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How To Make Friends With Directors

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By Marci Liroff

If there’s one thing you should know about me after reading my columns, it’s that I’m a big fan of preparation. When my casting director colleagues are asked, “What is your biggest pet peeve?” they seem to always answer, “Lack of preparation.” Preparation doesn’t always take the form of being off-book and having made distinct character choices. There are so many things you can be doing throughout the year to make yourself a better and more well-rounded actor.

In my article “How to Prep for the Fall TV Season,” I encouraged you to see at least one or two episodes of every new show (and existing shows) that is out there so that you can spend 100 percent of your time before your audition preparing for the scenes you’ve been given, rather than having to catch up on viewing the shows.

Another crucial thing to becoming an actor with range is to watch old movies.

I’d like you to become a walking film library. 

You may come across a director in an audition situation or on a set who, rather than being able to articulate what she is looking for, will give you an example of a character in a classic (or not-so-classic) film. Since you’re a student of cinema, you will know exactly to what she’s referring.

I’ve worked with several directors who are very visually creative and are driven by their “right brain” and can’t actually tell you what they need from you. Many of them resort to using film references. If a director told you that he needs the enthusiasm and guilelessness of Warren Beatty in “Heaven Can Wait,” would you know what he means? When a director and DP talk about the opening tracking shot from “Goodfellas,” will you know what they mean and how to sustain your performance throughout?

I’ve witnessed actors in meetings with directors (and at my dinner parties) who have simply wowed a director with their endless knowledge of film history. A vast knowledge of actors’ performances along with classic shots shows a filmmaker that you have been paying attention and aren’t just interested in yourself, but are drawing from the past to make inspired choices. When actor Dennis Christopher met with director Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained,” they talked about film for hours.

I’ve prepared lists of my favorite films from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s that I believe are films you simply must see (check out the Resources page on my site. Scroll down toward the bottom – AMAZING list of resources here btw). Films such as “The Birds,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” and “Lolita” in the ’60s. “Harold and Maude,” “The Last Picture Show,” and “Midnight Cowboy” in the ’70s. Check out “Blood Simple,” “Silkwood,” and “Blade Runner” from the ’80s. These are but a few of my favorites. Study them. Track your favorite actor and see where they began and where they are now. Look at Leonardo DiCaprio in his first movies, like “This Boy’s Life” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” Then watch what he does in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

See you in the movies!

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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Learn The 4 Phases of TV Pilot Testing

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By Marci Liroff

In my Audition Bootcamp classes I take my students through what it’s like to test at the network level. It usually scares the crap out of them. They sit there, agog – their faces in a state of shock and fear. I’m one of those people that like to know everything about an upcoming situation before I jump into it – typical type-A personality. I figure if I have all the Intel, I can deal with it easier. It seems to take a lot of the “what if” anxiety out of the equation. I hope this exploration of what testing for a pilot helps you too when you get the opportunity.

The Preread
First, you read for me. No one meets the creative team (producers, director, studio and network executives) unless I know their work or I’ve auditioned them before. If I like what you did in this audition, I’ll bring you back to read for the producers and the director.

The Callback
If I like what you did in the preread, I’ll bring you in to read for the producers and director. First, though, I’ll have worked with you and given you notes based on my meetings with them (and with the network and studio) to ascertain what we’re looking for. If you do well in this audition, we’ll test you.

Testing for the Studio
Most pilots are produced by a production company (the studio) and aired on the network. First, you test for the studio. (Some studios are also networks, such as Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu.)

Since we want you to succeed we usually schedule a “work session” with our creative team to go through the scenes and make sure you’re ready.

Meanwhile, business affairs will be negotiating with your agent. For the test, the contract states that you are on “hold” with the studio and network for the next seven to 10 days until we either release you or pick up your option. This puts you in “first position” with our pilot; you can’t test for other projects because most networks won’t let you test in second position.

Speaking of signing a deal, when you get to the studio test location you’ll be met by a business affairs executive and about four pounds of paperwork (your contract) that you’ll need to sign before testing. You’ll be in a waiting area with three to four other people also testing for your role. It’s all nice and congenial and there’s a thick fog of tension in the air. While you’re meant to be prepping for your big opportunity you have to sign your life away (well, only the next five years!).

You’re asked to come into a small theater (think small screening room) or a conference room where the 20 or so executives are assembled to watch your audition. I’ll be sitting at the front of the room to read with you. Or, the actor you’re playing opposite will be there to read with you so we can see your chemistry. Even though these people want you to get the role, don’t expect a lot of warmth emanating from them.

At this point you’ll probably feel as if you’ve left your body and are looking down at your puny self. Resist this at all costs.

Remember what I told you about nervousness having the same physical sensation as excitement? Check out Jack Plotnick’s superb video on YouTube to get back on track.

You read, you say thank you, and you return to the waiting room and your fellow actors. At this point I may stick my head out of the room and say, “Hey, Johnny, we’d like you to come back in again. And you two can leave.” Yeah—it’s that blunt. But don’t overanalyze it. We might have loved what you did and want to see if Johnny can lighten up in the scene.

Testing for the Network
After your studio test, we narrow it down again. It’s a similar situation—a different room plus even more executives. You need to stay calm, not choke, and do exactly what you did for the studio test. From this point we have however many days your agent negotiated to pick up your option.

Some TV networks and studios are taping their tests, which I think is better and less stressful for all concerned. Instead of coming in and testing live in the room at the studio and network, we’ll tape your work session, get the perfect audition and take that in to the executives on a DVD. This way it’s comparing apples to apples. We tend to do this for single camera shows, and still do live auditions for multi-cam shows.

If you make it to any of these tests and don’t get the part, know you did your best and move on to your next audition. Pat yourself on the back that you got this far. It truly is amazing.

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My New Year Prayer For You

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By Marci Liroff

Here comes that time of year again. New Year’s Day brings with it a time of reflection on the past year. For many, it’s a time to restart programs, habits, exercise, and things we let slide during the last several months. It’s time to take stock of our lives and plan anew.

For an actor it’s a great time to reassess what’s working for you and what’s not. If you’ve been keeping a daily diary or spreadsheet of your auditions and meetings this year (as I suggested in my article “How Keeping a Diary Can Help You Book the Job”) you’ll be able to see your progress in black and white. This little trick will show you that this year you had 25–30 auditions and last year you had only 15. You’ll be able to track your callbacks and feedback.

Perhaps it’s time to let go of old precepts and thoughts and shift your mindset. I always come back to this. Your perception is the one thing you have control of in this business.

So much is out of your control (how you look, you’re too old or young, you remind the director of his ex-wife), but after you’ve sufficiently trained and prepped for the role you are the only one who can control how you’re going to let it affect you. You have the choice of how you’re going to view your audition and how you view it thereafter. Are you going to kick yourself time and time again after each audition when you didn’t do what you wanted to do? Or are you going to learn from it — specifically what went wrong or what sent you off the rails? Are you going to continue to let that voice inside your head say, “I’m not right for this. I always screw up in comedy — I’m no good,” or are you going to master that voice and banish it not only from the room, but your head forever? You have this choice.

You also learn from what you did right — those times when you feel comfortable in your own skin and you come ready to play. You’re prepared, you’re flexible in those moments when you get a director who wants to work with you in the room. You’re there to have fun and get the job done. You come in as a collaborator rather than someone who just needs to book a job. Once again, it’s your mindset. We pick up on the energy you bring into the room.

Reflection can also take another path. In my article “Why Do You Act?,” I talked about Will Smith being asked by Jimmy Fallon if fame can ever be scary. His reply was right on the money. Smith replied that it could be, especially now that his kids are coming into the business. “But I tell them…keep loving people. The thing is to make sure with your art that it is a gift to people to help their lives be better and brighter. What happens a lot of times when you see people fail in this business is that they’re in it for their ego, and they start doing it for them. It’s like, no, you’re trying to help people get through a day.”

As this new year begins, I urge you to keep loving, be mindful, be good to yourselves, and be of service to those around you. You are artists and you have a story to tell.

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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