Monday, March 1, 2010

Audition Tips #3: Casting Call Types and Practicalities

Casting calls are patently unfair, but there isn't much you can do about it, whether as an actor or a casting director. (Note that everything I talk about could involve a choreographer, or director, or producer, or whoever is running the audition. I use "casting director" as a catch-all to keep it simple).

Here's the problem: there's a lot of actors out there, or at least a lot of people that call themselves actors. If a casting director puts out a great sounding casting call (paid work, no nudity, speaking role), then they are going to be flooded with resumes. Dozens, if not hundreds, of actors and wannabes will want to audition. If a casting director doesn't put out a call for resumes, then they'll do what's called an open call: just announce an audition at such-and-such a time in such-and-such a place, and wait to see who shows up. This generally attracts bigger crowds, but the problem remains the same. There just aren't enough hours in the day to see everybody for more than a few minutes.

I prefer doing auditions by invitation. I whittle down the list of people I want to see according to what their headshots and CVs tell me. How do I know if they're any good? I don't. I'm just guessing. But it's an educated guess because I've already seen their face and body, and I've decided that they might fit the role. If they're a smart actor, I've also heard their voice because I will have seen their demo reel online. This gives me more to go on. In any event, I use the headshots and CVs to say, "I want to see what they've got." A calculated risk.

An open call is what it sounds like. It resembles American Idol. Would-be actors walk into the room sight unseen, do a monologue or sing a song, and hope for the best. For all they know, the casting director is looking for a blonde while the actor's a brunette, or the casting director wants somebody over 35 and you're a teenager. You're history before you've even opened your mouth, unless you're extremely good and change their mind about the part's requirements.

A cattle call is a hybrid of the two. The CD doesn't want resumes, but neither are they going to give you a chance to speak just yet. In a cattle call a dozen or more people come into the room or onto the stage and are then eliminated by look alone. The ones that are asked to stay are then asked to read, or act, or dance, or whatever, and are whittled down some more. You see cattle calls in seemingly every behind-the-scenes movie about Broadway, where hundreds of people line up and are decimated by the index finger of a casting director, until only a manageable amount are left to actually audition.

In any of these three examples, it is important for you to remember that the CD has someone in mind before you even walk in the room or email your resume. They don't know who this someone is, but they have an image of it, a feeling for it, in their mind. If you come close to meeting this feeling by your look, then you've got a good chance of reading. If you don't, too bad, unless the CD has time on their hands. It's important to remember this because it will help keep you sane: not being picked during a cattle call doesn't necessarily mean you look like crap - it means you aren't what the CD wants for that particular part. "Not right for the part," can be a BS statement, but it can also be a very honest and valid assessment.

The American Idol example is probably closer than any of us think. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if the producers of the show say to themselves, "Damnit, we're short on young people." Meaning that young people now have an immediate advantage over someone in their late twenties. You may think America Idol is democratic as all hell and is a wonderful way to find musical talent, but before America gets to vote on the top 20 or whatever it is, the show's producers control the population. American Idol is, first and foremost, a TV show.

The casting director may not be your friend, but neither are they your enemy. I've said this before, and it bears repeating: the casting director wants you to do well. They want to find good talent. So nevermind the CD. Your greatest enemy at a casting call is time.

During an open call, you have mere seconds to make an impact. That's it. It's mostly beyond your control. If you do not match the look that the CD is going for, you're probably history. But after you've opened your mouth to do a monologue or a scene, the clock is ticking fast. The first ten seconds have to be your best work, and every second thereafter has to be even better. You have to be on. In an open call, there are no comebacks. There's a hundred people behind you at the door, the production has rented the room for eight hours, and that's that. If the words, "Can I start over?" leave your lips, you're pretty much done.

I'm talking here about practicalities. You have to see show business as a business, and you have to look at it from the CD's point of view. They are responsible for finding the best talent the city has to offer and in the shortest amount of time.

Casting calls cost money. You have to advertise them, find a space to conduct them, feed the crew, and fill them with coffee. Scheduling is a major issue, and casting calls can't be cancelled without serious repercussions, the largest of which is a huge hit to a CD's reputation. Taking that into consideration, imagine facing the actor that silently "gets into character" for thirty seconds before starting their audition. If ten actors do that during a day, that's five minutes that could have been spent seeing a few more actors. Frustrating. (An aside about this, while I'm thinking about it: if you have to shut your eyes and "get into character" before an audition, do it outside the casting room door. Doing it in front of a casting director is self-indulgent nonsense and it wastes time. If you're an actor, act).

More later...

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