Doctors and Gorillas – 12 December 2016

Caroline Frewin has been on Doctors – and it has something to do with a gorilla mask…

When Rob asked me to write a blog post about my recent foray into television my immediate thought was “What can I possibly say that will be useful to anyone?” Many of you fellow Redders will be old hats at TV, whilst I, despite working across film, radio, commercials and theatre for many years, am a newbie at this. Despite all the submissions, TV drama castings have consistently evaded me.

I received the first piece of good news, that I had been invited to audition for BBC’s long running daytime soap, ‘Doctors’ three weeks ago. A nice guest part, it would feature in a substantial storyline in an episode which I can’t say anything about at this point due to confidentiality.

Now, if you don’t know, the show is filmed in Birmingham and has been for 18 years, but despite numerous letters and emails over the years from me to the casting directors (never mind the submissions from my agents in the past and now, our lovely Agent Extraordinaire, Rob) I have never previously been invited to audition. Imagine my surprise, therefore, to be invited in to the illustrious towers of Elstree Studios, the home of Eastenders, to do my thing.

My attitude towards the casting really was one of being completely prepared whilst simultaneously not optimistic.

I did my homework on the show, watched recent episodes, swotted up on past storylines, the directors, the characters and of course, learned my lines as well as I could and analysed the character’s intentions and inferred background. But I didn’t think for a minute that I would get the part, as the character was written as being 46 years old and virtually every audition I have been to in the last ten years has had the casting director or director comment, disappointingly, “oh, you look a lot younger than I was expecting.” I looked at the audition as an opportunity to showcase myself, not necessarily, to get the part.

When the day came, I was delighted to find that the casting director of the episode was a a lovely lady who I had met some nine years previously at BBC Radio Drama, when I got through to the finals of the Norman Beaton Fellowship. Lesley Allen remembered me and gave me a big hug as though we were old friends. She remarked that she didn’t realise I was from Birmingham and was delighted to get a Birmingham actor in to audition for the show.

I auditioned well and felt happy that I had shown myself in a good light, whatever the outcome.  Two days later and Rob called me with the good news that they wanted me and then on the Monday I found myself on set, working within the well-oiled machinery of a long-running series.

Now, what, if anything, have I learned from this experience?

1. Casting Directors are your friend.

If you are good, they will remember you. If you keep in touch with them, they will remember you sooner.

2. Keep writing those letters and emails to casting directors. They won’t know about you unless you introduce yourself and your work to them. Invite them to see your work. Work in London if you can, and invite them along, as this is where most of them are. Network.

3. Be nice to everyone. You never know when that person in the admin department might start work as a casting assistant.

4. The crew on ‘Doctors’ are friendly, helpful, professional and want you, the actor, to do well. Every single person I met on set and at base helped me feel secure and valued in my work. Seriously the nicest production I have ever worked on.

5. A director will direct you when you need direction, not when you don’t. Put away your fragile ego and go with the flow.

6. Sometimes a director will lighten the mood on set, even if this isn’t necessarily conducive to your role and performance. S/he might, for example, wear a beer mat with a fake gorilla mouth on it when talking to you about the next shot like these (I kid you not!)

You are of course, expected to deliver your emotional scene regardless.

7. It’s all about luck. The industry is not fair. It is not designed to be fair. It is based, largely on luck. We can complain about its unfairness all we want but it is not going to change any time soon, or at least, not until commissioning and casting roles are brought out to the regions. All we can do is create opportunities for ourselves and do small things to increase our chances of luck going in our favour: I won’t harp on about how necessary a fab headshot, showreel and all that is, as I am sure you know that.

The biggest thing I learned from this experience is that I need to be better at preserving the fleeting relationships we make in our work. Lesley Allen remembered me from nine years ago. Perhaps if I had kept in touch with her during that time, I might not have had to wait all those years for her to cast me in something. Or, perhaps, it was just my time for a bit of luck.

Who knows.

Caroline Frewin

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And They’re Off – 27 May 2016

This month’s blog is courtesy of Michael Davies one of our Creatives Agents:

It’s early days. For the Creatives side of the agency at least. When Rob first called and asked if I’d be interested in working with new, up-and-coming creative folk to complement the acting side of the business, it wasn’t an automatic ‘Yes!’.

There were a number of reasons for this reticence. First, Rob had made such a fine job of building RED Talent Management from the ground up, and his dedication to creating something significant was, to say the least, a little intimidating. He’d also put in vast numbers of hours, so it was clear that any involvement in the agency was going to mean a substantial commitment.

There was a lurking fear that representing others might prove a distraction from the ‘real’ work.

There was another aspect, too, which I was cautious about. As a working writer myself, there was a lurking fear that representing others might prove a distraction from the ‘real’ work of generating ideas, crafting scripts and forging my own career.

Two major factors shifted my thinking. The first was the suggestion that the Creatives could perhaps be best represented by a kind of job-share, alongside Rob and the multi-talented Tricia Anderson – herself a gifted actress with huge experience and expertise in the field of communication skills, as well as a thorough understanding of the workings of the creative mind.

The second was the realisation that the modus operandi I had been using to further my own writing could just as easily be applied to support and assist other practitioners to achieve their ambitions in this most fickle profession. The two need not be mutually exclusive (except when it comes to a toe-to-toe fight for a commission, in which case the gloves are, naturally, off!).

In fact, this rationale was something Rob had mentioned way back last year, when he first raised the prospect of expanding the Creatives side of RED Talent Management. We’d originally met on a Scriptwriting MA a few years earlier and he tells me he noticed that I was the nerdy one who knew who the industry guests were, where they’d worked, what they liked for tea and why it was important to network with them. And that was what clinched it for him, apparently.

Now, I’m not so sure about the ‘nerdy’ bit, but I do understand the importance of getting to know people. Dare I say it, the contacts book is as important as the writing talent – which is pretty much taken for granted in any case. Let’s face it, if you were presented with two scripts of similar capability, one by a writer you knew personally and whose ability to deliver you trusted on the basis of several years’ acquaintance, the other from a complete unknown, which one would you choose?

There’s plenty to go round and, as the saying goes, what goes round…

So I gradually became convinced there were things I might be able to offer within the setting of an agency. And I’m a big believer in karma. Script support, career advice, contacts: they’re all for sharing in my book. There’s plenty to go round and, as the saying goes, what goes round…

So here we are. RED Talent Management’s Creatives division is officially up and running. We’ve already staged one interactive session with students at our MA alma mater and invitations to submit are out there in an effort to start building the roster in the same way Rob has developed the slate of actors.

I’m expecting to do a lot of reading over the coming months. Some people will inevitably be disappointed. But a creative has to recruit their agent, just as much as the agent recruits the creative. The relationship has to work for both parties and for some people we just won’t be the right fit, no matter how good the work.

That shouldn’t stop the conversation, however. After all, the only real failure is quitting. So if you’re still in the game, talk to us. We’re at rtmcreatives@gmail.com

Michael Davies

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Weekend in Ambridge – 22 March 2016

This month the blog comes from RED‘s Ambridge correspondent Aimee Powell:

After receiving my welcome letter to Ambridge, I made my way to the BBC Birmingham studios late afternoon on a cold Saturday in March.  Walking past the happy shoppers in the Mailbox, I finally found myself at my destination.  The last time I had been here was for one of those “general casting” auditions, so to be here on a job felt good.  Up the stairs and down the hallway where photographs of The Archers characters filled the walls, I found myself spending more time gawping at these than actually looking where I was going.

In the green room where I meet a few of the other actors I would be working with, including a series regular.  Straight away he makes everyone feel right at home, telling us all about the studio that has essentially been his home for the past year and a half, the cast, previous storylines and most useful for me as this is my first radio job, what to expect when you get in there.  He also tells us how to turn your page silently, which I mastered and is now part of my special skills section on Spotlight.  He calms the atmosphere whilst we all wait to be called in.  Our director Sean O’Connor enters and after a few brief introductions we are led back down the hallway to the studio itself.

I’m amazed at the level of attention to detail the studio has.

We step into Blossom Hill Cottage and for a few seconds I’m taken aback.  I’m amazed at the level of attention to detail the studio has.  I’m not quite sure what I expected, but it wasn’t quite this.  I only had one previous experience of doing voice work, it was on an audio play and the set-up there was stand and deliver lines straight into the mic in what was a fully equipped but basic recording studio.  But this isn’t just any ordinary studio, we’re in Ambridge.  There is a fully working kitchen, living room, front door which leads out on to the concrete path and staircase with wooden, metal and carpeted steps.  In almost every direction that you look there are microphones.

We get introduced to two more regulars, go for a practice run with the director and then we’re ready for our first take.   The scene unfolds.  We get notes and go for a few more takes.  That’s the end of the first day.  Due to one of the actors being rushed to hospital earlier on in the day (nothing too serious) the day had been delayed by about an hour and the production team did not want us to be there too late.  Bright and early next morning we arrive back at Blossom Hill Cottage where we’re introduced to three more long standing regulars and pick up from where we left off.  Understandably, I am unable to disclose any details regarding the storyline, however, what I can say is that the recording process was a lot quicker than I had anticipated it to be.  There was plenty of time for re-takes if needed and the general running of the day ran swift and smooth.

Mid Sunday morning we’re all done and it’s time to say farewell to the cast, creative’s and the studio.

Mid Sunday morning we’re all done and it’s time to say farewell to the cast, creative’s and the studio.  As I made my way back through the corridors looking at more stills from the different series BBC Birmingham has produced, Doctors, WPC 56, Father Brown and Homefront, I can’t help but feel a little sad that my weekend there is over.  We are hearing all too often how much Birmingham and the Midlands is constantly being overlooked when it comes to the arts and this is true, there is very little going on here, but when you consider what is being produced in the city it is quite exciting.  I for one can say that I never expected a girl from the Black Country to have had the opportunity to be part of (no matter how brief) one of the longest running series on radio that has come from our brilliant city and for that I am very thankful and extremely proud!

Aimee Powell

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