Actors ConnectionBrette Goldstein is an independent casting director and owner of Brette Goldstein Casting in New York. In addition to film, Goldstein also casts theater and commercials. I spoke with Goldstein before her upcoming “Indie Film Intensive 5-Weeks On-Camera” event at Actors Connection in NYC.

Read my Q&A with the casting director to learn Goldstein’s thoughts about what separates indie film from other types of casting, advice for auditioning actors, and why some days as a casting director just suck.

Your upcoming five-week intensive at Actors Connection focuses on on-camera auditions for independent film. But what sets apart casting for indie film from other types of film and theater casting?

Brette Goldstein: Well, at least in terms of the indie films I cast in New York, generally the director is part of the process early on. So they might be there for the entire audition process, the initial audition and the callback. They’re often there for a bigger chunk of time, because often they also have a hand in the production of the film, and then also the directing, and often they wrote the script as well. I think [casting], for them, is an interesting and challenging process.

That being said, independent film directors are often notorious for – and this is not always true – but on occasion they’re not necessarily the most adept director for actors. I think that independent film directors are often incredibly capable in terms of the visual aspects of filmmaking, but knowing how to direct actors comes much more easily to them once they’re on set. Again, this is a big generalization, and it doesn’t apply to everybody.

But in terms of the audition process itself, I think that a lot of it has to do with maybe they’re only on their first second film, and giving actors adjustments in the room might not necessarily be the thing that they’re most comfortable with — which is one of the reasons why I’ve made a bit of a transition going from doing mostly theater to mostly film, because for me it’s very creative.

Because of that, I think that with independent film, an actor should really be reading the script if they can get a hold of it – which often times they can – just to get a sense of not only the character, but also the feel and the rhythm of the script.

So you think actors need to be more proactive, and make sure to see the script before they show up for the audition?

Yeah. Often, actors just don’t ask. I’m really, really diligent about getting actors scripts. In fact, I won’t even cast a film if I can’t send the script out, because I feel that it’s a real disadvantage to the actor to only see sides. Of course, I do believe they should be getting sides in advance as well.

And then with independent film, as opposed to a lot of theater, what they’re usually looking for is kind of the “real deal.” It’s the character through the actor’s eyes, and their approach to a different set of circumstances.

I don’t want to paraphrase too much, but that seems like you’re basically saying, “Be yourself.”

Often, that’s kind of what you need to do, and I think that actors don’t. Granted, you’re not necessarily going to be exactly like the character.

For instance, I cast a film once where the female lead was also a stripper. Well, I’m sure there are some actors out there who are strippers. But it’s not about the “stripper” part. It’s not about the fact that she maybe does more drugs than you do. We’re looking for someone who approached life or made decisions in a similar way to that character. We’re watching them do that through the audition process. It’s unique, it’s interesting, and often if you go with your gut on the way that you approach a given set of circumstances, that’s actually the best choice.

Because we don’t always know what we want when you walk in the room. I think that indie film directors, in particular, are incredibly open-minded. I’m trying to help actors bring their natural sense of humor and personality and energy – and just their approach to life, their approach to processing thought and making choices – to the role.

Channeling themselves into the character.

Absolutely. It sounds almost oversimplified, and yet that’s often the hardest thing to do. The camera catches everything, and if we see you acting up a storm up there and pushing, chances are you’re not going to get a callback.

Unlike theater – and this is another generalization, because there are plenty of theater directors who will say thanks and goodnight and you’re out the door – but unlike theater, you might not get the best and most specific adjustment in an indie film audition room. I’ve found that it’s not so much about the director lacking talent in that area. It’s also because the director, I find, gets the most out of watching the tape at the end of the day.

So actors walking into the audition room shouldn’t be intimidated if there’s both a director and a casting director, and they shouldn’t take it as a bad sign if the director’s not being too talkative?

That’s actually perfectly said. Usually, those things mean nothing. The director might not be talkative with the person they fall in love with the most or the person that they like the least. I’ve noticed that the energy usually stays similar throughout the day with the directors. So with indie film, one of the most important things – given the fact that you can’t guarantee yourself a second or third take in the audition room – is to ask questions. If you ask specific and leading questions, so the director doesn’t have to give you a four paragraph answer, it’s really helpful.

I find that actors are often intimidated. They feel like, “I don’t want to waste their time. I don’t want to bother them. I don’t want to sound annoying or high maintenance.” But actually, if you’re asking three really concise questions that can really fill in the blanks for you, and then you’re quick on your feet, it’s really going to help you nail the first take. And that’s the goal.

Do you think New York is a better environment for indie film than L.A. for any reason? Do you think actors should stay on the east coast if they’re pursuing a career primarily in independent film?

I think this has always been a great town for independent film, and I love the directors I work with here. I think that a lot of the scripts are very interesting and challenging and innovative, with really awesome dynamic characters, and I’ve had a really great experience as a casting director. Of course, because New York is New York, I haven’t wanted to leave.

However, if it were my goal to be a series regular on a sitcom or if I wanted to get involved in studio feature films, no, I wouldn’t stay here. L.A. is really a better town for that. It’s where most of the money is. I guess you could make your living in independent film, but I’m not really sure about that. I think that like most New York actors, you’ve got to be doing other things like commercials and voice-overs.

What kind of expectations should actors have about the hours and the pay of independent film work?

Honestly, the best way to know that is to visit the SAG website and see the range, when it comes to SAG scale. You can get a really realistic idea of what’s happening here, because chances are you’re not going to be making more than scale for whatever the contract is unless you’re a name. So that could be either a good reality or a bad reality, depending on what your perspective is.

I don’t think I’ve ever cast a nonunion film. I feel that actors should be protected by unions. You’re really putting your blood, sweat, and tears into this process, and actors need to be protected. I’m completely behind that. From the beginning of the process to the wrap party, I do whatever I can to look out.

One thing too we go over in the Actors Connection class is how you can protect yourself, especially with things like student films, where they can be very useful for you and a lot of films go to major film festivals, but you’re often not seeing footage and you’re not getting a final cut like was promised.

What else does your five-week indie film intensive at Actors Connection offer?

We start the first week with cold reading class. Actors are getting sides thrown at them and they have no idea what’s going on in the script. It’s really, really imperative that actors look for clues in the script, to really understand who the character is, how to play the scene, and their relationship to the characters.

Questions are covered extensively. You could maybe take 20 to 30 seconds of the audition, in terms of question and answer, and it would really help you nail that first take and maybe get a callback.
The second week is prepared readings. Actors get a script a week in advance, so we’re still doing sides and its individual, so we use a reader for each of them. I have them cap the class at a certain number, because there’s rarely a case where people aren’t doing two to three takes. I want people to see improvement.

Then the third class goes back to cold reading, and the fourth week is prepared reading, just so you get more practice doing both of those things. And then the fifth week is really interesting and it’s kind of my favorite week. The fifth week is a lot of fun, because basically we talk about how to market yourself, with or even more importantly without an agent or manager. How to get work in the indie film industry, because it’s really challenging.

Do you have advice for actors who are working toward joining SAG or one of the other actors’ unions?

We definitely discuss the unions, and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of being in the unions. I think there’s far more advantages. So we talk about that, and we talk about agents and managers, and I’m a casting director so I kind of give them an insider’s view on who’s new at the agencies. If you’re going to spend your money going to seminars, you want to know who you might want to target. Then we talk about different ways you can meet creatives in the indie film industry, apart from just showing up at an audition. Because a lot of the challenge is, how do you even get the audition to begin with?

Back Stage is definitely mentioned in the class, and we talk about other publications and trade papers, of course. I just remind people of all the resources we have available to us, and Back Stage is a fantastic one.

But how do you get to the source, so you can end up on a request list that goes around the casting director? I’m all for cutting me out of the process if you can, because casting directors are always looking out for themselves, as well, to make sure that every single person they bring in is a really viable option. It depends on the casting director and how much time they have and their mood. They might not want to take a “risk.” But you might be the best risk they’ve ever taken.

So is taking your class also a way to get an “in” with you as a casting director? Are you more likely to audition someone you’ve met in one of your classes?

I’m definitely not one of those casting director/teachers who believes, “Oh. because you are a student that means you are a kid, and that means that I don’t take you seriously.” None of that applies. One of the wonderful parts about having five weeks with somebody is you get to see their growth, you get to know them. You get to really establish a relationship. I get to go through adjustments with you, and I get to see how you are not only as a person but as an actor in front of the camera. I’ve brought in countless people that have been in my class, because it’s such a fantastic way of really establishing a relationship.

Is there a certain level of acting experience expected of someone who walks into your classroom? Or can you still take your intensive if you’ve really never had on-camera experience?

It can definitely be someone who’s had no on-camera experience. That’s fine.

But I do think that I’m using words and terminology, so they should at least have had some kind of basic acting class. Even acting training in a Theater 101 class in college could possibly work, because interestingly enough, it’s often the basics that we forget. It’s the most basic stuff that builds the foundation.

Do you see a real benefit, then, in actors getting a BFA or an MFA, or can they just take scattered “a la carte” acting classes and achieve the same results?

I feel like there are distinct advantages to getting an MFA, especially from some of the top schools out there. And one of those advantages is, you can be more attractive to agents and more attractive on the theater end.

Meaning that as a casting director, you like seeing an MFA or a BFA on an actor’s résumé more than a series of separate acting classes?

I don’t care, as long as you’re good. Gone are the days of me needing an MFA at the bottom of a résumé to bring you into an audition. I hated doing it when I was doing it, and I don’t want to do it now. That’s another reason why I cast independent films, because I’ve never met a film director who has said, “They got their MFA from Yale? Oh, that’s amazing!” You’ll hear that from a theater director, but never from an indie film director. They just want you to rock it out. But anything else – MFA, BFA, whatever – nobody cares.

But that definitely isn’t true when it comes to agents and managers, certain casting directors, and theater people. That’s a different world. So it definitely is an advantage for you, but for me in my little bubble of independent film, I don’t care. I just want you to be interesting, compelling, and know how to make a writer’s words your own.

How else has your experience casting independent film differed from theater?

I have a much more creative role [casting indepent films]. With theater auditions, often you’ll have the playwright there – especially if it’s a new play – you’ll have the director there, sometimes for callbacks you’ll even have an artistic director there, and for me it’s about factoring in and giving input. But when it comes to the hands-on dirty work in the initial auditions and callbacks, being able to really work with the actors as well, I get to do a little more of that with independent film.

So you have more of a leadership role working on an independent film?

Definitely. I also get to do pre-screens for independent films, and I really wasn’t doing much of that with theater. I found that doing pre-screens and watching the tape was something that added to the creative aspect of what I do.

I love my teaching and coaching background. That’s the stuff that I love to do just as much as, if not sometimes even more than, casting. To be able to play a really active role in the audition process is really very exciting for me. So knowing that I get to do that more with independent film is really one of the reasons I choose that over theater every time. I’m optimistic about the indie film world. Realistic and optimistic.

What is your motivation to take time out of your busy casting schedule to teach acting classes?

I love it. I mean, casting has its up and down days, especially because doing independent film, or just any film for that matter, you’re always trying to attract and cast names. So all of my time in terms of my day job of casting is not necessarily in the audition room, which I love.

A lot of my time is spent on the phone with CAA and ICM and William Morris Endeavor in L.A. I hate that part. It’s awful. I hate every minute of it. I mean, I do it, and I feel like I have good relationships with people. But I fell in love with casting because I loved helping people do the thing they wanted to do most in life. I love helping people manifest their dreams. That’s why I cast. So if you’re calling making an offer to Susan Sarandon, really? Really? She doesn’t need the work. She doesn’t need your film.

Give somebody else a chance, instead?

Yes! I understand that there’s a bottom line to all this, and it’s a business. I get it. I’m not stupid. I do my job, but there’s a lot of days in casting where it’s going through that run-around day in and day out.

When I teach or coach, I go back to why I got into this business to begin with. I do it because helping people’s raw talent and energy and humor emerge, and then getting them to a place where they’re booking gigs and doing the things they want to do, and then being a part of their growth, there’s nothing more rewarding. There are days of casting that suck, but there’s never a day of teaching or coaching that sucks, ever.

Brette Goldstein’s next Actors Connection workshop is her “Indie Film Intensive 5-Weeks On-Camera.” The intensive begins Thurs., March 18 and continues Thursdays March 25 and April 1, 8, and 15. For more info and to register for this and other upcoming Actors Connection seminars, classes, and events, visit

Goldstein’s recent film projects include El Camino (Elisabeth Moss, Leo Fitzpatrick, Christopher Denham, Wes Studi), Homecoming (Joe Cross, Josh Hamilton, Maureen Flanagan), Live at Five (Dylan Baker, Katie Finneran, Annie Golden), Buffalo Bushido  (Jesse L. Martin, Lord Jamar, John Savage, Frederick Weller, Leila Arcieri), Able Danger (Elina Lowenson and Adam Nee), Bomb (Official Selection, 2007 Sundance Film Festival), and Sugar-Free Kiss (2004 CCRFA finalist).  Other projects include Love on the Run, The Hike, The Empress, and Silent Lucidity.  Films that Goldstein has cast have won awards and been official selections at film festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Tribeca, Hamptons, Woodstock, Woods Hole, Clermont-Ferrand, DC Shorts, Philadelphia, Boston, Austin, Great Lakes, Sante Fe and the IFP Film Market.  She has also cast for many regional theater and Off-Broadway productions.

This Q&A was posted March 17, 2010 online at Blog Stage.