October 21, 2020

Today, Backstage and New York Film Academy presented a panel called “The New Normal of Casting” as a spin-off of NYFA’s The 20/20 Series, curated and moderated by NYFA’s Creative Director of Filmmaking and Cinematography, Liz Hinlein, and Backatage’s ongoing series The Slate. The conversation was moderated by senior editor at Backstage, Elyse Roth, and was held virtually, allowing individuals to join NYFA and the special guests from all over the world.

Panelists included Victor Vazquez (founder of X Casting NYC), Amy Van Horne (NYFA instructor and professional on-camera audition coach), Diakeim Lyles (professional in film/TV and commercial casting), and Christine McKenna-Tirella (NY Casting Specialist at Backstage). The conversation included topics like meeting the moment for casting, color-conscious casting, the power of the self-tape, and more.

Roth began the conversation with the topic of color-conscious casting and asked the panel about what that term specifically means to them and how that can be implemented in the day-to-day of casting. Vazquez commented, “there is a continuous erasure of people of color, which is the reason I started X Casting due to the lack of representation ‘behind the table’. You can’t change in front of the table (the screen or stage) unless you also change the people behind the table. Instead of color-conscious casting, we need to think of identity-conscious casting. It’s about women, queer, trans actors, and more.”

McKenna-Tirella agreed and added that it was important to continue having those conversations as members of casting. “Everyone I know has good intentions to connect actors with opportunities, but we have missed the mark in terms of making it as inclusive as it needs to be.”

As far as auditioning, Roth asked the panelists about the role casting directors actually play throughout the audition process. “Casting is part of an eco-system,” shared Vazquez. “I’m a designer in this process and we get to design your [the client’s] cast.” McKenna-Tirella also offered that casting directors are “gatekeepers” and should take on the responsibility of asking clients to break the traditional norms of casting.

Lyles, who participates in more of the commercial casting world, shared that for him, it’s about fully being on board with what a client is asking for and then going out to find it, but there are limits in terms of what, as a casting director, Lyles is prepared to do. “For me, I only really turn down a commercial project if they [the client] are coming from an odd place or the client seems unsure or undisciplined in what they are trying to do, or if there are jobs where they are not paying the actor.”

Roth then turned to NYFA’s own Amy Van Horne to get more of an audition-focused perspective when it comes to casting and preparing actors for landing their next role. “When I have my acting students and clients, they are trying to stay up with the tidal wave of change,” she shared. “The truth is, it’s pretty simple. Good acting is good acting and the fundamentals of the audition process haven’t gone anywhere. Be specific in your choices. Be creative, not clever. Go back to the basics of the work and fine tune your crafting.”

New York Film Academy would like to thank Backstage for hosting the event on their platform, The Slate, and the panelists for sharing their time and expertise on casting best practices for the global audience.