So you want to be a star. The next reality TV star to be exact. The next Snooki, Adam Lambert, Kim K-Dash, Nota or We Are Heroes. You’ve said to yourself, “Why not me? I’m just as (fill in the blank) as they are? I got (fill in the blank).”
Calm down, never fear. Your fairy godsistah is here. No, I don’t have the “in” you need to get on a reality television show. But here’s what can, or rather, have done for you.
The Ride talked to reality television casting director Michelle McNulty of McNulty Casting. Michelle, who has has found talent for such shows as NBC’s The Sing-Off and MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. Michelle lets us know what it takes to be a casting director for reality TV and gives some tips for casting hopefuls.
The Ride: Hey Michelle, thanks so very much for taking the time to talk with me. I know you must be crazy busy. First, I have to ask you, how does one become a casting director for reality TV shows?
Michelle: I was very lucky and got into reality casting when it started to boom. In my other life, I was a professional dancer. As I got older, it was time to figure out what was next. I had just moved back to LA and needed a job in between gigs so I got a job as a runner with the production company LMNO. Three days later, they asked if I wanted to help find kids for Kids Say The Darnest Things. I had taught kids dance my whole life, so finding kids was a no brainer. I worked with someone on Kids Say that was an associate on the first season of Survivor. Season 2 was coming back and they needed more associates. I was lucky enough to get the job. Lynne Spiegel Spillman, the casting director of Survivor, taught me so much of what I know and has played a huge part in my career. She is the best!
The Ride: How is it different from casting scripted series?
Michelle: I have always been a people person and been fascinated by others and what they do. With reality TV, you are able to get to know the person where as with scripted the actor comes, in reads the lines, then you call their agent or their manager. There isn’t as much personal interaction. I worked for a week as an intern for a scripted casting director and that was one of the big turn offs for me and why I have never been as interested in scripted casting.
The Ride: Is there anything in your background you think made you perfect, or at least well-suited, for such a job?
Michelle: I have been on the other side of the table. I know what’s it’s like to walk into a room and audition. It can be intimidating and scary. I hope when people come to one of my auditions they leave feeling that even if they don’t get the gig they still had fun and possibly learned something to work on for the next time.
The Ride: What is it like when you are in full blown casting mode? It must be hectic. I know you recently finished conducting casting calls for America’s Best Dance Crew and had to travel to I think three cities in about four days. Talk about jet lag and overall sleep deprivation.
Michelle: First half of the job is getting the word out about the auditions and setting up appointments, also a lot of paper work, phone calls, emails and logistics. Next, it’s hitting the road for auditions lots of travel, long, long days, and trying to remember to drink more water instead of coffee. Once back from the road, it’s putting together the best of what we’ve have seen. This pitch is given to executives to decide the cast. Again, lots of paperwork, phone calls, emails and logistics. Then getting to tell the contestants they’ve made the show. From there, it’s more paper work, phone calls, emails and logistics to get the contestants to LA or to where ever we are shooting the show. Once the show is cast and production begins, I’m on to the next one.
The Ride: What do you love most about your job?
Michelle: My staff!! Meeting people I wouldn’t normally meet. Finding incredible talent and telling someone they have made it on the show! There is no better phone call to make.
The Ride: What do you like the least?
Michelle: Telling people they did not make the show.
The Ride: If I wanted to work in reality TV casting, how would I go about it?
Michelle: If there is a show that you like, find out the production company that produces the show and submit your resume. Everyone starts at the bottom to a certain degree; so be prepared to be a PA and get coffee and do runs. Be pleasant without being overbearing, willing to work hard and to do whatever is asked of you. This business is about the impression you leave on people. If it is a good one, people will refer to others and that’s how you get work. When they say it’s who you know…it’s true. There is also a web site called Realitystaff.com that posts jobs in reality TV.
The Ride: I know at least a couple of people who want to audition for reality TV competition shows. One for a modeling show. The other for a Project Runway-like fashion show. Can you give them some advice? How does one get ready for one’s close-up?
Michelle: Know what you auditioning for and be self aware as to whether you really have the skills for that show. Auditioning for show after show just because you want to be on TV won’t get you anywhere. At that point, you are just wasting your time and mine.
The Ride: What are some dos?
Michelle: Be yourself always!!! Don’t try to guess what we are looking for. Just do you!! If you are not being sincere in your performance or in an interview, we know! Be open and willing to talk about anything. The contestants on shows are the narrators of the story. If you are not willing to be open and talk about what is happening in your life, then it’s likely you won’t be able to tell what’s going on while on the show. How you play the game is one thing; how you tell the story of how you will play the game is what casting is interested in.
The Ride: What are some don’ts?
Michelle: Never, ever say. “I will make your ratings go through the roof!” that means you will never be yourself and are a poser! Don’t try to guess what we are looking for, it changes often. Don’t try to be like someone else that has already been on the show. You may like Richard Hatch or the Jabbawockeez, but there is only one! Do you always!
The Ride: I got this question from one of the Twitfam (@renh77): If [you] have one candidate with real talent, but no drama, and one with marginal talent and plenty of drama, does drama always win?
Michelle: What people have to remember is putting a cast together is like putting together a puzzle.We need to try and make the pieces fit. If everything was the same, it would be boring. We need to represent different types of people, ages, ethnicity, parts of the country. There are a million different reasons as to why some might get picked and others don’t.
The Ride: This leads to the question: How important is someone’s story in the overall selection process?
Michelle: Story is important because it defines the contestant as a character and helps the viewer remember someone. All stories don’t have to be sad. It’s what makes the contestant memorable. But once the story is told, what do you have to offer after that is what casting looks for. Whether it’s how you play the game, sing, dance, there has to be substance after the story has been told. A contestant has to have the “rootability” factor. The viewer needs to root for the contestant whether it’s to win or fail. If that doesn’t come through in you interview with casting, then it’s most likely it won’t happen with the viewer.
The Ride: Have you ever thought about having your own (producing and/or starring in) reality show? And if so, what would it be about?
Michelle: Producing yes. Starring in NO! [laughs]
The Ride: What shows/projects are you working on the coming weeks/months?
Michelle: Wrapping up America’s Best Dance Crew season 5. Taking meetings for the next projects…[laughs]..How Hollywood did that sound?
The Ride: Thanks so very much Michelle. You’re the best!
To check out the latest from Michelle and McNulty Casting, click here.
To follow Michelle on Twitter, click here.
Michelle will be casting season 2 of NBC’s The Sing-Off. For more information, visit www.singoffcasting.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition to casting NBC’s The Sing-Off, Michelle also serves as casting director of the NBC hit, The Voice.