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Talking Casting Post-COVID with Joan and David O’Connor

Last updated: May 20, 2021

As we return to “normalcy” there are some changes from the pandemic that are likely to stick… and possibly for the better. That might be particularly evident in the world of commercial casting, and actors and agencies alike will need to take notice. Who better to talk about the future of the industry than one of the premier commercial casting director duos in the country, brother-sister team David and Joan O’Connor of O’Connor Casting. Let’s slate, ok we’re rolling, annnnnnnd…

SCREEN: Are there ways that the commercial casting process has changed permanently because of COVID?

JOAN AND DAVID O’CONNOR: That’s an easy YES! We all had to pivot into the virtual realm and accept the new normal of self-taping and virtual sessions and we see that sticking around in some capacity. Self-taping has always been around for TV/Film auditions but not as much in the commercial world. In a commercial, instead of an actor having two hours to take an emotional journey, they have 30 seconds. Scenes are shorter, moments are quicker, there’s more group interaction and pairings in the audition, and movement and timing are critical. Explaining direction on paper and not being face to face loses nuances in translation. If the creative/budget/timeline calls for it, self-tapes will definitely still be a part of casting moving forward. But they will not be the norm. 

SCREEN: If self-tapes and virtual are now going to be part of the post-covid audition mix, what’s the benefit of a Casting Director being one-on-one with talent in person?

O’CONNORS: We’ve all discovered that technology cannot replace the magic of an in-person encounter. The audition room is where we develop relationships with talent and discover their range and capabilities, which is critical to our prep and how we direct them in the room. In-person also allows the actors a level playing field. Same lighting and stage, clear direction, room to move, clarity and discussion of role. We will push for and get back to a general norm of presenting actors on a level playing field in ideal audition conditions. That personal touch.

Quick commercial break to check out the latest spot for Cheerios cast by the O’Connor crew…

SCREEN: Going forward, how should actors rethink their approaches to the auditioning process?

JOAN AND DAVID: Actors should be prepared for any type of audition. Fortunately, the majority of Chicago talent are very familiar with self-taping now, so they’re set up for it if asked, but we think auditions will be a mix of everything. One day it may be a self-tape, the next day a virtual callback, and that afternoon an in-person audition. With self-tapes, actors have become accustomed to being at home and doing countless takes and then choosing their favorite to submit. They’ll need to be ready to walk into the audition room, be open to our direction and adjustments and nail it within a handful of takes.

SCREEN: Has anything good come out of this past year for casting?

O’CONNORS: Overall, there have been some really positive changes as a result of COVID. Our office has always been tight, but we’ve become even more efficient when facing challenges, navigating change and honing new skill sets. We’ve built stronger relationships with clients who relied on and trusted our instincts on casting approaches. One of the biggest changes that we’re excited to see is clients are becoming more aware of the recent and ongoing education on gender identity, racial diversity and inclusiveness that is at the heart of our country right now. This shift allows us to give commercial opportunities to some incredible talent who have been previously overlooked. If anything, the casting business is expanding into a world of new possibilities.

SCREEN: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with actors in terms of keeping perspective and persevering through all of this?

DAVID AND JOAN: Stay in tune with what is happening in your market. Things have changed drastically for some and everyone is functioning a little differently. Be kind and empathetic. Everyone in this business has been burdened with additional stressors. Support your fellow actors, support your Talent Agents, celebrate when people get work, and continue your education. There is always something you can get better at, even when things seem stagnant.  

One final commercial break with a recent spot O’Connor Casting collaborated on for Squarespace…

SCREEN: Any parting words from you two?

O’CONNORS: We’re are extremely grateful that we’re still here making magic and giving actors opportunities to work and thrive. We can’t wait to feel that in-person excitement and energy again! And F*&% Covid.

Thank you to Joan and David for their time today, and for more from O’Connor Casting, click here.

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