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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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Is Your Agent One Of The Good Guys?

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By Marci Liroff

My relationships with agents and managers are essential to my business.

Since I’ve been casting for several years, some of these relationships go back over 35 years, to the days before cellphones, fax machines, and (gasp!) email. Back then, agents would stop by my office to sit in the lobby, read the scripts, and submit clients by going through their book of photos. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Nowadays, communication is lightning-fast and a lot can be lost in translation when we take the “face-to-face” out of the equation. As an actor you need to make sure that your agent is representing you with integrity and precision. From my years-long relationship with an agent or manager, I learn whether I can trust them to have good taste and honesty when I’m negotiating a deal or checking a client’s quote (what they earned). If an agent lies to me about an actor’s salary I know I can’t trust them—at all.

When an agent or manager tries to go around me and deal directly with my director or producer, I realize they don’t respect me or the process. The other day an agent said that his client needed to read with the director, not me. I pointed out that I’ve worked with this director for the last 12 years and no one goes straight to him unless I know their work intimately or I’ve read them before. I explained that the casting director isn’t a hurdle to be jumped over, but a relationship to foster. That actor got to come in and work with me beforehand and get the bonus of all the inside information I had before she read for the director.

When I release a Breakdown or put out the word to the agency and management community (through Backstage, for instance) that I’m casting a project, the submissions start to flow. Actually, it’s more like a barrage. Many times agents use photos that are 10 years old and black-and-white (which we don’t use anymore), or résumés that aren’t updated. Or they’ll call or email with a client suggestion and not include a link to their demo along with a photo and résumé. Lazy? Careless? Overworked? I’m not sure—but it’s not effective in the least.

You’ve got to “police” your agent (and his or her assistant) to make sure your most up-to-date information is being sent.

When we go through the Breakdown we view it in the order it’s submitted. Many other casting offices will view it by agency—viewing the “biggies” first. I don’t play favorites by representation. I make my choices of who I want to see by the photo, résumé, training, and video clips, not by my favorite agents. That said, if an agent with whom I have a longtime relationship calls me and says, “You’ve got to meet this kid!” I do it because I trust them.

Some agents submit what we call a “laundry list” of their clients. I hate this. Instead of actually reading the screenplay, they just read the Breakdown character description (the equivalent of not reading the book in college and only reading the Cliff’s Notes). Because they haven’t read the script they don’t understand the tone of the project and their submissions are usually off. Instead of suggesting a small handful of handpicked clients, they send all their clients in that age range. I truly appreciate the agents who go the extra mile (which, frankly, shouldn’t be extra) and read the script and send me well–thought-out choices.

After over 35 years as a casting director there are only a couple of agents and managers I won’t deal with. This is due to their lack of integrity and professionalism. That said, if there’s an actor I need to see, I don’t hold it against them that they’re represented by these asshats. I find a way to get them in anyway.

When signing with a potential representative, you need to do the groundwork to check their reputation within the industry. Ask around and make sure you’re with one of the good guys.

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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10 Audition Tips You Need To Know Right Now

By Marci Liroffth

Last week I started casting a new feature film. It’s so thrilling to get to know new actors during auditions and put together the talent for the film!

I was largely impressed by everyone’s preparation. One scene has a three-page monologue, and about 90 percent of the actors were off-book. You could tell they’d put a lot of work into it—not just by learning the lines but by making bold and exciting choices for the character.

This stage always reminds me that there are still things that actors can learn when going through the audition process.

When we instruct you to bring your headshot and résumé to the audition, we actually mean it. It’s not just a suggestion. This is your calling card. You should bring it whether you’ve been instructed or not, just to be safe. I really don’t want to hear, “Oh, my agent-manager said they’d sent it over,” or “I haven’t done that for years.”

Unless you’re Angelina Jolie or Will Smith, you need to bring your pic and résumé to your audition!

When I talk to you before your audition and get to know you, I want your résumé right in front of me so that I can see not only your film and TV credits, but your training and theater credits—neither of which are available on IMDb.

This seems like a no-brainer, but since 9/11 you need to bring your photo ID when you come on a studio lot. I’m amazed at how many people show up without their ID and can’t get on the lot.

The “h” is silent in “nihilism.” If there’s a word in your script you don’t know the meaning of or don’t know how to pronounce, look it up beforehand.

When I have pre-reads (when you work with me before going on to the next step with the director or filmmaking team), I want to get to know you so we’ll chat for a few minutes beforehand. I want to see your personality. I want to see a part of you I won’t be seeing in the audition or haven’t seen yet in your work. For this movie I’m looking for people with that extra “special sauce” – so help me get to know you. When I ask what you thought of the script, have something intelligent to say so that I can see how your brain works, I can hear you talk and see how articulate you are. No one wants to hear, “I thought it was cute” about their project.

Don’t use the director or producers who are in the room as the characters in the scene and look directly at them. It makes them wildly uncomfortable. They want to watch you, not be part of the scene. Just look directly over their heads or use the cameraperson and the reader to direct your looks.

When you are referencing a third person in the scene (other than your reader), don’t direct your looks way off-camera. Just adjust your eye-line to the other side of the camera.

Remember not to slap your sides on your thigh or crinkle them, which can make a lot of unnecessary and annoying noise.

I was very impressed by how the actors dressed for the part to show us how they’re thinking about the character. Wear something that’s indicative of the character—but not a costume. Check out my blog “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ ” for more on how to dress for an audition.

If you come to the studio lot you may have to park 10 or 15 minutes away from the audition, so make sure you come early (as we suggest in our appointment request). And the ladies should make sure to bring a pair of flat shoes.

Before you come in you should know whether you’re going to sit or stand for your audition. When I ask whether you’d like to sit or stand, it shouldn’t take you a few minutes to decide!

Most of these may seem obvious, but you’d be very surprised by how many people make these mistakes. I’m here to help!

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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