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Stop Saying No in Auditions

12.17.2015_Note_CD_Nick_Bertozzi.jpeg.644x650_q100Illustration By : Nick Bertozzi

By Marci Liroff

Megatalented television producer Shonda Rhimes just came out with a new book, “Year of Yes,” which chronicles the 12 months she spent agreeing to do anything and everything that scared her. It wasn’t just a “yes” to putting herself in harm’s way, like jumping out of an airplane. Most of us would say no to that. But she realized she wasn’t saying yes to much of anything, which meant she was avoiding new possibilities and opportunities. As she told NPR, “I was going to say yes to all the things that scared me, that made me nervous, that freaked me out, that made me think I’m going to look foolish doing it. Anything that took me out of my comfort zone, I was going to do it, if asked to do it.”

I realized this new habit of Rhimes’ could be embraced by many of the adult actors with whom I work. I reference specifically “adult” actors because most of the children with whom I work don’t seem to have the same fears about taking risks. Kids will do just about anything for you in an audition or on set because their egos haven’t developed enough to worry about looking stupid. They take chances and risks and play the clown because it’s fun. They say yes to any game you set forth because their imaginations are still limitless. As we get older, we start building that “wall” to protect ourselves from uncomfortable situations and start to say, “No, I’m not going to do that, I’ll look like an idiot.”

Along with saying no out of fear, you close yourself off to the opportunity to do great things. When actors audition for a role, many times I see them staying within the boundaries of the material but not taking any risks by making bold character choices. It’s as if they were told to color within the lines. But after a while, that gets really boring for your audience (and the actor, I imagine).

The performances that grab us are the ones where the actor is doing something unexpected—where you don’t know what they’ll do next and it can be surprising and scary in the same breath.

Take a look at Johnny Depp in the movie “Black Mass.” Yes, we all know Whitey Bulger is a bad guy, a criminal, a killer. But Depp plays him so quietly, so reservedly. I’ve heard actors worry that they aren’t doing enough; they should study what Depp is doing in his most explosive and terrifying scenes. He fully sits back into his character and says yes to who he is at heart. Depp told a reporter, “For me it was walking that tightrope between playing a very dangerous, unpredictable walking time bomb who could also be emotional and even sensitive.”

I’d so much rather have you come in and make the wrong choices than no choices. Take a stab at it and say yes. That, I can work with!

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.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions.  Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.)

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Hollywood Has Become The Wild, Wild West

01072016_Nick_Bertozzi_NCD.jpg.644x650_q100Illustration By : Nick Bertozzi

By Marci Liroff

If you’re in L.A. and haven’t RSVPd to my April Audition Bootcamp, take a moment and check it out. Only a few seats left!

As a casting director, producer, and acting coach, I read, on average, about 20 scripts a week. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that indie filmmaking has become the wild, Wild West. People who have no experience decide they’re going to make a movie, wave a wand over their heads, and call themselves a writer, producer, or director. Make sure you know who you’re jumping in bed with before you start the project.

Recently, I was sent a script from a newbie producer to see if I could help him attach talent. The script was mediocre, extremely predictable, and filled with tired dialogue. Worse yet, it was absolutely riddled with typos, incomplete sentences, bad grammar, and giant leaps of logic.

Rather than answer with my usual, “Sorry, it’s not my cup of tea. Best of luck to you,” I took the time to send him my detailed notes. He answered with a very curt, “Thanks for your feedback.”

Today I mistakenly received an email from him that was actually meant for the writer: “We will not be using this casting director, she was pretty arrogant with her comments. Sorry. But she brought up several errors we should clear up because she’s right and I didn’t even notice them before.”

I’m all for creating your own content. It’s a great way to get your work out into the marketplace and not wait to be asked to the party.

That said, just because you have a camera (or a laptop) doesn’t mean you should use it. Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean it’s fully formed and ready to go out into the world.

If you’re going to create your own product, make sure to surround yourself with the most creatively talented, like-minded people you can find.

I can’t imagine any other business where you’d send out your product in such a half-assed manner. When I read a script that has several typos on the first page, it gives me great pause. Didn’t anyone proofread this first? If I get to Page 30 and nothing has happened to set up or move the story forward, I stop reading. If you’re this careless in presenting your project, how can I be partners with you?

You need to vet the people with whom you’re working. I had a writer call me the other day to cast his film, and a simple Google search found that the producer was being sued by the financiers for lying about an actor being attached and forging contracts. I called the actor’s manager, a good friend, who confirmed that her client had never been involved in the production and the team had to send a cease and desist letter to get them to stop using the actor’s name in reference to their project. They had shot the film for several weeks and production was halted because the producer hadn’t paid the crew, vendors, or locations for two weeks. And they wanted me to hop on to this moving train wreck?

Another producer hired me to cast her small, self-financed indie film. After things started moving too fast for her (because of a looming start date that she had approved), she got cold feet and pulled the plug and decided not to pay anyone on the crew. (I later recouped for my time worked.)

Moral of the story? Ask a lot of questions. Unless the filmmakers are a known quantity with a history of professionalism, protect yourself and check out the people with whom you’re going to be working—and do a thorough search.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you experienced this?

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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.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions.  Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.)

The Moment Before and The Moment After

The Moment before and the moment after

By Marci Liroff

Any good actor knows he needs to prepare the “moment before” any scene. Often forgotten is the “moment after.”

When I’m holding auditions for my projects, I see so many actors who have done their research on the project, made character choices, and are off-book. Yet when the scene starts, I see them turn on their “acting switch” and start acting, rather than just leaning back into the character and the scene at hand.

You have to know what happened leading into the scene you’re reading (whether it’s an audition or on set). Many times, you’ve only received a set of sides, no script, and a minimal character description with no way of knowing what just happened. Guess what? You have to make it up and flesh it out. Find clues within the material and come up with your own “moment before” so that you have an organic place from which to come.

The action and emotional moments don’t just come with your first line. They come from the second the scene starts, even before the camera is rolling. There are golden moments before the first line is delivered.

I always ask my cameraperson to shoot plenty of “heads and tails” to catch this magic. “Heads” (what we get on tape) refers to the specific choices that a smart actor does to set the scene before the first line. “Tails” is the amazing emotion we see at the end of the scene when most people are so into the role that they unconsciously show us something about the character we didn’t even know. Remember not to stop the scene and turn off when the scene ends. Stay in the moment and continue your emotions until you hear “cut” or the creative team comments on your performance.

I coach my clients to create a short sentence of a main objective to trigger their emotions going into a scene. Keep the stakes high for your objectives and the scene will have a deeper emotional life; “I have to get this information from her or I’ll lose her/I’ll die/she will leave me.” Along with this, you can create a visual “flash memory” of photos of what led up to this event. You have to be able to smell it and feel it as well.

The moment before isn’t what just happened. It’s what your character did that morning. Did you have a rough night sleeping? Did your car crap out on you on the way to meeting your boss in the scene? All of these things can play into your moment before and give you a richer performance.

If you’re auditioning for a very emotionally raw or intense role, protect your audition. You’ve probably spent the last 20 minutes or so in the waiting room amping up and zoning into your character. Then you come into the room and the director wants to chitchat with you or the introductions might distract you. A good casting director will instruct her team to start the scene and save the conversation for later. You can be proactive and politely say, “Let’s jump into the scene and I’d love to talk after.”

That said, if you have one or two lines such as “Here’s your coffee, sir,” you don’t want to do anything other than walk up and deliver the coffee. Adding too much “business” at the top (or end of a scene) is distracting and calls attention to what should be a simple action of moving the plot forward.

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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.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions.  Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.)

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