CD Chris Game Brings His Well-Rounded Experience to the Audition Room Posted on January 13, 2012 (As published in BackStage / West; October 29, 2011)
By Jessica Gardner
Chris Game knows what you’re going through. The Los Angeles–based casting director has worked as an actor, director, writer, and production assistant and has been teaching acting for over 10 years. As a casting director, he uses all his experience along with his subtle humor to help get the performance he wants from the actors who audition for him. Humor also helps when you need to cast roles such as a diver who can do a triple lindy or a blind albino African American who can dance and play guitar — both of which Game has been asked to find. “I also once had to populate a Tibetan village within 24 hours,” he says. He has also cast national commercials for Harley-Davidson, Swiffer, Shell, Burger King, Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, Wells Fargo, Beck’s, Lego, Oscar Mayer, and many other companies. His independent film credits include “The Good Humor Man,” “The Uninvited,” “Donner Pass,” and the upcoming “Scary or Die.”
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
My background is in theater. I am a proud founding and active member of the Elephant Theatre Company. I even came up with the name for the company. I was reading a book on Sam Shepard at the time, while directing one of Shepard’s early plays, “Red Cross.” The book describes the time when Shepard was writing “Operation Sidewinder.” The play needed a giant rattlesnake from outer space. Their means were modest back then, so Shepard was going to scrap the play. Famed director and Bob Dylan collaborator, Jacques Levy, said something like, “Sam, if you need an elephant on stage, we’ll find a way to put the elephant on stage.” It became our name — and part of my ethos. I was just in a world-premiere play at the Elephant called “Love Sick” [extended through Nov. 5]. Yes, I really act, and I know how hard it is. I am also a casting director, acting coach, and teacher. Acting gives me the opportunity to say, “You’re welcome to come see whether I am full of shit or I can practice what I preach.” That element is thrilling.
I was thrown into casting. Over a decade and a half ago, I was a lowly production assistant, and that job was often abusive, grueling, and exhausting. It was also incredibly exciting and one of the most accelerated learning experiences I’ve ever had. At the time, I also co-wrote with my friend Mike Vaez and directed a play called “Half Way There.” I invited all of the producers and directors I worked for to the play. On opening night we were sold-out and got a standing ovation. When I returned to work Monday, I was suddenly seen in a whole new light. The producers and directors I had worked for as a P.A. began hiring me as a talent coordinator and casting director. I always say, “Make your vocation your vocation — BEFORE it is your vocation.” I did that, and my career was then handed to me without my having to look for it.
Nobody mentored me as a casting director. Everybody just expected me to know what to do. I had been directing for the theater for about seven years by then, so I had that part down. The rest I learned from on-the-job experience. I always say, “If you’ve driven through a shit storm, then you know how to drive through a shit storm.” To be honest, my style of directing and especially teaching is more influenced by Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin.
SHOW VERSUS SHOWCASE
The funny thing is, I am a casting director who doesn’t believe in auditions. I want to see you in a show, not a showcase. I love meeting talent in class. I love casting students when I can — but please note: The casting director does not cast the actors. The casting director calls in the actors. So the people who hire me are responsible for the final decision to cast the talent. Sometimes they may ask me to weigh in with my opinion. When this happens, having more exposure to your talents as a student of mine can be a huge deciding factor. If I can’t see you in a show, I recommend meeting me at a workshop studio like the Actor’s Key. Its setting is intimate and the talent is very well recruited. I was asked to describe what I’m like in the audition room. I asked my assistant, and she scrunched her face, grabbed her forehead, and replied staccato-style, with her eyes closed: “Sincere. Compassionate. Intense. Honest. Fast. Productive. Constructive. Loud.” (She said that one apologetically.) “Actor-specific.” I cop to that. I rarely read in auditions anymore, but when I do, I try never to read the same way twice. Be ready to fly by the seat of your pants. Get used to enjoying that sensation. Clock in like you already have the job, and if you f–k it up, you lose that job.
USING BATMAN’S BELT
Casting commercials comes with unique challenges, the No. 1 challenge being the time limit. Commercials are 15, 30, and 60 seconds long. Our training as actors often hugely lacks any commercial training. Whoever taught us to act in a duration of three seconds or less? I teach audition technique, and I tell students I will give them a utility belt, just like Batman, that they can use on every audition. Actors often ask me what my best advice for auditioning is. I can’t give you an entire utility belt in one answer, but I’ll give you a clue: “Silent” and “listen” have the same letters. Or, as I joke with actors who know me better, “Shut up and listen!” Also, make the human choice and never concern yourself with what you think we want. You need to audition like, “F–k you! I dare you to pick somebody else!”
Act every day. Other artists practice their craft every day. Painters paint every day; writers write. This town is filled with people who say they’re actors and spend most of their time not acting. Fall in love with the craft of it. Your work ethic will get you more jobs than the actual work.
*Chris Game is a founding member of the Elephant Theatre Company. Chris has enjoyed wearing many hats for the Elephant, including directing, acting, writing and producing. For nearly 20 years he has been casting national commercials, music videos, and films including: Kelsey Grammer, Jorge Garcia (Lost), Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother) and James Ransone (Generation Kill) in the independent film Good Humor Man; and William Shatner's Price Line spot. Worked closely with directors Paul Mazursky (Moscow on the Hudson) and Harold Becker (Sea of Love), and cast for Philip Seymour Hoffman. In 2008, Chris was voted one of the Favorite Commercial Casting Directors by Back Stage/West; and in 2009-one of the Favorite Commercial Audition Workshop teachers. He is a Drama-Logue Award winning director and has directed over 20 plays in his 15 year tenure with the Elephant. Chris has been teaching acting for 15 years. He is one of the most sought after acting teachers and solo coaches in LA.
-- As an acting Coach and Casting Director Chris has been voted favorite Casting Director and Teacher in Backstage West reader’s poll numerous times, and as an actor “Game’s Manny (Never Tell) is a likable, Jack Lemmony portrayal because his goateed, bespectacled character is not just another computer nerd to be mocked but a vulnerable intelligence.” LA Weekly
THE NORTH PLAN
The rave reviews for "The North Plan" keep rolling in:
“[Chris] Game is perfectly suited for the role [of Carlton Berg] and does a marvelous job.” -- Joe Straw #9
Stage Scene LA has given "North Plan" a "WOW!" REVIEW!
“[Chris] Game is terrific as an everyman pursued by gun-toting enemies for whom ‘due process’ has been replaced by ‘do whatever.’
"[In "Love Sick"], there were opportunities to play the therapist as an obvious creep, but Chris Game didn’t go this route, which makes the situation more truthful and the character more treacherous" --Captain Loco, September 23, 2011.
"Game is spot-on as the dubious yet effective therapist Jerry..." --
Terry Morgan, LAist.com; September 30, 2011.
From the CD:
Spotlight on a Star: Casting Director Chris Game
By Jesse Daley
Updated October 31, 2015
Casting Director Chris Game is an example of an incredible member of the entertainment industry who is helping to do a lot of good and share positivity. I had the pleasure of meeting Chris when I signed up for his commercial audition technique class recently, and I found his positive attitude and the information he shared to be extremely valuable for actors. Some of that information has been included here in his interview!
I asked Chris Game why originally he became interested in becoming an actor. He replied:
“The flashpoint moment that made me want to take up acting as a very young man was seeing “Dog Day Afternoon” on the television as The Movie of the Week. I even wrote an article about the movie and actor John Cazale for Backstage West. That film was a revelation to me, because to me it looked so real and unlike anything else I’d seen before. This led me to take up acting in the theatre. Then I got my education in acting and directing at Cal State Long Beach where I met some of the best friends in the world, and in 1995 we formed a theatre company called The Elephant. The Elephant is now in its 20th year, and that happened to coincide with my working in production. Around that time I co-wrote a play called “Halfway There”, with my writing partner and dear friend Mike Vaez. I invited all of the people I worked for - the directors producers and everyone in production - to come see the show. Most of them came opening night, so it was a sink or swim situation. At the end of the play they gave us a standing ovation. When I returned to work on Monday morning, they saw me in a new light and started handing me bigger chores - all to do with talent. So first I became a talent coordinator for Cucoloris Films, and I started doing talent coordinating work for Danny Ducovney which led to my casting director career.”
Commercial Acting vs. Theatrical Acting
Chris’s career as a casting director has allowed him to see all sides of the business. Chris casts many commercials, and I asked him a question that many actors often ask: “Is there a difference between “commercial acting” and “theatrical acting?” Chris explained:
“In commercials, more than any other medium, there’s a definitive time limit. Commercials are 15, 30, and 60 seconds long. Or as I often joke, most 60 second commercials play during the Superbowl or Oscars and have stars in them. So we’re usually in 15 or 30 second spots. It’s something I can convey in class more substantially, because I can show you what I mean rather than tell you what I mean. But the bottom line is, if you’re only going to appear in the commercial for approximately 4-8 seconds (and 8 seconds is a lot) then you can’t take 3 or 4 beats to transition every time. Transitions have to be very quick, and essentially it’s the act of making one choice on top of the next, or, if possible, at the same time. Also remember in all auditions, there’s no time for warming up in the room.”
Being as opposed to acting is a topic that I write about often here on my page. In class, Chris Game had mentioned that we actors are best when we are listeners – and that this is our purest moment as an actor. I asked Chris to please explain the importance of listening and being in the moment as an actor.
“To me, acting is the art of listening and reacting. Essentially that’s all it is. Every time before I act - before I go into a room, before I go on camera, before I go on stage - all I tell myself is, “Just listen.” The three things I find missing from most auditions are:
1) I don’t see the actor listening.
2) I don’t believe that they’re looking at what they’re supposed to be looking at.
3) Even when they’re good, it’s often one note. If [the performance] had an arc, it would have at least two notes.
As far as ‘being’ goes, [having a] ‘Moment Before’ and’ back-story’ take care of that. My favorite eulogy for James Gandolfini was by critic Jeffrey Lyons and he said, 'with Gandolfini, you had instant back-story. That’s ‘being.'”
Chris Game often reminds actors to be “up and out” and not “down and away” when auditioning. I asked Chris if he could explain the importance of this and why it can help an actor’s audition. He explained:
“Surprisingly, that simple phrase, ‘up and out’ fixes most problems in auditions. Actors most often are staring down at the floor or at their script when the audition begins and more often than not, place their eye-line way too low. It robs us of your eyes, which robs us of your back-story. Or as I always say, ‘If we don’t see your eyes, you don’t book.’ When an actor’s looking down at the beginning of their audition, it looks like the actor’s waiting in the wings. When they’re up and out, and engaged in the scene, the very first thing we see is a bookable moment.”
Making Friends in Hollywood: “Remember Names”
I asked Chris Game if he would share his thoughts regarding networking in the entertainment business, and he shared some wonderful advice. Chris said:
“Remember names. Also, remember names. In addition to that, remember names. Don’t network. Make friends. It’s really hard not to call in your friends. I can’t stand networking, but I love meeting new people. For God’s sake, do other things besides acting and find something else to talk about other than your career. I’ll talk to you about Sean Penn’s or Cate Blanchett’s performance in any given movie. Talk to me about books you’ve read. Talk to me about the things that interest you outside of acting.”
(I wrote an article about networking in Hollywood, and the most important piece of information to take away from it is to never use anyone! It will never work in your favor. Click here to learn more).
Be Who You Are, and Don’t Give Up
I often aim to remind actors on my page to be who they are. There is only one of you, my actor friend, and your individuality is the key factor that sets you apart from every other actor!
I asked Chris Game if he would share his thoughts about the importance of being who you are as an actor. He said simply, “It’s the absolute most important thing. It’s the thing that took me the longest as an actor. You probably won’t book until you know what you’re selling."
In addition to being who you are, it’s extremely important to never give up. Chris explains, “Perseverance is a must. You’re supposed to make mistakes. In sports it’s a given that Tom Brady will not complete every pass, Mike Trout will strike out, and LeBron James will miss shots. Failure is your best friend. The minute you learn that, you’re ready for a long career in this business.”
Thank you for all of your helpful advice, Chris, and thank you for always being so kind to actors!
Chris Game on John Cazale in 'Dog Day
Afternoon' By Backstage Staff | Posted July 20, 2011
Photo Source: Warner Bros./Photofest
"There's just something in that face that takes you into an area…that's very dark. Personally dark…and [pauses]… heartbroken." So says the late great Sidney Lumet of my favorite actor, John Cazale. The first time I discovered the geography of that incredibly nonpareil visage was on a summer day in 1976. I was 6 years old, sprawled out face down on the linoleum in my bedroom. (Yes, there was linoleum in my bedroom.) The surface of the floor was cooling as I enjoyed my Slurpee and Red Vines. I was reading Mad magazine's parody of "Dog Day Afternoon," "Dum-Dum Afternoon." I kept staring at that face, just the way they drew Cazale. I knew I would have to learn everything I could about the owner of this face.
Cut to: a year later. I am sitting on the lima-bean green shag carpeting in my father's apartment and I am being confronted with the face and artistry of John Cazale for the first time. "Dog Day Afternoon" is the Saturday night movie and I'm allowed to stay up and watch it. The television we are watching it on has a rotary dial that clicks when you change channels. The choices of channels are 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13. That's it. No cable and no remote: "Dog Day f---ing Afternoon" is on! There are no distractions and no turning back. The experience is a visceral and galvanizing one for me. (And that's only partially due to the fact that my father has been feeding me sips of his beer.) On that evening—amidst the forest of shag—with a 7-year-old's buzz on, I found my calling. That performance by John Cazale coerced me to become an actor. Others wanted to be Pacino. I wanted to be Cazale. (Later, I realized I wanted to be Sidney Lumet and work with Cazales and Pacinos—and that's when I found my vocation.) But that evening I watched the face of a clearly ancient soul brought to me through the character of Sal.
Cazale only made five films and he played one character twice: precious Fredo from "The Godfather." Cazale died of cancer while making "The Deer Hunter." He was in love with Meryl Streep at the time. He was 42. He would be dead a year after my epiphany moment. I've never seen an actor convey more pathos or act with less vanity than Cazale as Sal (except maybe, of course, Cazale as Fredo). Go back and look at the way Cazale inhabits characters, the way he wears their clothes. The way he uses furniture. Pacino mentions the way he would "check out the environment." In life, we are nearly always more engaged in everything around us than the person we're speaking or listening to. Cazale always found those moments.
As Fredo, Cazale almost shrinks himself. The lips are thin, the mustache is thin, the clothes are too big (look at how small he looks in his suit as he flees Michael in Havana). He embodies that chair like a praying mantis on his back, flailing on the ice, then collapses in exhaustion. As Sal, he seems so much larger. It's all in the stride. He appears to elongate himself with a stride that seems six feet across; and with the flairs, and the machine gun, and the Cuban shoes, it looks even wider. He seems to constantly fill the entire frame even when he is back in the distance of a long shot.
Favorite moments? The Wyoming moment. You know the moment if you've seen it. Pacino's character, Sonny, asks Sal what country he'd like to be flown to after the bank robbery they are in the midst of committing. Cazale's answer is "Wyoming." He doesn't play it for laughs. He plays it as an innocent. It's the moment he takes before discovering and then the moment after Sonny tells him that Wyoming is not a country, when Sal purses his lips and we see into his cold soul and it shatters our hearts.
Then, there's the moment when Sal asks Sonny if he was serious about throwing the bodies of the hostages out. Sal says he's ready. In that moment, Cazale says more with a stare and a swallow than most actors convey in a career. The tragedy Cazale willfully infuses in this film is that these innocent lives are in his hands. It's not about the f---ing money; it's an act of desperation.
A heist film has never had a character like this and cinema will never have another John Cazale. Both Streep and Pacino credit Cazale with teaching them more about acting than anyone else. Streep said what made John special was "the specificity of him." And I like that: "the specificity of him."
Chris Game has been casting commercials, music videos, and movies for more than a decade. His work includes three features—"The Good Humor Man," "The Uninvited," and the upcoming "Scary or Die"—as well as current ad campaigns for Swiffer and Chrysler. He is also an acting teacher and a founding member of and frequent director and actor with the Elephant Theatre Company in Los Angeles.