brenda: I would appreciate that, Nicky. I think a lot of us would appreciate that.
Nicoletta: Yes, for sure.
Presenter: Thanks for joining us on La Pizarra. Want to listen to more episodes? Visit lapizarrapodcast.com or nickymondellini.com/lapizarra, where you can sign up for our newsletter and get exclusive previews on future episodes as well as resources for your creative business. Tune in next week for another interesting interview.