Industry Pro: Casting Director Rachel Reiss
Today’s profile subject is relatively early in her career, but she was focused during college and took the opportunity to do several internships in different cities. One of those internships introduced her to the world of casting and she immediately fell in love. Following graduation, a four week on a Food Network pilot turned into 11 seasons (“Chopped”) and now she works for one of the top casting companies in New York. Not bad. Read on to get the inside story of her career path and find out some behind-the-scenes scoop on casting…
Current Position: Casting Director, Liz Lewis Casting Partners
Hometown: Colts Neck, New Jersey
College & Degree: I started out at the University of Florida, but I have a BS in Communications from Boston University. My concentration was Public Relations.
Did you have an internship while you were in school? I had tons of internships. I interned at Telsey and Company, which is a casting company in New York. That started me on that track. I also interned in London at BBC Worldwide and in L.A. at E! Entertainment and ID PR.
What was your career goal when you left college? By the time I graduated, I knew it was going to be in entertainment; whether that was casting or PR, something in the talent fields.
How did you end up in casting? It started at Telsey and Company when I was an intern. The position involved tons of responsibilities so even though I wasn’t paid, I kind of consider that my first job. But when I got out of college, I was offered a four-week position helping out with a reality cooking show. And that became “Chopped” on The Food Network. I ended up working on that for 11 seasons.
Wow. How did you get that opportunity? Actually it was one of those “meant to be” situations. I applied from an internet posting to this casting assistant position, and it just happened that the person I interviewed with was the best friend of someone I had met at E! I e-mailed that person from the E! internship the day before knowing nothing about the connection, so it’s one of those divine timing kind of situations.
So were you the casting assistant for your whole time on the show? I started as a casting assistant, but I moved up and by, I think, by season four, I was casting producer.
And then where did you go from there? In the beginning I was a casting assistant at the production company, but that company ended up going under and I started freelancing. And so, six months out of the year I would be doing “Chopped” and then the other six months I would be doing other TV shows or commercials; all kinds of different things.
The show’s still on, right? What took you away from it? I had been with “Chopped” for a really long time. I had started out in scripted casting back when I at Telsey and it was always something I really wanted to be a part of. So when I got the opportunity to work at Liz Lewis Casting Partners, I decided to make the switch.
And how long have you been there? Since last May. Almost a year.
Okay. Tell me a little bit about Liz Lewis Casting Partners. They’ve been around for about 20 years now. Liz is very well known in the commercial world. And when I started, they branching out. I came in with more reality TV. They hired some other people who had theater. We’ve been doing a lot of film; so, it started out as a commercial casting house, or primarily commercial, and now we cast everything: voiceover, print, film, TV, theater, everything. We did a Super Bowl commercial for “America’s Got Talent,” and we had another commercial that aired during the Grammys. I just finished casting a feature film called “Wife’s Out” starring Eve, the rapper.
What do you consider your big break? My big break was probably getting my first internship at Telsey, because I didn’t know what casting was before that. I just happened to look through my playbills and saw that this one company was listed in all of them. I called them; asked if they needed any help for the summer. Went in for an interview the next day and started working. And the experience I gained at Telsey was invaluable and really made me passionate about the industry.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten? It would be from a casting director that I work with a lot. She would say, “You choose. Whenever you’re dealing with a project, you can pretty much have two adversaries. There’s good, fast, and cheap. If I’m working on it, it’s always going to be good. But if it’s good and fast, it’s not to be cheap. And if it’s good and cheap, it’s not going to be fast, so you choose.”
Now I’m looking for a Eureka moment (when you realized you did or did not want to do something or that you should do something differently, etc.). I realized that if I wanted to make a switch in the path that I was on, which at that point was more reality, I needed to go after it 100%. Which is what I did. And I got fortunate that I’m now in a situation where I can do everything.
Describe a typical workday in your current position. Every day is different, depending on the projects we get. But usually it invvolves talking to clients, finding out what projects they’re working on, trying to get involved; or cropping the session, which means sending out what kind of actors or talent or real people we’re looking for; getting the submissions, combing through them and then making a schedule for our auditions. If it’s an audition day, we’re in a casting studio auditioning people all day and then uploading and sending the footage to the client.
Can you talk a little bit about casting sessions and how they work from the point of view of the casting director? It depends on the project. I can kind give you an example of reality and an example of scripted. For “Chopped,” we would have half an hour appointments with the chefs, who we had sought out by researching restaurants and building connections within the chef community. We would sit down with them and ask about their experiences, why they love what they do, everything that really shows their passion and their skill. And then we sent those interviews to the network for consideration.
Scripted is very different. It’s — say it’s a commercial where the actors are given copy, commercial copy. They come in and perform it. We give them adjustments to make and they do it again. At the end of the day, we present the best options for the client.
What was your worst job (or worst day) in entertainment industry? When I was a casting assistant at my first production company, we were doing a lot of low-level dating shows. This involved me scrambling a lot to find people who would be on camera for almost no money. There was one particular day where someone came to set, signed the release form, and then left. It was at a heavy metal concert so I had to walk around the heavy metal concert talking to these big burly guys asking if they would be on a dating show. (Laughs) That was a bad day.
That sounds awful. So, best job or best day in the entertainment industry? I think one of my best jobs so far was working on “Chopped,” because traveling and meeting chefs and eating… there was nothing bad about that. (Laughs) So, I would say that was my best job so far, though I love where I am now. I think everything is going to get better and better.
What’s the best thing about your current job? The best thing is every day is different. One day I could be doing a reality project, the nextday I could be working on a film and auditioning actors. So, it’s always a variety and always interesting; keeping me on my toes.
What’s the worst thing about your current job? I think the worst thing about my current job is that, while we can have a lot of say in the project we’re working on, it’s never completely our call. So, we can fall in love with someone and that might not be the decision that’s ultimately made. We are advisers and filters, and we’re invested in every project we work on, but ultimately we can’t make every call.
Okay. I’m looking for a brush with greatness. It can be a celebrity encounter or just being exposed to someone being brilliant at what they do. I definitely have one of those. It was my second summer interning at Telsey and I was working on a movie which happened to be Helen Hunt’s directorial debut. So that particular day, Helen was there and I believe it was callbacks for the movie and it was me, the casting director, Bette Midler, and Helen Hunt in the room. It was great.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you started your entertainment career? To keep in touch with every single person that you encounter as much as you can. Everything in entertainment is networking or can be helped by networking. Even if it’s just a quick encounter with someone, get their information and try to keep tabs on them and always stay in contact with as many people as you can.
What advice you would give to somebody coming into entertainment behind you? Do as many internships as you can. It builds your resume before you’re working professionally and puts you 10 steps ahead of people who don’t have that when they get out of college. Interning is really professional experience. Whether you’re getting coffee or whether you actually have some serious responsibilities, you’re in a professional environment, meeting people who are high level, and it just puts you ahead of a lot of people.
What’s your next move? Or the next five moves? Just doing more and more projects and picking what those are. I would love to continue doing great commercials. I would like to do more film and just build up my IMDb page, I guess.
For more information about Liz Lewis Casting, visit their website.