The Oscar winners deserve raises

I’ve always thought the Oscars were a little pretentious. Overpaid people getting dolled up to celebrate themselves and take selfies.

oscars selfie

But the other night as I watched them, I wept with gratitude.

See, I’ve shot a bunch of commercials lately, which means I’ve attended an absurd amount of casting sessions. I know that may sound exciting in a Hollywood kind of way, but please keep reading.

Casting sessions go something like this — my partner Kim and I sit with our director in a small, badly lit room and watch person after person come in and re-enact the commercial we wrote. Last Sunday I watched 164 people eat french fries. It took seven hours. In Kim’s words, “It’s like a bad animated gif.”

You really have to stretch your imagination to it’s furthest when casting. You’ll be watching a guy sitting in a metal folding chair (“driver’s seat”) surrounded by three other people in metal folding chairs (“passengers”) while eating a piece of bread (“Delicious, Flame-grilled Whopper”). He bites into that bread like it’s the best thing he’s ever tasted. You watch from ten feet away and say things like, “but does he communicate enough food enjoyment?”

It’s like watching kids play house, only the kids are adults. And they’re playing with a sense of desperation that makes it clear their next paycheck relies on you believing their performance. Being the most terrible actress in the world, I am both in awe of these peoples’ courage and mortified on their behalf. I just can’t help but imagine what their day to day life is like. What drove this 50 year old man to suddenly take up acting?? Does he have a family? Or a 401k? It stresses me out. I don’t know if you’ve ever been embarrassed for ten hours straight, but I’ll tell you, it’s an exhausting experience.

While all casting sessions are exhausting, the exhaustion comes in many different forms. Like last month when we shot a commercial involving a bunch of supermodels. As luck would have it, the first round of models came in to audition right as we were starting our lunch. Kim had ordered a pizza and I had ordered a salad, so naturally my first bite was a piece of her pizza.

Everything turned to slow motion as five tall, beautiful, leggy babes stomped into the room, wearing outfits we civilians can never wear. Some wore short, tight dresses, others wore rompers and jumpsuits. One wore jean “shorts” that covered less than half of her perfect butt.

As they took their place in front of camera, our director turned to us with an evil smile and said, “How’s that pizza, girls?”

While they were much hotter and fitter than Kim or I will ever be, hotness is sadly not an indicator of acting ability. In fact, the two seem to be inversely proportional. So for 14 hours I watched beautiful women make fools of themselves. Ugh.

All of this has contributed to my gratitude for talented actors, but it wasn’t until  last week’s Non-Union casting session that I realized maybe we should start worshipping Cate Blanchett.

Cate Blanchett

“Non-Union” is really just another way of saying “bad actors.” It’s what happens when your client has a small budget, and basically means you’re auditioning people who one day got sick of their day jobs and decided on a whim to try playing adult house for a living. 

We started with the women. Their task was simple: walk across the room and do a little spin. 

The first candidate was overwhelmed by her spin and  tripped on her heels. Another spun too energetically, and somehow ended up with her face nudged into the corner. She sheepishly turned back towards us and we tried to pretend it didn’t happen.

One acted as though she was wandering through a forest, gazing up through the trees for a bird or prince charming.

Some walked like they were in a funeral procession. Others were named “Fancy.”

The problem with casting is that it forces you to become a terrible person. You have to comment on people’s physical performance, and by the end of a day you no longer see them as humans. For the first few candidates my notes are always very thorough and constructive like, “She’s really pretty, not quite there on acting but I’m sure we could work with her to get a great performance.” By the end it’s simply, “Never” or “Kill me.”

I hoped things would get better when we got to the men, as they were not required to do any spinning. But my hopes were dashed when I looked down and saw this name on my call sheet: “It’s Paco Time.”

I wish I was kidding. Between Ben Johnson and Gary Jones was a man named, “It’s Paco Time.”

He walked into the room and we asked, as we do with everyone, for him to state his name. He answered with a completely straight face, “It’s Paco Time.”

After he gave predictably terrible audition and walked out of the room, our producer broke the silence: “If I go to hell, this is what it will be like.”

It sounds over-dramatic, I know. But you can’t understand it until you’ve experienced it. I know I shouldn’t judge these people–I have never had to spin around in heels in front of strangers in hopes of a paycheck. I tried it once just to, you know, walk a mile in their shoes, or something. I feel like I did pretty ok? Maybe I should quit my day job.

REBBIE SPINS on Make A Gif

Over the last few weeks, I have viewed more hours worth of terrible acting than all the Oscar movies ever made. And I have nearly lost my mind.

So to The Academy, I say THANK YOU for obsessing over your Oscar nominees. Actors who know how to walk in heels! Who are hot AND talented! Who change their names to semi-normal things like Reese Witherspoon! 

They are truly one in a million in this crazy la la land. And we should pay them more money. 

7 thoughts on “The Oscar winners deserve raises

  1. Eric Phillips says:

    Interesting post. I can definitely relate having been on both sides of the audition table. One of my best friends is the Theater Chair where I got my degree and directs project after project and I’ve heard and experienced a lot of what you describe. While directing Macbeth at the Utah Shakespeare festival, in an old file case he found a headshot for Jessica Chastain.. who apparently auditioned and didn’t get cast.. And now, well we all know where she is. So I think generalizing non-union meaning “bad actors” is a gross error. After years of working in theater and film and seeing SO MUCH ACTING I’ve seen and worked with very very talented people who are non-union. And everyone we watch on screen was one day non-union. It’s a giant elaborate game.
    Having been on both sides of the audition, I would say auditioning is one of the hardest things there is to do. Just to play devils advocate, the only way to simulate really what the audition process is like is to go on one yourself. It’s a whole different ball game out there when you don’t know the people at the table and you’re just guessing in 30 seconds to give strangers what they want. Your director you work with who has hopefully been trained in working with actors and trained in what to watch for would probably agree. The most talented people in LA i believe, are in improv stages, and theaters and in classrooms teaching and they are doing it for so little money and for free.
    I personally believe the opposite of the conclusion of this post. I’ve always wondered what would happen if the pay scale for actors was all leveled out.. Entry level actors get a fair rate like other jobs but A listers make significantly less. I think if the money was allocated that way you’d see more talent walk in your door cause they are acting cause they are passionate about it as oppose to aiming for fame and fortune. The Uk has socialized theater and their actors are still stealing our jobs. Haha long comment but it touched on a few interesting subjects for me and my peers.

    • rebbiegroesbeck@gmail.com says:

      Ah Eric, you bring up so many valid points. Let me just say that if there was a ‘sarcastic’ font, I would have written this entire post in it.

      I can’t imagine how hard it is to audition, and that’s what fascinates me most about it. You see these normal people who look like you make crazy choices once they get in front of a camera and a group of strangers. It’s made me so appreciative of good actors and good directors, not to mention the few amazing actors we have found in casting sessions. I suppose I should have mentioned them, but they seem to be less fun to write about 🙂

      It’s truly the most subjective art in the world, which is why I a) am amazed anyone makes it in Hollywood and b) feel so stressed out about holding people’s futures in my hands. I know it’s just for silly commercials, but it’s how a lot of people get their start.

      I promise I don’t hate actors and I don’t think SAG people are the only ones with talent 🙂 I am simply amazed, perplexed, and exhausted by the process!

  2. Jamie says:

    By the end it’s simply, “Never” or “Kill me.”

    I just died laughing. I’m a teacher and that’s how I get when I grade papers…I start off constructive and know it’s time to take a break when I’m tempted to write things like, “please just stop.”

  3. xanthe says:

    You are so funny Rebbie. Great article.

  4. Chelsey says:

    So funny! Reminds me of the time I sat on an interviewing committee for a teaching position at our school and a man walked in, in a bright pink dress shirt and black tie. The first thing he said was, “I love this school! I’ve worked here many times as a substitute teacher and this place is amazing.” All of our eyes awkwardly went to the ground as we tried to move on, but you see, our school has an in-house sub system, which means we all know the group of five ladies who sub all of our classes. In his defense, we’re the only one in the district, so I’m sure that line works perfectly everywhere else.

  5. Leslie says:

    I am non-union you sonofagun.

    Also, I am sad I didn’t know your blog existed until 15 minutes ago. I could have been laughing nightly for months! I miss you Reb*.

  6. Leslie says:

    I take back the months comment. I just read your entire blog. ha. I cried laughing about the Ninnymuggins situation, and it made me miss Pretzel dog.

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