Melissa Paradice is the owner of Paradice Casting, and a Casting Director. She grew up in Scituate, MA, and fell in love with theater at a young age. After attending Emerson College and graduating with a BA in Theater Education with a Minor in Dance, she fell into casting when hired by Maura Tighe in 2004. When not casting Melissa spends her free time watching improv and stand up comedy around Boston–known far and wide for her laugh, reading on the porch, hiking/kayaking, crocheting or playing with her little nieces.
Melissa will be attending WIFVNE’s Annual Meeting at WGBH on October 2, ready to meet fellow members. So register now! To learn more about Paradice Casting, visit her website at https://www.paradicecasting.com
I fell into casting kind of by accident. I majored in Theater Education at Emerson College, but by graduation I already knew I wanted no part of being a teacher. Maura Tighe owned the company then, in 2004, and my best friend babysat her kids. She mentioned to him one day that she was looking for a new assistant and was having a hard time finding anyone, my BFF told her that I’d just graduated Emerson but didn’t have any specific plans as yet, and that “she always knows everyone’s phone number off the top of her head”. Maura and I had known each other casually (as we all lived in Scituate). She called me up and offered me a trial run of three months to see if I liked the casting business and if she liked me. Turns out I LOVED it and was good at it. When she sold the company in 2009 to Christine Wyse, part of the deal was that I would be retained as an employee. When Christine decided to pursue something else in 2017, I bought the company from her.
What do you love about the work that you do?
I love that every day is a little different. Aside from the creative part of giving direction and adjustments to talent, I really enjoy the organizational aspects of being a casting director. I’ve always had a knack for ironing out complicated things. I also really enjoy the social aspect. On session days, I get to visit and chat with the actors that come in and I genuinely like most of them, so it’s always fun.
What can you tell us about the world of casting?
Casting is largely organizational, and a lot of paperwork. It’s finding the right talent, scheduling them for auditions, facilitating holds and bookings and any union paperwork pertaining to the talent (if it’s a union shoot). It’s keeping a lot of balls in the air at the same time.
I think the most misunderstood thing about casting is who picks the people who get the jobs. My job is to show the best options available to the clients, and THEY pick who they want to book. 99% of the time the people I’m hired by don’t care what I think about the talent. They don’t ask who I think they should book. On occasion I’m asked for my opinion about the strength of someone, but generally, the only choosing I do is who comes in to audition for the project.
Typically, over a year I’m casting for 75-100 different projects. Some years less, some years more. September, October, April, May, and June are all typically very busy months. November, December and August are typically really slow. That said, sometimes the year surprises us and we’re busy in normally slow times, or slow in normally busy times.
For producers, writers, directors: the more info you can give to your casting director, the better job they’ll be able to do. I get a lot of specs that are just an age and ethnicity, but with no description of the kind of person the character is. Casting Directors don’t need like a whole bio/backstory, but the more specific you can be about “specs” the more likely you are to get exactly what you’re looking for. Also, casting doesn’t have to cost a million dollars, there are many ways to go about finding talent on a budget.
For talent: relax, casting WANTS you to do well. My motto generally is, “casting directors are only as good as the talent they bring in can make them look”. So, take a deep breath and be yourself. You got this.
In the last several years here in New England, I’ve noticed a shift in the kind of projects that are coming to town. There has been a huge influx of film and tv work, and as a result many of our local talent have had an opportunity to grow, and I think as a whole the caliber of talent here in New England has increased. People are realizing they don’t HAVE to necessarily move to NY or LA to be able to work, and many who may have had to give up the dream because their spouse has an amazing job here, or because they have elderly parents and can’t move etc. are now able to still pursue that dream right here in New England.
What has your experience as a woman in the industry been like?
I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to work with some amazing women on my way up the ladder. Being able to see them as strong, independent and business owners, I think opened up a new world of possibilities for me. It also made me feel more protected in a way, I knew that if anything creepy ever happened, I’d be able to tell them, and they would believe me.
What has been your experience casting for a PBS show?
When the company was Maura’s and then Christine’s, we did all the casting for a PBS show called “Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman”. We’d audition a couple thousand kids over a weekend at WGBH and go through rounds and rounds of callbacks. The show was looking for bright, personable kids, as the focus was generally science based and educational. It was probably the most labor-intensive project I’ve ever worked on. It was a TON of organization and scheduling. We’d usually have three rooms going, a casting director in each room, and we’d bring kids in to the audition in groups of like 10 or 12 I think. In the end they’d book six kids, I think, to be on the show each year. I would float usually between running a room, and managing the “front of house”. So, getting people checked in, answering questions, keeping us moving on time and trouble shooting any issues we ran into. Maura and I also were running a non-profit youth summer theater program out of Scituate at the time as well, so we’d bring a long a pile of our high school students to be our runners, and take the kids from the waiting area to the audition rooms and back again. It was always amazing amounts of fun, but exhausting!
Do you have a mentor? Do you mentor anyone?
Maura Tighe and Christine Wyse are my mentors. I would not be where I am today without either of them. I still reach out to them sometimes just to bounce things off them. I’m not currently mentoring anyone–I’ve had interns in the past–but I’m a terrible delegator, it’s my biggest weakness, not being able to delegate things. That’s something I’m working on.
Were you told or did you learn a piece of wisdom or advice you now tell others in the beginning of their career?
Be nice to people. Be the person everyone wants to work with because you’re easy and fun to work with. The intern of today is tomorrow’s CEO. One of my favorite things someone ever said to me was “we’re not doing open heart surgery, it’s a commercial, no one is going to bleed out on the table”. What we do IS important, but it’s not life or death. When something goes wrong, as inevitable something will, take a deep breath, step back and figure out how to fix it.
The more women we have in positions of power and authority, the less likely we are to have inappropriate and uncomfortable incidents. The more female writers we have, the less flat boring and devoid of personality female characters we have. The more female directors, the more we can see the female perspective. For so long, white and male has been the default of everything, the more women we have pushing the envelope and boundaries, the better the end product (and the future of our industry) will be.
Where would you like to go in your work?
I’d love to do more work on indie films. The bulk of my work is commercials, which is great, I love the quick turnaround on those, but there’s something so rewarding about REALLY working with actors to push them to rise to the level of leads in films.
What can you share about what you are working on now?
I just finished casting a period piece about the Latter Day Saints. The thing I loved most about it was seeing people I know are good actors come in and be great actors. There’s only so much acting you can put in a 30 second commercial spot, so to be able to explore a scene and be truly wowed by people I’ve known for years is incredible.
Why are you a member of WIFVNE?
I became a member because I think in this world and in today’s society, as women, we need to support each other. In order to make New England a more viable option for productions, we need to work together. As a smaller community, and I think that’s the way to think about us, a community, it’s important for us to collaborate rather than compete. If we work together, rather than fight against each other, we can accomplish so much more.