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Do You Know the 4 Levels of Auditions?

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By Marci Liroff

When I was teaching my Audition Bootcamp class last week I was stunned when one of my students asked, “What’s a pre-read?” There are so many different levels of meetings and unfamiliar verbiage when you’re starting out. Here’s a guide so you’ll be familiar with the process.

When you go to an audition or meeting you’ve got to know what level of audition it is before you set foot in that room so that you’ll know what’s expected of you.

The General. This is where I want to get to know you. It’s simply an informal interview. I may know your work, but I want to see what you are really like. Be yourself. It’s a huge opportunity for us to get to know each other on a completely different level than will occur in an audition with possibly 5 other people in the room. Do your homework. Check out the CD to see what work they’ve done in the past and what they’re working on currently.

When we ask you what you’ve been up to lately we don’t want to hear, “Nothing…just stuff.” Tell me what jobs you just did or have upcoming, or how great your new class is, or anything related to your craft. Plus, tell me something about yourself. “I just got a new dog, or I’m moving in with my boyfriend” – tell me a story to give me an idea of your life. Part of this meeting is for me to see another side of you. If you’ve done your homework you can say, “Hey, I just loved so and so film you cast, or I love that series you worked on. How did you find that little girl?”

Unfortunately, these days the “general meeting” has been usurped by CD workshops. Few CDs do generals anymore claiming they don’t have the time.

Pre-read. I just HATE that word “pre-read”. It already sets you up to hate me because I have to pre-screen you before you can go on to the next step. Please don’t think of it that way. The reason we’re doing it is because I’m unfamiliar with your work, or there wasn’t a decent demo reel for me to see. Perhaps I don’t quite see you for the role and want to see what you’d do with it before bringing you to my creative team. Think of it as a work session not a hurdle.

You are prepared and have done your research on the role and the project. You are as off-book as possible but still holding the sides and turning the pages as you go along in the scene.

Remember folks, this is your job! If you were an architect would you come in and do a half-ass job on your first consultation meeting with a new client?

Feel free to ask (brief) specific questions about the character or script. You’ve got to gauge how busy the casting office is in terms of small talk. Due to the fast paced schedule, sometimes the CD needs to do the scene and you’re outta there. So, clip the small talk and get into the scene.

Don’t ask the CD if you are getting a call back. Tell the CD if you are committed to dates that would make you unavailable. Nothing is worse than me bringing in an actor for producers who is unavailable for the project. I will usually tell you then and there if you’re coming back, along with specific directions.

If you don’t get a callback, know that just because you didn’t get the role you came in for, I notice you. If you’re good I will bring you back for my next gig. I always say, “Make a fan of the CD and don’t just focus on booking the job because if you aren’t right for it, you always want the CD to say, “But I like him/her, I’ll keep them in mind in the future”. And we do and it pays off again and again.

The callback or Producer/director session:

At this audition you’ve been selected to read not only for the CD again, but for the creative team. Sometimes the director and producers will be in the room, and sometimes we’ll be re-taping your audition without anyone else in attendance. You’ve got to take in all the info and direction you’ve received from the CD at your pre-read audition and make sure you “bring it” to this audition. Again, you’re off book and connecting with your reader. You can hold the sides. Make sure you don’t make any major changes to your reading at this point. Consistency is important.

The network and studio test.

In my article, “The Four Phases of Pilot Testing” I explain the rigorous and somewhat grueling process you must go through to get a role in a series.

In the old days, we’d do a screen test shot on film with hair, makeup and wardrobe on a studio set. These days we do a screen test shot simply on our video camera in our offices – much more efficient and economical. Sometimes we’ll shoot with 2-3 cameras to get different angles. We might pair you up in a mix and match situation with different actors to see who has the right chemistry. When I cast E.T. we had all our final choices of kids come to the writer’s house and play Dungeons and Dragons to see their chemistry. It became clear that one of them didn’t quite fit with the others. You can watch the full story here.

At this point you are as ready as you’ll ever be to book the job. No sides this time – you are “in the skin” of your character. This is no time to let nerves get to you. Remember that you deserve to be here and you’ve earned your place in this room.

In all these auditions you’ve got to have a good mixture of patience, tenacity, consistency along with being able to listen. Keeping your heart open along the way will take you far.

 Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

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Volunteering Will Make You A Better Actor

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By Marci Liroff

As an actor you are constantly striving to be better. You train consistently, audition, research and hone your craft. One often-neglected element of being a better actor is being a better human. One way of doing this is by volunteering your time.

You might say, “Marci, my day is booked from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep! How can I find the time?” Here’s my proposal – you must make the time.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a charity event for The Motion Picture and Television Fund. For those that aren’t familiar with “The Fund”, the MPTF has been helping Hollywood take care of its own for the last 90 years.

MPTF was created by Hollywood’s earliest entertainment luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith, who realized the need for reaching out to those in the entertainment industry who fell upon hard times. It began with a simple coin box in Hollywood where entertainment industry workers would deposit spare change for fellow colleagues.

Can anyone be a volunteer at The Fund? You have to be in the industry and there are different background checks depending on how you want to be engaged as a volunteer. There is a gorgeous piece of land in Woodland Hills called “the campus” where people within the industry (i.e. actors, grips, storyboard artists) live with different levels of assistance. As a volunteer, depending on what skills you bring to the table, you can work on campus or in-home.

Imagine sitting with 102-year-old actor Connie Sawyer and hear stories about her experiences working on such films as “When Harry Met Sally” or “True Grit”.

“I loved working on Ray Donovan – my son was a hit man and I really got to cuss,” said Sawyer in a recent interview. I guarantee you will become a richer person for having met and talked to her along with all the others involved in the program.

Find something near and dear to your heart when you’re looking for a place to volunteer.

The Fund is just one example. As many of you know, I’m a big animal person. Years ago I trained my dog Savannah as a Certified Therapy Dog and we visited patients in hospitals. It was emotionally grueling and physically exhausting. But, to see the look on their faces when we arrived was the most rewarding volunteer work I’ve ever done. That my dog and I could change a person’s day – even for a minute – made a huge difference. It’s a win-win for both of us.

It made my heart break wide open, in the good way, and made me a better person.

When you are being of service you are not thinking about yourself and you are giving of yourself. When you simply apply this thought process to your auditions, you will be a better actor because it’s not all about you. You’ve taken the focus off of you, and onto the project. You are there to serve your character, the words, and the craft.

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

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Always Trust Your Casting Director

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By Marci Liroff

A few years ago I was casting a film and a teenaged girl came in to read for the lead character. I knew she was somewhat green because she didn’t have many credits and minimal training – but she had an intriguing look. Since I had spent quite a lot of time with the director in the week’s prior, I knew what we were looking for based on his feedback and the feedback of the producers who watched all the auditions thus far.

We had worked on the scenes in a very thorough way. When I work with an actor in a pre-read or coaching, not only do we break down the character and go through the script for clues, we also talk specifically about what they can do in the audition room to help the filmmakers see them as the role. We talk about questions they can ask, what to wear, and for the women, their hair, make-up and clothing. This role (and one of the scenes) was very physical and we had chosen a physical training scene to see how the character could move by showing us simple sparring moves while reading the dialogue.

When we rehearsed the scene in the initial audition, I could tell that she was coming from the wrong place emotionally – at least wrong for what we were looking for. I re-directed her and shaped the performance and her objectives so that it would be more in the direction of what the filmmakers were looking for. She had worked out an elaborate kickboxing routine (including dropping onto the floor and springing back up) to show-off her kickboxing skills. I told her this wasn’t right for the audition setting and wouldn’t work on-camera, and we simply wanted to see her spar – if she got the part we’d train her for the fight scenes.

The day of the audition she came in looking like a teenage version of a Bond girl. Hair coiffed and curled, make-up just so, and high-heeled boots (we specifically said no high-heels when we gave out the appointments).

She wanted the role so badly she had worked herself up into a nervous frenzy and came off so desperate that she could barely speak and truly wasn’t herself in the audition.

She then went through the scenes and did exactly what I told her not to do. Her scene objectives and choices were the exact opposite of what we’d worked on. Then we got to the sparring scene. Like we always do, we instruct the actor how we want the scene blocked – just some simple sparring moves and no elaborate physicality. Instead of what we just told her to do, she went into the kickboxing routine. The scene was about the dialogue and the relationship between the two characters, not about a choreographed routine. The director was less than pleased. I was so disappointed that she didn’t follow my directions from the other day – along with the director’s on the day.

She begged to come back to prove that she could do it. She pleaded that “this character was her – she knew it in her bones.” Because I love that sort of passion from an actor, I said I’d read her again – without the director this time. I worked with her again to get her back I shape. I told her exactly what to wear and how she should look: leather jacket, flat boots, jeans, and a sleeveless top to show her arms. I was so excited to see what she would do now that she had another chance to prove herself. She came back wearing a long-sleeved blouse that was not form fitting, thigh-high boots with heels and, very long and full false eyelashes. Not the look of this character at all. Not what I had explicitly requested based on the director’s wishes. Again, her reading was off.

When we talked it over a week later she told me that she had also been going to her acting coach. She figured more information and guidance could only be a good thing. Her acting coach was giving her info that directly contradicted what we were looking for and basically undid all the work that we had done together.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to your acting coach for your auditions. Hell, I’m an acting coach so that would be ridiculous. I’m suggesting that if you get specific notes and direction from your casting director at your initial audition, make sure to integrate that into your coaching sessions and alert your coach if he’s sending you in the wrong direction.

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

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