This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
The "Academy; Players Directory" is a huge, multi-volume set of soft-backed books, each containing hundreds of small, passport-sized head shots of pretty much every working actor in the film and television business. If you're an actor and you've ever had even the tiniest role, you're in the "Academy; Players Directory."
The books are organized along the most rigid principles. For women, there are the "younger; leading woman," "leading; woman," "older; leading woman," "ingenue;," and "comic;" sections. For men, roughly the same. Children get their own special volume. And because the directory is used by casting directors, the effect of all of those reduced-sized headshots staring out at you is pretty much like going to the local pound to pick out a dog. The "older; leading" male dogs give smoldering, James Bond-ish looks into the camera, while the "older; leading" female dogs try the slightly rueful half-smile. The younger leading dogs of both sexes pout dramatically or smile with such vitality and desperation that you want to take them all home, give them all water and treats, and take them to the vet for shots and neutering.
Ironically, it's the comic section that's the saddest. These are the mutts - the droopy-eyed types with weight problems and lips that curl down instead of up. The comic actor and actress sections of Academy Players is a checkerboard of what casting directors euphemize as "interesting; looks:" too fat, too skinny, no hair, too much hair....no one really wants to be in the "comic; actor" section. No one wants to star in the comedy version of life. We don't want to be though of as having "an; interesting look" by our loved ones and co-workers. We all want to be in the "younger; leading" section of the "Academy; Players Directory." Some of us may not be able to pull off the "younger;" part - hey, the shadows lengthen for us all, eventually - but given the choice, we'd all rather smolder sexily or smile seductively than put on a funny face and slip in the dog poop.
Once, during a long casting session, a young actress started to read, then stopped suddenly in the middle of a speech. Tears welled in her eyes. "You; don't want me!" she sobbed. "You; want somebody a lot thinner."
"No;, no, no" we reassured. "You;'re doing great! You're doing terrific! You look fine!"
"So; can I keep going?" she asked, after a moment.
"Of; course!" we said encouragingly.
She finished the audition. She did pretty well. As she left, we reassured her some more. But I looked at the sheet in front of our casting director, and in front of the actress' name, she had penciled the number 2 and the letter "F;".;
The following happened a year or two ago:
A television network was thrashing out its schedule but the executives hit a snag. With only one slot to fill, and three possible choices, they simply couldn't identify the most promising show. The execs dithered for a day or two in their New York hotel rooms, screening and re-screening each pilot, trying to develop some kind of intuitive, gut-based sense of each show, and trying, if you'll permit the phrase, to rely on their own taste when they gave up and made a courageous decision: they ordered up another focus group. But it would have to be a fast one.
Each network unveils its fall schedule to great fanfare and huge expensive, jetting in the stars of the shows, laying on a buffet spread heavy on pricey shellfish, all to convince the advertising community that this year's show about, say, a fat guy married to a hot -looking woman will be different from last year's show about a fat guy married to a hot-looking woman.
But to do that you need to decide which show you're going to schedule so you can know which actors and actresses to jet into Manhattan for glad-handing the advertisers.
You see the dilemma: the network under discussion hadn't made its final decision with the press conference only 12 hours away. The solution? Fly the casts of ALL three programs to New York on the same plane. In the intervening 6 hours, collect the results of the last-minute focus group and make the decision. When the plane lands, gather the casts in the airport lounge, whisk some of them into Manhattan and into stardom; tell the others to slink home.
This solution contains all you need to know about Hollywood. It has it all: extravagant travel expenses, procrastination, cruelty masquerading as efficiency, and of course, focus groups.
For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.