Tales from the Audition Room: Part 4

Back when I was 22 yrs old, (which was yesterday, obviously,) I cast my very first ultra low budget feature. The producer was a friend of mine and the script was an interesting psychological thriller, being directed by the writer, (who was also 22 yrs old, and fresh out of film school.) We held auditions […]

Tales from the Audition Room: Part 3

Several years ago, we were casting a pilot with well-known producers and a big name director. It was an ensemble cast, but there was a leading man role that you could assume would be offered out based on his description, (40s, male, former hero and “leader of the pack” type,) story line and the people […]

Tales from the Audition Room: Part 2

Recently, we were casting some co-stars for one of our shows. It was a long day of sessions (three and a half hours in the morning, three and a half in the afternoon,) reading 60+ actors for 5 or 6 different roles. (Side note: this is the benefit of not having producers in the room; […]

Tales from the Audition Room: Part 2

Recently, we were casting some co-stars for one of our shows. It was a long day of sessions (three and a half hours in the morning, three and a half in the afternoon,) reading 60+ actors for 5 or 6 different roles. (Side note: this is the benefit of not having producers in the room; we aren’t beholden to someone else’s schedule, so we can read as many actors as we like, whenever we’d like.) We had narrowed this pool of actors down from thousands and thousands of submissions, and I felt confident that every actor walking in the door could nail their read.

And so they did. The waiting room was constantly full, so every actor who came in was respectful of our time together. Even if they knew me well, they kept the catch-up chit chat to a minimum and focused on their work and being present in the room.

We were coming to the end of this very long day, when in came an actor, I’ll call him “Mark.” As I was mic’ing Mark, I asked how he was doing and if he had any questions… the usual banter. He had no questions and told me how he was feeling blessed because he had been very busy auditioning and working. Before he could elaborate further, we read the scene a couple of times. Mark’s performance was solid, he took redirects well, and when we finished I felt good about including him as an option for our producers.

But as I was de-mic’ing Mark, he began telling me about all of his auditions and bookings, how he was in a contest with another actor friend to see how many auditions they can get in a single month and how he was blowing that guy out of the water. Mark listed off the directors he’d recently worked with, and how they all sang his praises, telling him that he was one of the best actors they’d worked with, ever. He went on and on about himself this way, until I finally reminded him that we still had actors to read and we had to keep going. As he walked out, Mark turned to me and said, “if I booked this show, it would be my tenth this month. Get me to ten!” There was nothing threatening or creepy about this. He said it playfully, as if I had a stake in his game.

After Mark had gone, my assistant looked at me with big, “are you f*cking kidding me?” eyes. She had never seen an actor brag about himself in that way. Unfortunately, this was nothing new for me. I’ve never had anyone tell me about a (frankly, stupid and probably hurtful) contest they were in with another actor, but I have had MANY actors come in and (without my asking,) verbally give me their resume and go on and on about their accolades. I’ve had actors who will listen to my direction and then relate it to something so-and-so director said to them when they were on the set of whatever-movie, and how that director had LOVED what they had done, and on and on and on…

This is a version of what we call, “talking yourself out of a job.” You might have a great audition, but then, in an attempt to prove JUST how perfect you are for the role, you end up over-explaining your choices, or entering into a major bragfest about yourself (like Mark did.) When this happens, we become worried about sending you to set. How will our crew finish their day if you can’t stop talking about yourself? Will the other actors get frustrated if you continually distract them with stories? Will the director get fed up with your antics, thus choosing not to interact with you or give you notes? Will the producer then come to us and complain about how “bad” you were, and how they hope they can cut around you?

As actors, you will often have to be your own PR agent. You will sometimes need to brag about your credits, the people you’ve worked with, how your web series just got into five different festivals, etc. However, you NEVER need to do that in the audition room, (unless we very specifically ask.) If you’re there, we know your credits. If you’re there, we picked you over someone else. If you’re there, we already like you and feel you have a good shot at a particular role. You don’t need to try to impress us by listing off the directors with whom you’ve worked. Impress us by giving a good read, acting professionally and then going about your day.

The Social Media Conundrum

Social Media; such a blessing, and an utter curse all at once.

The good news is that (for the most part,) the massive wave of casting social media “influencers” has passed. No longer will you be beat out for a role by someone significantly less right or talented than you because they have two million YouTube subscribers. The bad news is that we’ve all begun to rely on social media as our way of communicating, and thus, it has become increasingly easy to alienate possible collaborators.

As actors, you’ve been told repeatedly that you MUST have a social media presence. The more followers, likes, views, retweets, etc., the better. It is an exhausting time suck, and yet completely exhilarating when a post goes viral or a favorite celebrity follows you back.

A lot of actors will choose to stay in touch with Casting, their peers, directors, producers, etc. via social media. That is TOTALLY FINE. If that is your bag, go for it. HOWEVER, you MUST MUST MUST be aware that if you post about [INSERT HERE: your political opinions, your hatred of the latest STAR WARS, your beef with a certain CD who apparently didn’t watch your self-tape] you could very well have reached (and pissed off) someone who may have been a future employer.

This is not to say that you have to stifle every urge to share an opinion. On the contrary, if you’re passionate about something, use your platform to express yourself. Just be aware that it could turn some people away. For example, I try very hard to keep my FB/Twitter straight business, but I’ve been SO unbelievably moved by the Parkland kids that I cannot help but post and retweet about gun reform. I’ve lost followers, but I don’t care. This is an issue and a group that I care deeply about, and if it means that there are people who don’t want to work with me because of this, then so be it.

The social media conundrum is that we all CRAVE more connections, but the more eyes we have on our posts, the higher the probability of pushing some of those people away with any sort of charged remark. As an example, I follow someone on Twitter who I’ve long worked with in the entertainment industry. This person posts CONSTANTLY about politics. I happen to share their beliefs, but the incessant barrage of posts and retweets, at all hours of the day, have me wondering how they have time to actually do their job. I’ve always liked this person, but frankly, it’s turned me off a little. While I used to recommend this person heartily, I now don’t mention their name when people ask for that kind of referral.

Similarly, I have seen actors bash movies and tv shows they don’t like, some of which I have worked on. I try very hard to neither take it to heart nor hold it against them. While everyone is entitled to their opinions, you have to know that if you have a certain social media reach, chances are good that SOMEONE who worked on that project is seeing you talk smack about their work and is hurt or bothered by your post.

This is the fine line: having an AUTHENTIC social media presence while being fully aware of your audience. Some actors will have a professional social media page and a personal one (under a different version of their name.) Some will choose to have Twitter be for business, Facebook be for personal use. Some (bless these people,) are off social media entirely.

Whatever you choose to do, be MINDFUL of what you are posting: if you want to go off about a Casting Director who you think wronged you, maybe do that over a cup of coffee with a peer, as opposed to blasting it out over Facebook, (even if you’re not “friends” with that CD, one of your “friends” may be and will share it with them.) If you think equal pay is a silly concept, then explain (the hell out of) your rationale in a coherent, logical series of posts instead of a bunch of angry and divisive retweets.

Not every studio, producer or CD will care about what you post on social media. But some will. And as we’ve all seen, it’s very easy to dredge up old posts. So before you hit TWEET/SEND/POST on anything that can be deemed controversial or highly opinionated, think about this: would you say these things to someone’s face? If you’re not brave enough to speak the words you type in a real-life setting, then think twice about posting it online.

Tales from the Audition Room: Part 1

Several years ago, I was part of the casting team for a cable comedy pilot. The script was brilliant, the dialogue was fast, very intelligent and required a set of actors who could handle it, all the while having great chemistry with each other.

Enter: the greatest mix-and-match of my career.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, a mix-and-match is when Casting assembles a group of finalist actors for different roles and auditions them interchangeably to see who might have chemistry with each other. During these sessions, an actor could read with one other actor or several to see where the yummiest chemistry may lie. (This is different than a CHEMISTRY read where one actor is already set, and we’re looking to see who has the best mojo with that specific person.)

The writer had created a scene specifically for these two characters to audition with, and WELCOMED improvisation. (Not super common.) The scene was already VERY funny, so frankly, it was a little hard to imagine how improv could actually IMPROVE it.

We started the mix-and-match session, and had about four or five actors for each role. We paired them up and began reading the groups. Now, these actors had to read in a TINY casting office (typical) that was CHOCK FULL of producers. It was immediately hot and stuffy, and the scene lasted around five minutes per group, (which doesn’t sound like much, but five minutes of dialogue can feel like a lifetime if a pair doesn’t work.)

The first group read/improvised, and MAN, they were funny. The second group went, and somehow were even funnier. We went through all of the pairs, with each group proving to be even more hilarious than the last. I was running the camera for this session and convulsing with silent laughter. I’m pretty sure I shed a few laugh-tears, too. The creativity, (hilarious) vulgarity and chemistry oozing out of these actors was mind-blowing.

After going through one round of pairs, we began to mix them up. This went on for a LONG TIME. None of us had anticipated every partnership having SO much chemistry. Every new pair came in, paid no attention to how hot and noticeably sweaty they were, or how exhausted (and probably starving,) they may have felt. They came in with a new partner and somehow raised the bar on their previous reads/improv. EVERY. SINGLE. GROUP. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

I’ll always remember that mix-and-match as the hardest I’ve ever laughed during an audition process, but more than that, how unbelievably open-minded and hard-working these actors were to AUDITION (not screen test, not shoot a scene, but AUDITION,) so many times in a single morning, without a hint of complaint, and how they gave more and more with each read.

I have no memory of how we chose actors from that group who we wanted to test. But I CAN recall EVERY actor from that mix-and-match. Even though only two of them ended up booking the series roles, we found guest star roles that season for at least a few others. To this day, all ten of those actors are forever highlighted in my memory as people I want to work with, no matter the project or role.

Casting Directors are on your side (seriously.)

It always baffles me when I hear actors speak about Casting Directors as “the enemy” or a “road block” to booking the job. While the audition room can be an intimidating place, and the person opposite you isn’t always warm and fluffy, that does not mean that Casting Directors are rooting against your success.

With that in mind, here are TEN things to remember about us kindly Casting folks:

1. We WANT you to be “the one”: If you are invited to read, whether it be in person or via self-tape, we are envisioning you as a real option for that role. Nothing is more satisfying to a Casting Director than an actor who absolutely nails an audition/redirect, because it validates our creative genius [brushes dust off shoulders] and it means our work on that role is done.

2. We’ve selected you out of THOUSANDS of submissions: if you’ve made it in to the audition room, we already like you. (See #1.) We’ve culled down our choices from hundreds or thousands down to very few. We have to be a fan to give you one of those coveted spots. Walk into the room (or tape) with the confidence of knowing that Casting digs your work.

3. We have bad days, too: there are many aspects to a Casting Director’s job, and (shockingly) not all of them are fun. Beyond being creative and engaging with actors in the audition room, we are also up against crazy deadlines, we have producers/directors/executives all of whom might have a differing opinion on a character, we are constantly needing information from or in tough negotiations with reps, and on top of that, we are human beings with our own personal shit. Forgive us if we aren’t overly friendly when you walk into the room. We’ve got a lot on our plates.

4. If we request a self-tape instead of a live audition, it doesn’t make us any less interested in you: there are only so many hours in the day to read people and watch tapes. As such, we don’t throw out self-tape requests willy-nilly. If your rep doesn’t get you in live, but DOES get you a self-tape request, it means that we are interested to see your take on the role. Take it as a good sign (see #2.)

5. We all enjoy and appreciate actors: there is no way you can get into casting without loving actors. We love what you are capable of, and we love that you are fearless in pursuit of truth and beauty. We may not always be able to match your abundant energy, but that doesn’t mean we dislike being around you.

6. If we’re passionate about an actor for a role, we will work our BUTTS off until everyone else sees it, too: I’ve edited reels, spent hours looking for and ripping additional footage, put together photo collages, re-read actors multiple times to get an EXACT take… And I’m sure every Casting Director you meet will have similar stories of the hurdles they’ve jumped to get an actor hired.

7. If we aren’t in the room for your read, assume there’s a good reason: Casting Directors are constantly being pulled in 18 different directions at once. We’ve got conference calls, and emails, and deals in process, and self-tapes coming in, and oh yeah, sometimes we need to use the restroom. Also, occasionally, we just need a break from the audition room. If it’s your turn to read and the CD steps out and has a member of their staff read you instead, it is by no means a sign of disrespect or disinterest. We do this because we trust our staff to guide you, and we trust you to be make strong choices, and to be open-minded and professional. We will gladly watch your tape after the session.

8. If you only get one take, don’t assume it’s because we hated what you did: hey, guess what? Sometimes you nail it on the first take. Sometimes we find you very interesting, but just not right. Both of these are reasons why we might not have you read a scene again.

9. When you are in our audition room, we are not your parents/therapists/spouses/acting coaches: we may adore you and even be real/social friends, but when you come to audition, we want to see you work. We are there to guide you through the material, not coach you on career obstacles or coddle you when you mess up. Remember, we have crazy deadlines and likely a waiting room full of people. We care about you, but when you’re in our room, we want to keep things (warmly) professional.

10. Do good work, and we will find you: these days, because there are so many mediums (TV, film, shorts, web series, theatre, etc.) actors are always seem concerned that they will never be seen or discovered. If you are doing strong, exciting work, then somehow, someway, we will see it. If you build it, we will come. Every time.

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