Welcome to the Spotlight. In this weekly series, we sit down with prominent casting directors, producers and talent to discuss the entertainment industry, as well as provide some insight and advice for actors in their quest for the limelight. In this interview, we sit down with Brad Leo Lyon, Director/Producer of Lyon Productions to discuss his multifaceted journey through the world of filmmaking, as well as explore the ways talent can increase their chances of getting cast.
How did you become a casting professional? What’s the backstory here?
Like many casting professionals, my start began in the world of casting background performers (extras). Though my arrival to that particular field might be a bit more unique than most. I was working in the world of professional sports as the director of operations for a Minor League sports team. Jerry Preston, the president of the visitor’s bureau for the city we were based in, had reached out to connect me with some individuals who were in a tight bind. I had some limited background in film and television production through our company as we produced content for the broadcast of our own games as well as numerous television commercials and industrials. Aware of my experience in that world as well as sports, he introduced me to PGA Lifetime Achievement Award winner Garry Marshall’s son Scott (Valentine’s Day/Princess Diaries 2) and long time film producer and financier Michael Mendolson (Lord of War/Fight Club/Matrix) who has personally been involved in helping fund over 2 billion dollars in film production.
They were in need of finding someone who could help coordinate football scenes in a hurry for the movie All’s Faire In Love, of which Scott was directing and Michael producing. Though I wasn’t involved in the fantastic casting of such screen legends as Christina Ricci, Ann Margaret, Mathew Lillard and Cedric the Entertainer among others in the film, I did put together the football players and cheerleaders in those scenes while also helping in numerous other areas (locations, wardrobe, props, stunt coordinating, and other aspects of the football scenes). This became an early trend in my casting career as it led to last minute sports casting help on other films like Have A Little Faith (the Mitch Album film helmed by DGA award nominee Jon Avnet), non-sports specific background with Clare Kilner’s (Snowpiercer/House of the Dragon) American Virgin, and even a couple days bringing in help for Shawn Levy’s (Free Guy/Night at the Museum) Real Steel.
However, it wasn’t until my work on the movie Minor League that I made the move over to principal casting. Originally slated to be directed by Terence Winkless (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers), the film underwent a number of changes just weeks before principal photography. As a producer on the film, I took on the additional responsibility of casting director as we got it ready for production during the transition. The combination of hiring several industry veterans like Robert Miano (Fast & Furious/Dungeons and Dragons/Donnie Brasco) and the late Dustin Diamond (Saved by the Bell) combined with music and sports stars such as rapper Bonecrusher and UFC Hall of Famer Dan Severn, while also sorting through 3,500 auditioners gave me a great initiation into the craft. I’ve since worked as a casting director on over a dozen movies, scores of television episodes, and cast or assisted many others.
What inspired you to Direct and Produce yourself?
Many of you may remember the “great recession” of 2008. Like many industries, minor league sports had taken a significant hit. The team in which I was the director of operations for, and now owner, belonged to a league that had lost roughly 50% of its membership teams in one year. As one of the answers to this economic impact, the state of Michigan created the Michigan Movie and Digital Media Incentive. This incentive made film investment in the state seemingly very lucrative. Over the next 4 years, over 1 billion dollars in film production would take place in the state. By 2010, I was earning more through my film work than sports was providing. This led to my retirement from athletics and gave birth to my full time film career. Over the next handful of years it became very evident that my experience running a sports team made me uniquely qualified to produce films as many producers simply came from the world of acting or film production but had little business experience. Thankfully, this helped me develop a team full of fellow producers and investors that likewise made the same evaluation of my experience and have trusted in working with me for the better part of a decade.
I am a firm believer that if you truly wish to be successful at something you must study every aspect of that craft. To become a solid film producer I worked and invested in myself extensively, attending numerous schools, seminars, and workshops around the country to learn as much about how a film is made as I possibly could. Such training resulted in learning how to direct as well. Initially, I studied that part of film, like I did other crew positions, so that I would be educated enough to hire the best people possible. After all, becoming a great leader is about assembling a team that is much smarter than you at what they do and getting out of their way so they can accomplish the goals you set for them. To do that successfully, you must know enough about a subject that you become aware of the things you don’t know, not just be oblivious to them.
While producing the movie Little Creeps, which I had no intention of directing, a schedule conflict resulted in putting us in a significant bind. Our team felt it was in our best interest to have me direct as I not only had spent extensive time training and directed numerous smaller productions (short films, commercials, music videos) but I also knew the script the best as the writer of the screenplay. This was my first experience sitting in the director’s chair of a feature length film but it sent me on a voyage where I’ve since steered numerous ships through those troubled waters.
How do you spend your free time?
Free time? What’s that?! Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be joking when asking that question. Since COVID and most recently the tribulations between IATSE and the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers life has slowed down a little bit. Just recently I took on a very comical answer to that question. This past month I came out of retirement after 11 years from football. At nearly 40 years old, I am once again lacing up the cleats and putting on a helmet for a Semi-Pro team called the Florida Stingrays of the FFA (Football Federation Alliance). I also played in a game for the Tampa Nightcrawlers of the A7FL, a full contact football league similar to arena football only without pads. I think I’ll stick to the more traditional type of football with equipment for the time being though, haha.
If you had to choose an actor to play you in a biopic, who would you choose?
Technically, I’ve already answered this question in real life, I played a version of myself as Brad “LaMarsh” in Minor League. I’m also slated to play a very similar character to myself as the titular character in a film called Brock’s Diner. With that said, it would be a very difficult thing to cast yourself as we’re viewing yourself through our own biased eyes. Do we really know ourselves the best, or do we see ourselves far too often through rosy covered spectacles? Viewing ourselves as who we want to be and not who we actively have proven ourselves to be?
Let me try and not take this question so seriously. Part of me wants to lean towards selecting Jack Black. I believe his passionate, fun loving nature fits my personality while his build, albeit much smaller, is reasonably similar. Not to mention, he’s also the culprit behind the fact that I even work in film today. But that story is for another time. If it wasn’t Jack, Kevin James perhaps best fits the mold, being both humorous and able to portray a jock and artist at the same time. His role of Scott Voss in Here Comes the Boom is a fitting example.
This question was similarly taken on by TMZ, or at least who all I look like. As I recall they put Jorge Garcia (Lost/The Wedding Ringer) up there as a finalist but ended on one of their own hefty cast members. I’ve been confused for Jorge more times than I can count and Kevin Smith on a number of occasions when being introduced as a director.
What’s your most exciting project right now?
Oh gosh, how do I pick just one? I’m getting ready to direct a series called Also in Theaters, which is a unique show in the realm of Entourage meets Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. I’m really excited to work with my friend Greg Cipes (Fast & Furious/The Middle) who you may know best as Teen Titan’s Beast Boy in my upcoming feature Let’s Party. It’s an intimate, though at times comical, look at the suppression of 3rd parties in the United States and asks if supporting them truly is wasted effort? Before you answer that for yourself, you might want to wait to watch the movie. It’ll surprise you.
I am wrapping up production on Killer Keg which starred Jeremy London from Kevin Smith’s Mallrats and scream queen Brinke Stevens. This originally began filming during the pandemic and we’re highly considerings reshooting the majority of the movie to make continuity look better. It’s a very fun horror comedy which centers around a group of friends throwing a party to cheer someone up, but the keg they find causes them to relive the same day over and over, each time with a new friend disappearing. Meanwhile, I Co-Star in and helm Thursday the 12th which is coming to (very) limited theaters in the next couple months. It’s another horror comedy with a cast that includes Todd Bridges (Different Strokes), Marilyn Ghigliotti (Kevin Smith’s Clerks), Jena Sims (Las Vegas), and Brian Sutherland (Grimm). It takes us on a wild ride with two guys closing in on their 30’s who still work at the same job they had in high school (the mall) after they accidentally offend a Gypsy the week of Friday the 13th. Their character names are James Rogen and Seth Franco if that gives you any kind of idea what to expect. It’s like Evil Dead meets Tucker and Dale Versus Evil set in Mallrats.
I guess I’ll have to leave the actual answer of this question up to the audience. Though as I look at my casting habits I am starting to realize why I get the Kevin Smith references so much.
What’s the most memorable audition that you’ve been a part of?
Obviously this question is for the sake of casting. I’d have to go with Minor League just because somehow we pulled off seeing over 3,000 people in the course of a weekend. We had everyone from major professional actors to pro athletes and other celebrities that literally waited in line for hours on the streets of Flint, Michigan to audition for the film. At times we had to go outside and wade through the line just to save people time and send home those who didn’t fit our vision of the characters. It was both the hardest and most fun casting experience of my life.
If I was to have answered that as an actor it would have been very easy to do so. That most memorable experience lends itself to auditioning for Dan Bradley’s Red Dawn, which they called me in at the last minute. The day started off rough as it was when the casting associate mentioned the sides, when realizing they had forgotten to email them to me (unlike the others in the room). That wasn’t the most memorable part though. Word of advice to all of those who go on auditions – if you’re auditioning in person but also on a web camera for someone remotely, make sure you know who is on the other end of the camera. I made the critical mistake of criticizing the script out loud (a football scene that couldn’t happen involving a coach making a speech to a player on the field, during a game, between plays) while one of the writers (of whom I’m normally a big fan of his work) was part of the team reviewing my performance. Needless to say I wasn’t cast.
What are the typical mistakes actors make in the casting process?
This could be an article all by itself. Although from a quick review of my earlier replies I’m already writing novels for each question. One of the first things that jumps out at me is actors that select famous monologues for their performance during auditions where they are invited to have something prepared. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard Pacino’s famous monologue from Scent of a Woman or Washington’s speech in Training Day. Do you know who we’re comparing you to when you do monologues like those? Pacino and Washington. You know who you don’t want to have to try and fill the shoes of? Pacino and Washington. Hint, DON’T pick Oscar winning performances, let alone actors, or you’ll have the burden of trying to do them as great as the original artists. Now, I’m sure some of you reading this think you’re so talented that you’re fine with that. Please, remember that judging performances is subjective, you may feel that way, but the original person we saw do it will most often be the mountain top in many eyes.
The second thing that pops up to me is my personal biggest pet peeve – actors who wait until the last second to send in their submissions for digital calls. Let me start by saying I hate digital casting calls. I want to be in the room with every actor I’m considering face to face. I want to be part of the real performance in the moment, not the 500th version they recorded. With that said, many casting directors, myself included, take precedence with those who submit early. To us, they are showing ambition and making the opportunity a priority. Most importantly, you should remember that our initial goal is simply to narrow down a list for call backs. So the first actors who come in will be the ones we are looking at with the most spaces to fill. They will have the easiest time making the cut. When it comes down to the last day (or hour) of a casting call, we’re probably down to the last spot or two, if we haven’t already just finalized our decision. At best, you are now competing against EVERYONE remaining on our list while the first people had a much smaller pile to be selected from.
How can they improve their chances of getting cast?
Carrying over from my last answer, be early! Rather, you are the first in line at an open call or the first video in my inbox, those are the most impressive people to me. I’ve had people literally camp outside an audition to make sure they were the first in line. The people who prioritize it the most are the ones I truly believe care the most. They are dedicated to their craft, value the opportunity, and are showcasing with their actions that this is important to them. I trust these actors.
Secondly, confidence is great. It is fantastic to see a person who truly believes in their effort and training. With that said, just because you believe you are perfect for a role doesn’t mean you fit the vision of the director, casting director, or anyone else for that matter. So understand two things that I feel will help those who tend to be a bit over confident. One, you are only picking how you plan to portray the character through your eyes. Be confident in your selection and know you’re simply selling your view of who the character is based on the interpretations of what you’ve read or heard about the role. Understand that you do not KNOW who the character is in the mind of the director. Respect the process. Two, be honest with yourself about the roles you are auditioning for. Don’t waste casting time nor your own by weighing 115 pounds but auditioning for the role of an NFL Offensive lineman. This happens hundreds of times for nearly every character we audition for. Be honest with yourself as to who you are and what that allows you to portray as it will help you pick the right characters to audition for and earn the callback.
There are many, many more but just as a related note. Please don’t ask us if we will “rewrite the character” to fit you. I get that it has happened, but please just don’t do it. Also, don’t think we will rewrite the character to fit you just because you showed up to an open call. We have a very busy day or week ahead of us and we post breakdowns for a reason. In the majority of cases you haven’t read the script so our team probably understands why the character is what it is. You don’t have that information and we don’t have time to share it with you just because you want to audition for a role that doesn’t fit.
What should aspiring talent know before they apply to your casting calls?
We appreciate everyone having bucket lists but please remember this is what we do for a living. Only audition if you are passionate about working as an actor professionally. Far too often we have people who audition that just want to knock being an actor in a movie off their bucket list. This isn’t a hobby for us, that’s what YouTube and Tik Tok is for.
Also, make sure you have a flexible schedule before auditioning. New actors with limited experience on set don’t comprehend the long hours involved in production. It is said that the average studio film is shot over the course of roughly 110 days. That means the average day of film production (12 hours) is spent creating about 50 seconds of a movie’s final cut. The number of new actors who thought they could shoot their scenes in “a couple hours or something” is vastly larger than you’d think.
What would you suggest to other people who are seeking talent? What are the typical mistakes people make when searching for talent?
First and foremost, if you are a new or aspiring director remember that no one will ever care about your movie more than you do. Well, unless you don’t care that much then you shouldn’t even be making the darn thing. Otherwise, it is extremely important to realize that you are not just trying to figure out if an actor is talented enough to fill your role. You also MUST figure out if they have the character, fortitude, and perseverance to make it through the duration of principal photography, additional pickups, ADR, and eventually the promotion of the movie itself. Loving their take on your character is great, but if they won’t show up on time, on the day, or at all, their ability is worthless to you.
An actor’s job isn’t just their performance. Their work ethic is hugely important to the success of the movie. Likewise, their attitude can make or ruin a set. A person with a negative, cancerous attitude can make filming a terrible experience for everyone else. Eventually, the people you thought would be the foundation of your movie’s success may even give up on the production due to the environment this person has created. Or worse, they may turn into part of the trouble themselves. Attitude is contagious, good ones and bad. Your job when casting is to consider EVERYTHING about the person.
What do you think any casting professional needs in order to succeed?
Patience! Yet, not just patience in finding the right person for the role. You also need patience in learning how to work with the director. Every person creating a movie (should) have seen the film come alive inside their brain. They’ve seen every single cut, camera angle, performance, and character come to vivid life within their waking dreams. They will do their best to try to share this vision with you, but it is not an easy task to get others to see within the windows of your soul. Some would say those windows exist in a person’s eyes. In reality, they live within our words. For it is only our words we can use to communicate with you what we are seeking.
Casting directors often ask filmmakers to trust in them. The best casting directors are the ones who listen the best. Those who strive to hear what a director is looking for so they can bring that role into real world existence. This will take time and effort on both of your parts, so have the patience to listen to those investing in you and trusting in you to help them. If you’re not willing to take the time to know the movie as closely as possible to that director, then casting isn’t for you.
Once you’ve conquered that hurdle, then you have to find out if you can muster up the great balance of kindness and aggressiveness. It is an actor’s job to accept rejection, that is a consistent part of the craft. Yet, we can strive to pass on this rejection with kindness. This kindness comes with the burden of time. We have to learn the balance of how much time we can spend on kindness while also keeping things moving forward with relentless persistence. This will be one of your greatest chores because you are on the front lines of the movie. The experience actors and extras have when dealing with you not just impacts their own emotional state, but results in the headaches that come with disgruntled failure. Mind you, I don’t mean their headaches, but the headaches they can bring to you and the production when they can’t handle rejection.
How do you notice the difference between aspiring talent who can “make it” and those who can’t?
Powerful persistence can change even the most devastating failure into extraordinary achievement. This is the greatest quality one must have in order to “make it.” This is true in all walks of life, not just acting. In our world, this persistence must be evident in more than just the ability to overcome the all too common no. It exceeds simply dusting yourself off and getting in the next casting call line. This persistence must exist in every facet of your career. There are many aspects to this but often actors will overlook things as obvious as studying. Working on your craft as regularly as you can afford, attending seminars, and showing up at workshops is a must. Sacrificing in order to afford that training is a requirement. Doing whatever it takes to build a quality reel to get you in the doors of auditions must equally be fought for. That might mean more than just working on every free student film or short until you get enough footage. You might have to actually work extra hours at that day job or give up other things you wanted in order to invest in and pay for a reel to be made. You’ll have to go to every event, festival, industry gathering, mixer, or convention in order to network on the level you need to build a career.
When an actor is truly passionate about “making it”, they will do all of this and more. It will be evident not just in their performance, but on their resume training section, all the way to the number of times you’ve seen them in the room. The most telling argument I have for knowing who will make it is as simple as who is trying the hardest, consistently, for the longest. Sooner or later that no will turn into a yes. Just as clear are the ones who won’t make it, as they’ll lack the ambition, drive, and dedication to do all of the things required.
The question really isn’t how do I notice the difference; the question is how will you show the world it’s you?