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In reality she's working to cast their lot

January 22, 2006|Susan King

Charisse Simonian

Reality series casting director, producer and story producer

Current assignment: Family casting director and producer of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Simonian and her staff read the letters and applications and watch videos submitted by families in need who want their homes remodeled and their quality of life improved.

Previous credits: Story producer on Fox's "Anything for Love," casting producer for Fox's "Moment of Truth" and MTV's "Celebrity Undercover."

Applications, please: "We used to get about 13 of those large bins of mail a day, and I think we averaged it out to 10,000 [applications/letters] a week. Now it's calmed down a little bit. We still go through about 2,000-3,000 a week."

Family criteria: "You are looking for everything. For me, it's the likability of the family. Obviously, they are going to have to carry a show for an hour. So you don't want to hate them. You really want to love the family and think they deserve it. And the situation that they are in -- you try to keep that different. There are just so many things you can do to a house to adapt it -- make it bigger, wheelchair accessible. We try to keep the situations as unique as possible."

Location, location: "When we first started, it was [families] in California only, so then Season 2 came with a bigger budget and we got out a little bit. Now, it is all over, but you are also casting geographically because obviously I can't book a show that is in February in Idaho. So during the winter months I am working in the South and Southwest for weather. It is tricky. The planets have to line up -- the right place with the right time and the right family and the right story."

Keeping perspective: "It is really hard not to get emotionally involved. Sometimes I think people think, 'Geez, you are jaded.' It is like protectiveness. You have to do it or you would be zapped out at the end of the day. On the one hand it is depressing and can get to you, but on the other hand it can make you really humble and appreciate everything you have. It has been good in that case. When I come home, my daughter is healthy and my house hasn't fallen down. I am in good shape compared to a lot of what I see."

Common sense: "Most of this job is using your intuition. I can look at a Polaroid and tell you whether or not a person is good or not [for the show]. And you get a feel from over the phone. Sometimes what is good on paper isn't good on television."

Selling the executives: "I will write a one-page pitch on a family and cut their casting reel. I will go through the executive producers, and they have to sign off on it. It will go to our executive at [the production company] Endemol and then the executive at ABC, and she has to sign off on it."

Changing minds: "We have had people who rescinded their applications, who have said, 'I want to take myself out -- I have seen these families [on TV], and they deserve it more than we do.' "

Road work: "Sometimes we hold casting calls across the country. We will advertise. There are about three or four of us who will go and set up shop in a local mall and ask people to bring their applications and videos to us, and we will sit down and talk to them. It's great because you get to meet them face to face."

Crime doesn't pay: "We run everybody we are really considering through an extensive background check. Sometimes people are not as forthright and something will come up. Sometimes we have lost families that way. It can be a lot of things, from a lot of DUIs to restraining orders to a lot of litigious behavior on their part."

Background: "I came out [to California] in 1994. I went to school in Michigan and got my degree in television production. My family thought I was crazy. I had no place to live and no job.

"The first job I ever had was as a tour guide at Universal Studios. I met somebody from there and then I got a job working as a director's assistant on a film and worked my way up."

Age: 35

Resides: Sherman Oaks

Union or guild: None

No respect: "Even the Casting Society of America, when they do their awards, they don't have one for casting of reality shows. And there is nothing from the [TV] academy. There are awards for casting drama, sitcoms and movies of the week, but there is nothing for reality. Hopefully, that will change."

Salary: "One can make a good salary. I think it kind of depends. I hear of people who make way more money than I do. But it is steady work. I have a child, and it's definitely nice for me to be out at a decent time every day."

-- Susan King

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