Casting an eye over the talent of today and tomorrow with Sydney Aldridge
Sydney Aldridge, a freelance Casting Assistant and Casting Director, talks to us about starting her own casting agency, Sydney Aldridge Casting, some tips for actors when in auditions or looking for representation, plus advice for anyone else considering a career in casting.
Hello Sydney, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. First question is easy – what’s it like to know that our shared hometown of Basingstoke is now the home to an ever-growing film festival?
First of all, congratulations on starting such a brilliant event. It can’t be easy watching all those films and having to make some tough decisions on the ones to be accepted. I wish that Exit 6 was around when I was younger, because I definitely would have been attending. Basingstoke isn’t widely known for its film scene so the fact that you’re bringing this important industry into the limelight is fantastic!
Working for a London casting agency, you must be met with some pretty regular questions by actors. What’s the most common question you’re asked – what’s the answer you give?
I work for 3 casting directors as a freelance casting assistant. 2 work primarily on commercials and one works mainly in TV and films in the UK and the US. So yes, I meet actors regularly who have lots of questions about the casting industry.
One of the most frequent questions is “How many actors have you seen for this role?” which is understandable. It’s better not to answer this question, because often it is disheartening!
Another question is “Will you let me know either way?” I am committed to letting actors know whether they got the job or not #YesOrNo. For too long, casting directors have not committed to letting actors know that it hasn’t gone their way and there isn’t an excuse for it. I will always let actors know either way as soon as I can.
Can you tell us about the type of projects that Sydney Aldridge Casting works on, and some examples of which the company is particularly proud?
I started working on casting stage productions more than anything else. I have made some great contacts who are stage directors and if they need something casting, it’s better to use someone you know and trust.
I am the in-house casting department for a theatre company called Red Rose Chain where I am currently working on casting my 5th production for them! Some of these shows include Romeo & Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing and Private Lives.
More recently I have worked a lot on short films including Kaleidoscope for Sonder Pictures which has been accepted to Exit 6 Film Festival. It's my first short film that I've cast independently, so I’m very proud that it will be appearing at a festival in my hometown!
I am currently working on a music video for director, Cameron Turnball and a Christmas show for Red Rose Chain.
What’s the main question you’re not often asked by actors, the answer to which is what will help them most?
I think some actors can underestimate how important it is to have good headshots. Casting directors often make snap decisions about an actor based on their headshot. If a headshot looks like it’s been shot in your bedroom or looks like it belongs on Instagram, it makes you look unprofessional as an artist. I don’t think actors should spend extortionate amounts on headshots, but it’s definitely worth doing your research on who is a good photographer!
Another tip that I wish more actors were aware of is how important it is to have a showreel. This is basically some footage of the actor in front of a camera. This can be from a short film or even just filming a monologue yourself. If you say that you’re “perfect for the role” then it would be great to see at least a small clip of you acting in front of a camera. Then it gives me reason to invite you to an audition!
Can you tell us about the work you do at Beach Casting, how you came to work there and what drew you to this side of the industry?
People often ask me “How did you get into casting?” The answer to this one is really simple. I fell into it!
I started working as an actor after graduating from drama school in 2014 but I was looking for another job in the industry to keep me going when acting was quiet. I started working as a receptionist at Beach Casting and then worked my way up to the assistant level. This enabled me to learn a lot and eventually set up my own company, Sydney Aldridge Casting, and leave acting behind!
Beach Casting mainly focuses on commercials. Our most recent being for The Great British Bake Off which we are really proud of.
What are some of the do’s and don’ts that you would advise actors who are looking for Representation?
Do your research! If you are approaching an agent for representation, make sure you have a reason. “I saw one of your clients in a production recently which prompted me to write to you” or “I noticed that a lot of your clients are working in screen and this is something that I want to pursue.”
Don’t address it to “All agents.” Make sure you know the name of the person you are applying to in order to make it more personal.
Don’t feel like you have to say yes to representation straight away. You are entitled to take some time, do some more research, have a coffee with the agent if you would like. It is a partnership. They are working for you as much as you are working for them. Make sure you have a good relationship.
Do make sure to have good communication with your agent and ALWAYS let them know if you’re unavailable. There is nothing more annoying as a casting director to have an agent say to you “Oh sorry, they can’t make this casting because they are on holiday and didn’t tell me…”
What are some of the do’s and don’ts that you would advise actors ahead of auditioning for a role?
Unless stated otherwise, always do your best to learn the lines. I make sure not to send too much to learn and always give plenty of time before an audition or self tape. It’s impressive when an actor comes into an audition room having made solid decisions about the character with the lines learned!
Try and be open to direction. Often if a director gives you a note in an audition, it’s not because that is how they envision the character... it’s just to see if you can take direction and if you’re going to be good to work with!
Always be polite to whoever you meet in that audition environment. The receptionist could be involved in the project! You just don’t know.
Don’t complain about the writing or the concept whilst in the audition or the waiting room. I’ve seen someone do that with the producer sitting next to them in the waiting room!
What’s the most enjoyable part of what you do?
I love it when I have the cast confirmed! I really enjoy calling actors or agents with good news that they have landed the job. That’s the fun part!
I also love it when a director is happy. It means I’ve done my job. I also really enjoy meeting new actors who are trying to get started in this industry. I know a few newcomers who I’m pretty sure will be picking up a BAFTA in a few years time - and with BAFTA introducing a new casting award, maybe I could as well!
What advice would you offer anyone looking to follow your footsteps into casting?
Learn to develop a thick skin. I’ve lost casting jobs to other casting directors who are further on in their career. It’s just part of the challenge.
You MUST have huge organisation skills! I have 3 projects on at the moment, so knowing how to multitask and give each one your attention is key.
Don’t be afraid to ask for payment! Casting has been underappreciated in the film industry for so long. We haven’t had a BAFTA award (until next year) and we still don’t have an Oscar, Emmy or SAG Award for casting! Therefore, never be afraid to ask for appropriate payment for the work you are doing. Know your worth!
Also diversity is a huge challenge in the industry at the moment. Always make sure that you are keeping character briefs open for all ethnicity and genders. Casting a doctor? Doesn’t mean they have to be male and white. Make sure you audition all genders and all ethnicities unless the director has a solid reason for wanting it a certain way. Even then… challenge it! Directors need to be more inclusive as well as casting directors.
You can follow Sydney on Twitter: @SydneyAmee