Thursday, January 21, 2010

Audition Tips

I'm in the process of putting together a cast for a script, as well as casting for a corporate web pitch. The audition process of the "casting call" is more or less the same for both formats, so I thought I'd put some pointers here.

If you don't know how a casting call goes, it's something like this: you walk into a room and meet two or more strangers. There's a camera at one end of the room, and someone tells you to step in front of it. If the project is a corporate ad or a commercial, there's probably a teleprompter on the camera, and it has a script. If not, then someone just hands you a piece of paper (if you're lucky, they sent you the script days ago; if you're not, it's going to be a cold read).

After you've stepped in front of the camera, you might be asked to slate yourself. That means saying your name, your agent's name, and anything else the casting director wants on tape. Then someone says, "Go," or "Action," or "Whenever you're ready," and you start to read. After a minute or two, that same person will say "Thanks," or "Stop," and then tell you that they'll be in touch.

You leave the room and wonder if they'll really be in touch, and you think that they probably won't. And you're right.

It isn't always your fault. If you want the breakdown of a casting call from someone that shoots them, here's my take. I don't know if it's all good advice, but it's advice nonetheless. Most of it relates to corporate pitches and ads, because that's what I shoot the most. These are off the top of my head and in no particular order.

1) It doesn't really matter if you shake my hand, look me in the eye, or otherwise ingratiate yourself. It only matters if you can act, and if you can read well on the first go. Not perfectly, but well.

2) Any casting director will know in about 2.5 seconds whether you're any good. That's not an exaggeration. One spoken sentence is about all it takes. They don't need your resume to know if you've done cold reads before. If you haven't done cold reads, it means you haven't auditioned much, which means you haven't acted much. It will show. If the casting director is unkind, they'll tell you to stop reading after ten seconds. If they're a wimp like me, they'll give you a whole minute or two, just so you don't think you wasted your time getting down to the audition.

3) If you're pitching to the lens, never take your eyes off the lens. Ever. Newscasters don't, and neither should you. It makes you look shifty and is the first sign of an amateur.

4) With all of the cheap video cameras lying around, it amazes me that actors trying to get into film and TV don't tape themselves and practice in front of a lens. A small, decent video camera will cost you no more than $200. A usable tripod will cost another $30. Use it. Set it up and read to it. Get used to being in front of a lens and talking to it. Talking to a camera is not a natural act, and it takes practice. Better yet, get someone to tape you, so that you're used to be watched and scrutinized.

5) Practice more.

6) Practice again.

7) When you're done a read, keep looking into the lens until someone says "Cut," or "Thanks." Pros don't look away from the lens until they hear that, because they know an editor needs time to cut away or fade out after the dialogue ends. Since they know this, they habitually keep their eyes on the lens even after doing a rehearsal or a cold read. It's the mark of a pro. Actors that finish reading, then immediately look to the director for feedback, are obvious amateurs.

8) There's nothing wrong with being an amateur, except that it means you will need more direction. This means longer shoots. Longer shoots means more money, for studio time, a director's fee, editing, maybe even aspirin. This is why a limited number of pros get most of the good corporate and commercial spots: they're good, they're easy to work with, and they nail things in a small number of takes. Unfortunately, this means that amateurs have to wait for their "break" to get a job. But while waiting, they should...practice.

9) Practice again. Get a computer and write a script on it. Have a friend put the laptop or monitor on a shelf at eye level, with the camera just above or below it. Stand ten feet away. Have your friend scroll down as you read the script. Do it again. And again. And again.

10) Loud people tend to come off as pros when they walk into a room. I don't mean jerk-loud or wanna-be-loud. I just mean gregarious and slightly above conversation level. They sound confident and like they've been there before. I don't suggest you try it too hard, unless you want to sound like a dork, but I say it in passing.

11) Don't smack your lips when you talk. Try not to lick your lips, either.

12) If you need a glass of water before you start, then ask for one. Most casting directors are not jerks. Don't be afraid of them. They'll give you a glass of water.

13) You might not be right for the part, and there might not be a good reason why. Not your fault. Move on.

14) Listen to direction. I often give people two or three reads, even if they suck, and I'll give them a couple of pointers. My philosophy is this: if they suck, at least they'll tell their agent I was cool with them. If that's the case, the agent will probably be cool with me. (I also run the risk of agents treating me like an acting coach for their new guys, but it's an acceptable risk). However, if I give a pointer and you blow me off because you know it all (when you obviously don't), then you can forget working with me again until you get an Oscar. I had one guy who had never been in front of a prompter before. I tried to coach him a bit, but he kept cutting me off in mid-sentence with "Got it," and a wave of the hand. Do you think I passed him on to the corporate client that was going to be there for his taping and pay for his work?

15) That said, casting calls are not acting school. You're expected to know your craft. It is, after all, a job interview. "But how can I learn when I don't get gigs?" you might ask. To which I say...practice.

16) If the font on the teleprompter is too small, say so. They'll increase it.

17) Don't wander. Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground.

18) Don't ask what you should do with your hands. That's amateur. Keep your hands at your sides. Use them for inflection when the moment seems right, but don't flap them all over the place and distract from the medium, which is your face and voice.

19) It is the teleprompt operator's job to slow down or speed up according to your read. Don't follow their speed. They follow you. Don't panic and read too fast, and don't slow down to robot-level. Just read the way you think it should be delivered, and the operator will try to keep your next line in the middle of the screen. If they screw up, just keep reading. They'll get it back on track. The only exception to this is when a script needs to be delivered in an exact timeframe. If that's the case, they'll tell you.

20) Casting directors don't make the final call on whether you get a job or not. They tape a number of people, cut out the bad ones, and send their suggested ones to a director or corporate client. Those people get the final call. The casting director can be of an immense help to you, because if they like you, they'll suggest you strongly. Piss off a casting director by acting like a bigshot, and you can forget it. Chances are, your clip will never get out of the camera.

21) Casting directors want you to do well. They do not want you to fail. When you walk into the room, they want you to succeed, because they want to find someone they can easily work with for years to come, and they want to impress their client by finding good talent. The casting director is the last person from whom you should feel pressure. (This is a personal take; for all I know, some casting directors are nasty tyrants. But trust me: I want you to do well. I do. And when you don't do well, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach because I know you're wasting your time and you don't have it. I hate that feeling, but it's part of the business. I have to figure that a lot of other casting directors feel the same way).

22) I've been saying the word "read" a lot. "Read" means speak. If you're in front of a prompter, we shouldn't see your eyes following the script. Generally, the closer to the camera you are, the more we'll be able to tell that you're reading. You really have no control over this, because if the director wants you there, and the camera here, you'll have to deal with it. A good trick is to slightly move the tilt of your head every couple of sentences. A little left, a little right, a little down, a little up. And I mean a little. Just a touch. Too much, and you'll look weird. You'll know what I mean when you...practice. Get in front of a camera and do some reads. Use the laptop trick, and also do some memory reads. Play it back and watch yourself. Work on it.

23) Your resume doesn't mean much. Bring it with your headshot anyway, because it has your contact details on it. But really, the following criteria are of utmost importance. a) Look. b) Delivery. c) Easy to work with. You may have been in twenty plays and fifteen commercials, but if your look is wrong for the part, or if you act like a jerk, then you're not going to get the job. The only people that can act like a jerk and get the job are stars, and stars don't do casting calls.

Good luck, and one last time: practice.

Back to Casting Couch Radio.


  1. Great blog, Sean. I am a theatre director specializing in Shakespeare, so this is an unknown world to me. But everything you say makes sense. I'm going to forward it to my actor friends who are going for commercials. I'll also put a link for this on my blog, which gives more theatre auditioning advice. It's at It's generous of you to give this advice. I hope it pays off for you by improving the skill of the actors you see. That's the purpose of my blog too.

  2. Thanks for the tips. I'm so nervous about auditions still, even though I have a fair amount of acting experience. As you said, though, being an amateur isn't a problem. Acting like an amateur is. Practice is really the only distinction between successful actors and failed ones. |