Updated: Sep 14, 2021
A few weeks ago, Atlanta Film and TV was fortunate to have a conversation with Professor of Practice in Acting and Directing for Georgia State University’s School of Film, Media & Theater, Susan G. Reid. Susan also works as a professional Acting Coach, Casting Director, Writer, and Director. She has completed casting for Investigation Discovery’s fourth season of Your Worst Nightmare for Fox Casting. Ms. Reid was the former Vice President and Head of the TV/Film Division at Atlanta Models and Talent, where she booked talent on shows such as The Walking Dead, Stranger Things,House of Cards,Homeland, and Ozark. She is an active member of the Atlanta theater community and has earned awards for her excellence in directing. And, the list goes on!
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you take us on your journey of how you discovered your love of the arts, to where you are now?
Susan G. Reid: “Like so many other artists, I started as an actor as a child, and for many years, I was the one putting on plays and auditioning to be in musicals in school. In undergrad, I remembered I had done stage roles and realized I wanted to be more a part of the collaborative process and reached out to ask if I could learn about directing. But, at the time, there wasn’t a directing program. But, the head of the program was writing plays and was generous enough to allow me to direct some of the plays he had written.
I finished my Liberal Arts degree as an English major and a Theater minor. I knew those were not enough to take me where I wanted to go, so I started looking at MFA programs in directing and ended up attending the University of North Carolina Greensboro and obtaining an MFA in Directing. Eventually, I moved to Atlanta. And, it’s been a wild and wonderful ride that I wouldn’t have expected. I’ve spent many years in theater, cultivating education programs, and working as an Artistic Associate in Directing in most theaters in Atlanta. Before I thought about making a shift (which was around the same time as the recession hit) found myself out of work because, unfortunately, most theaters didn’t make it through the recession. I found myself wondering what I was going to do since I had been directing and working in theater for a long time. I began knocking on doors, speaking with other talent agents and wound up at Atlanta Models and Talent.
I told them’ I don’t know anything about the industry’. I had limited knowledge about the film and tv business and had done some small films as a kid. I told them to let me figure out what this business is. I started observing and figuring out the entertainment business. Within three weeks, I became a Talent Agent with Atlanta Models and Talent, and three years later, I became the Vice President of Atlanta Models and Talent as and Head of the TV and Film Division.
Eventually, I moved into Casting and currently work as a Professor at Georgia State University, as a Professor of Practice in Acting and Directing, all while directing film and writing projects. I am also at a point where I am just about finished writing an acting book. In addition, I am also a consultant at Houghton Talent Agency and advise clients on the business."
Atlanta Film and TV: Growing up, did your family recognize your gift of the arts early on, and, if so, how did they nourish it to facilitate growth?
"My upbringing didn’t necessarily nurture my artistic side. But, I thought, nope! I think I can do this! I’m going to prove to you that this is a viable career path. "
- Susan G. Reid
Atlanta Film and TV: How did you transition from directing and casting, to working in higher education?
Susan G. Reid: "I was working in higher education the whole time. One of the ways I knew I would have a better way of making a living was to get a Master's because I would teach at the university level. I do not remember if I thought it was something I could do. I only assumed I could!
When I applied for my Masters, I worked at a law firm as a paralegal, and I promised my parents if I did not get into graduate school, I would apply to law school. But, Alas! I got into grad school! Once I got out of UNCG, I was fortunate to work on the university level as a part-time teacher at a few universities in North Carolina. I then moved to Georgia and was in a full-time position at Columbus State University for three years. I taught at the University of West Georgia, and I also taught at Kennesaw State University on and off for almost twenty years. Having a graduate degree allowed me to lean into teaching when I needed to. I was also doing a lot of professional work while I was able to. So, I was able to mix the two. It was as if my university experience was secondary because there was a lot that I did professionally. But, the reality is I have been teaching for 25 years on and off in higher education."
Atlanta Film and TV: You’ve cast a number of projects for film and television. Can you talk to us about that?
Susan G. Reid: "Most of my casting comes from the theater side. However, I was fortunate to work at Fox Casting and with a phenomenal Casting Director, Jessica Fox. I learned a lot from working with Jessica on Your Worst Nightmare, and it was a great experience. Because I had a background in teaching and directing, I was able to get into a place and look at an actor and assess their abilities, technique level and get a sense if they could potentially play a role. Casting always came second nature to me because of my years working as a Director. I looked at the actors with a casting eye. I think it is hard for actors to put themselves out there, and I am humbled by my work as an agent, casting and directing that actors were willing to put themselves out there for a project in which I had some involvement. I'm aware of the demands of actors. Specifically when we ask actors to bring truth and honesty to a role. I love consulting with actors. We talk about the technique and craft of acting and what makes a good taped audition, and I feel fortunate to have those conversations."
Atlanta Film and TV: What are the characteristics of a good casting director?
Susan G. Reid: It all depends on who you ask because they might have different responses! One of the things I felt was important was my knowledge about the craft and technique of acting. I've been able to look at an actor and see their technique level. And I've been able to assess whether or not they have the ability to do a specific role. I believe having a background in acting and knowledge of the technique and craft of acting is beneficial. However, working in Atlanta for a while and knowing several casting directors, not all have a background in acting, but they are great at what they do! Some knowledge comes from networking and being at the right place at the right time. One of the characteristics of being a good casting director is being a hard worker, paying attention to time sensitivity, and being flexible. Casting Directors are not making final decisions.
A good Casting Director knows when to join the conversation with those involved in the casting process. And, they know when to back off, also when you are working with and choosing actors. There are several skills you need to be a Casting Director, but the successful ones come with different ones. It is not a strict codifiable resume. If you look at the background of some of the major Casting Directors, you'll notice they aren't similar. But have found success in different areas."
Atlanta Film and TV: You’ve previously worked as the Vice President of Film/TV for Atlanta Models and Talent. With all of your experience, do you think you would ever start your own talent agency?
"I loved being an Agent, but part of being an Agent is that I love actors! However, the time commitment and sensitivity are overwhelming and can be a struggle to find a balance because I found myself when I worked with AMT and finding a balance to be sure I wasn’t attached to my phone. Now, I feel as though I have the best of both worlds. Currently, I work at Houghton Talent, and I get to do my favorite things, which are having conversations with actors and consulting with them about what they are doing in their careers. Working as an Agent is overwhelming."
- Susan G. Reid
Atlanta Film and TV: I am in numerous actor Facebook groups on social media. Often newer actors with no experience state they’re looking for a talent agent. Can you share with us about how an actor will know when they are ready for representation?
Susan G. Reid: "Young actors need to know that training is a part of signing with an agent. Younger actors need to have technique, which you cannot get from attending one or two classes. If you are fortunate to have an acting degree, you still should be taking acting classes. In addition to taking classes, younger actors should build a network and community of actors they enjoy doing acting workouts with, such as getting monologues and scenes. Get together with your network, and tape each other. Access each other's work. Doing all of that will set up a base younger actors need before talent agents consider you.
There are, however, a lot more talent agencies than before. In the meantime, those searching for talent agents could put together materials, such as getting into unpaid short films. It also helps to get some on-set experience.
We have a large market in the southeast! A part of our market will be a day player market, and some people don’t necessarily like to call the southeast market a day player market
But, I will admit, our market is a lot more than that!
The reality is, there will always be a lot of roles, as long as we have a lot of films and episodic shooting here, and there will always be numerous stories told and roles to be filled with people of all shapes and sizes. There will be series regulars and guest star roles where you will see several local talents because we are no longer a co-star market. The day player market holds a lot of smaller roles. Young actors want to set themselves up to get into some of those smaller roles. In order to submit to those projects, Talent Agents need large talent pools to pull from. What I say is, there’s always a talent agent and a role that’s out there for you! Be authentic! You don’t need to look older or younger than you are.
Ask other actors about who their talent agents are and get their opinions about them. Go online and research talent agents. Go to their website, attend networking events, attend workshops where talent agents will be. Doing all of this becomes the grand hustle because the competition in this industry is fierce! Talent agents are not as easy to get today as before. Young actors won’t get one solely based on their looks but from experience."
Atlanta Film and TV: Atlanta Film and TV is big on networking and building relationships. Can you talk to us about the importance of networking and building relationships in the Atlanta Film and TV industry?
Susan G. Reid: "The Entertainment Industry is pretty big in the southeast, but it feels small. It means you can probably walk up to anyone in the industry and talk to them for five to ten minutes before you would jointly discover someone you both know. But, think of the entertainment industry as small.
Networking is a key in the entertainment industry. I teach a new class at Georgia State University called Making a Living in the Arts. Most of the students are graduating seniors, and the goal is that by the end of the class, students will have a resume, headshots if they’re an actor, a website. Students also put together emails and cover letters, and we also spend a lot of time discussing networking. We often underestimate how important networking is. Younger people do not realize their peers are a part of their network. It may be people who are in class. Or, it could be the people whom they are creating art alongside. You never know years down the line someone you have networked with may have a job. Younger people should realize what networking means. Networking means connecting with people. Some are already in front of you, and some are further along in the field. Be sure to leverage different people in your life to help you build your network and community. We’re in an industry where everybody knows everybody. Be sure to build bridges. Connect with people and find ways to help others because it always comes back full circle."
Where do you see the Atlanta Film and TV industry within the next five years?
I think the Atlanta Film and TV industry will continue to move forward, and we’ll continually get better at what we do! It amazes me that I can sit here knowing we’re living in the southeast, in Georgia, and The Greater Atlanta, and know the kinds of opportunities that are available to us!
What is a piece of advice you would have for someone looking to break into the film and tv scene here in Atlanta?
Train and find your community. You have to be comfortable in your own skin. The general definition of acting is playing a truthful and honest character in a set of circumstances. Then truth, honesty, and authenticity are important in any performance and all things you must be comfortable finding. There are very few people who appear to have those skills! But, we have to work at it. It takes a level of commitment, hustle, and drive to get to a point where you can be successful.