Caroline White has been in over half a dozen national and regional commercials. On camera, she has played the daughter of alternative comedian Taylor Negron, and is a comedian herself. Backstage West has called her “delightful,” in her stage performances. As a headshot photographer, she was awarded the Backstage Reader’s Choice Runner-Up in NYC 2009. Visit: www.CarolineWhitePhotography.com. She is currently based in Los Angeles and obsessing over exactly when she will finally adopt a dog.
I couldn’t get arrested. I arrived in Los Angeles with thousand dollar headshots, a degree from NYU, one lonely Off-Broadway credit, and a couple of commercial callbacks under my belt. My new roommate was pretty, positive, and an amazing waitress, and after 4 years in Los Angeles, she was finally starting to get regular commercial auditions. I was cute, impatient, and knew that my serving skills would always be pitiful. After months of workshops, mailings, classes, student films and networking, I still couldn’t get an agent. Not even a meeting. I just couldn’t imagine waiting four years to get going.
Fortunately I had done an internship in New York at a busy commercial casting office, and every once in a while, they would let me audition. Out of 3 or 4 auditions, I got two callbacks, so I felt I really could do commercials. More importantly though, I learned the ins and outs of commercial casting.
Flash forward to L.A. I met a handsome, tragic, bitter, older actor, got my heart broken, and realized I had just moved to a city I’d never even visited with basically no real friends. I became horribly depressed and lonely. I knew something amazing needed to happen to pull me out of it, and somehow, I was going to be the one to make that happen.
And then I suddenly remembered an article in Seventeen Magazine I’d read many years earlier, about a then teenage Leonardo DiCaprio. Leo auditioned for 100 commercials before he booked one! So I set my mind that I was going to audition for 100 commercials. That’s it. Just audition–like my roommate was doing. That was my goal. But I had no agent, no SAG vouchers, no nothing. Just a headshot, a resume, and a resolution to prove to myself that I belonged in this vast, foreign city. Oh yeah, and one other thing too. An internship, once a week, but this time, I was at a talent agency through which many auditions were scheduled by casting directors from all over L.A.
Unfortunately, as with many internships, it had been made clear to me when I started that I was never to approach the agents for representation, so I took it upon myself to “be my own agent” as they say. I started by casually leafing through papers on desks. I learned to read upside down. I even went through the garbage when no one was looking, all the while my heart pounding in my chest. I learned which clients were my “type” and kept my eyes and ears peeled for any mention of their name. My first two crashes went smoothly. I would just sign in, wait for my name to be called, go in, and do fine. One day, I noticed the agency’s top girl in my category had an audition for a fast food commercial. I scribbled the address down on a post-it, and hid it away. I was taking a break with another intern (who never had a clue about what I was up to), and as we chatted, I started to fidget with the pink post-it in my jeans pocket. The previous two auditions I’d found out about the day before, but this one was today. I only knew what time the one girl was going in, which was now. If I waited till after work, the session might be over. God, I thought, I really am perfect for this one.
“Tell them I went home with a migraine,” I told the other intern and I took off. When I arrived, I noticed something was different. A typed list of names on the wall. Hmm. No one was around, so I signed in, grabbed the sides, and began preparing. A guy came out and looked at the sign-in sheet on the clipboard, then the wall. Then the clipboard again. And the wall again. Oh God! Oh God! “Caroline White?” he called out quizzically. “Yes?” “When was your appointment time for?” Uhhhh… “Now?” I said sweetly, though I couldn’t have even told you what time it was. “Who’s your agent?” Fuck. Fuck. FUCK! “I’m with T.A. Management,” I confidently declared (the initials of my friend who had a great phone voice). He raised an eyebrow at me suspiciously. I pursed my lips and cocked my head as if to say, Hmm, what an odd mistake… He peered at me, from head to toe. I tried to look sweet again. He was onto me, but he rolled his eyes, acquiescing, “Just go in.” I was in! Maybe he saw something in me, (or maybe he was just too tired to turn me away), but I ended up booking it. I got taft-hartleyed into the union, a handful of agent meetings, and my pick of four different agents, (thanks to my instant mass mailing with the words “JUST BOOKED NATIONAL W/ NO REP!” emblazoned on every envelope in red Sharpie marker).
They say actors should always be prepared, but when it comes to crashing, those terms take on new meaning. I did whatever I could think of not to get caught. I was always there to “drop off a postcard.” I’d poke my head into offices looking for “my yellow umbrella with the wooden duck-beak handle” or my favorite pair of shoes. I’ve paced lobbies and outside of reception as though I was on a very important phone call, just to avoid questioning. I’ve camped out in bathrooms, striking up conversations with other actresses about the auditions. I was always armed with excuses like, “Omigod, I’m at the wrong address!” or “Wait, is this for Nike?” and “I’m just waiting for my cousin.” In New York, I’ve paced the sidewalk, Starbucks in hand, checking my watch while I scoped out actresses coming and going, and in L.A., I’ve staked out the front door from my car. Sometimes I would call casting and just say, “What are the times for the young women today?” Sometimes I’d get an easy answer like, “Two to four,” and sometimes they’d be like, “What are you talking about?” I’d pretend to have the wrong number. I kept a bag with a variety of outfits (casual, business, upscale) and accessories. I randomly walked into one casting office, and right away, the associate looked right at me and said, “You’re late.” “I am so, so sorry,” I responded immediately, without skipping a beat. “I had an emergency. It won’t happen again.” By this point, I was a crashing expert, and considered her statement an invitation, so I went in, and I booked it.
I even crashed theatrical auditions. Mostly little independent films by casting directors I’d never heard of, but one was a big show at an office I’d been trying to get into for years through a personal connection. I must have sent them 80 postcards over 8 years. I figured they were never gonna let me in, so I had nothing to lose. It was very nerve wracking. They had a list and couldn’t find my name on it, so I distracted them by gushing about the associate’s “gorgeous sweater!!” and then launching into a funny, partially true story about her boss that involved a celebrity and his cats, (which somehow worked). This is why crashing just isn’t for everyone. It adds an extra layer of nerves to an already high-pressure situation. It’s like performing two parts at the same time, and they both have to be perfect. You have to play the character when you get in the room, but instead of preparing before you go in, you’re playing the part of “Actor with an Appointment, ” and they have to buy them both, except “Actor with an Appointment” has no script. It’s all improv. Well, commercial casting directors especially have always been a fan of great improvisers…
Why be so blatant? You might ask. Well, after the first big crash success, I thought I’d try to reform my wicked ways, but my new agents barely sent me out, so I started politely asking if I could go in on certain jobs. I recently chatted with Casting Director Craig Colvin about the subject. He says, “I do think it is admirable to approach and ask, occasionally.” And added that, “Most people who ask to be seen when they don’t have an appointment actually have an existing relationship with me, so I know what they can do.” I was usually turned down, however, and I figured I’d rather ask forgiveness than permission. Although, if you get caught, chances are they won’t forgive and forget. Craig told me, “A couple of girls tried to crash an audition that was only for men. Then when they were caught, instead of just walking away, they created a web of lies. They’ve never been called in since.” I too, got a little cocky and careless one day and got totally busted on a job in New York where they were only seeing ethnic girls. It was pretty embarrassing, but I thought about my Dad’s words of wisdom to my grade school basketball team, “If you aren’t fouling out, you’re not playing hard enough!” We may have only won one game the whole season, but I felt the same way about my career. I thought, it’s even worth getting banished by one office, if it means all the other ones are calling me in. I was almost like a gambling addict, who can only leave the table when their money’s run out. I actually was proud, as crazy as that may sound. Crashing had become like my heroin, and I was chasing my first big high. Once I got used to the nerves, I found it kind of thrilling. I felt like a spy, or Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. I loved the adrenaline rush from getting past “the system, the man,” and I felt even more elated when I booked three nationals from crashing. I felt like, I am accomplishing something amazing, against all odds. I sought out similar stories about people like Danny DeVito, Mary Steenburgen, and the Verizon guy. (I know the one about Mary to be true—for the movie Goin’ South. She wouldn’t leave the casting office until they saw her.) Hey, I may be telling this to Conan O’Brien one day.
As rebellious as I may sound, I actually bailed more often then I crashed. I usually weighed the risks against the potential profit, as any good business person should. In New York, I didn’t care too much about my relationship with my agents (because, frankly, they didn’t send me out even once), but in L.A., I eventually found agents who really worked for me, and I didn’t want to screw that up. Craig said that he knew of actors who’d been dropped by their agencies for repetitive crashing. He also told me of an instance when an actor crashed (and booked) a regional fast food commercial that didn’t pay a lot, and would prevent them from doing national network fast food spots (which usually pay a lot more). Their agent was not happy, but ended up forcing the actor to take the regional spot so as to maintain a good relationship with casting (who not only would have likely not seen that actor again, but might also hold it against the agency and thus not see any of their other clients). I usually tried not to bother with anything except for national spots for major brands, but sometimes, I just wanted to feel like I was doing something, so I’d go in when the risk really wasn’t worth it. There were also times of frustration. Crashing can be hard work, and emotionally draining. One cold and windy day in New York I went to 11 offices (Unlimited Metrocards are a must!) and I couldn’t even get seen once. I thought the universe would take pity on me because of the bad weather, but at the end of the day, I felt pretty defeated, and like I’d wasted a lot of time. (At least I burned a lot of calories?) I’ll be honest though, all those “tough luck” days have been since the economy took a downward turn. Casting isn’t quite as busy as it was this time last year, and the jobs aren’t as big either. There’s more legwork, and less payoff, at least for now.
We’re all hoping that things pick up, and when they do, my #1 piece of advice to any wannabe crasher is that you have to really know yourself. It sounds simple, but a lot of actors, especially those newer to the business, really don’t know themselves. I’d taken a couple of classes through NYU where we’d been “typed”, and that helped me understand more about how I was seen, but I didn’t start crashing until well into my third internship, and even then, I still didn’t have a perfect handle on my casting. What really blew the lid off the mysterious art of casting were two things. One was Dallas Travers group workshops (which are amazing along with everything else Dallas does). And the other was…standup comedy. It pains me to tell you that. I think standup is one of the hardest things in the world (that doesn’t involve physical pain), but nothing forces you to get to know yourself like doing standup comedy, and if you can master that, I personally think you can do anything. Of course, if money were no object I might have just gotten therapy instead. But that’s just me. So if you decide to crash, be aware that even if you think you’re perfect for a job, you may end up playing the fool. Craig Colvin pointed out that actors, “…simply don’t know all of the specifics required on any job…[Casting] is privy to a lot more info. Some of which we can’t even disclose.” It won’t be apparent if everyone at the audition knows how to ride a unicycle, or speak Swahili, or has a Canadian passport.
Of course, maybe you’re just looking for the bathroom…