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What Makes You Stand Out in an Audition

By Marci Liroff

I’ve been teaching several online classes over the last few months, and one question that consistently comes up is: What makes my audition stand out? It’s a tough one to answer because, as a longtime casting director, I know a talented actor when I see one. So much of it is subjective, but my years-honed instinct for noticing talent usually wins out. 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, actors are strictly auditioning remotely. This means we casting directors are viewing large numbers of self-taped auditions, along with holding auditions over online platforms like Zoom, Skype, WeAudition, and others. If you aren’t fully prepared to self-tape in your home and audition over these platforms, now is the time to learn.

I attended a Casting Society of America webinar the other day that focused on self-taped auditions. One of the takeaways was that, for now, CDs are definitely cutting actors some slack in terms of the technology. No one is expecting a perfect tape.

We do not want you putting yourself in harm’s way by going to a professional taping facility.

We realize that many actors live alone and don’t have the proper equipment, much less a good reader. We’re happy so long as you are well-lit, the sound is good, and you’ve done the proper prep.

But in terms of really standing out, there’s a lot to be said for good old-fashioned charisma and magnetism. That’s something you can’t buy. Obviously, being über-prepared is a given. After that, showing us your authentic self is first on my list. I can always tell when an actor is pushing and straining to become the character. There is no try, just be. You should disappear into the character. Look at a few of Meryl Streep’s characters and you’ll see that she is no longer there, because she’s subsumed by her character.

Additionally, we often suggest that actors make a strong choice when they’re auditioning. My coaching clients constantly tell me they’re worried that their strong choice will be the wrong choice. Especially with self-taped auditions, you can feel as if you’re acting in a vacuum, as there is no immediate feedback in the room. But here’s what I see: If an actor makes a strong choice that’s headed in the wrong direction, and if they seem to be right for the role, I want to work with them to steer them back in the right direction. Because they’ve made a strong choice, I can see they are an intelligent actor and have done the work, which indicates that giving them adjustments, notes, and direction is worthwhile.

The thing that I miss about live auditions is that indescribable feeling I get when I’m in the presence of a talented human being. Their ease and confidence while performing can change the chemistry of a room. I’m sure you’ve felt this when you’re at a dinner party and your seatmate is easy to talk to—or, on the flip side, if they have toxic, inauthentic energy. You can feel it immediately. That energy is infectious, and it can inspire us or it can make us feel like we want to run out of the room! Do what you can to bring the best of the IRL experience to the camera.

Make sure to check out my 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.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions. Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.

How Easily Can You Pivot?

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

By Marci Liroff

We are going through unprecedented times. There is no playbook. The global pandemic has killed scores of people, and even more are sick. Our infrastructure is bursting at the seams, and the economy is being tested daily. The unemployment rate is at a historic high in the U.S. and around the world. What has become apparent to me at this moment in history is who can pivot easily and who cannot.

Are you going with the flow and turning a desperate situation into a workable one, or are you digging your heels in because you not only hate change, but won’t change? How you react right now is the litmus test of whether or not you’ll make it through.

I remember sitting with actor Marilu Henner years ago, and she said something so profound, it’s stuck with me to this day. We were having a “big life” discussion when she said,

“Life is about how easily you can slide into Plan B.”

Marilu Henner

This struck me as wise, because, as we know, life doesn’t always go the way you planned. Her whole life concept got me thinking that not only should I have a Plan B, but a Plan C is also crucial.

Then I started thinking about actors. In my opinion, no one is more prepared and equipped to pivot than actors. By virtue of their chosen path, they always have job insecurity. Many of the rest of us work nine-to-five, five days a week. For actors, it’s normal to not know what’s coming next, where you’re going to live, or how you’re going to pay your bills. Their training teaches them to be on their toes in every situation—to respond in real time to whatever is thrown at them. (Hello, improv!) Yet this profession is still sought after. Why? For many, the answer is, “Because I have to.” I would venture to say that actors are hard-wired to pivot.

As an independent casting director, acting coach, and intimacy coordinator, I am also used to my work ebbing and flowing. Sometimes I feel like a walking contradiction because I absolutely hate change. I like to know what’s happening next; I’m not the most spontaneous person you’ll ever meet. I sure don’t like it, but that’s the path I’ve chosen. I’ve become an expert at the pivot because I’ve learned fighting it does not help. 

I’m certainly not suggesting you concentrate on perfecting a professional pivot while you or your loved ones are sick; this article is directed at those who are well and able to do some work on themselves during this complicated time.

Make sure to check out my 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.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions. Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.

Here’s What’s Happening Behind the Scenes After You Leave the Audition Room

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

The ins and outs of a casting director’s process can often be a mystery, but I’m here to break it down for you.

As CDs, our job is to collaborate with the filmmakers to bring their project to life by finding the perfect ensemble of actors. Sometimes, projects are simply offered to me directly; other times, I have to do the same dance that you do and audition for the job! I read the script, research the filmmakers, and come up with a few lists of casting ideas to give them a concept of how I’d cast their project. There are so many talented casting directors out there; in the end, it comes down to who you want to spend the next three months with going into war, tied at the hip.

For films, I get a script and break it down by the characters. I sort out which are the leads, and which are the day players. Those determinations are usually made by the size of the role and how long they work in the schedule. Because so many movies are shooting out of town due to various states’ tax incentives, I usually cast only the leads and co-stars out of Los Angeles, New York City, or London. The supporting cast and day players are cast on location. I used to go on location and do the casting myself, but it’s become much more cost-effective to hire a local CD, whom I oversee. They do their auditions in their town and upload them to my website. Similarly, when I’m doing a talent search for a role, I can have up to 10 CDs working in various locations and reporting to me.

When casting leads and co-stars out of the major markets, I go through my database and come up with a list of possibilities: wish lists, reality lists, and thinking-outside-the-box lists. Then I meet with the filmmakers to assess their needs and wants. For the larger, “star” roles for which we want a name, I make lists of suggestions and edit them down based on availability, salary, and interest. From there, we start to make offers to set our lead actors. Simultaneously, we start having auditions for the remaining cast.

To set the auditions process in motion, I send the project’s script out to all of the agents and managers around town to ask for their submissions. Immediately, thousands of ideas flood my inbox, and my staff and I meticulously go through each one to narrow down our possibilities. Actors we’re familiar with and like will go straight to producer sessions, and others whose work we don’t yet know will have a pre-read with my office. In the pre-read, the actor auditions for the role and we work with them to direct them toward what we’re looking for. I like to read opposite the actors so I can get a feel for their process and see if they’re listening to me and truly interacting authentically. These days, we’re solely seeing self-taped auditions. Meanwhile, my office is besieged by agents and managers with pitches and suggestions. (It’s a symbiotic relationship, and we need to maintain good relationships with the agents and managers as much as they do us!)

The audition process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Those we like will get a callback with producers and the director. We also tape all of our sessions and upload them to our website, so the creative team can weigh in.

Depending on the project, between my team, the filmmakers, and studio and network executives, there can be as many as 20 people viewing the auditions.

After auditioning, we narrow down our choices and have final callbacks or tests. For most tests, we negotiate the actors’ deal ahead of time. Business affairs usually does test deals, but the CD usually negotiates the actors’ deals for the project, depending on how big the deal is. We work with the production manager to learn the schedule of the actors and the needs for the deal.

Once we’ve done all the testing, we begin the process of setting the cast in stone, which consists of trying to get 20 people to agree on one ensemble. It’s not just a single person who has the ultimate casting decision, but a group of people coming together. Our job as CDs through that process is to oversee the final selection of talent to make sure the cast comes together in a cohesive, organic, and authentic way.

No project is the same, but as you can see, there are a lot of moving parts! Casting is a team effort; hopefully this gave you a peek behind the casting table’s curtain.

Make sure to check out my 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.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions. Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.

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