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Friday, 11 November 2011 16:19

21st Century Music Video Casting

Written by  Gordon Meyer
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castingmusicvideos_renitagaleBelieve it or not, music videos have been around since the 1930s when Warner Bros. launched The Spooney Melodies, a series of musical shorts created to promote songs from the studio’s music-publishing catalog. Both then and now, casting directors have been challenged by the unique demands of this genre.

Renita Gale of Renita Casting began her casting career over a dozen years ago and has worked with top artists like Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Kid Rock, Britney Spears and INXS. One recent project was a video for the song “Shame” by Singers Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow and Director Vaughn Arnell, which required Gale to cast a pair of women to dance with the singers. “We put out a breakdown like we always do, listing the specific look that the client wanted,” says Gale. During the audition process, she recruited men to fill in for Williams and Barlow so they could better choose which women they would slow dance with on camera. “We must have sent them 35 to 40 people, knowing they would choose two,” Gale explains. Since clients are rarely on site unless there’s a callback, Gale uploads audition footage to a password-protected section of her website where her clients can pick and choose who they want to cast. 

This casting process is very familiar for Lamont Pete who began his casting career working on reality shows like “Blind Date” and “The Real World.” His work for MTV’s reality shows in the late 1990s led to casting gigs on music shows and music videos. While he’s now VP of A&R for MBA Art & Entertainment, an independent record label distributed by the Universal Music Group, Pete continues to cast select music videos and works with artists like Lil John and Eminem.

Pete’s most recent video was for Lil Wayne, who wanted to do a parody of a popular beer commercial. “We were holding this casting call and I was thinking that all I needed were some hot women,” Pete recalls. “But I wasn’t really filled in as to what the shoot required. In this case, they had to walk in the room and scream at the top of their lungs, like they were tweens at a Justin Bieber concert, and get really animated. It was a different thing because no one was really prepared for it. It showed that when you go to a casting call, you’re not always going to know what they’re going to ask of you. It may be more than just looking a certain way.”
Pete often puts out casting calls similar to the way Gale works, but for the Lil Wayne video he only invited people that he already knew and had worked with. He also once did a casting call for the BET show “Sunday Best” with auditions at the World Congress Center in Atlanta, Ga. Pete brought a dozen colleagues with him to handle the 800-plus people that they anticipated would attend — but over 7,000 people showed up.  “That was a very long day,” Pete says.

Both Gale and Pete say that their clients sometimes throw them challenging curves when it comes to their casting needs. For one video, a client wanted a carnival atmosphere that required Pete to find jugglers. And for one Madonna video, Gale was specifically told to cast real exotic dancers or strippers who would be willing to appear topless for a planned European version of the video — and their breasts had to be real. “I spent a week in clubs meeting strippers, handing them my business card and telling them about the opportunity while they were giving other people lap dances,” says Gale. “It was hilarious.” 
Today, Gale says the glory days of MTV are now history. “There just aren’t as many music videos being produced, and overall budgets have dropped to the point where I can no longer make a good living just from casting music videos,” she explains. Gale’s professional focus is now directed towards commercials, TV shows and feature films as she passes the casting baton to younger directors aiming to get their foot in the casting door.

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