Casting the spotlight on…agency Oakroyd
Here’s where we shine the spotlight on the brilliant casting agents and agencies who are powered by POP.
Paula McKie has run agency Oakroyd for almost a decade. Find out where she started her career in the industry, and the changes she’s experienced along the way.
See Paula’s career credits on IMDb >
Introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?
Yorkshire girl - wife of one, mum of two and casting agent to many.
I’ve run agency Oakroyd in Yorkshire for almost a decade, prior to which I had a fabulous ten years working for ITV Yorkshire alongside doing some freelance work for the BBC and various other production companies.
In my time at ITV Yorkshire I enjoyed various roles, ironically starting out where I ended up, in the Casting department! I moved into Audience Research for Countdown before heading onto the production floor starting out as a runner on Emmerdale and Touch of Frost.
I ended my time there as the Assistant Floor Manager in Studio’s 3 & 4 in Leeds, working on many productions including The Price is Right, Through the Keyhole, Blockbusters, League of Gentleman and many more…
Wow - what a stellar TV career, tell us how you went from that to starting your own extras casting agency?
Back in 2008 when I was about 4 months pregnant with my second baby and working freelance, the Casting Director at ITV Leeds asked me if I’d consider covering in the casting department for a couple of weeks whilst they advertised for a new Casting Assistant. I said yes and ended up being there for a few months. During that time the Emmerdale SA’s, who were all direct with ITV, were asked to find an agency to work through instead of being booked directly.
I immediately saw this great opportunity in front of me; manage the SA’s myself. I knew the Emmerdale production, the SA’s and of course the casting department well, so it just seemed like the most natural thing to do. Soon after, agency Oakroyd was born along with my second son Quentin…
In your own words, what are the qualities of a successful Extras Casting Agent/cy?
There are many qualities needed:
Firstly, it’s about understanding the needs of the production and having a friendly approach with people, especially AD’s and SA’s.
You need excellent communication skills as there is often a lot of information to pass onto SA’s.
Flexibility to work all hours, as availability checks come in 24/7.
Good organisational skills, you need to be on top of who’s needed where, when and what time, often on several productions at once.
Finally, always appreciate your loyal SA’s who are reliable, professional and trustworthy on set; at agency Oakroyd, these guys are very much part of the team.
What’s the biggest change in production from when you first started working in the industry?
From a casting point of view, the decision of which SA’s are chosen to work on set comes from the production rather than the agency. I would say this is mainly due to technology advances making this process easier; sending a selfie only takes a matter of seconds.
When I first started working in Casting at ITV, the Casting Director wasn’t on email and our main regular agent faxed through confirmations of the booked artistes, none of which were on a database or a website, it was purely a polaroid photo attached to a sheet of paper with their stats. It’s hard to believe that was only 20 years ago…
What are some of the hurdles you have to overcome in your role?
After ten years at ITV Leeds being part of a large organisation and surrounded by fantastic, skilled people who you could constantly learn from and bounce ideas around with, to then running a Casting agency on my own without that support network was very scary. However, I was incredibly lucky that many of my old colleagues were always at the end of the phone with advice and support when I needed it.
Being part of the POP family feels like I’m part of that lovely big team again with amazing support.
Have you got any funny stories from being on-set that you are willing to share?
Gosh, I have a few but one that springs to mind is when I was an Assistant Floor Manager on Countdown. I wandered into reception and introduced myself to the last contestant that had just arrived for the days filming. I was all chatty with him, putting his nerves at ease, then once I’d shown him around I popped him into the shared contestants dressing room with the other contestants.
I then went back to reception to see if our dictionary corner celebrity guest had arrived as he was a little overdue, at which point Marlene the receptionist who’d just popped back to her desk said ‘’oh he was here a minute ago!’’ I’d mistaken our celebrity guest for a contestant - whoops.
Luckily he thought it was hilarious and commented on how lovely he thought I was with the contestants. I then moved him to his own plush dressing room - Bob the cat Bevan was so kind; in fact, he said he was writing a book called ‘Almost Famous’ and so it was quite fitting.
Were you given any advice at the beginning of your career that has resonated with you?
Nothing springs to mind, but my own karma has always been: be professional, listen, work hard, try hard, be happy and always be kind…
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
Setting up my own casting agency, learning a new field and making it a success!
Do you have any advice/pearls of wisdom for aspiring background artists out there?
Do your research when choosing an agent, you should never pay any fees other than commission. Research what’s needed to be a successful SA - early starts, long days, your own transport, reliability and the ability to quickly learn on the job; there will always be some very experienced SA’s on set who will be happy to guide you or answer questions, always be professional. If this is you, then you can enjoy a really interesting and rewarding career as an SA.