For years I’d heard the phrase, “Those people look like they are straight out of Central Casting.” Though I knew the reference directed at someone meant they had a ‘character’ look, which although their appearance might be unique in the current environment, they would easily be cast as a background talent for the right scene in a film or on a television show.
However, it wasn’t for a long time that I learned the phrase is based on a real company–Central Casting. In business since 1925, it’s a very prominent company known for casting background talent for films, television shows, music videos and other media.
When I had mentioned a few months ago about moving to Los Angeles and not having a job lined up, several people advised registering to be background talent with Central Casting. It would be a good way to make some cash relatively quickly, and though there is a ton of downtime, I’d get to be on set, too.
And that is why one morning a few weeks ago, before the sun came up, I tiptoed out of my friend’s still-quiet home and got in my car. I rolled out of the driveway, excited to be heading to another new experience.
Let’s backtrack though because it really started the night before as I laid out a variety of clothing options, putting different things on, trying to figure what would be best to wear.
When you register, Central Casting takes a closeup shot and a full body shot to include in your profile. This would be what casting directors would be seeing when the company submitted me for jobs, so I wanted to make sure I had on a good look for me.
But what look did I want to portray? This shirt? Those pants? Or jeans? Or a blouse? A jacket? A dress of some style? Colors? All black? Prints? Solids? Accessories? Plain? What to wear, what to wear?!?
It was getting late, and starting to feel tired, and especially since I knew the alarm would be going off super early, I had a couple possible outfits in my mind, and decided to go to sleep and decide when I was getting dressed.
In the wee hours of the morning I barely heard the chime from my phone and I jumped out of bed so I wouldn’t be tempted to snooze. I quietly got ready, being mindful not to disturb anyone else in the house since it was 5:00AM.
After showering, I still debated what to wear. At the last minute I came up with an outfit I hadn’t even considered yet–classic black slacks, a black silky camisole top with a small red flower print, a short black leather jacket, and of course, my signature accessory, a scarf. Wearing red leather sneakers for comfort, I threw a pair of black pumps in a tote bag along with a cardigan sweater in case I decided a softer look would be better.
Ready to go, I checked for the fourth time that I had the documentation I needed for my I-9. Then I stepped out in the still darkness of the morning, got in my car, and drove toward this new adventure.
As I drove out of the hills, I glanced out over the Port of Los Angeles where I could see the orange of daylight far away on the horizon. Sitting in the driver’s seat, I clicked on the Central Casting address which I’d already added to Maps (yes, I’ve since discovered Waze) and waited for the app to find me.
The detail person I am, I had read every specification on the Central Casting site, paying special attention to the ‘Register’ and ‘FAQ’ pages.
The main thing I’d heard was that you need to get there early. Very early. Based on advice from a friend, I knew to get there at least an hour ahead. There is such constant interest from so many people in signing up with Central Casting, they limit the number they register to 67 per session.
Wanting to get there early enough to be in the group that makes it in, I shot for an hour and half ahead. I had no idea what traffic would be like, but I pretty much figure it will always be heavy.
Driving down out of the hills in the South Bay area, I turned on my radio. It was silent so I wondered if I’d actually hit the ‘on’ button. Turns out I had turned it on, but I’d caught the moment between songs. Suddenly familiar notes came from the speakers. The very first words I heard that morning? “Reach out and touch faith.” I smiled and settled into the driver’s seat.
Early on, the traffic was particularly bad (yes, even for LA). I heard on the radio that due to the fires, the 405 freeway was closed. So, I’m very glad I gave myself an extra half hour because I needed it.
It was very slow going almost the entire way, and particularly the further north, closer to LA, that I got. As Maps kept adding minutes to my arrival time, I worried if I would get there too late.
But then I decided if I didn’t get into that day’s session, I could come back earlier on another day. And in the meantime, I was up early and driving around my new “hood” and that would be fun too, to explore different parts of LA.
Eventually I made it to my exit in Burbank, a little before 8:00AM. Though the Central Casting site says to get there well before they open at 9:10AM, what it doesn’t say is that some people arrive as early as 4:00AM. So as I drove past the address and looked for a parking spot, there was already a line on the sidewalk of folks of all ages and types, some with folding chairs and blankets. Many of them tapping away on their cell phones, some chatting to each other, others reading books and magazines.
Realizing every moment could make the difference whether I was able to make the cut, and since I couldn’t tell how many people were in line, I hurriedly searched for a parking spot.
I snatched up my bag from the passenger seat, closed and locked my car, then scurried on the sidewalk to get a place in line. I took a breath of relief to be there, when a gentleman, about 60, stepped in line behind me and asked, “Is this Central Casting?” I chuckled, “Yes. Well, I hope so.” Realizing I shouldn’t presume since I hadn’t seen any signs or street numbers yet, I asked the woman in front of me, and she confirmed we were in the right place.
On the Central Casting site they mention that when you get there you should “line up outside in the next available square”. Immediately I began to look for what squares they were referring to. I saw nothing on the ground or anywhere else. The man behind me also inquired what the squares were, and I told him I didn’t know either, and that I figured we’d find out when someone came out to start the process.
Assured I was where I needed to be, and with an hour to go before they opened, I settled in for the wait. Though I had a book with me, there was too much fantastic people-watching to enjoy. Having arrived way before me was a crowd loaded with an array of varying styles and looks The core of the population appeared to be in their 20’s, and 30-year-olds representing the second largest group. After that, there was a handful of us–the 40, 50 and ups.
I think it was an equal mix of men and women. There were various ethnicities, though African American and Caucasian were most prominent.
Standing there, because I was excited, and because I hadn’t brought a chair, I wished I’d had a coffee. But I’d specifically chosen not to have anything at all to drink because I didn’t want to have to get out of line to go find a bathroom.
The line continued to grow behind me, and one young guy a few people back ran up and counted those ahead of us. Reaching about seven or eight people ahead of me he looked back at us and shook his head. It wasn’t promising. When he stepped back in line, the guy who’d been holding his place said he didn’t know if he wanted to wait or not. For me it wasn’t a question. I was going to see what happened.
As I waited, I chatted with the man who had arrived just after me. I discovered he has been a member of SAG (Screen Actors Guild) for quite awhile. However, it’d been some time since he’d booked anything (discussion on ageism in Hollywood ensued) and he wanted to maintain his SAG benefits, which was why he was here. He hoped to get work as a Background Actor. I told him he reminded me of the actor Michael Lerner, and I thought for sure he could get booked as a judge or lawyer, or similar. He seemed to be surprised and glad I mentioned that because he was unshaven and very casually dressed in a denim shirt.
Constantly looking up ahead to see if anything was happening, at one point I noticed a well-dressed man coming walking alongside the line. He was handing out a flyer and when he got closer I heard him telling everyone of a special event that night.
As he passed and handed me a flyer, I too was caught by the bold print at the top, that read something like, “COME MEET SOME BIG DEAL PRODUCER OF SOME POPULAR SHOW” However, my Spidey sense told me it wasn’t all that simple.
I scrolled down the page and saw my Spidey sense was right. You could certainly meet this big time producer and hear them talk about how to become an actor. Yup, all you had to do was show up that evening to the Scientology Celebrity Centre.
After he got to the end of the line, the guy with the handouts walked back my direction and stood nearby. Stepping over to him, I could tell by the look on his face that I’m the first person who has ever handed the flyer back to him. Must be the Boulder tree-hugger in me.
Eventually a man came outside and began the process.
In his introduction he made it clear that any solicitors approaching us in line had no affiliation with Central Casting.
As he called out to the crowd, he restated as mentioned on the site, everyone needed the required documentation to work in the U.S. He came down the line, and a few people asked him questions regarding what they needed and based on his answer, they left the line. I was sad for them, but glad because that raised my chances of getting in.
Where I’d been standing all morning, trees had blocked my view of the door, but as he began to instruct people to move forward I could see there was a ramp at the front and he was having them form a double line. As he neared me, I noticed he was pointing to the ground. I moved forward as directed, and there, in tape, on the sidewalk, were the squares in question.
He asked if I had the necessary papers, I smiled and said, “Yes.”
He smiled back, “Good” and continued on.
A couple of people past me, he nodded to two guys and told them it wasn’t likely they’d get in that day. He encouraged that if they didn’t get to register at this time, to come back another day, but much earlier.
Taking a look down at my treasured ‘square’, I noticed something interesting- I was standing in a red square like those ahead of me. However, the square immediately behind was green. I’d made the very last spot! I was number 67!
As it turned out, a few others ahead of me were not prepared with their paperwork, eliminating them from eligibility, so they left and several people behind me in line also made it in. But before that, for about half an hour, I clung to that spot attempting to contain the excitement inside me while also trying to be positive for the SAG actor behind me and the few behind him as we continued to wait.
Finally the time arrived when the doors opened.
Someone explained the next steps briefly and vehemently reiterated that Central Casting had nothing to do with any solicitors who approached you while you were in line.
Next thing I knew, people were moving forward. We were going in!
As instructed, I had my driver’s license and notarized birth certificate ready to show as I entered, and squeezed them tightly to be sure they didn’t fall from my hand.
Before going through the door, I showed my proof of citizenship, then was told to go in and sit in row four.
Inside was a large room with four rows of chairs facing several large monitors.
Following the young man now in front of me, (the woman in front of me who’d assured me I was in the right place unfortunately didn’t have her papers in order and had to go back another time) I took a seat next to him in row four. ‘Michael Lerner’ was on the other side sitting down after me.
The organizer explained that we should be aware that there were casting directors in the building and they might be watching us in case anyone fit a look for a project they were currently putting together. Though I’m professional in situations like this anyway, I was glad they let us know.
I’d heard the guy who was now next to me mention that he was from Ohio like I am. I asked him where in Ohio he was from. I wasn’t familiar with the name of the city but he said it was a very small town outside Columbus.
He mentioned that a girl he knew in L.A. had told him he wouldn’t need a car out here, so he’d sold his Ford Ranger and bought an airline ticket. Having arrived in Los Angeles only two nights before, he got a ride to the location where he’d lined up a place to stay on Craigslist only to discover that it was a bunk bed in the back of a moving van.
For the past two nights he’d been sleeping in the female friend’s car (I don’t know what her living arrangements were but he apparently couldn’t stay with her) which was parked because she was unemployed and couldn’t currently afford insurance.
He shared that he’d done some modeling in Ohio and was confident he could get modeling and acting work in Hollywood. I asked if perhaps his agent from the mid-west knew anyone out here who could help him. He said he had modeled for a friend and didn’t have an agent.
This man, in his very early 20’s said he had around $700 to his name on which to live.
Deeply concerned about him, I thought of how many other other people arrive in this town with very little money and big dreams.
I’m far from financially secure, but I have my car. And I have people who have assured me if it came down to it, I could stay with them.
I was glad when he said that if he had to he could go home. He also mentioned a friend in San Francisco he could stay with. I let him know there are plenty of acting and modeling opportunities there and it is a stone’s throw from L.A.
A few minutes later the staff of Central Casting had us settle in. Once they had everyone quiet and paying attention, the importance of being quiet was stressed so they could cover the information and process efficiently and no one would miss anything.
I gave a quick moment’s thought to the juxtaposition of a man to my left who’d been in the entertainment industry for years and just wanted to hold onto his SAG card, and the young man to my right who was just bubbling over with hopes and dreams.
Packets of papers we would need to sign were handed out and we began. A pleasant woman brought each sheet up on the monitors and clearly explained where we needed to fill in the blanks and which ‘dotted lines’ we needed to sign.
This was the bulk of the process and took most of the time.
It was explained to us how to submit for gigs we see posted on Facebook or Twitter, or hear about on the phone line recording. They also told us that sometimes you receive a text from Central Casting asking about your availability on specific dates. They stressed the importance of sending only “Yes” or “No” in your reply text–no questions or details.
After everything had been gone through, we were taken by sections of each row to tables at the end of the room to have our paperwork checked.
They confirmed all mine were in order, and I stepped over to a different section of the space to have my photos taken.
Watching those ahead of me, I gave thought to what type of expression and pose I should have.
Smile? No smile?
Three quarter turn? One hand on hip?
Does it matter?
Next thing I knew, I was standing on the mark and the photographer was counting “one, two,…” and ‘flash’.
Then she took a second shot. And that was it.
In hindsight, I could have at least asked to quickly see the photos. Because as it is, I have no recollection of what type of expressions I actually ended up making. Who knows what the casting directors are seeing when my picture is submitted to them.
Fortunately you can go back on days they have scheduled for ‘Updates’ and I can check out my photos on file then.
It was official. I was a member of Central Casting.
As I collected my bag and purse, and saying good-bye to the staffers and thanking them for their help, I was elated to have taken this step in my journey.
I walked with a bounce in my step and a smile on my face to my car. After tossing my things in and getting behind the wheel, I pulled out my cell phone as I pondered where I wanted to go next.
My heart beat quickly when I saw I had a text from Central Casting asking for my availability for the very next day for ‘Superior Donuts’.
I took a breath, made sure I read it correctly, then typed in all caps- ‘YES’.
I received a return reply letting me know my response was received and reminding me this was only checking availability, I had not booked anything.
I couldn’t believe it! It was possible I already had my first gig.
It had been explained in the session that because they have so much to do, the Central Casting people might not have the opportunity to let you know when you don’t get a job. And that was the case here, so I never heard anything more.
Ultimately it was thrilling and encouraging to have received that text and before I even got back to my car.
So now when I hear “Straight out of Central Casting”, it has a much bigger meaning. I don’t know if anyone will ever look at me and think, “she’s straight out of Central Casting,” and that’s fine with me. But what is exciting is that in the past two weeks I’ve already worked on several shows!