Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mia Cusumano- Casting Associate

My most recent internship was in the casting department of the ABC show "Body of Proof"starring Dana Delaney that premieres Tuesday, March 29th. I was in my last week as a stitcher intern at Glimmerglass Opera when I applied. By that Monday I was trying to find my way to Queensborough Community College for my first day on a gig my former professor had gotten me when I called Mia and scheduled an interview for that Wednesday like she had asked in an e-mail a couple of days earlier. The first chance I got after that, I went online and looked her up like a creep. Turns out she had gone to FIT and somehow made her way into casting. I thought, “That’s awesome!” because I had always thought of trying to do the same thing.

So Wednesday rolled around and I went to the ABC offices on 67th (where the casting director and Mia were being housed since the show shot on Rhode Island and there wasn’t a production office in the city) to meet Mia for my interview. She was wearing a white dress with either ladybugs or flowers on it (I can’t remember which) and a pink cardigan. Very cute! The interview was short but I remember there being a lot of laughing. I left, thinking I wasn’t going to get it because I had interviewed for a few other casting internships while still in college, because I wanted to see what it was like, without any luck. But obviously, I got this internship.

One of the coolest but most annoying things about this internship, though, was that since I wasn’t technically an “employee” of ABC, I couldn’t be given a badge. Instead, I had to be buzzed into the building every morning and given a visitor pass. No matter how many times a door man/woman had already seen me, it always took some explaining as to who I was and then a phone call up to Mia to see if they could send me up. Sometimes she wouldn’t be at her desk and they would have to leave a voicemail. While they left her those messages, I got to watch as they struggled through pronouncing her last name. (It’s really not that hard, it’s just a few more letters than most last names.) But it was nice because I started to collect those visitor passes and stick them in a journal with a note about what happened that day written on them. (If nothing interesting happened that day, I would leave it blank. I guess nothing interesting happened on September 28th.)

I don’t remember what day this was because I didn’t write anything down about it on any of my passes, but there was one time where Mia had to step away from her desk for a little while and asked me to sit there and man the phones. A little while after she left, a couple of actors showed up in the doorway with their headshots. It was like Halloween, except instead of me knocking on a stranger’s door asking for candy, a couple of strangers were in my doorway, giving me headshots, asking for jobs. It was Mia’s reactions to things like this that cracked me up. When she got back, I told her about it and she said, “How’d they get in? They don’t even let you in!”

I responded with, “Hahaha! Wait…That’s a good point.”

But overall it was a good learning experience. The best part about it was that they actually asked for and cared about my opinion about auditions sometimes. I feel bad for the guy who had to work with me as his reader my first time ever doing such a thing, though. I was pretty horrendous. But oh well. I went on to intern with Mia and Rosalie, the casting director, from August 2010 until December 2010. In October, I got a job wardrobe supervising a show called Middletown at the Vineyard Theatre on E. 15th Street. Mia was nice enough to work around my schedule from then until the internship ended in December so that I could continue to ruin her actor’s auditions as their reader. Just kidding. I eventually sort of got the hang of reading lines to actors in auditions but it made me want to be an actor even less than I already did, which was pretty low to being with, and appreciate what they do even more.

Here’s my interview with Mia. Some of my questions could have been worded better, but I resisted the urge to edit them out because Mia answered them so well:

How did you get into casting?

I started interning at ABC when I was in college and loved the casting process. I studied fashion and followed that career when I began working. After a few years in fashion, I found that the industry did not suit me well, and ABC was looking for a temp and asked me if I would be interested in working with them again. I fell in love with casting and have been doing it ever since.

How did you know that casting was for you?

I don't know other than to say I just felt like there was nothing I would rather be doing.

What is your first step in finding your actors after you read the script?

The first step is to breakdown the script and see what we need. Once a breakdown goes out we then make lists for some of the roles. We select actors based on both our knowledge of their work and from photos that we feel fit the profile of the character.

Who's easier to deal with? Actors or agents?

I don't know if that is a fair question. Actors are in the very beginning of their careers and more like students who eventually become colleagues and agents are from the very beginning, your colleague. So I think there is more of a situational answer that is depending.

What's the most unconventional thing you've ever done to find somebody for a role you were casting?

I don't know how unconventional this is, but, we were searching for a somewhat high profile personality for my show and there was literally no contact information for her. I decided to contact her record label and talk to someone there who put me in touch with her personal managers number and I was able to get her in to audition and she ended winning the role.

Is casting a show like "Sherri" a lot different from casting a more serious show like "Body of Proof?"

Really the only difference is the amount of time we have. You get much more time on a 1 hour drama. But I will say that finding comedic talent is a lot harder and not as large of a talent pool to choose.

How does casting for film differ from casting for television? Which do you prefer?

Time, again is the biggest difference for me. The speed in which episodic is done is without question, very stressful, but also quite fun. I love television and love doing episodic. Movies are also just a whole different experience, you may have 3 to 4 times the amount of roles to cast, but you also have that much more time. I think that on a movie you have much more time to connect to the roles, whereas on tv... they are there and gone from week to week.

Do you usually look at the same pool of actors for different projects? How do you expand your knowledge of who's out there?

There will always be a list of actors that are not only talented, but that are seasoned in this business.Those will always make a list that you will always refer to when casting roles. However, that does not mean we don't search high and low for fresh new talent that is waiting to be discovered.

What is it like collaborating with directors and producers? Is it a challenge to get them to cast your top choice sometimes?

At the end of the day we all have the same goal and that goal is to have the very best cast. That said... if there are 10 people able to give an opinion... chances are there will be 10 different opinions. This part of the industry is very subjective and no two people will ever love the same person for the same reasons. So, yes sometimes, you don't always get your first pick, but you will likely be happy the the final choice.

Is there anybody out there that you'd like to take credit for "discovering"?

No, not yet.

What advice do you have for those trying to break into casting themselves?

Just make sure this is what you want and fight to get it. This is a tough tough business and you need to love it to fight for it.

Thanks to Mia for all of her great answers!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mikey Goodmark- Wardrobe Supervisor/ Puppet Wrangler

My first encounter with Mikey was the fall semester of my freshman year of college. I was still trying to break into the Theater Production/Design program at the school and after going back and forth between two people who didn’t know what to do with me, one of them finally set me in the right direction and gave me the contact info of the costume design professor. A few nights later, I was up in the costume shop where she held her interview with me. That’s when I first met Mikey. He was in the back room of the costume shop collaging for a show he was assistant designing on in which an angst-ridden teenage boy throws a baby into freezing cold water. We said hello and that was about it. It wasn’t until the following fall that we really got to know each other.

One of the best things Mikey ever did for me was go into Greenwich Village in search of red thongs for the boys of The Full Monty. Technically, this was something I should have done since I was the costume designer’s assistant but Mikey didn’t want me to have to do that. Why? Because I am tiny and afraid of all the shops with the questionable things in the windows where the red thongs were to be found. When he returned that evening and plopped down the bag of g-strings is when I learned he had spared me this experience on his birthday. Having been in the costume shop since 10 AM that morning trying to sew snap tape along the side seams of uniform pant after uniform pant, I started hysterically laughing. But I didn’t mean to laugh. Crying is what I meant to do because I felt bad he did that for me. So I exclaimed, “I want to cry, but I’m laughing. I have no control over my emotions!” Thus creating what I think is our favorite memory of each other. Another favorite of mine is how he and another girl, Steph, used to refer to my friend Hannah and me as “the kids.”

That production closed in November of 2007. It is now January 2011 and dad is all grown up and a good year and a half into a stint as wardrobe supervising/puppet wrangling Avenue Q Off-Broadway at New World Stages. Having looked up to Mikey as an underclassman, I was ecstatic when he said I could shadow him backstage one evening and see exactly what it is he does at work.

Before the show I got to watch him do his puppet prep, part of which involved combing the human hair wigs attached to each of the puppets. Once theperformance began he, remembering my fear of wigs, decided to shove the back of one of the puppet’s heads in my face. But he combed that girl’s hair so well I was not afraid. (However, I was afraid during the show when he used the puppets to either caress or punch me while waiting to hand them off to the actors.) Mikey, still being the professor-like man that he is, also let me be a little hands on and help in doing such tasks as velcroing rods in Rod’s hands (ha!) and explained to me how they are constructed. Did you know that puppets have brains?!? They’re made of foam, but still… There is a lot about puppets and puppet wrangling that I neverknew or even thought about.

One thing I never noticed about Mikey while we were still in school together is just how fast he walks backstage. Trying to keep up with him reminded me of a high school friend I used to walk from class to class with. She was 6’3” and I had to speed walk alongside her just to keep up with her normal pace. Mikey is 5’10” and in my attempt to keep up with him during his track I was slightly jogging throughout the entire show and still barely able to keep up. On numerous occasions, I almost ran into the same stupid pole. One thing I did manage to notice while we were still in school, though, is that Mikey constantly showed up ready and raring to run wardrobe without having eaten at all that day. The only difference is that instead of bumming pretzels off of me, he is now asking fellow crew members to pick him up something with lots and lots of protein while they are out to get something for themselves before the show anyway. Upgrade!!!

Having just worked on a straight play that discussed life and death, I forgot what the backstage atmosphere on an upbeat, fast paced musical could be like. Despite the differences in these types of shows, though, it seems as if the backstage chatter amongst the actors is always the same- the level of the audience’s responsiveness that night and Facebook seem to be universally popular topics. But aside from listening to the actors rant about that night’s lackluster crowd, I got to see Mikey in all his puppet wrangling glory. The night was a constant state of motion, running puppets up stairs, down stairs, from stage right to stage left, handing off puppets in a manner so that the actor could dive right into their next scene, pinning the puppets' hands to their neutral spots before handing them off again. It’s really aperfectly planned out routine at this point and the track sheet Mikey put together for the show is better than any of the directions MapQuest has been able to come up with for me recently. But having witnessed just one night of the madness that is Avenue Q, I can’t really describe what it is that I saw. I know there were puppets, and people, and singing but it’s all such a blur to me now. Oh, and did you also know there were so many different types of gray? Well, apparently there are. Who knew? Let’s hear more on that from Mikey…

So exactly how many types of gray are there?
Many, many different types. The term, "shades of gray,' I was using refers to what happens to the puppeteer gray's under the stage light, in some light cues they tend to go green, or brown, or sometimes navy and the designers of this show, want them to stay GRAY so we find costumes that are gray's that lean towards a deeper richer gray than a lighter gray.

In your own words, what does your job at Avenue Q entail exactly?
I am responsible for the care, organization, maintenance and other day to day aspect of the puppets. This means fixing arm rods until we have to order new ones, re-tacking the clothing to the bodies when the tacks fail, getting new hair accessories when they break, schedule a wig maintenance call when it's time to restyle the girls.
However, I am also in charge of the care and maintenance on the costumes including the light up wedding dress for the actors during the course of the show. This includes steaming, pressing, laundry, presetting and repair, as well as the quick change for Christmas Eve, into her wedding dress.

How does your job on Avenue Q compare to other shows you've wardrobe supervised?
It doesn't really. I was hired when someone was leaving the show and they needed to find someone. I was told I'd be Puppet Wrangler and said,"Oh I've never done that" and was told, "We'll teach you." And so they did. I started work on November 9, 2009 and I don't think I had a handle on the puppet portion of my job (which is a big big portion) until mid-December. Clothing is simple in it's way. If it's ripped, you patch it or replace. With the puppets if something is wrong, they need to be sent to Rick Lyon to fix, and that means scheduling a pick up with Rick's availability. Now, usually this can happen as soon as our next off day, but sometimes it can't and then it's a matter of switching out pieces or parts from press puppets to tide us over 'til they get fixed. That kind of thing wouldn't happen with clothing. So it doesn't really compare, it's a whole new beast.

What's the craziest thing that's ever happened to you backstage?
The craziest thing was having to run the show in an eye patch. I had scratched my cornea with my contact lenses and couldn't get a swing in to run the show, so I had to run to Duane Reade and buy a eye patch. Now, at this time, I was running some of the deck cues backstage as well and had to do the whole track without any depth perception. Needless to say there was a lot of running into walls and actors having to adjust to my being in a weird place cause I thought I was in the right place.

How did you wind up at Avenue Q?
This starts a few years before I ended up there. In the fall of 2008 I was working at the Vineyard and become good friends with the sound guy, Dave. We did another show at the Vineyard together in the winter of 2009 and then a show at The Public in spring 2009. Fast forward to the end of October 2009 and I was just wrapping up a NYMF show called The Happy Embalmer when Dave calls asking for my resume and explaining that the puppet/wardrobe guy has given notice and that Dave wants to give my resume. I got a call the next morning (a Saturday) had an interview on Monday and was told to come back in three weeks to train. So it was very fast and most certainly made my head spin.

What's your favorite memory of wardrobe supervising a show?
I'd say it has to be Wig Out! at The Vineyard in the fall of 2008. The cast was amazing, the show was amazing, it was my first BIG show out of college and I got to work with a designer I looked up to and really see how she worked. It was a truly eye opening experience that let me know this is most certainly what I want to do with my life.

How does working on Rock of Ages compare to Avenue Q? Is there that same type of upbeat, familial atmosphere backstage like the one I noticed on Q?
It's hard to compare. At Q I'm one person doing three jobs and at Rock of Ages I'm one person on a team doing the same jobs. But they are both amazingly interesting and filled with great people. That atmosphere is doubled at Rock because of the size of the crew, we have nine crew members at Q and I believe it's twenty at Rock of Ages, so it's more people and they've always got swing crew members (like myself) in, so they're always joking around to make them feel welcomed.

What type of advice would you give people who want to work backstage in wardrobe themselves?
Grow a thick skin, but retain a good sense of humor. You will work with people, most likely an actor who is mean to you, or with a stage hand who doesn't do there job and it affects how you do your job, or with bad company managers, and when you work with any of those people, if you do not have a thick skin, they will beat you down and you will not want to go to work anymore. But if you go in feeling strong, and ready to laugh at the whole situation and just know you're doing the job you've been hired to do right, than you'll be fine.

What's the best advice anybody has ever given you?
My Scenic Design professor in college, J. Wiese, once told my class, "If you ever wake up, and don't want to do this anymore, just think it's too hard and you won't succeed and you just can't do it. Then quit. Because someone with a better attitude deserves the job you're ungrateful for."

Above is a picture of Mikey, Princeton and Jonathan Root.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Erika Lilienthal- Assistant Costume Designer

I met Erika during winter break of my senior year of college. A friend and former fellow intern from "Rescue Me" had put me in touch with her because Erika was looking for help on a show she was coordinating costumes for. So a few days later I went into Manhattan and met up with Erika and we stepped into a Starbucks to go over the plan for the day. During this conversation is when I learned that this show was taking place at my own school in a space the theater department I was an active part of constantly worked in. Funny, right?

The first half of the day I got to run around to random thrift shops while Erika did some fittings at the rehearsal space in Times Square. By dark, Erika and I were in Brooklyn and she took me to this shop near her apartment that was popular amongst Hasidic Jewish men to purchase those long black coats they wear. It’s not exactly the type of place I’m used to shopping at so it was quite an experience for me. I’m sure the men who work there don’t usually see girls like us walking in all the time either.

At the end of our day, Erika walked with me most of the way back to the subway to make sure I got there ok. Just a few short days later it was time to go back to school and of course I used the comp ticket each student is entitled to (because of the performing arts fee they charge through tuition) to see the show. My friend Ruth was nice enough to go with me. It was an interesting show, especially since it featured a friend of mine in the ensemble sporting fake facial hair pushing people around in wheelchairs.

That following April, Erika asked me to intern for her again on a film she was working on entitled Salvation Boulevard. So off to Brooklyn I went again and spent most of the day walking stuff to FedEx and going into Manhattan on a sunglasses mission and to swatch fabric. Halfway through the day I also ate lunch. (Usually, productions give the crew a $12 or so allowance each to buy lunch.) It was nice out that day so the wardrobe supervisor, PA and I decided to eat outside. One of the other girls got the same sandwich as I did. I don’t remember where it was from or what kind of sandwich it was but I remember sitting there, thinking “Wow! This is a really good sandwich!”

Since then, Erika has also worked on a couple of other films and Salvation Boulevard has been doing the whole Sundance Film Festival thing.

Here is my interview with Erika:

How did you get started in the business?

When I was graduating from High School in New Jersey, I needed a summer job. I knew how to sew. Our local theatre, McCarter Theatre, was producing the Opera Festival of New Jersey at the time and they needed someone to help in fittings and do extra work with the costume department. I loved being with the designers, helping to pull (very occasionally) helping in the fittings (mostly handing off pins and taking notes) and learning from everyone on staff. I also helped on the run crew and made a number of friends. From that job, and I did that most summers of college, I got to help with the touring shows that came through the theatre, and eventually got my job at Williamstown Theatre Festival. A few years after college I worked at McCarter Theatre again in the costume shop as a first hand.I transitioned in to film once I moved to New York in 2006. I started doing alterations for a friend and neighbor, who happened to be designing a small film upstate. I helped her prep for the film and loved it. At the same time I was working weekends backstage on an off Broadway show. The stage manager connected me with another theatre that was looking for an assistant designer for their production of The Spanish Play. I met Donna Zakowska shortly afterwards and was able to assist her on the project. She was designing and prepping the HBO miniseries John Adams and asked me to join her team once The Spanish Play was wrapped.

How did you know that costume design was for you?

I knew costume design was for me when I was 12 years old. I was watching the PBS miniseries Anne of Green Gables. Already in love with what I was watching, I was bored during the fundraising breaks, except when they showed interviews with the cast. I was so excited when I realized that it was the costume that helped tell the story. It turned the actor into the character. I wanted to do that.

What does your job as an assistant costume designer entail?

As an assistant costume designer you rarely have a boring day. To start there is a lot of organizing, planning, budgeting and lengthy discussions with every person in production.

During prep, the few weeks before shooting, you are with the designer a lot. You need to make sure the designer is supported, especially sure they have what they need to artistically work through this project, solve any situations, develop character. Once there is some sort of schedule in place, or you know when and where you have fittings, you start preparing for every look. Sometimes you shop in stores, sometimes online. Frequently you try to contact the clothing, shoe or accessory company and see if they will let you borrow for the duration of production. There is a lot of running around, a lot of phone time. Fittings are exciting. Sometimes it's smooth and everything fits and they, and you, love everything. Usually there is a bit of reworking as you take the actors thoughts, and physicality into active consideration. Then, armed with options, there is a discussion with the director. Sometimes you have multiple fittings.

During filming, you are on set with the designer to establish looks and make sure things are running smoothly. You communicate with your wardrobe team constantly and the AD’s and production team constantly.

In wrap you make sure all the clothes you borrowed are returned, all the contacts you made are happy, and that in the event of reshooting something, everything is documented and easy to access.

In the past year you've worked on three films. How did each film compare with the others?

Each of these films, Salvation Boulevard, Higher Ground, and Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, was an amazing experience.They were all low budget independent films. This determines a lot about how the project works. On one hand you aremuch more intimately involved with every aspect of design and production, but you are also that much more responsible and actively involved with the budget! Two of these films involved being on location, Michigan and then Upstate New York, and the third was shot locally in New York. I was fortunate to be working with designers I am not only inspired by, but am also friends with.Being on location in Michigan was great because it exposed me to new sourcing and shopping. I loved their vintage shops, and the pockets of cool neighborhoods with special stores. The locals were incredibly helpful to us and really welcomed the madness that film production brings.

Higher Ground was special for many reasons. The project was so inspired and beautiful. The production team was made of brilliant artists and it really shows in the final product. The film was set from the 60’s through the 80’s. From rentals, and mad shopping at a mall with little to offer, to pilfering through my mom's collection of clothes from the 70’s and 80’s, and mysterious barns full of bellbottoms, the designer and I had quite the time. We worked hard selecting special pieces that would really reflect the world we were trying to create. It was wonderful.

The New York City film, Someday This Pain, was once again, thrilling. Creating a modern world, a world that we see every day, is sometimes the hardest thing to do as everyone has an opinion, everyone has a reference. It was exciting to find the rare and special to create independent characters. Having NYC as a resource, both visually and with materials, makes a world of difference.

What advice would you give to people trying to break into the industry?

Advice: Be patient. Do any work you can, just to be involved. Watch lots of beautiful films, meet everyone, have favorite designers and tell them, go to as much theatre and performance as you can and go to museums all the time. Travel. Watch people. The more you see, and do, the more you can pull from that experience to help tell the story. Let yourself be inspired by your actors and your director. Make sure you are having fun.

How did your past experience in theater and film prep are you for the three films that you just finished?

I think my past experience played a significant role in preparing me for these three films. There is a great deal of accounting in assisting, so having been responsible for money while coordinating and when designing smaller projects, really helped. Also, with each project you make new contacts. Being able to call a company and get the perfect shoes sent overnight at a discount with their best wishes, that is really great! Knowing how much hard work, passion and love go into creating these special characters, makes the process that much more approachable. I think also, each project gives you the opportunity to appreciate the amazing story telling going on around you. There is nothing like being on set with the actors and all the background and seeing this world that has been believably created. It’s pretty special.

A big thanks to Erika for all of her great answers! Below is a picture of her work on Schlemiel the First.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why Am I Blogging?

Most people who know me know I've done a lot of internships. But not everybody knows exactly what these internships entailed. In college I was a double major in Fashion Studies and Theater Production/Design. The Fashion Studies major was my original major but later became more of a backup filled with lots of business classes that I hated. When seeking out internships, I looked for those based in production. The summer before my junior year I went away to Cooperstown, NY to work as a wardrobe intern for Glimmerglass Opera. For the next couple of years I began a trend of going away to do summer stock in the summers while working production internships in the city during the school year. My first internship in the city was in the costume department of the television show "Rescue Me" and from then on I just couldn't stop. Since that internship, I went on to intern in the costume departments of the television shows "White Collar" for a short period of time and "Royal Pains" which saw me interning for the same group of people as "Rescue Me." Obviously, I liked that group of girls to go back and intern for them a second time around and it paid off, literally. The next year they started calling me back to do paid work as a PA here and there. Also through a connection on"Rescue Me," I got an internship on the movie The Other Guys with Will Ferrell that was just released last summer. It was through all these internships that I learned how much work and how many people are necessary in making movies and TV shows and I feel as if these people's work are not featured enough, and not nearly highlighted as much as that of the actor. Don't get me wrong, I love actors. I've spent countless hours worrying about them when working in wardrobe. But there are so many other people behind the scenes and that is what this blog will be focusing on.