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The Auditioning Process In Television and Film
When you’re called in for an acting audition, the people present at the audition will include you, the casting director, and maybe a handful of other complete strangers. Some of these other people may be the producer, a camera operator (if they’re taping the auditions), the casting director’s bored friend or relative, a representative from the advertiser (in the case of a commercial audition), or a dance choreographer or musical director (in the case of a musical). No matter who is in the room, treat everyone in the room with respect. If someone looks like a sloppily dressed janitor, that person could actually be the producer, so play it safe and treat everyone with courtesy.
By the time it’s your turn to audition, the casting director has probably seen hundreds of other people ahead of you, which means the casting director and anyone else in the room is likely to be tired, bored, and irritable. Make the director’s job easy and you increase your chances of having a successful audition. Make the job harder (by not being ready, talking too much, and so on) and you may seriously kill any chances of getting any role.
After brief introductions (and make sure you keep them brief), someone may ask for your headshot and resume if you haven’t already handed one in. (Don’t be afraid to pass out multiple copies of your headshot or resume.) At some auditions, someone may take your picture with a digital camera, so the casting director can review all the people who auditioned that day. Be sure to smile and look your very best. If your picture looks nothing like your headshot, you need to get a new headshot.
Every actor wants to book a job. A booking means you’ve been hired! What’s the audition process to getting booked? Take at the steps below:
The casting process begins with Casting Directors, breaking down scripts, identifying speaking roles and their descriptive profiles, and notifying agents (and online casting services if the audition will be open) of the available roles. Agents submit client pictures, resumes, and demo reels. For open auditions, actors can do these themselves, too. Casting narrows their selection by actor appearance, training, and skills needed for each role. Actors who make that first cut are contacted for auditions.
The First Audition
Generally, a script or “sides” are provided in advance of a television audition. For feature films, you’ll need at least one prepared monologue appropriate to the tone of the film. Prepared as you are for that first in-person audition, both features and TV sometimes rely on quick video slates to further narrowcasting options. It’s essential to be prepared because that first audition may be no more than the few seconds it takes to state your name to a video camera. That’s why it is stressed so much in the acting classes, and not just for the newest students. However, what and how you wear your clothes and hair, how you enter the room, your demeanor signing in, all of your choices at even the “smallest” audition are opportunities to make an impression and show what you can do.
Every time you’re asked to come in after that initial in-person audition is a callback. You might work the same material for the same casting personnel, or it might be entirely new for a different role before all new people. Callback sessions still are brief, usually only a few minutes, and these are typically recorded on video to be discussed among the many casting decision-makers. In television that’s the Casting Director, Showrunner, Creator, Director, other Executive Producers, network and studio executives though you won’t see most of them in the room just yet. In feature films, it’s the Director, Casting Director, Producer, sometimes the Writer, and the studio or financier, though most of them stay out of the room early on, too. But just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t watching you! That’s why it’s so important to be prepared.
Because so much is now viewed on tape, many actors will not be physically in the room with the producers or casting director, who could be on location filming or living elsewhere, until late in the casting process. Casting guest-stars or co-stars for a television series is less labor-intensive than casting a pilot which often involves reviewing hundreds of actors within a one- to two-month window. Television projects near-final casting will have the Casting Director, Creator, Showrunner, Director (especially if it’s for a pilot), in the room watching what you do. Network or studio casting executives are involved early on, but actors won’t see them in the room until the studio or network test.
For feature film auditions, depending on the role, you may see the Casting Director early on along with the Director and possibly one or more producers or executive producers. For smaller roles, you may only see casting subordinates and the First A.D. (Assistant Director). For more involved roles, you may be called back several times or only once and still land the job. The closer they get to book talent, the more decision-makers may be in the room. And if you get an avail, that means they are interested in booking you for the job but want to know your schedule. With an avail, you’re one of the finalists!
The later stages of feature film casting involve working more closely with the material, the director, screen partners and sometimes even being put on film. Working with other actors, especially for ensemble productions, help reveal what chemistry is or is not present among a group of performers. Screen tests are typically done late or after production is cast and involve making hair, make-up, wardrobe, film-stock, and lighting decisions. Feature films may use a screen test to decide final actor placement or to make difficult final casting decisions, but most of the time a production won’t spend money on-screen testing actors it doesn’t intend to use.
A network or studio test is a staple in television casting for major roles and especially for television pilots. For television pilots, the Studio and Network test may be the first time you get to work with the director. However, it is difficult to audition in front of people and still have no audience.
Whether you’re auditioning to one person and a video camera or fifteen decision-makers and their support staff, you can expect a little reciprocal engagement from those watching you perform. The Showrunner, Creator, studio or network executives may eat, text, e-mail, take calls or even step out while you audition! That doesn’t mean you aren’t doing good work. This inattention is more likely because of the taxing complexity of keeping any production on track than any deficiency in you. Try to remember that everybody on the other side of the table is interested in and rooting for you. They want you to be good. If you’re good, you’ve solved all their problems!
Whether you’re auditioning for a feature or a television show, the Casting Directors, Directors, EPs, producers, etc., want to see what you can do alone, without encouragement, tweaking or help from them. It’s like getting a base-line of your acting. So if the sides are a two-person scene, expect a deadpan Casting Director to prompt you with flat, unresponsive delivery. The Director may jump in to give you notes or you may get a little more than a glance—in either case, you might still get the job! The important thing is to stay focused on your work and make confident choices.
The casting process for a film or television pilot can take days or months. Episodic television runs on a compressed production schedule, so guest roles are cast fairly quickly. Still, episodes can get pushed, rewritten, or shelved. Whether casting a pilot or guest role, the Casting Director, Creator, Director and Showrunner narrow down their favorites and studio and network executives who oversee the show has the final say.
In feature films, the Casting Director and EPs may make recommendations but the Director generally completes the cast, though the financiers can reject those decisions and even pull backing. And keep in mind that television shows change networks, Directors get dropped, financing falls out here, gets picked up there… The casting process isn’t over until the project screens or airs. And even then some filmmakers threaten, and have re-shot or digitally altered re-releases to remove or add whole scenes, subplots, and characters!
Getting cast doesn’t just happen. It’s the result of consistent preparation, patience, and persistence. Whether you book the job or not, auditions are your best chance to become known by Casting Directors. If you’re a professional, prepared, and make a good impression, they’ll remember liking you before and will keep you in mind for future roles. Sometimes not booking can lead to better future opportunities.
The Dos & Don’ts of These Types of Auditions.
1. The Video Audition.
There are many do’s and don’ts that go along with Video Auditions.
DON’T: You probably should not record a video audition on your phone in your living room, especially if you’re singing. Unless your phone is attached to a great camera or microphone, do not use it. The sound of a built-in microphone is not what you want, and the acoustics in your living room (or bedroom, or den…) are most likely not great.
DO: Go the extra mile for this audition. You want it to be as close to the real thing as possible. Contact a local state college or university. Find emails on their website for music department coordinators or, even better, the accompanist specifically and set up a time to meet. Take your computer or video camera to a music lab or classroom with a piano and record using the best external microphone you can get your hands on. Keep it short, introduce yourself just as you would in a live audition and state the part you are auditioning for. When you submit your video, email it or upload it to YouTube and email the link (if the file is too large to e-mail). Include your resume and headshot and remember to PAY YOUR ACCOMPANIST. At least offer. They don’t work for tips.
2. The Director with an Agenda
Ever been to an audition where the director has an agenda? You’re reading for a role but you can’t help but feel like the part is already cast, and the director is humoring you? It’s not a good feeling. But it happens, and unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about it.
DON’T: If the director already has someone in mind for the role, then the biggest “don’t” here is, don’t push them. You can try to change their mind, absolutely! Do your very best, but when the director says, “Thank you, I’ve seen enough”, it’s time to leave. When you get the sense that his or her mind is made up about you, chances are you will not change it by reading again or singing another song. Understand that directors want who they want for their productions and it may or may not be you. Don’t embarrass yourself by pushing too hard.
DO: Come prepared to do your best. Do it. Then leave. Maybe next time, you’ll be on the director’s agenda.
3. The Botched Audition.
Okay, we’ve all been there. You get too excited; you forget your monologue or your music and all that comes out is garbage. You’re embarrassed, you’re anxious, and now that you’ve regurgitated your nerves, you’re ready to start over and do it right.
DON’T: I’m sorry to tell you this, but… don’t. This is not the time to show your resilience. If you finish your crap audition and the panel smiles and says thank you, then say thank you back and leave. There are people behind you waiting for their slot and you don’t have the right to take double the time without being given permission. I’m sorry you botched the audition, but take heart in knowing that we’ve all done it and it’s part of playing the game.
DO: However! There is one thing you CAN do! The only acceptable option for you when you botch an audition is this: you can try to wait around for a break in the action and ask the moderator if you can have a second chance. Ask the moderator because he or she will act as a middle-man between you and the directors, easing much of the awkwardness. Tell him or her you know you can do better and would like to attempt another audition if possible. If there is extra time, the director(s) may allow you to try again and most likely, they’ll admire your resilience. But if the answer is no, then you’re just going to accept that. There is a difference between resilience and stubbornness. Know the difference. Directors like resilience, they don’t like stubbornness.
4. The Cold Read
Personally, I love cold read auditions. I hate choosing monologues and choosing songs, trying to fit my entire personality into 32 bars. I would rather have someone choose the material for me and take that step out of the process completely.
DON’T: So don’t be afraid of cold reads! Half the work is already done for you! The next to don’t is don’t forget you are auditioning. Don’t bury yourself in the text and forget to interact with others in the scene. Directors are looking for chemistry between actors and your ability to use the stage.
DO: Make choices. The directors will listen to the same sides read repeatedly. You need to do something different with the material if you will stand out. Create chemistry. Move. Slap someone! Let the text motivate you to make big choices and show the directors that you can give them something to work with. If the director gives you instructions, then, by all means, listen. And play it how they instruct you. Show them you are direct-able. Trust me, they care more about those qualities than your ability to get every word right on the page.
Auditioning for an honor ensemble or musical production? Whether you’ve taken piano lessons for years or have just started with guitar lessons, auditions can be a nerve-wracking time. Here are some tried-and-true tips to ease your anxiety and have a successful audition!
Do know your music/materials inside and out, and make sure you bring all required audition elements (hard copies of music, forms, etc.). Come prepared with your repertoire and have a backup plan in case your panel wants to see more. If you mess up, IT’S OK! Keep pretending as nothing happened. Chances are, if you really sell your performance, no one will notice or will forget!
Do arrive early. As they say, “To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late.” Arriving early gives you time to find your way to and familiarize yourself with your audition location, do any last-minute hair/makeup/clothing adjustments, warm-up and run through your music, look professional and prepared, and last but not least, BREATHE.
Do be polite and courteous to everyone at the audition. Say hello and goodbye to your audition panel and thank them for their time when you’ve finished. A little smile goes a long way in helping you stand out and shows that you’re approachable and easy to work with.
Do dress appropriately. Wear clothes you feel good in, but that makes you look sharp and professional. If you will be doing a lot of moving or dancing, wear clothes that will allow you to move freely.
Do ask questions. If you are asked to do something that you don’t quite understand, it’s OK to ask for clarification. The more information you have about what’s expected of you, the better off you’ll be.
Don’t apologize for messing up your audition, or contradict a compliment. Just perform your audition, say thank you, and leave.
Don’t tell your panel you’re sick unless it’s going to physically prevent you from showing up to your audition. Especially in vocal auditions, audition panels can detect illness in your voice and will hear the potential in your voice and intent in your emotion without you apologizing for it. Besides, coughs and sniffles are difficult to hide over any instrument playing, so let your panel come to its own conclusions without your “help”
Don’t contradict or argue with the people auditioning you. If they ask you to do something that you don’t agree with or that’s different from what you’ve been taught, take the instruction and choose how/if you will handle it in the long term after you’ve left the audition. Being agreeable and easy to work with is a huge part of auditioning for any ensemble or production!
Don’t beat yourself up if you blow the audition. There will always be more/better opportunities, and you can use that audition as a learning experience to improve for next time!
Auditions can be stressful, but they’re also a great way to practice composure and performing under pressure. Getting to showcase your talents is an exciting opportunity, and the International School of Music is here to help. Now you have the facts. You can plan and go for your auditions confidently.