Interview with Casting Director Angus Munro
British Casting Director Angus Munro began his career as a Model Agent joining Elite Premier Model Agency in London as a Junior Booker. Within six months he proved his worth and was promoted to Head of New Faces and Scouting. Soon after he found himself moving up the ranks to Head of Main Board where he managed the careers of some of the industry’s most well-known supermodels Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer and Christy Turlington.
In 2001 Angus was head-hunted to become Casting Director for renowned fashion photographer David Sims. In this role Angus found his true calling working closely with David to cast campaigns for the likes of Jil Sander, Balenciaga, Armani and editorials for US Vogue, Vogue Paris and W magazine.
Angus then formed his own company ‘AM Casting’ in New York and has worked for brands such as Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, Karl Lagerfeld, Uniqlo, Pringle of Scotland and Rick Owens. Now Angus finds himself listed as one of the Top 5 Casting Director’s in the world and in 2011 was awarded ‘International Communicator of the Year’ at the Scottish Fashion Awards.
We sat down with Angus in the run-up to the mayhem of Fashion Week season SS13 for a very honest discussion about the fashion industry, his experiences, casting, model trends and advice for new faces.
How has working as head of main board at a modelling agency helped shape your career as a casting director?
Getting into the business in the first place was bizarre, a mistake really. I don’t know how it happened but I worked at a tiny agency for about six months in London and I made a mini star out of one of the girls and then began to be headhunted.
I joined Elite as a Junior Booker on the New Faces division and did a lot of scouting and building girl’s careers. Within 6 months Iwas the head of New Faces where I ran the division for about a year.
I then took over the Main Board, which was weird as what I’d always wanted to do was find the new girls. The building and discovery.
I was working with Naomi, Claudia and other top supermodels, which although fun it was more management. There was no real challenge to the role as the model’s careers were already pretty much shaped.
How did the challenges differ between managing the top supermodels to the new faces?
Being an agent is like being an accountant, a psychiatrist and a big brother. I didn’t really enjoy the management side. Planning where they were going and accompanying them on jobs.
Did you ever have the urge to set-up your own modeling agency?
I was asked to in New York but my daughter was very young and her mum didn’t want to move. However model agencies don’t make very much money and it’s a lot of hard work. The agencies are much better now but back in the day there was certainly a shady side to them in terms of financial practices.
So after Elite you began working as Casting Director to David Sims?
Yes, working with David was perfect. I got to street cast a lot of people but work with a really inspirational guy. We were buddies. I went round the world and did every job with him.
So was it more a family role with David?
We happened to get on really well but he respected my eye and I liked the same thing he did. I think he was one of the first photographers that had someone with them dedicated to showing new models. Prior to that all he really did was shoot Raquel Zimmerman, for everything.
He gets super excited about new people but when you’re that busy it’s so difficult to keep current.
How much does a model’s personality mold your casting process?
A lot! My job is not fun during the shows. I would much rather be with fun models. I think that’s why the culture of faceless girls has gone away largely. I book people because I like them.
Yes, a boy called Jake Shortall. He does all my shows because I can’t really afford not to have him cracking jokes. I will crowbar him into shows even if he’s not quite right.
There’s something for being loyal to the girls and boys that you start working with.
Some of my peers aren’t so human in the way they treat their models, so they don’t mind so much whether the model is nice. They see them as vehicles and I think that’s awful.
And it’s about having the confidence in your models that there will be no huge surprises?
If kids are late and show up 10 minutes before a show once, it’s difficult to give them a second chance as it’s not worth the hassle. There are a couple of girls I would never book but everybody else books them.
How do you handle the politics on an international level when you’re dealing with bookings via New York vs London for example?
I try to work with the London agencies but unfortunately with respect to them they’re not in charge. When something is shooting in London or if a client is shooting abroad other than New York or Paris then I do try. Sometimes I regret it as they mess up and things go wrong. It makes me not want to do it again but I do my best.
My agency is based in New York and most of my work comes from there. They’re the guys that make the decisions. I get an answer from the head bookers right away but if I go through London it can take a week.
What challenges do you face when casting the shows?
To stay relevant. That’s what most people in the business have problems with.
Time is a killer too. London has far too many big shows crammed into the days that people are here.
How do you find working with the budgets in London? Are you given a set budget before the shows?
Yes, you’re given a set budget and my business partner is very good with that. We’ve only been over-budget once. I’m working hard with the BFC to establish a minimum rate for the girls to help the influx of girls coming here and try to keep the level of the girl up.
The challenge is getting the girls here as in New York they start the show season so everyone’s excited. The girls do 50 shows a day for little money and they’re exhausted by London, which is sad.
London traditionally has these great design talents but did look like a third world fashion capital. Really from when McQueen and Stella McCartney left London it went downhill until the BFC turned it around in the last 3-4 years.
I think due to the talent here now girls are feeling that they can’t miss London anymore.
How involved do you get pre-show and how far in advance? What’s your workflow like?
It depends on the client. Matthew Williamson is my friend, I know him so well that I know what he wants. I know who his woman is and what he likes. It’s very easy. I arrive and we get it done within half a day.
Rick [Owens] changes his aesthetic, especially with the men, so it’s important that we start talking a long way in advance.
But generally i’d meet with the designer, find out what the collection is about, look at the collection in terms of casting and find out who’s available. I’ll start with an ‘A’ board and discuss it with the stylist, who always have an opinion. It’s then down to whether the girl is available and whether they fit in the clothes etc.
Sometimes the designer and stylist can be thinking too literally about the outfit but I know the girls, how they walk and how they’ll wear the dress. The model can give the dress a totally different feel.
Would you then go on to cast the campaign?
We usually discuss it pre-show as I think it looks bad if the model you cast for the campaign hasn’t walked in the show, it looks shoddy.
How do you deal with the battle of securing your models?
Those are the phone calls that I do make. I was at the Scottish Fashion Awards recently and one of the agents said to me that I don’t shout but I am scary. I suppose that’s good as we’re under a lot of pressure to deliver for our clients and there’s ego involved.
And your background as a model agent must help?
Yes, one thing I do know is the lies.
The thing I hate most is the idea of exclusivity. It’s just muscle flexing by big brands over smaller ones. We never do it apart from if we are specifically flying a model in for a show. I think it’s old fashioned and bullying.
Model agencies allow it as there’s still this culture of bullying that dates back to the nineties. People that shouted the loudest and the nastiest were the most successful but things are changing.
If you look at Hedi [Slimane] and Raf Simons, the good guys are coming. The big casting positions are coming available. The older guys are stepping aside.
How do you feel about casting real people?
I think a ‘concept casting’ for example a plus size for the sake of being plus size or casting all Asian or all black models is a bit outdated.
I love street casting but it depends on the brand. Now more than ever, campaigns need to feel accessible but aspirational as well.
How do feel about celebrity casting?
I really don’t like it. I think it’s weak. As far as I’m concerned it’s a safe bet in order to make sure a brand shifts some dresses.
We’re in a creative industry and I think putting a celebrity in some clothes to sell some dresses off the back of one of their movies is a bit of a shame.
Do you think it’s here to stay?
It depends what happens with the economy and I think the internet will play a huge part. Models will become their own celebrities. I think we’ll get to a time of having supermodels again.
What would you say are the current model trends and trends going forward?
I think we had a really dead period in terms of casting and I don’t just mean the aesthetic itself. During the early 00’s it was very faceless. Maybe we’ll look back and say that it was indicative of the time but I think it was like an army of very bland, super skinny girls.
Much more character and there’s been a shift in age. People are tired of working with kids. The two most successful girls of the past year (Saskia de Brauw & Kati Nescher) both started in their mid to late twenties.
I think people find it inspiring to work with people that can hold down a conversation. I never get why you would cast a 15 year old with no life experience in her eyes to wear a $10,000 dress. No amount of photography can communicate what a woman can communicate when she wears a great outfit.
Do you feel that the industry is returning to natural beauty?
Natural beauty is now much more prevalent especially with the women but I do notice that when you get a really strong looking girl now people fall over themselves for her.
With guys it’s different, you can have a lot more fun; like with the Pringle presentation casting with the tattoo kids. Or with Kenzo they wanted a representation of everyone that walks the planet, which seems normal now.
It’s very hard to not go too ‘Benetton’ with it though but I think we got it. The casting was quite 50’s comic book.
And do the model agencies play their part in the trends with who they are signing?
Not really because the top scouts send casting directors the models before they get signed anyway.
The modeling agencies have become conduits as the demand already exists before the model is signed. It’s then about the management and how they shape the girl’s career from there.
In the 80’s the agencies controlled the look by showing the client the girls that they’ve scouted. The client would have to ring the agency to find new models.
Do you think a model’s online and social media following affects the casting process?
Not yet but I think it might do. Maybe casting a girl with 20 million followers compared to a girl with 1 million might well make a difference.
How do you feel about brands so obviously jumping on the emergence of the Asian market?
We work to produce a show that sells the clothes. If we sell the collection well then we get re-booked. It’s a business.
What advice would you give a model that’s just started working in the industry?
Don’t believe your own hype. Be polite. Be on time. Be human. Remember it’s fun.
Some agencies are creating monsters out of these models and after six months in the business they speak to assistants as if they’re dirt. For a 17 year old to become a diva in six months is why some last such short periods of time.
It’s hard to be a good model but young kids don’t understand. If you want to last you really have to work hard.
Who is responsible for keeping models grounded?
Agents. Some agents are really good at it and manage their models well. It’s great when they manage the girls well but keep them human. It’s a key to the longevity of a model’s career.
When the smaller agencies get a good girl they are so scared of losing them that they create divas.
Who are your breakout stars for the season?
I try to stay away from that as i’d rather talk about who I like.
Melissa Stasiuk (Next Models) is very special. Madison Headrick (Marilyn) in the Prada AW12 campaign is very beautiful. Marte Mei Van Haaster (Models 1), Marie Piovesan (Marilyn) who opened Rick Owens last season…
I could go on. This past couple of seasons has been very strong for great new girls.
Describe how you feel when you see ‘the girl’ walk through the door?
Like Anja Rubik? I was one of the first people that wanted to work with her. She was considered to be too commercial which I don’t understand. She’s like something from another planet, she’s incredible! She can be anything, like a modern day supermodel. Someone that can transform themselves from Rick Owens to Louis Vuitton.
You immediately start thinking about all the projects you’re working on and how to get them involved.
If you could bring back five models for a shoot, who would they be?
Jean Shrimpton, Christy Turlington, Stephanie Seymour, Kristen McMenamy…. And all the early 80’s girls.
I think that glamour is coming back with the Victoria’s Secret models but back then girls wanted to be the models with the amazing figures and lifestyles.