'The Casting Room' brings comedy, audition tips to LAWEBFEST Special

Posted Mar 13, 2013 by Jeff Cottrill
Casting directors are among the unsung heroes of film and TV production. They have to sift through a lot of chaff to find the best wheat for the cast – a process that's hilariously demonstrated in the Canadian web series “The Casting Room”.
Stars of the online series  The Casting Room . From left: Stephanie Gorin  Scott Thompson  Naomi Sni...
Stars of the online series "The Casting Room". From left: Stephanie Gorin, Scott Thompson, Naomi Snieckus.
c/o Naomi Snieckus
“Every single episode we've done is based on something that's actually happened in the room,” explains Stephanie Gorin, the series' co-creator, co-writer and co-star. “It's exaggerated in that we may have the actors do more than they need to, because it's funnier, but every one of those things has happened.” And Gorin knows whereof she speaks: she has been a working casting director for about twenty-five years. Among her numerous credits are the movies Chicago, Hairspray and Get Rich or Die Tryin'; TV series The Tudors, Copper, Hemlock Grove and The Borgias; and several major Toronto stage productions, from Les Misérables to The Wizard of Oz.
The Casting Room is as much an educational series as a comedy; each two-to-five-minute episode is a crash course for aspiring actors on what not to do in auditions. A guest star (like Eric Peterson, Colin Mochrie, Deb McGrath or Scott Thompson) auditions for Gorin and her partner-in-crime, Naomi Snieckus, and makes some colossal mistake, whether that's fussing over props and costumes, changing the text, insulting Snieckus or just not following directions. Episodes always end with summarizing titles, such as “Don't blame your agent!” or “Know your age range!”
Unlike the bumbling thespians in their series, Gorin and Snieckus must be doing something right. The Casting Room's last season won the Canadian Comedy Award (CCA) for Best Web Series, and now the show is competing at the prestigious Los Angeles Web Series Festival (or LAWEBFEST) at the end of this month. LAWEBFEST is the world's largest festival devoted exclusively to online programming, with entries from around the globe.
“It's great to be recognized in the web-series community,” says Snieckus, a Canadian Comedy Award-winning improviser, Second City alumnus and member of acclaimed Toronto comedy troupe The National Theatre of the World. (The Casting Room is directed by fellow National Theatre member Matt Baram.) The series' recent CCA win was a big surprise, she adds. “We were not expected to win at all. Our competition was Scott Thompson's blog and Sexy Nerd Girl.”
“That was a big shock to us. And exciting!” says Gorin.
The Casting Room will also compete at the Hollyweb Web Series Festival in Hollywood in April. On top of that, the series is going international: Gorin and Snieckus have sold the first-season scripts to Norwegian company De Andre Teatret, which plans to produce its own Norwegian-language version. “They have a great community over there,” Snieckus says about Oslo's theatre scene.
Gorin and Snieckus came up with the idea for the series after Gorin had run some charity college workshops on auditions. They wanted to find a humourous way to get the same tips across. “I was also hoping it would go out to high-school and college students,” says Gorin. “A lot of colleges focus more on theatre, not so much on television and film, so students don't necessarily know all of these basic things that can go wrong. They've been taught how to act, but not all the semantics around it.”
As Snieckus had used to work with Gorin as a reader, she was a natural choice for the role of Gorin's assistant – adding another layer of character humour into the show. “She's playing an assistant who reads and says more than she should,” says Gorin, who based the character on a real-life assistant – one who always showed up late with a never-ending series of creative excuses.
While the auditioning actors' behaviour is the main source of the comedy, Gorin and Snieckus stress that they don't intend to mock actors in any way. “That's one of the things we've tried to be really careful about,” Gorin says. “We always want to treat them with respect. And that's a really important thing. Actors are very sensitive. We all are. There's no point in being a casting director if you don't want the actor to do well in the room. And there's comedy that comes out of the fact that they do things that they so innocently think are correct, and they always go out feeling good. We both love actors; that's one of the reasons we're doing it – to give back.”
Indeed, much of the humour stems from watching established stars and pros making faux pas that even many amateurs wouldn't make – as opposed to the mean-spirited mockery of ordinary people on shows like American Idol. “Because it's folks like Scott Thompson and Colin Mochrie taking the p---, it's like, 'You guys are doing it too, it's not merely us,'” Snieckus explains. “It's part of our fun too, because they're not taking themselves seriously.”
Asked if they have any anecdotes or favourites among the guest stars, Snieckus jokes: “Colin Mochrie is a diva! Atrocious to work with him. He demanded green M&Ms in Kraft syrup.” She adds, “It's such a treat to work with each person that comes in. We write what we write, but they bring another element of playfulness into it.”
With three seasons under their belts, Gorin and Snieckus are already producing another. As simple as the finished product looks, it's hectic to put it together. “We shoot eight in a day. It's insane,” says Snieckus. “It's so whirlwind. We get there at seven in the morning and we leave at seven at night. We get an hour to shoot each episode, then finish and change. The fact that we're good at thinking on our feet really helps out.”
Now that there are big showcases around like LAWEBFEST, are online series with short episodes like The Casting Room the wave of the future – for comedy, and for the film/TV industry in general? “I think it'll give more work to people. People will start creating their own series,” Gorin says.
Snieckus agrees. “I think more people will take creativity into their own hands. You always get actors complaining about not getting enough work, and now you can go make your own. Now people just want to raise money to make a web series. Because they know they can. Why wait for a network to say yes when you can put your material online?”
Neither Gorin nor Snieckus ever needs to wait long for work, though. Snieckus has a regular gig in the CBC sitcom Mr. D, for which she recently received an ACTRA nomination. Gorin, of course, continues to get Casting Room material at her day job.
And what's the best general advice Gorin and Snieckus have for budding actors in auditions?
“Do the opposite of every episode,” Snieckus quips, referring to The Casting Room.
“It's all about the preparation,” says Gorin. “Learn your lines the best you can. And come in with a positive spirit. You've been invited to the party. You have a chance to come and show your acting skills. Enjoy that.”