Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd is the famed and well-respected casting director behind such Hollywood projects such as “Fruitvale Station” and “Being Mary Jane”. Her complete work can be found at: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1359173
I first met Twinkie a few years ago when she came to speak to students at the Richard Lawson Studios. Since she was the guest speaker, we wanted to screen a reel of her casting work before she spoke to the students. Richard put me in charge of finding examples of her casting work and cutting it together to form the reel.
When we played the reel, Twinkie was thrilled and overjoyed. I even remember her turning to me at one point and saying, “Oh my God, where did you find that? I’ve been trying to find that movie!” My detective work, and the fact that we were both from Brooklyn, began a journey of mutual admiration and respect for one another. I’ve also had the honor of auditioning a couple of times for Twinkie and she has praised my acting abilities.
So when I discovered that Twinkie wanted to take the Professional Development Program 1.0 class at the Richard Lawson Studios, I was thrilled! I interviewed her and I asked her why she wanted to take the course. She told me that she wanted to take her career to the next level by incorporating directing and producing into the mix. I knew that PDP 1.0 would be perfect for her because she would have to write, film and edit 10 short films over the course of 16 weeks.
It was also great to see Twinkie, a casting director, have to do auditions in the PDP 1.0 class. She got to be an actor and audition in front of the camera. And because she had been casting for years, she instinctively understood acting. She made wonderful choices as an actress and knew how to work in front of a camera.
Richard and I both taught this class and it was great to see her growth and wins, as well as the growth and wins of other students. For the Final Film project, Twinkie and fellow classmate, Ashley Jackson, collaborated to create a project called “The Counter: 1960”. Their short film looked at the segregation that existed in America during that time. It was a powerful film that utilized a number of Richard Lawson Studios students in front of the camera and behind the camera. It was cast well (of course, Twinkie’s a casting director!) And Twinkie directed it.
The first cut of “The Counter: 1960” was really well done. The story was incredibly impinging. It was ambitious in concept. Richard gave his notes in terms of how they could elevate their film to the next level. They took their notes like pros and their excitement grew.
Twinkie and Ashley decided to reshoot the film from scratch and gave themselves more time to carve out the film (In PDP 1.0, you only have one week to conceive, shoot and edit these 10 short films)
They reshot the film, with Twinkie staying on as director, and ever since they released it to the world, it has been killing the film festival circuit! “The Counter: 1960” has won awards in Cannes and Hollywood and has also screened in Martha’s Vineyard, New York City, Atlanta, India etc.
Twinkie recently posted a message on Instagram that thanked and acknowledged her PDP 1.0 teachers. I was moved because it’s these moments that remind me why I love teaching. As a teacher, I love seeing the numerous and diverse wins that my students have. Whether it’s a student booking a job or finishing a passion project or having a positive shift in their personal lives, it brings me immense joy.
As much as I love acting and writing, I also love giving back as a teacher and knowing that I had a meaningful impact and contribution on my students’ lives. That I had a hand in bringing out their full potential and talents.
And I love that Twinkie acknowledged the people who played a part in her current success! It’s so important to acknowledge the people who contributed to your journey and success. Your acknowledgement will come back to you a hundredfold. I taught the Audition Bootcamp class this past Friday and I said that more often than not, people only acknowledge the new friends who conveniently show up at their new level of success. I told my class to acknowledge the people who were there from the start. The people who were there when you weren’t a household name. The people who were there when you didn’t have money. Or when you didn’t have a meal to eat. Or when you didn’t have a place to live in. Or when you wanted to quit and they convinced you not to. The list goes on and on.
So thank you Twinkie for your acknowledgement. I am so proud of your success. You postulated at your interview that you wanted to be a director and now you are experiencing déjà vu! You saw it in your mind as a foregone conclusion and now you are experiencing it again in a realized, tangible way. You are such an example of what we teach at the Richard Lawson Studios!
Below is Twinkie’s Instagram post:
I am so proud to announce that a film I wrote, executive produced and co-starred in, “The Doppelganger”, is done with post production! My director and I have a solid game plan in place to submit this film to a specific list of film festivals over the course of one year. We just submitted the film to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and Sundance on August 3rd! In addition to the film festival circuit, we will look at distribution platforms for the film.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There is nothing like creating your own evidence. It’s exciting and it truly takes a village of people to come together and bring your vision to life! I am truly grateful.
The idea for this story came to me while I was scanning shoes at a department store’s bi-annual inventory extravaganza. No joke. I saw the entire story play out in my mind while I scanned various pumps. I saw how the hero of the film travelled from the orphan phase to the wanderer phase to the warrior phase to the martyr phase (Please check out the amazing screenwriting book, “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story”, by Jeffrey Schechter.) I knew what compelling thing the hero wanted. I knew what compelling counter-argument the hero would receive. I knew that Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone would influence the style and context of my film. I knew who I wanted to cast and the people I wanted to work with behind the camera. I knew that I wanted to star in it.
The next day, I outlined the script in 30 minutes. Four days later, I sat down at my computer and completed the first draft in 1 hour. Shortly after, I presented the first draft of my script in class and it went great. My classmates had positive responses and reactions to my script. I made a couple of tweaks afterwards, but I kept everything else I had written intact.
We shot the film on December 10th, 2017 and wrapped post production on July 31st, 2018.
Going back to the script, it came to me so quickly because I was on go. I didn’t question my ideas. I didn’t question my impulses. I didn’t fall into any agreements that this story wouldn’t work or that it would be unbelievable. I allowed myself to be on go with the story that was unfolding in my mind.
Writing can be such a confronting process. I know. I totally understand. I’ve been there where I would rather paint my entire house than to write a script. Where I would rather find the cure for cancer than to write a script. However, I also know that when you have a compelling story burning inside of you, you have to write it. You HAVE to write it. It won’t leave you alone until you do. It will keep bothering you until you sit down in front of a computer and start typing.
THIS story was compelling. The story felt instinctual and visceral. I could not wait to stop scanning those shoes so that I could go home and start working on this story right away.
So if you have a compelling story or idea, make the time to write it. Sit down and write it. Whether it takes you one hour to complete it or one year to complete it, do yourself a favor and get that sucka done!
Thanks to all the people who helped bring my story and vision to life: Lindsay Hopper, Javier Lezama, Hitoshi Inoue, Beth Berlin, Sayaka Miyatani, Jessica Sade Ward, Lauren Elle Christie, Taylor Babb, Courtney Nichole, Craig Taggart, Richard Lawson Studios PDP 3.0 class (What! What!)
You can check out The Doppelganger and my other credits at:
Happy July! Hope you’re all staying cool in this hot, summer weather! I wanted to give out some quick Hollywood tips.
Slating: This is your opportunity to introduce yourself on camera to the decision makers-the people who will end up watching your audition. This could be the clients of a product on the commercial casting side or it could be the executive producers and/or directors on the theatrical side. This is the first time that they’re seeing you on camera before you even audition. Make it count. Impinge. Be warm, inviting. Think about how you introduce yourself to people in real life.
Playing within the frame: As you prepare for an audition, think about how you can play within the frame. Remembering that the story is key. The story is the most important component. Does playing within the frame enhance the story and push it forward? When you play within the frame to service the story, you impinge the audience who watches it. Do you lean into frame to appear more menacing if you’re playing a darker character? Do you lean into frame if you’re looking to create more intimacy and chemistry? Do you back away from the frame to reveal that you are scared or frightened of the situation in front of you? Do you walk into frame? And if so, where are you coming from? When you come into frame, does it give the audience a sense and reality of where you’re coming from? Playing within the frame can really heighten the story.
Attitude monitors talent: Perception is everything. If you walk into any room with a bad attitude, they see it right away and their first impression of you is not favorable. How are you coming into the room? Do you come in with a sense of life force and a great attitude where the people in the room want to work with you? If we’re looking at a series or a feature film and we’re talking about long days on set, do you want to hire the person who comes in with a bad attitude? Or do you want to hire the person who comes in with a great attitude and makes everyone feel better at the end of the day? Put it like this: Would you hire you?
Compliance: According to Merriam-Webster:
to conform, submit, or adapt (as to a regulation or to another’s wishes) as required or requested. conformity in fulfilling official requirements. Derivation of comply: enfold. EMBRACE.
Follow directions to the T. Be open to direction. Be open to change. If you’re given an assignment, do it. There is gold on the other side of that assignment. It will pay off. Embrace the assignment. Part of training to be a professional is compliance. If you can comply in your training, you will comply when given direction in a casting office or on set. Comply.
Now go and enjoy a cold, refreshing cocktail!
With everything that is happening in America at the moment, I couldn’t find the exact words to express how I was feeling. Then, I remembered the healing power of art. And how I could use art as a way to reveal the kind of America I want. The America I see. The America I know we can become again.
I see America as a place of inclusion. Of color. Of acceptance. Of possibilities. Of freedom. Of equality. Of helping one another. I’m not here to talk about politics, but rather, to express what I want America to be through different forms of art. And I know there are several works of art I’m leaving out, so I’ll continue to add as it occurs to me.
In no particular order, this is my America:
Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 10. “I Am American”:
Madonna “Why’s It So Hard To Love One Another” from The Girlie Show:
Whitney Houston “National Anthem”:
Photo by Clip Art
Photo by Master File
Photo by Purestock/Thinkstock. Featured in Slate Magazine
And why it is so important!
When an actor auditions for a film, a TV series or a commercial, they are usually asked by the casting director, casting assistant or session runner to slate for the camera. “Give us a slate for camera” or “Please slate for camera”. Or something similar along those lines.
A slate is an industry term in which you introduce yourself on camera right before you begin your audition. “Hi, my name is Jorge Ortiz”; “Hi, my name is Jorge Ortiz and I’m reading for the role of Anthony”; “Hi, I’m Jorge Ortiz”; etc. There are many variations on a slate depending on the instructions that the casting director gives to you. In the case of self-tape auditions, the instructions provided may ask you to include your height and location in your slate.
So, slates vary. But the point is that you are introducing yourself on camera right before you begin your audition.
And why is that important? Because you are introducing yourself to the decision makers on the other side of the camera. You are introducing yourself to decision makers who will be watching your auditions later.
This is your opportunity to let your personality shine through. This is your opportunity to let us know who you are because your slate is our very first impression of you. Is your slate warm, open and inviting? Does it make us say, “Wow, I like this person. I want to get to know them.” Does your slate come from a place of a great attitude that makes us say, “That’s someone I want on my set for the next 4-6 months.”
Don’t throw away your slate by coming across as unsure, tentative, nervous, hostile, unclear, mumbling, monotone, etc. Or they quickly state their name and move on to the scene. I’ve seen a number of actors in the classes I teach throw away their slates. Rather, impinge us with your slate. Make us sit up and say, “Who’s that?”
Think about how you introduce yourself to people. Or how you say hi to your friends. Bring that quality, that energy, into your slate. It’s open, warm, inviting, friendly.
However, that doesn’t mean you phone it in. That doesn’t mean you run for mayor and make your slate over the top. Because at the end of the day, we see and sense that too. It reads as phony and trying too hard. It makes us go “Ugh! They’re trying way too hard. Ease up. Relax.”
Here’s the key to a great slate. The slate starts before you even come into the room. Your slate is connected to how you feel about yourself. Your life force. Your purpose. Your sense of self. If these dynamics are off, then your slate will reflect that and be off as well. Your slate, how you introduce yourself to a group of decision makers, is connected to you. If you are connected to yourself, then there will be a certainty in your slate.
A great question that comes up all the time is, “If I’m playing a dark character or if I’m auditioning for a heavy, dramatic scene, then how do I slate? Do I slate with an upbeat, positive attitude or do I slate as this dark, heavy, dramatic character?”
This question really comes up because actors want to stay in character and stay in the zone of the material they are auditioning for. They feel that they will lose the character or lose being in the zone if they have to slate as themselves and then jump into the character. They feel that they won’t be able to get back into that heavy, emotional character or scene if they have to slate beforehand with an upbeat, positive attitude.
At the end of the day, it’s a personal decision. I personally like to come in as myself so they can see me, the person. My job is to come in as a person first and then get into the acting second. I want them to see my personality right away and know that I am easy to work with, fun to work with, a joy to work with. And then we’ll get into the acting part of the audition. Auditions are about being a person first and then acting second.
And because I’ve done the work beforehand, I know how to quickly transition into character and into my moment before once I’ve slated. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, and you want to stay in character and slate as your character, go for it. I would just say that at the end of your audition, recapture the room by slating again as yourself. In other words, slate again at the end of your audition as yourself so that they can see your true personality. They’ll say, “Oh wow, they were in character the whole time and then they slated as themselves at the end of their audition.”
Like I mentioned earlier, don’t throw away your slate. Really communicate and impinge us with your slate. Your slate is our very first impression of you. An actor I know-who works all the time-had an opportunity to do a directing fellowship with a major television network. They were in the room with the executive producer and creator of a major TV series. They were watching the auditions (the selects) that the casting director forwarded to them. The actor told me that the executive producer and creator would skip over auditions right at the slate. The executive producer and creator would say these things after certain slates: “Too nervous” or “Too green” or “Not confident”.
They stopped the auditions right at the slate! They didn’t watch any further. So you could have done a great job in your audition, you could have thrown the fuck down, but they didn’t watch it because your slate was lacking in some way. They’ll never know how great of a job you did because they stopped watching your audition at the slate.
So, don’t risk your slate. Practice, practice, practice!
How to make yourself valuable on set or in an audition room. When I taught the Professional Development Program class on Monday, April 23rd, I had a great and passionate discussion with my students about where in their lives they could make themselves more valuable in a certain area. Where could they put in a conscious effort to improve an area that will make themselves more valuable in the casting rooms and the sets they work on.
Follow the instructions to a T. Make their job easier. Don’t have them trying to figure out what you submitted. Don’t have them trying to figure out what you intended. It wastes their time and it will end up in the trash bin. For example, when it comes to self-tape auditions, follow all the instructions provided or they will not view your audition. If you’re submitting your materials to an agency, follow their instructions to a T. Otherwise, they will not view your materials. One agency website states, “If you do NOT use this form, but instead use the casting people’s contact button, you will automatically go straight into the trash…because you’ll be showing me right off the bat that you can’t follow directions! Need I say more?!” Help us help you.
Don’t take short cuts. It will eventually catch up with you and set you back. The short cuts will backfire. Do the work.
Make it easy to find you! I can’t tell you how many actor profiles I see on IMDB with multiple contact listings. And I don’t mean the actor who has the contact info for their agent, manager and entertainment lawyer listed on their profile page or the actor who has the contact info for their agent and publicist listed on their profile page. I don’t even mean the actor who has the contact info for their LA agent and NY agent listed on their profile page. I’m talking about the actors who have several LA agencies listed on their page. It’s so confusing because I don’t know who you’re actually repped by! Actors, please know that you can edit your profile pages and keep them current. I don’t have the time, nor do others in the industry, to call several agencies in LA to find out which one you’re with. CLEAN UP YOUR PAGE! Who are you actually repped by? Help us help you.
Don’t disappear on set. Don’t have us looking for you. You’re wasting valuable time when you disappear. Inform your second AD of your whereabouts. Be a professional and be on stand by, ready to go. Help us help you.