Advice...From the Casting Directors
Casting Director – Wendy O’Brian
You must have a great photograph that looks like you. I feel like everybody says that, but it’s true and it’s the most important thing. All you need is one great shot. I don’t think it’s the same expense that it used to be. Because everything is digital, you need fewer hard copies, therefore printing is cheaper. Plus, because of digital photography, there are some great amateur photographers out there. There’s so many pictures that I think are great and actors are like, “Oh yeah, my buddy took that.” It doesn’t necessarily need to be taken by a fancy professional photographer.
You must be training. If you can’t afford class, then get in with a theater group or find a buddy, get material, and work on different things just to keep yourself going. It’s surprising how many actors come in and they say, “There’s not much going on. I haven’t been out on an audition in forever.” And I say, “Well, are you taking classes?” “No, I haven’t found a class” and there’s 100 excuses. Participate in your career. You have to be actively involved. Don’t give up. It’s tough right now to get an agent. If it’s your passion and something that you truly believe in, keep at it. And really, don’t give up.
Be grounded. Bring a part of yourself into the audition so it’s real. I find that newer actors are so busy trying to do a version of what they think they should be doing or a version of what they think the role is instead of making it organic. It never feels true. It feels forced.
We pre-read all the time on every project. My associates Jeff [Gafner], Chris [Gehrt], and I always look through the everything for interesting faces. We keep a pile of people we want to see on the desk. At the beginning of every project, I go through them. If I think they’re appropriate, I’ll bring them in to pre-read.
In casting, we’re trying to find the right people who have the right tone for each show. For “Sunny in Phily” we try to find people who comedically get it. It’s a certain type of comedy. It’s very grounded, very real. The guest cast are more like “the straight man” and the “Sunny” series regulars are the goofs. You have to have the timing without pushing it or trying to one-up the joke.
“Sons of Anarchy” guest actors need to have such a specific face. Almost everybody there has to have a sort of levity to them or gravitas. You’ve got to be real and have a “real” face. We can never feel like we’re watching an actor. Nothing should pull us out of that moment where we are, what we’re watching, and sometimes the severity of the situation.
Since this is one of the most frequently asked questions I receive and the one that hangs you up the most and twists you into knots as an actor and a creative being, let’s get into it.
Based on my years and years of experience as a casting director in film and television, these are some of the reasons you didn’t get the part.
1. You’re too tall.
2. You’re too short.
3. You’re too pretty.
4. You’re not pretty enough.
5. You’re too fat.
6. You’re too thin.
7. You’re too blonde.
8. You’re not blonde enough.
9. You’re too old.
10. You’re too young.
11. You’re too serious.
12. You’re too funny.
13. You look too much like the lead.
14. You don’t look enough like the lead.
15. You’re taller than the lead.
16. You’re shorter than the lead.
17. You remind the producer of his sister, and he hates his sister.
18. You are too ethnic.
19. You are not ethnic enough.
20. You were the first one to read that day.
21. You were the last one to read that day.
22. You’re more like the best friend than the lead.
23. You’re more of a lead than the best friend.
24. You’re too character-y.
25. You’re not character-y enough.
26. You look like the director’s wife and he had a fight with his wife right before he left the house this morning.
Why haven’t I gotten a callback…..You’re
Okay, this is a small sample of the some of the reasons you didn’t get the part. Have you heard any of these after one of your non-bookings? Can you tell what the one common thread is among this small sampling of reasons?
8 Tips For Self-Taping Your Auditions
Casting Director – Caroline Liem
With shorter production, tighter budgets, and more out-of-state(not LA) shoots, a taped audition may become your first and sometimes only connection with casting directors, producers and directors. A self-taped audition may be submitted when you’re out of town, on-set, facing scheduling challenges, or you’re a casting office favorite but they haven’t seen you play this type of role. The turnaround time for your self-taped audition is quick, make your strong specific choices, tape, edit, and send it in. How do you make sure we see and hear you while showing your personality and sharing your best performance and receive a call-back or booking? When my clients cannot get to my studio to tape and coach their auditions, they use this alternative.
1. Lighting. We need to see your face. There’s no need for expensive lighting equipment. Find basic lighting around your house and create a set up similar to that on set or stage: principal light on you also known as a key light, a fill light, and a back light to sculpt and separate you from your background. If you want to get fancy, add a background light, which is used to eliminate shadows and provide additional depth. It should look something like the photo below.
2. Background. There’s nothing wrong with a white background, but it can read flat or stark. I like a royal blue background. It makes everyone pop and look great. With that said, it’s not the easiest thing to find. So get creative with your options with what you have around the house bed sheet, yoga mats, etc.
3. Camera/Sound. There are many options for shooting your self-tape, and they don’t have to break the bank either. I’ve seen decent auditions taped on smart-phones and tablets. Whatever your recording choice, make sure we can hear you and see you. Your device should zoom in enough to limit unnecessary background. Create a controlled enough environment where the camera can pick up your voice without unnecessary noise, like traffic and neighbors.
4. Your Read. It’s helpful to have your reader at eye level and next to your camera. Make sure your reader is instructed to speak with a softer vocal volume, as he or she is closer to the mic than you are. This person should never be seen on camera, the focus should be you.’
5. Slate. If you’re asked to slate, keep it open and inviting. This is the first thing we’ll see and more often than you think that moment when you say “Hi my name is_____” will tell us if we want to watch further.
6. Use your whole body. Avoid talking head or exaggerated facial features. Don’t jump around, if you are moving we can’t get a good look at you! It reads that you’re not connected to the moment or you “think” you need to work harder, but ultimately there’s a lack of connection to your character. Stay in your moment. Whether your character is active or still, he or she lives in a whole body. And that whole body needs to be engaged. We’ll register it even in the tight shot of your audition.
7. The camera picks up everything. This is a good thing! Nuance is sometimes missed in the audition room, but enjoyed later when we review tape. Allow your character to live in-between the written lines. Resist dropping out when flipping pages. Get to know your material, and your character before taping. Know what you want from the other character, and keep your interesting story moving forward.
8. The camera is your audience. Draw us in with your performance. We want you to be the choice.
I hope these basic tips help you take charge of your auditions and elevate your work. Enjoy the process!
For Self-Taping Your Auditions
Casting Director – Brittani Smith
Many roles are cast from tape. Self-taped auditions usually suffice as a means of consideration for a part, at least in preliminary rounds of casting. Many times, a good self-tape is enough for a studio to fly someone across the country or world for a live test. Other times, an actor can book a guest-star or recurring role from self-tape alone!
Ways to Ensure a Successful Self-Tape
Enlist the help of a good reader. Bad readers can be really distracting; avoid a reader who is milking the lines off screen. This is YOUR audition and it should feel like a believable conversation.
Include a standing slate with your name, age and height. This could be placed at the beginning.
Avoid busy backgrounds. A solid color, non-white background is ideal.
Set up a few lights. 2 or more well-placed light sources can help make you look your best and prevent shadows from oddly contouring your face. You can get creative with anything that is around (e.g. windows, white poster boards for bounce, household lamps, china balls, etc.).
Make it about the other person. How are you trying to make the other character feel? Is it working? When your partner focus is strong, your self tape will pop. If the reader is affected by your intentions, the viewer of the self-tape – usually a creative decision-maker – will be similarly affected.
Good sound never hurts. I don’t think professionally sound recording and/or mixing an audition tape is necessary, but take the time to close windows in a noisy neighborhood turn off TVs, radios, or unplug a refrigerator when practical.
Frame yourself in MCU. The viewer needs to see what you are conveying with your eyes. Avoid “indicating” your emotions with gestures or exaggerated facial expressions. You can’t get away with phoning in a connection to the material when you’re being recorded in high definition close up.
Open strong. If you fail to engage the viewer within the first few seconds of your self-tape, they may pass on your audition before getting to the good parts. If your tape has been sent to a director, that director is likely watching your tape from his iPhone at home while children play or dogs bark around him. There is nothing stopping that director from skimming past your self-tape. Sinking seamlessly into the character and making believable decisions under the written circumstances will inspire a director or producer to keep watching
Look at each self-tape request as a golden opportunity. You can have as many takes as you’d like and pick the best ones yourself! You have control over the way you are portrayed, and nerves that often accompany the inherent pressure of an audition are not a factor.
3 Steps To Booking The Roles You Deserve
Casting Director – Joseph Pearlman
This success—not a byproduct of luck or forces of nature—was a direct result of all 68 actors honing specific, crucial elements in their audition performances.
These actors knew that reaching their “booked-role potential” was in part related to their ability to use aspects of their real selves—even if those facets of their personalities were bizarre, ugly, perverse, bitchy, alarming or downright creepy.
As Ron Perlman said, “I’ve always felt there were aspects of me that were monstrous, and you can either hide from it or confront it, embrace it and understand that those are aspects that make you unique and…that’s the very thing that makes you who you are. That’s your emotional and spiritual fingerprint.”
I like to call what Perlman is describing as one’s “tip.” A tip is the unique fingerprint [or mark] of personality you leave on your performance. Here’s how to make your mark on a performance and book the roles you deserve.
1. Figure out what your distinct “tip” is. A “tip” revolves around the idea of something extra you give to your performance without even trying—it’s something they’ve never seen before and didn’t know they wanted. That something extra is YOU, and it’s the elusive something about you that makes it possible for you to be memorable among a throng of actors.
One of my clients has an innate gentleness to everything she does—it’s just a part of who she is and how she has always interacted with the world. Thus, even when she’s reading for the part of a sociopath, she doesn’t try to bury that gentleness. Instead she stamps it on her performance to make it even more disturbing. Another client’s “tip” was simply that he exuded the vibe of a young Willem Dafoe—effortlessly. There was something about him that was always just teetering on the edge of creepy, even when he was just eating a sandwich.
You might not like your “tip,” just like the way you might not like the shape of your nose, but it’s yours and it’s unavoidable.
Embracing your tip gives you such a profound advantage because it allows you to put your stamp on the character in a way that no one else possibly can. Bryan Cranston memorably describes auditioning for “Breaking Bad” and wanting to make a formidable impression on the creator, Vince Gilligan. “‘I wanted to go mark Vince,’ Cranston said to the Los Angeles Times in 2011. ‘I wanted to creatively lift my leg on him, and the script, and leave my scent so that he saw me and nobody else doing this.’”
2. Don’t act your technique of preparation. When the role has been responsibly coached and prepared, the actual “acting” should feel as easy and effortless as if you were simply playing yourself. This can seem terrifying for two reasons. First, you won’t feel like you’re doing anything, and second, you may not feel you’re interesting enough. However, the end result is your work will appear seamless to the producer and director, and they’ll simply see the character as if he or she was a real person who happened to walk into the audition. That’s magical.
3. Stop trying to guess what “they” want. Imagine how ludicrous it would be if the waiter in a restaurant tried to guess what you felt like ordering? Imagine how even more ludicrous that would be if you didn’t even know what you felt like ordering? Because no matter what the waiter picked, he’d be wrong.
More directly stated, Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Your job is now to stop guessing and make a strong choice—and make it one you really like. It should be the fun choice, the choice that lights a fire under your ass and the choice that’s a little scary. Not the choice that “seems right.”
What’s certain is that “they” are not looking for a neat presentation of acting training, nor are they looking for a choice made on guesswork.
Whenever we’ve seen amazing performances, the acting techniques that these stellar actors have studied are nowhere to be found. Instead we just have people. New people who have been invented by these actors—characters we call them. All tremendous actors have gone through the task of bringing themselves to the part and taking their training, balling it up, and chucking it out the window.