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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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Am I Worthy?

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By Marci Liroff

How do you feel when you’re walking into the audition room? Are you truly feeling confident? Or do you think it’s like the lottery and hope that they “pick me. Just give me the job!” When you’re coming into an audition you have to ask yourself, “Am I worthy?” If you don’t think you are, then you’re not ready and you’re sending the room that signal.

Casting my latest film, I’m seeing several actors walk into the room in a very tentative way. I can almost see the thought bubble over their head: “I’m never gonna get this. I’m so bad at comedy. All the other girls looked like models.” I can tell that they don’t feel like they should be there and we’re going to discover that they’ve been fooling us all along. They don’t deserve it.

Years ago I was casting a pilot that called for a sexy young woman to work in a men’s high-end shave shop. A funny actor we loved came into the room (which included the creator, producer, writer, and director) and blurted out…

“Gosh, I never get these roles. I’m such a tomboy—everybody thinks I have a dick!”

A hush fell over the room for a moment and then we all laughed. She then did the scene with our lead actor and was truly funny. After she left, all the people in the room looked at me questioningly, like, ”Does she really have a dick?!” That’s all they could think about. They obsessed about it for the entire session. In her nervousness and self-deprecating humor, she had planted a seed and now they couldn’t see past it because she truly didn’t believe that she deserved to be there. She had successfully shot herself in the foot.

Some say “fake it till you make it.” In her TED Talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy talks about how body language shapes who you are. She shows how “power posing”—standing in a posture of confidence even when we don’t feel confident—can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain and might even have an impact on our chances for success. In her video, she suggests going into the bathroom before an important meeting and adopting the power pose for a few minutes (think Wonder Woman: hands on hips, legs firmly planted and slightly apart). Hey, even I do it before important meetings with executives. It definitely works!

So much of how you present yourself is in your head. Once the preparation has been done, it’s all about perspective—and this is the good news: You are in control of how you view the audition process. You have the choice of how you’re going to view your audition and how you view it thereafter. Are you going to kick yourself time and time again that you didn’t do what you wanted to do in an audition? Or are you going to learn from it—specifically what went wrong or what sent you off the rails? Are you going to continue to let that voice inside your head tell you you’re no good? Or are you going to master that voice and banish it not only from the room but your head forever? You have this choice. Take back that power.

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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The Secret to Skype Auditions

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By Marci Liroff

I’ve long been a fan of technology, especially in my casting office. I’ve gone from having a bookcase overflowing with Betamax tapes to links to actors’ videos on my laptop. Years ago, if I wanted a demo reel on an actor, I would have to go to Blockbuster, rent tapes, and edit it myself. Or, if the agent was very savvy, I would ask for it and it would arrive via messenger into the studio mailroom, then finally delivered to me 48–72 hours later. Not a good way to do business!

Information needs to be attainable lightning fast.

Nowadays, when I’m on the phone with an agent, she can instantaneously send me a link to an actor and we can talk about it in real time. The same applies to auditioning. If I need to see your audition and you’re not in my city, I’ll request one from your agent or manager. And if you’re set up at home with the right equipment, I can get it within a few hours. On my latest film, I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the self-taped auditions that have been sent my way. They are usually well-lit, the sound is good, and the actor has taken the time to find a good reader—which really helps with the process. This is so easy to do yourself once you understand how to use your equipment to your benefit. My article “How to Self-Tape Your Audition Like a Rock Star” has helped thousands of people.

The new trend (although not so new to me) is auditioning via Skype with the director. Since the director is not usually in your hometown, if we like your self-taped audition we’ll set up a virtual “meeting” through Skype so that the director and actor can discuss the project and get to know each other. I’ve been using this method for several years with my tech-savvy director clients, with a little twist.

My director wants to work with you via Skype while you rerecord your audition. You’ll tape your audition on your video camera, like usual, but he’s essentially “in the room” with you via Skype with your laptop pointed toward you. He can watch you audition, give you notes, and redirect you throughout your takes. Then you send in the link to what your camera taped for our review. I’ve hired actors for leading roles a few times with this method without ever being in the same room with them. (In those cases, the actors were somewhat well-known and had a body of work to show in addition to our audition.)

I’ve also “beamed” my director into the audition room when he’s off on location, and I’ve set up auditions in my L.A. office. I prop my laptop up on a large box atop a chair, and it’s almost like he’s there giving you direction. I have a special camera that hooks into my computer and bypasses the laptop camera, so that when we Skype or FaceTime, he’s actually seeing what my camera sees instead of the laptop camera. Pretty cool, huh?

Through the years I’ve noticed that some actors are comfortable with this process and truly excel, and some are extremely befuddled by it. They don’t know where to look or which camera to act toward. They should be connecting with their reader, who is standing right next to the tripod of the camera shooting their audition, and then connecting with the director (on their laptop) to get direction on the scene and to talk.

At this point in the game, you’ve got to familiarize yourself with the latest technology so it’s like second nature when the opportunity knocks. Practice at home with your friends who live out of town. Have meetings on Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts so that you’re familiar with the different platforms.

Most of all, have fun with it! The future is here!

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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