Michelle Frey, multi-talented casting producer, gives us a Behind-the-Scenes look at the exciting world of reality television casting.
When did you know you wanted to work in the Entertainment Industry?
My main goal was always to work in entertainment, but the direction has changed since I first started.
Originally, I wanted to be in front of the cameras, which is why I studied theater and film in college. After I graduated, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting and held a wide variety of jobs to keep me sheltered and fed.
I was a hostess, worked temporary administrative jobs through a staffing agency, and was hired as a party entertainer for kids’ birthdays and holidays; friends love to hear me tell stories of working as a princess in Hollywood, but that’s a whole other interview…
I had some mild success with acting, even some commercials and television spots, but grew tired of the process and instability, so I started looking for more full time work.
What was your first job in Entertainment and how did it come about?
During a semester spent in Los Angeles my junior year of college, I was an intern for the Casting Director of Sony Pictures, Francine Maisler.
I really loved my time there, and being able to see how the casting process was done for major films was really exciting. With just that and one other minor casting credit on my resume, I started applying for jobs on entertainment websites.
Thankfully, I made a strong enough impression in an interview and weekend trial run that I was hired to work as a Casting Assistant on America’s Next Top Model. I really owe it to Michelle Mock-Falcon for taking a chance on me with the little experience I had.
I worked on that show for three cycles, and climbed my way up to Casting Associate, then Casting Wrangler. Since then I’ve been working fairly consistently in reality television casting, but the projects are always different.
It took some getting used to with it being a mostly freelance job, but now I sometimes welcome the brief gaps in between work; it’s almost necessary for your mental health.
What challenges do you face as a Casting Producer?
Some of the biggest challenges with this job come from unpredictable obstacles.
Whether it’s a cast member who pulls out at the last minute before filming, the network changing their minds on what they want, technical failures when recording or editing interviews — it’s always something different!
You really learn how to roll with the punches and think quickly under pressure.
What is a typical day as a Casting Producer like?
My typical workday as a Casting Producer depends on the kind of show I’m hired for.
If I’m in the office, I usually arrive between 9–10 a.m. then start immediately by answering emails, posting casting notices, making phone calls, scheduling interviews, writing character bios, and doing in-person or online-recorded interviews.
On a “pitch day” when we have to give a big presentation to a network, the day usually starts a little earlier so that we feel prepared. It’s a lot of triple checking and fine-tooth-combing for any errors that would stick out in our pitch to make us look sloppy.
Every photo, video, written bio, and grid has to be perfect. If we can help it, we are out of the office by 7 p.m., but sometimes earlier or later depending on how the day goes.
I’ve had nights that lasted until 4 a.m., but thankfully that’s not the norm!
Sometimes the job requires me to travel for casting calls or scoutings. Depending on the assignment, casting teams can be away from home for just a weekend or up to a couple of months.
During this time you usually travel with at least one other coworker and hold large casting calls or take care of the cast members themselves.
It’s a lot of work and requires you to be very organized.
In terms of mentors, I’ve been lucky to work with some really wonderful individuals who were always very patient and encouraging.
When I first started with Top Model, Carrie Mebane was great about showing me the ropes and the importance of keeping organized grids for your contestants.
I wouldn’t survive without a spreadsheet!
In the last two years I’ve been doing more development casting work, and I have to give credit to my former boss, Paul O’Malley, who taught me a lot about keeping calm under pressure.
As long as you’re honest and always do the best you can, you shouldn’t worry about much.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working in casting?
The most rewarding thing about casting so far has been the array of people I get to meet and the stories that they share.
I would have no reason in a normal desk job to reach out to snake collectors, tiny house builders, restaurant owners, single moms, or preachers, but I get to with casting.
Sometimes a story or individual will actually inspire me to reevaluate my own life in a way. Then other times I feel like I need to take a shower or go to confession!
How do you integrate Social Media into your work?
Social media is used constantly in reality casting. We create ads and notices that are posted anywhere from Facebook, to Twitter, to Craigslist, to job boards, interest groups — anywhere that can gain interest for the type of people we’re looking for. We also use social media for research and outreach.
Without social media, I really don’t know how we would do our jobs!
Advice for those wanting to pursue a career in casting.
My advice for people looking to get into a career in casting would be to start networking with those who already work in that field. You hear it constantly, but it really is about who you know.
Also, don’t underestimate how valuable writing skills are with this job. You’ll have to write a lot of character bios and if your writing is poor, you could be the one holding the team back with corrections or slow writing pace.
You also have to really love getting to know people and know how to ask the right questions to get the sound bites that will create a captivating interview.
Advice for those wishing to be cast on a reality television show?
For anyone who thinks they could be the next reality star, I’d say the best advice I have would be to do your best to be original.
In order to do that, you’ll need to do plenty of research of what is currently on TV and what has already been seen.
At this point, it may appear as if almost every topic has been touched upon, but you need to decide what specific thing makes you, your family, your business, etc., stand out from the rest.
For example, there are plenty of shows that have featured psychics before, but what makes you the most unique and fascinating compared to all the rest of the psychics with their own shows?
Currently, I’m looking into transitioning from reality to scripted casting. It’s not as easy of a transition to make as one would think. Otherwise I wouldn’t mind continuing to work my way up into a Senior Casting Producer or Casting Director Position where I’ve got the ability to hire my own staff and lead a whole team on a particular show.
How did your education prepare you (or not), for a career in Entertainment?
As much as I value my college education, I wouldn’t say that it prepared me for the work that I do now necessarily.
Casting requires a lot of social and interpersonal skills and being able to confidently make decisions. Being tech savvy in touch with the latest social media certainly helps as well.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Other things to know about me are that I was born and raised in Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin.
I’m still a loyal fan of UT and try to make it to as many Longhorn events as I can here in Los Angeles!
If I ever move from LA, it will most likely be back to the Austin area to be close to my family. They are constantly trying to convince me that the entertainment industry is picking up down there, but they haven’t convinced me enough to move away from this incredible SoCal weather.
Where can people go to find out more about you and your projects?
If people want to see my actual credits, I’m on Linkedin and they can feel free to message me with any additional questions there.
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