It’s 3:30 on a Monday when I meet with Alexis Allen (Winter - if you’re looking to check out her endlessly amazing IMDB profile), a Casting Director extraordinaire. She is rocking a partial tattooed sleeve on her right arm *peep below* and an adorable baby bump, the combination is triumphant and telling. Within just a few minutes of talking, it’s clear… Alexis knows casting in a way that’s completely comprehensive but never pandering. She’s passionate about her work, the future of this industry and her place in it.
I sat down with Alexis to learn more about the world of casting, how she got her start and how she moved her way up through the ranks from casting extras for TV shows like New Girl to feature films such as We’re the Millers and more recently, as an associate in principle casting for the soon to be released Home Again, as well as independent films showcasing at impressive film festivals such as Sundance.
Alexis is one of the rare ones, born in Huntington Beach with her whole family still residing in Southern California. As a child, Alexis’s dad was in the army, bringing her all over the country and the world, a stint in Germany and finally landing in North Carolina, which is where her casting history begins.
“I was actually going to UNC to be a veterinarian, completely different path. Technically - surgical studies for humans so I could get into NC State for Veterinary School. Then I had the opportunity to work and travel with an equestrian team, which I took.”
So…. like, wait, where is the casting aspect of her life?! Alexis didn’t get into casting until she was done working with the Equestrian team. She came back to Wilmington and was managing a barn and showing horses on the East Coast when a friend in casting asked if she’d help out. Alexis went on to explain that her timing could not have been more perfect. Alexis was beginning to grasp the massive emotional toll being a vet entails when she found her passion in casting...
“I had sort of decided to not go back to school after working for a short while in casting. A lot of veterinary medicine is very difficult, emotionally. I didn't want to spend the majority of my career dealing with injury and sickness, which is what a lot of equine veterinary medicine is. I knew that isn't what my personality would mesh with, and it made me appreciate my vets so much more! In the end though, casting provides such a fantastic creative, fulfilling outlet, that I can't imagine myself in another career. I love everything about film, specifically being a part of it now, when things are changing so much with technology and streaming services. We're seeing a new frontier in film and TV.”
And before we get too far, I think we all get the “gist” of what a casting director *DoEs* but I had to ask Alexis directly, what DOES a casting director do? Her answer helped demystify the whole process and the idea that casting directors are scary AF people, trying to ruin an actor's day. What I learned?
Casting directors are the people who find the right actors and help the producers and directors make the decisions on who will fit the specific role best.
The average casting “job”/”project” can last anywhere from 6 weeks to 10 weeks on average and upwards to 9 months if it’s a TV show with a backorder for episodes.
Majority of casting directors favorite part of their day is getting to ACTUALLY watch actors act. They aren’t interested in seeing you fall on your face or make you nervous, they are excited to see great acting.
Casting directors and agents have a very symbiotic relationship, they need each other to survive and understanding that helps their relationships grow into a team effort that works best for their “clients” - the actors, directors and producers.
The hardest part of the job? Genuine inundation - not only do they receive over 1,500 potential actors per role (on average) - they receive a similar amount of pitches for those actors. So you’re looking at around 3,000 “messages” or “potentials” to review while you’re busy trying to wrangle the producer to choose an actor for another project and help another director bring their choices for a particular role down to 3 actors.
Now… back to Alexis’s trajectory…
North Carolina was getting great incentives for film and great work was coming their way. Alexis was able to work on One Tree Hill (swoon), Eastbound and Down, and countless more. That is.. until incentives for filming were cut throughout the state and region.
“The Southeast is a much smaller film community, I got to work on a lot of projects that brought so much in for the economy. It’s exciting for everyone. People eat your food, stay in your hotel's, shop at your stores - it’s so stimulating for that area... so to see it all cut and then the community kind of dry up…”
How exactly does this occur? Basically, the government or specific people in the government, make a choice that they don’t want to give tax breaks to help “fund” movies or TV shows to film in their state. Why? Neither I or Alexis could muster up an answer for that one.
As the opportunities in Wilmington slowed, Alexis packed up her bags and made the move. She knew that the casting community in LA is tight-knit but she also knew her experiences in Wilmington would make her a competitive and valued candidate. Alexis quickly moved up through the ranks of the casting world from assistant to associate, continuing upward until finally the holy grail title as the CASTING DIRECTOR! (*Peep below for a detailed breakdown straight from Alexis on what exactly each position entails*) Alexis continues to grow her resume - casting TV shows, animated films, feature films and more while she slowly and successfully creates a name for herself that doesn’t stop at Casting Director. Alexis is combining her casting talents with her powerhouse networking skills and creative nature to become a VERY Creative Producer.
Now, what exactly does “Creative Producer” mean for Alexis? She’s ready to go beyond making one actor’s dream a reality. As a creative producer - Alexis can find work (scripts/writers) she really loves and combine every piece you need to turn a script into an actual feature film. By finding (and signing) the right actor for the role - she can then find funding - once she finds funding - she can find her crew - that crew all networked together through Alexis can then create something epic.
Alexis’s day-to-day never looks the exact same but here are some of the tools she could NOT function without as a casting director.
To check out who reps actors, to get contact info, and to do actor/production research.
This is the “other side” of a submission site. It’s used for releasing the breakdown of roles, getting submissions, scheduling sessions, uploading tapes, even requesting self tapes and having agents upload them.
Cast It is more for hosting those tapes, which we have to manually upload.
Word Docs and Excel
Alexis is of the tech generation and she’s ready for the casting world to optimize on the opportunity to allow technology to not only save time and money but drive a more efficient workday.
“I think something I’d want actors and agents to take away from an understanding of how casting offices truly work is that as much as we’d love to see every actor in person - taped submissions are more cost and time effective for all parties, the actor especially! And it definitely DOES NOT mean we love one actor more than another if one is in the room and the other is a request to tape in. We know a good actor in front of us or on screen and we’ll get them in for a callback if they can act.”
DEAR ACTORS, did you copy the above?! Alexis and I chatted on and on for over an hour about the entertainment industry and the love she has for this industry and casting flooded me. It was riveting and heartfelt. She left me with a few other tidbits I just couldn’t not add to this article and share with interested readers about the Casting World, LA, and the Entertainment Industry in general:
You don’t need to start in LA or live in LA to get casting experience. You can get experience in other areas, oftentimes - being in LA - she’ll only cast the leads and then a casting company in the area, like say Atlanta or Chicago, would assist in casting for the rest of the roles.
She’s also hoping that our country is going to take a step FORWARD and realize that we need to invest in our own creative endeavors while being inclusive to actors across borders. Due to recent restrictions on Visa’s some actors can be cast but then not able to come to the States, a heartbreaking realization for all parties.
Alexis is excited for the drive for more diversity in film and TV, her focus in the independent feature and festival circuit is giving her a first hand experience at casting freedom. The ability to find the right person for the right role no matter their race.
And something Alexis wish she knew when she started out?
“There's a lot to learn in terms of shorthand that we have specific to our industry, and not much is able to be found on Google! Any info out there is usually wrong. It's a secretive industry, somehow - so getting your start can be difficult. It's a sort of ‘sink or swim’ start, but the people in casting are among the best I've ever known.”
Do you have more questions for Alexis about casting, North Carolina, vet school possibly or her life in general in LA? Let us know and we’ll work with her to get you the information!
And keep a lookout for Alexis’s upcoming podcast, she’ll be interviewing entertainment industry managers, casting directors, agents, and more - to unveil the mystique behind what goes into each aspect of someone’s job and world in the entertainment industry from their POV!
Find Alexis on:
*Breakdown for each job in a casting office:
Casting Assistant - Answer phones, check avails on actors, prep for any sessions, print sides, help with deal memos, a lot of administrative duties. Uploading sessions, helping with scheduling and running session.
Casting Associate - Same as an assistant, but also focusing more on the casting process and the financial aspects of hiring actors; running session, making notes, responding to pitches, scheduling sessions, in some offices we help with negotiating deals, making offers, talking to production, keeping master lists of everyone we've seen/been pitched, etc.
Casting Director - As the CD, I handle more of the communication side of casting: giving feedback on actors when we have time to, sending links to producers/directors, giving my notes and selections on actors, getting feedback from production and scheduling any meetings/callbacks/producer sessions. Making offers, negotiating short form offers with agents, getting financial details from production. It's a lot of relaying info from production to agencies/managers