'You’ve got to just keep at it' Casting director Manuel Puro offers inspiring advice to actors
Manuel Puro is an award winning casting director for television, film, music videos and video games.
After studying at the London School of Economics, Manuel worked for a whole host of top industry professionals including the likes of casting director Jeremy Zimmerman, ICM talent agency, Matthew Vaughn and Guy Ritchie’s SKA films, BAFTA-winning director Stephen Frears and British film-making behemoth Working Title.
In 2007, Manuel set up Puro Casting, a full-service casting company covering feature films, commercials, video games and music videos.
So, tell us why you became a casting director initially and how you pursued this after graduating from the London School of Economics?
When I started at the LSE, it didn’t take me long to realise I didn’t really want to go into that world. I used to spend a lot of time just going to the cinema. It was a rep cinema called Scala in Kings Cross, London, and it used to show lots of different films all the time. I used to literally bunk off school everyday and watch three or four films there. Usually they were very old, unusual films. Lots of European stuff. One particular day, I really had a lightbulb moment. I was watching Fellini’s Casanova and I remember thinking it was awful but that "they must be having lots of fun making this film, there’s crazy stuff going on, it must be a really interesting world." And so I thought ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do.’
Then after a lot of looking and trying to get work I got lucky. I didn’t even know casting existed but I got invited to this guy’s office and the day went well. Because I’d seen all these films from all over the world, I had a really good knowledge of actors and directors. That was it. It was a real stroke of good fortune that’s kind of led to my entire career. That guy was Jeremy Zimmerman, who invited me in and said his assistant was ill and that he needed somebody to come in and just answer the phones and help out.
To my good fortune, my letter arrived on the day that his assistant wasn’t there and he invited me in and that was it.
Fantastic. Could you give a little breakdown of roughly what a casting director, producer and director does and what the end goal essentially is for them?
A casting director acts as the middleman between masses of talent, masses of actors and actresses and a limited number of roles in a production. We work very closely with the director and the producer. There’s two sides to everything. There’s a creative side and a business side as well. We have to somehow balance limited budgets with the needs of a film to make money back for its investors and for it to get seen.
We try to get the best cast that will give the film the best life and the best exposure, whilst balancing a director’s creative needs and a producer’s financial needs. It’s just about knowing lots of actors, knowing how to get the best out of actors and also knowing agents and how to get the best out them too. We’re very involved in all the negotiations for the actors and doing the contracts.
The producers are, I guess, in charge. They’re the ultimate top boss. They’re the people that put everything together. In effect, they employ the director but obviously a lot of times it’s not really that kind of relationship. I think that they’re more or less equals. Every project is slightly different but the producer is the one that is responsible for finding the money and overseeing the crew and the entire life of the film. A film has a really long life. It’s not just the few weeks of filming. Usually it’s years and years getting it off the ground to begin with and there also can be years and years afterwards. So producing is one of the hardest jobs. They often get a lot of stick when there’s not enough money around but I think they are the ones that if you really pro rata how much time they’re spending on a project and what they make out of a project, they really would be better off working a zero hour contract job somewhere else. There are far more millionaire actors than there are millionaire producers. They do a great job in trying to put it all together.
The director is responsible for the creative side of everything. The director has to communicate his or her vision to all the different departments, not just casting but costume and wardrobe and sound design and more. They really have to be a master of all trades. They’ve got to really understand all the technical sides of things.
Manuel, tell us the differences between casting for film, television, music videos and commercials.
Film and television are very, very similar. You’re looking for really good actors who kind of understand the screen and understand the camera and understand how to make it work to their benefits. I don’t really have that much of a distinction between those two. I think you’re just looking for really fantastic actors. A film or TV actor has to be able to inhabit a character and just kind of make it look as though that is a real person with a history, even if they’ve got very, very little to do.
With commercials and music videos, for the most part, it’s more of a look we're going for. So the casting is more visual. We'll probably see a lot more people and it’s a little bit more of a cattle-call. We're just trying to find people that fit the brand or the band or whatever it is. Obviously, there are some music videos that do require lots of acting. You would then probably go for film actors or more filmic actors.
What we’re really looking for in film and TV actors, I think, and this is what I find directors really respond to, is someone that walks in and really makes the role their own. It might not even be exactly as the character is written, but somebody just comes in and gives an interpretation or just does something that you just think "God that’s it!" You just believe that it’s a real person and it works.
I think sometimes directors do like to be surprised by very left-field ideas or left-field approaches in film and TV auditions. Things they’ve not thought of themselves. As long as the character really works, as long as it just feels right, then often-times you will cast somebody that’s very different to the initial breakdown and the initial kind of requirements.
You also cast for video games, so tell us a little bit about that process.
I was looking to cast a film for the Imaginarium, which is Andy Serkis’s company. They were making a Planet of the Apes video game and wanted to do something a little bit different. Something quite filmic. They developed a story that was based in the Planet of the Apes world but it wasn’t really linked to any of the films and so we had kind of carte blanche and could cast any actors we wanted. It was great. There was a human story and an ape story and they ran in parallel and crossed over an awful lot.
I’m such a geek and I’m fascinated by technology and so it was just a real pleasure. I wasn’t involved in casting the apes, unfortunately. I’ve cast werewolves and ghosts in the past. I love the physical movement side of things, it’s very, very different and it does make for extraordinary casting sessions when people come in and people start walking or moving and growling and snarling.
It’s great, there’s more work for actors, more work for casting directors and, from the bits I saw ,it was just incredibly creative.
You’ve got an online course called The Acting Habit. Tell us a bit about that.
It really is the culmination of loads of advice that I’ve been putting on my website for years and years and in face-to-face workshops. I’d always try to encourage actors to do a bit of acting every single day. Just do something. Acting is a craft and if you haven’t done any for weeks and then get an audition, you will be a little bit rusty.
For years I’ve been giving this bit of advice and really the idea to do it all online came from a conversation I had with my brother in law, who’s an athlete. Actors need to train. He would train every single day and actors need to train every single day. An opportunity could happen at any time, so you just have to be continually prepared.
The Acting Habit seems to work really, really well and I’m really proud of it. It’s only been going a few months, and already lots of people are crediting it with success in various things that they’re doing. Only in a small way, of course, but it’s really, really satisfying and really, really heartwarming when I get those emails saying somebody has got a role on a feature film. There’s quite a technical element to the course, but it only lasts for the first few days.
I think the technical side of self-taping is something that feels complicated but actually, once you get it down, once you understand all the little bits, it doesn’t take you that long and then you really are just free to play and mess around and let your imagination run wild. It’s really good fun for me to run the courses and watch people develop.
What are your top dos for a casting?
My number one is earn your lines. You just have to really learn your lines. Be off book. Even if you’re given the script the night before, please don’t come in with any excuses. Just learn them.
I just get it all the time now from directors and producers. They can’t judge somebody when they are breaking eye contact and looking down. They can’t work with that. I just think learning your lines is the number one thing that you should be able to do as an actor.
And what are your top don'ts for a casting, apart from not reading your lines?
When a director gives you a little bit of direction, take it. It’s not that you’ve done it wrong. It’s not that there is a right or a wrong way. More often than not, a director just wants to play around and see how you take direction and if you give the impression that you won't argue over everything.
Obviously there are times when you want to be discussing the character and certain choices and why certain choices are more valid than others but in an audition, if you’re getting a bit of direction, just take it onboard and give it your best shot.
What are your top dos for a self-tape?
Bear in mind that the main thing we want to see are your eyes. Choose your framing wisely. Get your eyeline and your lighting right. Use those three things to really show off your eyes, so that we can see what’s going on behind them.
Don’t frame too far away. Make sure your face fills the frame. Look just off the camera lens. If required, you can look right into the lens but that’s only if requested or in very special scenes.
What are your top don’ts for a self-tape?
A big don’t or do is to follow the instructions. When somebody’s taken the time to give you some instructions then please follow them. Lots of times people just completely disregard that, so I like it when people follow the full instructions. If I’ve gone to the trouble to say this is how it should be done, it’d be nice if people followed that.
Also, don’t send really massive files. Phones are incredible at the moment, certainly iPhones, so we don’t need to receive big files to see big quality. It really does clog up people’s internet. Lots of times directors are in a production office where the internet connection isn’t great, it’s not going to be as fast as your internet connection at home and it’ll be shared with lots of different departments. Don’t assume that a director’s going to be really happy downloading a two gigabyte file.
Labelling your file, as well, is just a really important thing. Don’t not label your file. All your work could go to waste very easily. Sometimes we’re getting hundreds of self-tapes in one day and it’s not clear who’s self-tape it is. If you see a file on your desktop or computer and it’s just a strange number there, it’s hard to tell who that is. Sometimes we don’t have time to become detectives and find out who you are.
So do label your file, do follow your instructions and learn how to compress your files so that they’re not huge when you send them.
What advice can you give to actors?
It’s probably going to sound really cheesy but just don’t give up. You’ve got to just keep at it. You’ve got to keep doing it and again, not that I want to plug my online course The Acting Habit, but you have to do it every single day. It is a craft and you have to master your craft by just doing it every day and being really comfortable doing it.
Also, just remember that everybody started somewhere. All the really great actors started somewhere. They all auditioned, they all didn’t get certain roles that they went up for and we’re all in the same boat, from casting directors to producers to directors. You’re always striving to go on to a bigger project or a better project or a different kind of project.Tags: