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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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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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