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The Art of the Pencil

I tend to make a noise about the more positive, hopeful or collective. But now and again things get to me and when I feel them inside and really feel them, then I cannot resist and I need to say something.

This month I really felt. I felt so strongly that I acted on my feeling and made some noise. And am making even more noise by writing a blog post about it. And it feels good.

The world of Commercial casting! Oh what a joyous, horrendous, lucrative, creative, mind blowing, excruciating, brilliant world it is. As the wonder that is Andy Nyman says in his superb book The Golden Rules of Acting That Nobody Ever Tells You (which everyone could benefit from reading actor or no):

‘ …commercial castings are a law unto themselves – leave your ego at the door and just go for it’.

Yes, they are bizarre and the darker side is highlighted in no better way than in the brilliant, addictive and perversely comforting video Fiery Hawk from Chaplin & Forbes:

I have found that with the right mental attitude Commercial castings can be fun and seriously good practice for letting go and ridding yourself of inhibition – its a great practice for the film set where you need to be able to forget those 100 crew members and act. So, I give them my best shot, my commitment and in return you ‘Commercial casting World’ do the same. And so when I am treated badly, or rather when what I bring to the table is not valued then I get that funny feeling that makes me want to make a noise.

I had a casting. I received the brief the day before and prepared. I thought about my wardrobe, I learnt the lines, I researched the Casting Director, the Director and Producers. You never know when you will have a friend in common or you love one of their projects… in my mind it is all about breaking that ice and being able to work together for that brief moment as equals creating something and looking for a solution as opposed to being an intimidated actor feeling judged. I went to the casting and did my best. I inevitably crashed into a couple of actors I knew in the waiting room and made buddies with whoever was playing my husband before we inevitably had to get physical and enter into each others personal space. Job done. Fingers crossed.

Now, if the cosmos has worked in your favour you get the job – best case scenario. Commercials can be lucrative and fun to shoot. You want the job, right?

Or you get a recall. This is a nice feeling. I did well, they like me and you go in again and do it all again probably exactly the same as you did before but they eek out of you the exact element they need or want for there product or brief.

Or you get a pencil! A pencil is a nice and an uplifting thing. In this industry you rarely hear back from auditions or commercial castings unless you got the job and so a pencil makes you feel capable and special. It gives you a warm little feeling. But what does it mean? The Cambridge English dictionary says:

‘Pencil’ Meaning:

To arrange for something to happen or for someone to do something on a particular date or occasion, knowing that the arrangement might be changed later: We’ll pencil in the dates for the next two meetings and confirm them later. Planning, expecting and arranging.

And that is exactly what it is in commercial terms too. It means that probably 2 or 3 of you have been selected for the job. In my experience it means one of you is the chosen one and the other an insurance in case the producer suddenly changes their mind or the chosen one tragically dies the day before the shoot. You will be pencilled and often not ‘released’ from that pencil until the night before the shoot and in some circumstances, not at all. That’s OK. We like being pencilled. It feels good. We are willing to put things that were in the diary on hold because there is a chance that the gig is ours. You see when you have committed to a pencil, you are committed. If they say jump, you say yes, Sir and how high?!

Now and again you will be pencilled AND recalled. This is OK too. They need another peek at the goods. It is always slightly odd to meet the one or two other people who are either identical to you or so different you just cannot compete, who have also been pencilled. But again, thats OK, you are the chosen few!

But what is NOT cool is when you have been penciled (yay!) and rock up to your recall (yay!) and discover that at least 14 other people have been pencilled along with you. This is what I walked into the other day and I was so angry. I felt angry for myself and for all the other actors. You could see each face fall and mojo sag a little as they walked in and realised that so many of us had all been pencilled. What was delivered in the room won’t have been so great. I hope I did my best but I was peeved. I emailed my agent from the waiting room (and I am not someone who bothers their agent with crap) and her response was super and too electronically vocal for me to share but the gist was ‘you should be valued’.  On the way to the station afterwards with the man I had just been married to in the casting I realised he had felt the same. We then crashed into another actor from the casting, the talented James Carney, who was just as miffed. Everyone had made ready to drop plans a few days later and jet off to a foreign location and shoot. Now that may sound glamorous but actually when you do this all the time it is tough to move things round and potentially let people down on the off chance you’ll be needed. Now if you are pencilled it is OK as there is a real chance you will be needed; you’re willing to take the risk.

I thought about it and then decided to find out more. This has happened to me a few times over the last year and it upset me that a pencil was loosing its gravitas. As its weight reduces, so inevitably will actors respect for them. So I emailed Equity.

And of course, because our union is marvellous and essential (come on anyone not a member JOIN: we are better together), Tim Gale, Equities Commercial Organiser replied straight away and said that:

“You are correct in thinking that a pencil should not be used to corral a large group of performers (look at clause 5.8.3 of the attached document on pencilling-in).

…this practice is not approved of by the IPA (the advertising trade association).

This is a really lamentable way for CDs to behave and lazy to boot.”

Et voila:

5.8 Pencilling-in

5.8.1 A ‘pencil’ (and hence ‘pencilling–in’) is designed to indicate the Featured Artist is one of a small number of candidates in the running for the engagement and can be placed on a Featured Artist at any stage during the casting process.

5.8.2 It is recognised that pencilling-in does not constitute a contractual obligation and does not bind either side. A pencil, therefore, does not prevent a Featured Artist from attending another casting session, and a Casting Director may not refuse an audition to a Featured Artist already pencilled-in by any Advertiser for any product.

5.8.3 In any event, pencilling-in shall not be used as a method of retaining a broad spectrum of potential candidates.

Some might think I am a snitch but we have to look after ourselves. Actors complain a great deal and in my view if there is a problem, please don’t complain but DO something about it. Please report this practice to Tim tgale@equity.org.uk if you experience this. We need to stand up for ourselves. We need to all respect each other and it is only a few CD’s who are miss-using the pencil. Most CDs are great and the CDG is an excellent body that protects and also ensures that all runs smoothly within the world of the casting directors.

“The Guild is a professional organisation of Casting Directors in the film, television, theatre and commercials communities in the UK and Ireland who have joined together to further their common interests in establishing a recognised standard of professionalism in the industry, enhancing the stature of the profession, providing a free exchange of information and ideas, honouring the achievements of members and standardisation of working practices within the industry.”

Having reported this and now having written a blog about it, I feel much better and that horrid little feeling has gone. In fact, now that I have shown myself how much I care, I will try even harder at my next commercial casting. I leave you with an ad I had so much fun filming!! Shot with the superb Deadpan Films, Louise Faulkner and Gillian Keith .

I play Milly.

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