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Volunteering Will Make You A Better Actor

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By Marci Liroff

As an actor you are constantly striving to be better. You train consistently, audition, research and hone your craft. One often-neglected element of being a better actor is being a better human. One way of doing this is by volunteering your time.

You might say, “Marci, my day is booked from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep! How can I find the time?” Here’s my proposal – you must make the time.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a charity event for The Motion Picture and Television Fund. For those that aren’t familiar with “The Fund”, the MPTF has been helping Hollywood take care of its own for the last 90 years.

MPTF was created by Hollywood’s earliest entertainment luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith, who realized the need for reaching out to those in the entertainment industry who fell upon hard times. It began with a simple coin box in Hollywood where entertainment industry workers would deposit spare change for fellow colleagues.

Can anyone be a volunteer at The Fund? You have to be in the industry and there are different background checks depending on how you want to be engaged as a volunteer. There is a gorgeous piece of land in Woodland Hills called “the campus” where people within the industry (i.e. actors, grips, storyboard artists) live with different levels of assistance. As a volunteer, depending on what skills you bring to the table, you can work on campus or in-home.

Imagine sitting with 102-year-old actor Connie Sawyer and hear stories about her experiences working on such films as “When Harry Met Sally” or “True Grit”.

“I loved working on Ray Donovan – my son was a hit man and I really got to cuss,” said Sawyer in a recent interview. I guarantee you will become a richer person for having met and talked to her along with all the others involved in the program.

Find something near and dear to your heart when you’re looking for a place to volunteer.

The Fund is just one example. As many of you know, I’m a big animal person. Years ago I trained my dog Savannah as a Certified Therapy Dog and we visited patients in hospitals. It was emotionally grueling and physically exhausting. But, to see the look on their faces when we arrived was the most rewarding volunteer work I’ve ever done. That my dog and I could change a person’s day – even for a minute – made a huge difference. It’s a win-win for both of us.

It made my heart break wide open, in the good way, and made me a better person.

When you are being of service you are not thinking about yourself and you are giving of yourself. When you simply apply this thought process to your auditions, you will be a better actor because it’s not all about you. You’ve taken the focus off of you, and onto the project. You are there to serve your character, the words, and the craft.

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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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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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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