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The Totally Uncensored List of Casting Director Pet Peeves

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The Totally Uncensored Casting Director

By Marci Liroff

It’s that time of year again. During the summer break my casting director colleagues get together and celebrate the end of pilot season before episodic casting starts up again. Inevitably, we get to talking about our pet peeves in the audition room. Amid the cocktails, we regale each other with hilarious tales mixed with some scary ones.

In the interest of education, I’d like to share them with you so that you’re not “that guy” who’s making a bad name for himself in offices throughout the town.

Don’t wear perfume or cologne. Year after year this seems to be the #1 peeve from my colleagues. Please remember that we have to sit in an often small and cramped room without ventilation for hours on end. When you come in wearing your girlfriend/boyfriend’s favorite scent we have to live with it for the next several hours. Some of us are highly sensitive and allergic to perfume and get migraines and nausea. Think of the casting office like you would a doctor’s office. Don’t do it!

No weapons, not even fake ones. I’ve had actors pull fake guns and knives on me – it was very traumatic. If a scene asks you to pull a knife out of your jacket … please don’t do that in an audition. Especially if you don’t tell the CD before hand. This could lead to furniture being toppled and a big producer putting you in a choke hold.”

This one is very simple. Wear underpants.

This seems so basic I hesitate to even share it, but, make sure your picture and resume are stapled together before you arrive at the casting office. Don’t ask to borrow my stapler or my assistant’s stapler. Make sure your contact info and agent/mgr. is written on the photos and your resume in case they get separated – which happens all the time. When I ask you for your picture, don’t hand me three different choices and ask me to pick which one – make a choice beforehand.

Excuses. Leave them home. Actors that preface their audition with an excuse, “I was tired, sick – all it says to me is, “get ready, I am going to be really bad today.”

Coming in with a bad attitude. Never underestimate the effect being pleasant has on everyone.

Don’t prop yourself up with props. Don’t use a prop in a scene unless you are totally comfortable with it. I’ve seen props totally befuddle some people. A phone is fine. Just don’t set up a one-person show – unless you’re Carrot Top.

If it’s a driving scene, you don’t have to pretend to actually “drive” the car.

For The Men: I’m not going to have sex with you so don’t even TRY to seduce me into thinking you are a better actor than you are. Charm is good. Wit. Personality. But flirting in a creepy way is…well.. creepy.

Be nice and courteous to everyone. You never know: that receptionist could end-up being a director or producer some day. And the interns definitely “rat-you-out” when you leave. The guy who used to clean my toilets was nominated for an Oscar ten years later.

Don’t slap your sides on your thighs. It’s an unnecessary distraction.

Because producers and directors are rarely in the room anymore, actors feel like they can take their time and work out the material with us as if we’re their coach. As if they don’t have to impress us because we’re not the director or the producers. So they want to stop and start over and over again until they get a take they like. It’s us that you have to impress because we decide if we’re even going to send along your audition. I hear things like “let’s just play” or “let’s just try it a few different ways”.

We’re not your roommate or your acting teachers or coaches. How you are in the room is my only assumption of how you will be on set. So if you start and stop or swear or break down, I have to assume that’s how you will be on set.

Don’t eat during the scene. I auditioned a Julliard grad for a scene taking place during the Vietnam war and he insisted he couldn’t do the scene without also eating an apple. “That’s how I practiced it.” “But you’re under enemy fire.” “But I need the apple.”

When they don’t do the easy homework. The question, “So what exactly is this?” drives me bonkers. Just taking the time to go through all the information on the breakdown, not just their character description, but the names of the producers, the casting team, which studio/network the project is for, googling/youtubing clips helps inform their choices and gives them confidence to just focus on the character and be in the moment. I try to remind actors that if they treat their audition prep like a regular job interview, and go through all of the information that’s provided to them, it’s going to free them up to simply act.

Take a shower first.

If you just got the sides and won’t be ready to audition, then what happens when you get the job and they give you new pages the morning of the shoot?! You’re telling us that you can’t actually do the job even if you get it!

Don’t look around the audition room and ask if anyone else is going to be coming in. If they were, they’d already be here.

Assume that if you’re there it’s for a reason.

Don’t start commenting on how you don’t match the description or people in the waiting room don’t look like you, or ask if everyone is there for the same role. Just focus on the task at hand – which is your audition, right now.

Asking the CD permission to do something during the reading – instead of just making the choice and letting it be fresh and exciting to our eyes.

If your agent sends you an audition for a role with specific needs and you know you are not qualified (i.e. authentic native language, dancing or singing ability) please cancel.

It’s your job to know your conflicts. Do not audition if you know you have a date conflict. Work in partnership with your agent & casting.

If you have a time conflict: it’s one thing to call ahead, find out the time perimeters and ask if you can come earlier/later, that’s fine. But don’t just show up hours early (or late), expecting us to drop what we’re doing in order to audition you.

We have a small office and when you pace outside the door and rehearse your scene LOUDLY, EVERYONE inside that office – including the actor auditioning and the producers/director sitting watching that audition – can HEAR YOU. And it’s RUDE. And please don’t all have GabFest 2015 right outside the door either with your fellow actors.

If you have somewhere to be and we’re running a little behind, don’t just leave. Let us know and we’ll squeeze you in. And please, for the love of god, do not slap the casting director reading with you! Or try to kiss them. Or give them a lap dance. You know what? Just don’t touch the casting director.

If I give you an adjustment, please don’t explain to me why you made the initial choice for the character. I didn’t say that you sucked, I didn’t say you were wrong – You don’t have to justify your choices. Sometimes I’m giving you a note because I know what they are specifically looking for and I want to help you get the job. Sometimes I’m doing it because I want to see if you can take direction.

Please please don’t show up with ANY illness, fevers, coughing, rashes…puking in the trash cans! Yep it happens. Keep your germs at home. If you get can’t get rescheduled then ask to self- tape or you may just have to miss it. Some of us are immune suppressed, pregnant and have kids – or just want to stay healthy(not a big request) NO AUDITION is worth us getting sick over.!

Believe it or not, all of these stories are true (as shared by my casting colleagues). I’ll bet that the actors reading this have equally unprofessional stories to tell about the producer who was on the phone the entire time they auditioned. Or, the casting director who never once looked up from her computer to connect during their audition. (tell me your stories of how YOU were treated unprofessionally, and I’ll do a blog on that!)

Thankfully, these stories are the exception and I’m continually amazed and impressed by the talented actors who come through my door.

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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Why You Should Stay Curious

CURIOUSITY

By Marci Liroff

They say that curiosity killed the cat, but that simply cannot apply to actors. I find curiosity one of the sexiest qualities a person can have. As an actor you’ve got to be continuously curious and fearless to dig deeper into your role while being open to discovering what’s behind the closed door.

As you can imagine, I get dozens of Facebook friend requests daily. I’m one of those people who like to keep my personal Facebook page private, so I created a business page to interact with the acting community. I check each request to see if it’s someone I’ve met recently and my addled brain can’t make the connection, or if it’s an actor I don’t know trying to “friend” me. I usually send those actors a friendly response: “Hi there! This is actually my personal page, for friends and family—I’m sure you understand. Thanks so much for reaching out! I set up another page where we can talk so please feel free to connect over there to get all the updates on casting, private coaching, and my Audition Bootcamp.” I give links to my Facebook business page, my Twitter account, my online class for actors, my website, my blog, and the archive to my articles on Backstage. The usual response is one of gratitude to be exposed to so much information.

That’s why I was so gobsmacked to receive this response after sending my usual “connect with me over on the other page” reply. “Joe Facebook” said, “I went to Stanford and I’m on national TV. I’m good, but thanks.” “I’m good.” Really? You’re good? Believe me, I’m not so full of myself to think that everyone has to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, but are you really going to close yourself off to learning anything new? At the very least, check out the Resources page on my site, which is chock-full of industry-related links and useful information.

When I was in my early 30s, I thought I knew everything. Of course, that was my ego talking, as I didn’t want anyone to know that I actually didn’t know everything.

It took me quite a while to let down my defenses and open up to stop talking, listen, and learn.

Does “Joe Facebook” really not have anything to learn from someone who’s been in this business for decades? This weighed heavily on me for a few days until curiosity got the better of me (see what I did there?) and I looked him up on IMDb and Actors Access. Sure enough, there’s not a single credit. Going further down the rabbit hole I found his YouTube channel, where he has no personal acting videos posted but has subscribed to a number of musicians’ channels—still no acting-related channels.

I spend hours each day doing research to make me a better casting director. As an actor, you never stop learning and studying. I teach my students to read several websites daily to know what’s going on in their business. You need to watch at least two episodes of all the shows that are on TV. Not only do you need to watch the latest movies, I urge you to be a walking, talking library of film history. See plays, concerts, and art; unplug from your devices and plug into nature. Be curious. Trust me, you don’t know everything.

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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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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