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Can You Hear Me Now?

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By Marci Liroff

Acting is reacting. If you aren’t truly listening and reacting to your scene partner then you might as well be a bump on a log. I love to watch an actor soak in information and see it wash across her face. All you have to do is live in the moment of the scene, think, take in the information, and actively listen—the camera will do the rest.

I always like to read with actors rather than hire a reader, because I can always tell if they’re acting on their own or actually with their scene partner. I can tell if they’re just waiting for their cue line or truly listening to me. I notice this mostly with child actors who seem to shut down between their lines.

An audition the other day perfectly illustrated this issue. The scene called for a child to have fallen into a deep hole that was filling with water. He was panicked, wet, cold, and in serious pain from having caught his foot under a large rock below. Deeply wedged in below the surface, he was frantically calling out for help. Each scene called for him to maintain and sustain a greater level of panic. There was an enormous amount of dialogue being delivered from the rescue crew up top. The child and the rescue team were able to communicate through a phone they had delivered below through a PVC pipe, so he was hearing their plans and directions.

I noticed several times that his face seemed to go blank when the info was being delivered, as if he wasn’t even there. He would only perk up when he heard his cue line. I directed him to use his breathing to help him connect to the fear that he was feeling.

When you’re scared, your breathing changes.

Even though he was trapped and didn’t have a lot to say, he needed to listen to all of the dialogue coming from the rescue crew so that he would know what they were planning to do with him. It’s always good to make the stakes high—he literally wouldn’t survive unless he listened to what their rescue plan was going to be. He needed to know every detail in order to get out before the water rose above his neck. By the last reading he was fully aware of his surroundings and dependent upon hearing every word spoken so that he could stay alive. He was almost hyperventilating. His attentiveness and acute listening skills produced a scintillating, edge-of-your-seat performance because not only was he fully committed to the scene and his character, he was listening to every specific detail that the other characters spoke as if his life depended on it.

When I’m auditioning actors, I always instruct my camera person to shoot plenty of “heads and tails.” This means they roll the camera for a few moments before you start the scene and keep it rolling for a while after the scene, until I call cut. A good director knows that there are priceless moments to be caught just before the scene starts and just after the scene ends. Make sure you stay in character in your audition even though your dialogue has stopped and the scene has seemingly ended. Your reader may throw in an extra line at the end and segue into an improv when you least expect it. If you’re truly listening, you will be ready to catch that ball when it’s thrown to you.

Great actors are those who are good on their feet and on their toes during a performance onstage, in front of the camera, and in the audition room.

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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You’ve Got the Role!

thBy Marci Liroff

What’s the best part of my job? That’s easy: telling actors they got the role. Some agents and managers are generous enough to include me when sharing the news with their clients. It’s beyond exciting. All our hard work paid off and I end up jumping up and down with them from my office.

On the film “Vampire Academy,” our producer Deepak Nayar came up with a unique and classy way of telling Zoey Deutch and Lucy Fry that we’d chosen them to play our leads. After a lengthy testing process of auditions, callbacks, and, ultimately, chemistry screen tests with different pairings of female actors, he asked me to invite the two to a meeting at a restaurant with the pretense they had one more hoop to jump through. The creative team had already signed off on the casting, but we wanted to be a part of delivering the news. I told their agents that we needed one more meeting with them and all the filmmakers. Their agents and managers were extremely leery of letting their clients go on yet another meeting when they had already tested: “Haven’t they done enough? What more do you want?” I asked them all to trust me. Our long-standing relationships came into play.

I arrived at the restaurant to find our writer, executive producer, director, and Deepak. He had instructed me not to tell anyone at the table that the girls would be joining us. Frankly, they were quite surprised when the actors showed up to our celebratory lunch. First Zoey arrived, and our director inadvertently leaked that we were celebrating their casting.

Then Lucy joined the luncheon and still had no idea why she was there. Deepak finally got to deliver the good news and she was, as expected, quite stunned. Luckily we managed to capture both their reactions on film, which you can watch on my YouTube channel. It still gives me the chills to watch these videos.

 

It’s so thrilling to find the right actor for the role, work with her on it, shepherd her through the process, and then finally get all the filmmakers and the studio executives to agree. Telling actors they’ve got the role is the icing on the cake.

It’s lovely when actors acknowledge our hard work and send a thank-you. I’ve received everything from a phone call expressing gratitude to milk and cookies from Carla Gugino—plus some more extreme gifts. After casting Kelly Preston in four movies (on one of them she met her husband, John Travolta), I jokingly said, “Jeez, Kelly. After all of this I think you owe me a houseboat at the very least!” The next day, her assistant arrived at my office with a very large box. I opened it to find Barbie’s Dream Home Houseboat. Hilarious!

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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How To Prep For The Fall TV Season

By Marci Liroff

If you’ve read my columns, you can probably tell I’m definitely a type A personality. I write a lot about doing research and diligent preparation for your upcoming auditions and jobs. In my article “How Keeping a Diary Can Help You Book the Job,” I talked about how noting your auditions and meetings in your diary–journal–Excel spreadsheet will help you keep track of all the folks you’ve met and see your career trajectory through the years in black and white.

Now that the fall TV season is upon us and it’s time to buckle down and start doing your research again. In order to get ahead of your competition, you need to see at least one or two episodes of every TV show that’s out there—including the new season.

When you get a last-minute audition, it would be smart to have already done your research on the show so that you can understand the world they’re creating, the tone of the show, and how you will fit into it. This way you can spend 100 percent of your time concentrating on the scenes you need to learn rather than catching up on episodes of the show.

I spoke to actor Jen Levin, who has a very precise way of doing her research.

“My process is to research like crazy! I print out the fall premiere dates (I almost always use TVLine). Then I see where I have room on my DVR to record those first few episodes of each new show. I also use Hulu to help out with watching all the new shows.

“When I’m watching a new show, I have a notebook or my iPad to take notes. I make notes on the major characters and their relationships to each other; what the tone of the show is like; the locations of the show (both the city and what sets seem to be used a lot); and finally, I use IMDb to make notes on the producers, directors, and casting directors. I keep those notes so if I get an audition for one of those new shows, I have a lot of my research already done. I also go through my contacts to see if I have met any of the team connected with the show. If I have, I typically send a little congrats note to them, saying how much I enjoyed their new show.

“I try to watch at least two episodes of each new show since many things can change from the pilot to the second episode. I just update my notes as I go along. And for any shows that become a part of my regular viewing, I’ll update those notes from time to time as well.

“I keep the notes on each show until the show is canceled. I’ve found these notes extremely helpful, especially when I have last-minute auditions. I think being prepared has helped me to stay calm at my auditions and focus on making the best impression that I can. This is a smart way for actors to prepare for the unknown. I’ve had same-day auditions where I’ve had an hour to get to the casting office. That isn’t enough time to Google a show and figure out the plot, characters, and tone.”

What about you? How do you research the new fall shows?

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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