We sat down with Angus Munro, co-founder of AM Casting and one of the most respected casting directors in the industry, to have an honest conversation about some of the many aspects of the fashion industry that he knows well, like designers, brands, economics, models, model agencies, and of course, his wider career.
* This is an interview extract. Find out the full version in the Spring Summer 2019 Issue 2 *
When I started there was maybe 3 or 4 of us, in 2002. But I was the new kid, the others were very established, some of them don't work in the business anymore and the others were years before me and I think, I was an 'annoyance' for them because I came in and I did very well straight away, a little bit like someone who recently came in and started to do everything. I was very lucky, I had a very quick start and I think it helped I had been model agent before, specifically that I'd been the Head of New Faces at Elite London. I think that I have a good eye for finding models and choosing them but in fact, I wasn't a good model agent...
It's completely different but, why?
I knew who was good and who was bad, like that! -snaps fingers- but then, selling the models was a totally different story, even when I believed in them. Actually when I went to the main board, and then became the head booker, that was a disaster. In fact and you can quote this, Lara Stone told me that I was the worst model agent she's ever come across -laughs-. It's a little bit of embarrasing that Lara Stone's first agent was me and I knew she was great but I managed to do absolutely nothing with her. Then I left to start working with David Sims and the next thing I know she's on the cover of French VOGUE -laughs-. That's my story to illustrate how I'm not very good at that part of the business. I should have stayed as a the scout or something!
How is AM Casting and the casting director role evolving?
My company is expanding, we are opening a studio complex with 4 or 5 studios in New York. We also have a sports division, which is part of the company that is designed to interface high fashion, luxury, beauty and lifestyle brands with the sports world, with football teams, Formula 1 teams and also with athletes as individuals. Sort of a 360 degrees thing.
For my position in what I do it's very easy to move to other areas, especially when you have as many years in the business as I do, I know everybody. I'm in a very fortunate position and I guess this is through hard work but I am in this position to go after realising other dreams that are just on the other side of things. There is a reason why I'm saying this, it's because there were 4 or 5 of us when I started and apparently now everyone is a casting director. Which I think is both a good and a bad thing. It's a good thing because it means that people respect this profession, if we can call it a profession, it's slightly overglamourized word but people respect this part of the business, thus therefore more demand for us. But the bad thing is that I can probably name 3 people whose work I respect alongside my own, and I'm not being arrogant, I just don't think people really know what they're doing.
Apart of Rick Owens, who is one of your regular clients for years. What other brands are you working with?
The other brands that I work with I really feel like I can actually be creative with. We work with DKNY, Off-White, Isabel Marant, Neil Barrett, Y-3, John Galliano, Giada, Margaret Howell that I love to do and we have been working with her for long time.
What's your relationship with model agencies as you are constantly working with them?
Model agencies are essentially (and I know this because I was one, but also I've dealt with them, for what seems like forever and the day I won't have to deal with model agencies ever again will be one of the best days in my life) because intrinsically they are liars. They lie for a living, they lie to the models, they lie to themselves, they lie to us... it's unbelievable! If I had a dollar for every time a model agent has told me a lie and the reverse of that lie in the same day about the same person, I would be a rich man and I would be happy that I didn't have to do this anymore.
I'm not talking about ALL of them, I mean, the people I'm talking about know who I'm talking about. But there are agents I deal with regularly that I've grown up with in the business and that were agents when I was an agent, and I knew what the lies were. But the agents who would tell me that 'This is not the girl you should book' or 'I don't think she's right for this, because she may not be able to deliver on this' because it has a lot of movement or whatever. That's the kind of person you end up trusting when they say you should book this girl or boy.
What would be the important issues the industry needs to deal with?
I started protesting about the pay gap for male models. This year if I have the time I will make a lot of noise about it because I'm all for equality across the board. In fact, diversity is something that I wish wasn't even a conversation. Basically we have always had multi diverse shows, you can go back and look at 2006 or 2007 and later and look at an entire show season and you can definitely say which ones were our shows because they actually had black and Asian people in them. Everybody else, all my peers, none of them, were championing diversity, actually aside from one person. It's important to me because plainly an international fashion show has international clients buying the clothes and people buying the clothes possibly could be black or Asian as well as white.
What other problems should we address?
My main problem is about the male model pay gap. If it was the other way around, it would be a scandal, it would be front page news globally. You're a male model, I'm a female model, we did the same job today for the same designer, for the same number of hours and our images will be used together for the same amount of usage around the world. I'm going to get paid $100.000 and you are going to get paid $10.000. And that's that!
There are a very few brands, GAP being who are one of our clients who refuses to do that, saying that everyone gets the same amount of money. Why would you think its ok to get away with paying men and women unequally?. Don't get me wrong, I have to do it if someone gives me a budget for an advertising job. Model agencies are the only one, once again - and sorry model agencies - but they contributed to this because they should say no. Because when they say no, you don't have the guy that you want because he's the same amount of money as the female model.
What is the casting director job like then?
Probably people think that the casting director sits in a chair and makes magic painting a picture for a client. Sadly, that's very rare. Some clients, like Rick as we discussed, that's exactly what I do. I literally paint a horrific picture of scary faces and get what make him happy by helping create drama and theatre he does. So, that is something where you are creatively free. Advertising campaigns often aren't the same. You're thinking about the brief and looking at the board we put up. Looking for skin tones, and finding a balance casting that shows their demographic. That's nice, you can be very creative.
But other times people give you a list of models that they like, because 'We have seen it in other shows that we think are cooler than us. And we'd like to get as many of those models as possible, regardless of whether they are the right girl in the right dress' That's very usual. I would say 60% of the time it's 'Here is a list of the top models in the world we want because we are frightened that if we don't got them in our show we are going to look like a sub-standard show'. What they should be doing, in my opinion, and I say it again, if I had a dollar every time I said it I would not be siting here today. 'Why don't you get the girl that makes that dress look the best it can possibly look on the runway in that dress' As long as she's a gorgeous and beautiful model. That brings me to another point which is, the standard of models is the lowest it has never been.
Why is that?
Because, in my opinion, in the nineties there were about 4 models and 17 looks per show. And all the shows had the same girls in it. So everyone was looking at the clothes and then, things changed (which is a good thing), and there were more models and we were in the late nineties, early thousands. And suddenly there were a huge amount of super top level runway models. They do all the shows, but instead of 4 or 5 girls like Cindy and Claudia, there were 100 of them. Now its 800, world isn't big enough to keep a standard of every single girl being a Daria Werbowy, Freja Beha Erichsen or Sasha Pivovarova. They are not and they are getting younger and younger which is irresponsible, plus you're putting a 15 years old girl out in a Vuitton outfit that costs $8.000 expecting the woman that passes the window thinking 'that picture of my daughter wearing that coat makes me want to go and spend all that money'.
Maybe it works for some people but at the end of the day it is slightly irresponsible that - once again the model agencies - bring these girls in and they are getting one good show, they are telling them 'we are not booking you for anything else this season, you are just doing one show, even if everyone else wants you, so you're exclusive to that show and they pay you $500'. So this girl from for example Kiev has been working in Milan or Japan, suddenly they are 16 and they are able to do the shows. Boom! A huge show, not even the opening look but exclusive for them. So, the agents say that they can make a start, but if I'm the mother, I would ask the agents this 'You're telling me that there are 100 other shows that want to book her with money and you are going to say no to all of them because you think that the fact that she's just doing one show will make her more desirable to the world?'. She's going to be more desirable, after the shows? What about the 100 others stylists and casting directors that didn't get to use her, so don't have a relationship with her but they're going to say, 'Oh! She did the (for example) Prada show, I'm going to book her for this campaign' They're probably going to have a hard time with their clients saying 'why didn't we have this girl, why she was exclusive to someone else and not to us'. I have had conversations with clients about exactly this. And then, the following season, guess what the answer was 'Don't you think she's a bit done?' What do you mean? She has done one show and one campaign.
Is it because we are in a moment that is going so fast that all but the new faces drop out?. Why this do so many models have such short career?
Because they don't let them to do anything. Recently, I was casting a big campaign and my designer and I decided that the model who would be in the campaign has to be in the show. I said to everybody. 'One of the show girls is going to be the campaign girl'. The girl in question, was 99.9% confirmed for the campaign and the agent says, she has to open the show. I said, 'Ok, I reckon I can do that, that makes sense'. She comes for her fitting and doesn't fit the dress, it's too short, but she does fit Look 2. I called them and I said 'I'm not joking, I can send you the picture of the two looks, you can see and you can come here if you want'. They were like 'We have an agreement, we are going to stick to the agreement'. I said 'You are going to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars for a girl who's 17 years old, life changing money, because you don't want to back down on something that actually, physically, cannot work'. Does the girl's mother know? If I was her father, I would take that girl out of that agency in two seconds. It happens all the time and that is messing with people's life. That happened in the last year.
Read Angus's interview in the Spring Summer 2019 - Issue 2. Get your copy here.