A Little Something Extra (2002)

Casting Director Sande Alessi and her colleagues always create the right atmosphere - First printed in Casting Qs: A Collection of Casting Director Interviews By Bonnie Gillespie

Hanging out at the Casting Couch is like being in a sorority house between classes. Sande Alessi, Jennifer Alessi, and Kristan Berona have their own offices but retreat there only when it becomes too busy to gather in the central office, fielding phone calls and faxes between sips of coffee and riotous outbursts of laughter. The pace of the coffee talk is as rapid as the filling of jobs for countless extras. Sande Alessi, involved in every element of her company’s operation, is a vibrant mix of energy, know-how, and chutzpah. Her goal of focusing even more on principal casting in the new year should be easily met.

Road to This Position: Alessi came from the recording industry. “ I was in the music business in the ‘80s. Big hair, good times!” she recalled. “I did some non-union extra work, then worked as a SAG extra, did stand-in work, and then became a set coordinator,’ Alessi continued. “I liked being a wrangler for the extras,” she said of her position as set coordinator. “I was a waitress on Seinfeld, but I was too shy. I preferred casting. It’s creative, like shopping.”

Before starting her own extra casting company six years ago, Alessi worked as an intern for Bill Dance. “In order to see if I had an eye for it, he gave me some tiny films. Bill taught me how to create a palette of actors, sit on the floor with headshots all over and know when there were too many blondes-that sort of thing.”

Coolest Casting Gig: The feature A.I. “We needed exotic amputees. We did a huge search. Most of the folks we found were from outside of California and had no acting experience. We got to give a crash course on acting. I worked with Avy Kaufman to do that. It was a major thrill. These are strong, amazing people.”

Key Things She Looks for in a Background Actor: Accountability. “When you go in for your photo, show up in wardrobe. Know your look and go with it. Dress up-to-date. We need more upscale people than not, so dress up. We’ll let you know when to wear a t-shirt.”

On Extras Casting: “The principal casting director moves on to the next job before shooting begins, and I’m still on duty, finding extras. That means I sometimes cast principals, too. I remember who (as an extra) is reliable and easy to work with, and I will bring them in for auditions.”

Advice for Actors: “Don’t join SAG and then learn how to act,” Alessi advised. “Do your learning first. Work out with other actors.”

Further advice from Alessi included staying in acting class, studying improv, and working in student films. “Work for free. That work will lead to other work. Too many actors get their vouchers, get an agent, and still don’t know how to audition,” Alessi commented. “We’ll always remember if you’re a bad actor. You have one shot. Make sure you’re ready for it.

She also advised, “Read the entire breakdown before you audition so you know the characters. Staple your headshot to your resume, and please just bring one headshot. Don’t make me choose the look for you. You should have one picked out, stapled and ready to go when you come in.” Regarding acting itself, Alessi advised, “Make a choice that’s deeper than what’s on the paper. Be ready to take direction.”

Pet Peeves: “No-shows, lateness, saying you have certain wardrobe and showing up on-set without it, and random calls to the office to say you’re looking for work,” Alessi listed. “We know you’re looking for work. We’re looking (for the work) for you!”

If an actor encounters a problem on-set, Alessi hopes the actor will call her first. “I’m a SAG member so I understand wanting to let SAG know that something’s not right, but there’s no need to make calls so that four months later I’m getting a call from SAG that the head of a studio is mad for having to deal with this issue. Call me and I can get you that $12 for a fitting.”

Pet Peeves at an Audition: “Don’t look over my shoulder to see my notes. Don’t leave something behind so that you can come back into the room to get it. Don’t add a monologue of your own to the sides you’ve been given. Don’t bring your gun, your knife, your buddy, a selection of hats. Really.”

Advice on Headshots: “8x10s should come with an expiration date,” Alessi stated. “People are using 10-year old pictures, and it’s just not right. I’d rather have a recent color photo.”

Favorite Extras Tale: Alessi had cast a gentleman based on the clothing requirement: upscale elegant suits. The actor showed up to the set wearing sweats and carrying a gym bag. “When the AD asked him about the suit, he pulled this rumpled coat and tie out of the bag. They hung it up, steamed it, tried to make it work. When I called the guy to find out what happened, he said, “The strangest thing happened. I was driving down the 405 and my suits flew out the window!” The worst part was that he’d pulled the same stunt on another set (booked through another casting director) just the week before. I was like, ‘Man! Get a new excuse!”

Currently Casting: Period piece Catch Me If You Can; features Austin Powers: Goldmember, XXX starring Vin Diesel, and Auto Focus (the life of Bob Crane, set in the 70’s), and HBO’s Six Feet Under. Alessi is also gearing up for four more features, commercials and music videos. ”We’ve had to turn down a few projects because I want to give the ones we have my full attention,” Alessi said.

How to Register: A $20.00 one-time fee puts you in the fully searchable online database that Alessi and her staff use to populate the worlds of every project they cast. Once registered, actors submit their availability on jobs listed on the Casting Couch hotline. “By submitting when you know you’re right and when you know you’re available, you’re not going to show up and not fit the part,” Alesse explained.

Best Way to get Seen by Her: "If you're registered with us, listen to breakdowns released on our hotline." she said. Alessi also lists casting notices in Back Stage West and Breakdown Services.

Opinion on Alternative Submission Methods: “I use online services. I love ‘em. It eliminates opening headshots for hours. We use Breakdown Services and Actors Access.”

Highlight of Her Week: “Late night wine runs to Trader Joe’s,” she said with a laugh.

Most Gratifying Part of Her Job: “To see the work I did on the big screen. Calling people to tell them they got the job. It’s such a competitive business, that part is really nice. Also I hired my best friend and my sister. We have fun all day here.

-Taken from Casting Qs: A Collection of Casting Director Interviews is a top seller in Los Angeles and has been selected as a textbook for collegiate acting programs nationwide.