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Casting with Ali Coffey
22 Jul 2010 :
Ali Coffey
Ali Coffey has been a casting director in Dublin for almost a decade. A foray into television in her early years introduced her to the world of acting but she realised that her calling lay in a more off-camera role – that of casting agent. IFTN spoke with the founder of both Ali Coffey Casting and Fishpond.ie to talk commercials, discovering the stars of the future and the biggest mistakes actors make in auditions.

IFTN: Ali, how did you go about breaking into the world of casting having decided you didn’t want to act?
Ali Coffey (AC): Well I started off as an actor and then in between acting jobs I stared working with Gillian Reynolds as an assistant when I was 17 back in 1997 and then I learned the business through her and we set up a partnership in 2001. Initially, I thought casting was interesting to look at from an actor’s point of view and now I think the acting experience I have has made casting even more interesting.

IFTN: Have you noticed an upsurge in casting attendee numbers as unemployment soars and people decide to try their hand at acting?
AC: The last few years have all been really, really good – really strong and consistent which makes me feel really lucky and I’m not quite sure how it’s happening so I just don’t think about it for fear that it’ll all fall apart.

IFTN: Has there been a shift in the age range of applicants?
AC: No, it’s much the same as it ever was. There is still a fall off of people from the age of 40 onwards and we’re still getting hundreds of applications from between in the 18 to 25 age gap. And I suppose it just shows that as people settle down and get mortgages they need a profession. There is definitely a gap for those in their 40s as opposed to people just out of college who are far more commonly found in the books.

IFTN: What kind of projects do you cast the most?
AC: My business mostly deals with commercials. I’ve been working on other stuff recently also but commercials makes up, at any given time, about 75% of my workload. I’ve had a good bit of film and television over the last few year’s like Disney’s ‘Incredible Stories’, some BBC shorts etc.

IFTN: What’s a typical day for you?
AC: There’s absolutely no such thing. There are no two days the same which I absolutely love. I’m either doing set-ups for castings which is from early morning to late at night searching for people – looking through show reels and then booking in actors I know with my assistant Katy. Or I could be actually casting or giving workshops to actors centring around audition technique which I do a couple of times a month. And I squeeze in some voice over work myself every so often too.

IFTN: What advice would you give to before they go into an audition?
AC: There’s one main piece of advice that I’d love to have been given when I was an actor and it’s something I always wish I was able to say to people before they audition for me and that is to listen. It is unbelievable how people, even seasoned actors, fail to listen to simple instructions. It must be a mixture of nerves and pre-conceived notions but people seem to find it really hard to take direction at these events. It’s understandable of course and, if you show it back to them on the tape they’re usually mortified and they’ll tell you they didn’t even really hear what you were saying. And that’s the thing, they’re just nodding along as you talk but not actually hearing a word you’re saying. And if you do forget to listen just double check what was said, and then, to re-enforce it repeat it to yourself. Say to yourself, “Ok, so it’d got to be more internalised anger as opposed to shouting now.”

IFTN: Apart from not listening are there any other common mistakes that crop up in casting sessions?
AC: Being under prepared is the most common mistake that I’ve come across in people who come to see me. Not being familiar with the script or not making use of every tool at their disposal because the competition really is so fierce for parts now. That’s where I see people letting themselves down the most and it’s the most infuriating for me also because I can sense that they would have way more to offer me, if only they had come more ready.  

IFTN: When do you spot star quality in a person? The minute they walk in the door?
AC: Yes, when someone walks in and you think they might have that special something you’re just willing them to be able to act and because you can be so wrong sometimes. But definitely something changes in the air and you find yourself sitting up a bit straighter. The feeling does set in pretty much straight away – something about their energy or charisma maybe. Like I said though, you can be terribly wrong in both directions – you could instantly discount someone who turns out to be fab and then vice versa.

IFTN: How often does this happen, once a month?
AC: Oh no, not at all. I don’t want to sound really harsh but that extra extra special element in any career is rare – otherwise it wouldn’t be that stellar. Twice or three times a year maybe.

Ali is currently casting for several commercials for groups such as Lotto, Berocca, Eircom, Actimel and a play for Pan Pan theatre company. For more information about Ali’s click here

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