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How Far Would You Go To Get Cast?

05.26.2016_Nick_Bertozzi_Note_CD.jpeg.644x650_q100Illustration by Nick Bertozzi

By Marci Liroff

What’s the wildest thing an actor has done to get the job?

Years ago, when I was working for Fenton-Feinberg Casting, I heard a knock at the door and stepped outside to find a lovely birdcage with a pigeon inside. I brought him inside and put the cage on my desk for further inspection. We found a manila envelope taped to the bottom with a photo of a woman and a note: “Please see me for Brenda Starr! I’m perfect. Attach this little piece of paper to my homing pigeon’s leg and he’ll fly home to me to give me your message. I hope you grant my wish!” No résumé, no contact info, no name on her photo. Yes, folks, yet another reason I keep haranguing you to make sure your contact info is everywhere!

We closed the doors to my office so the bird couldn’t fly away. My boss, Mike Fenton, carefully reached into the cage to grab the bird.

You could’ve cut the tension with a knife. It was as if we were performing surgery.

He got the bird and positioned him with his feet toward me so I could attach the little slip of paper to his leg with a rubber band. As soon as I touched him, he broke free from Mike’s grasp and started flapping like an Angry Bird all over my office. He managed to take down all of my posters and poop on everything. It was like a Marx Brothers sketch. We were laughing hysterically at this point. Hair askew, bird poop all over us, and a bird still on the loose. He finally landed on top of the curtain rod, panting and squawking.

We let the bird calm down—as much as a bird can calm down—and attempted another try. Mike gingerly grabbed him again, and because the poor bird was probably in shock by that time, I successfully managed to get the message on his little leg. We walked outside and launched him.

He flew off, never to be seen or heard from again. We never heard from the nameless actor. To this day, it still stands as the best stunt an actor has ever pulled. I admire her tenacity. Maybe she’ll read this and we can finally connect!

A colleague of mine told me this story about another actor who had a certain, ahem, agenda. “For a sex scene, a young actress came in wearing a mini–tube dress with no panties for a director-producer session. Awkward. It was all guys except for me—and they were less than gentlemanly. They asked her to do the scene again. Ultimately I had to step in to protect her—which they didn’t like. Not pretty.”

Another colleague of mine was an intern years ago in a casting office and a woman kept calling and calling, demanding an audition. “Jesus wants me to be in the Broadway musical you’re casting!” After numerous phone calls from the woman, the CD in charge of the show said, “OK, if Jesus can pay for you to fly to New York, you can come audition next Tuesday.” She did. And she booked the job in “The Color Purple.”

What’s your craziest audition story. How far did you go?

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.

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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Stop Saying No in Auditions

12.17.2015_Note_CD_Nick_Bertozzi.jpeg.644x650_q100Illustration By : Nick Bertozzi

By Marci Liroff

Megatalented television producer Shonda Rhimes just came out with a new book, “Year of Yes,” which chronicles the 12 months she spent agreeing to do anything and everything that scared her. It wasn’t just a “yes” to putting herself in harm’s way, like jumping out of an airplane. Most of us would say no to that. But she realized she wasn’t saying yes to much of anything, which meant she was avoiding new possibilities and opportunities. As she told NPR, “I was going to say yes to all the things that scared me, that made me nervous, that freaked me out, that made me think I’m going to look foolish doing it. Anything that took me out of my comfort zone, I was going to do it, if asked to do it.”

I realized this new habit of Rhimes’ could be embraced by many of the adult actors with whom I work. I reference specifically “adult” actors because most of the children with whom I work don’t seem to have the same fears about taking risks. Kids will do just about anything for you in an audition or on set because their egos haven’t developed enough to worry about looking stupid. They take chances and risks and play the clown because it’s fun. They say yes to any game you set forth because their imaginations are still limitless. As we get older, we start building that “wall” to protect ourselves from uncomfortable situations and start to say, “No, I’m not going to do that, I’ll look like an idiot.”

Along with saying no out of fear, you close yourself off to the opportunity to do great things. When actors audition for a role, many times I see them staying within the boundaries of the material but not taking any risks by making bold character choices. It’s as if they were told to color within the lines. But after a while, that gets really boring for your audience (and the actor, I imagine).

The performances that grab us are the ones where the actor is doing something unexpected—where you don’t know what they’ll do next and it can be surprising and scary in the same breath.

Take a look at Johnny Depp in the movie “Black Mass.” Yes, we all know Whitey Bulger is a bad guy, a criminal, a killer. But Depp plays him so quietly, so reservedly. I’ve heard actors worry that they aren’t doing enough; they should study what Depp is doing in his most explosive and terrifying scenes. He fully sits back into his character and says yes to who he is at heart. Depp told a reporter, “For me it was walking that tightrope between playing a very dangerous, unpredictable walking time bomb who could also be emotional and even sensitive.”

I’d so much rather have you come in and make the wrong choices than no choices. Take a stab at it and say yes. That, I can work with!

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.

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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The Secret To Staying In The Moment

10.22.2015_NickBertozzi_NoteCD.jpeg.644x650_q100Illustration By : Nick Bertozzi

By Marci Liroff

Any good actor knows he needs to prepare the “moment before” any scene. Often forgotten is the “moment after.”

When I’m holding auditions for my projects, I see so many actors who have done their research on the project, made character choices, and are off-book. Yet when the scene starts, I see them turn on their “acting switch” and start acting, rather than just leaning back into the character and the scene at hand.

You have to know what happened leading into the scene you’re reading (whether it’s an audition or on set). Many times, you’ve only received a set of sides, no script, and a minimal character description with no way of knowing what just happened. Guess what? You have to make it up and flesh it out. Find clues within the material and come up with your own “moment before” so that you have an organic place from which to come.

The action and emotional moments don’t just come with your first line. They come from the second the scene starts, even before the camera is rolling. There are golden moments before the first line is delivered.

I always ask my camera person to shoot plenty of “heads and tails” to catch this magic. “Heads” (what we get on tape) refers to the specific choices that a smart actor does to set the scene before the first line. “Tails” is the amazing emotion we see at the end of the scene when most people are so into the role that they unconsciously show us something about the character we didn’t even know. Remember not to stop the scene and turn off when the scene ends. Stay in the moment and continue your emotions until you hear “cut” or the creative team comments on your performance.

I coach my clients to create a short sentence of a main objective to trigger their emotions going into a scene. Keep the stakes high for your objectives and the scene will have a deeper emotional life; “I have to get this information from her or I’ll lose her/I’ll die/she will leave me.” Along with this, you can create a visual “flash memory” of photos of what led up to this event. You have to be able to smell it and feel it as well.

The moment before isn’t what just happened. It’s what your character did that morning. Did you have a rough night sleeping? Did your car crap out on you on the way to meeting your boss in the scene? All of these things can play into your moment before and give you a richer performance.

If you’re auditioning for a very emotionally raw or intense role, protect your audition. You’ve probably spent the last 20 minutes or so in the waiting room amping up and zoning into your character. Then you come into the room and the director wants to chitchat with you or the introductions might distract you. A good casting director will instruct her team to start the scene and save the conversation for later. You can be proactive and politely say, “Let’s jump into the scene and I’d love to talk after.”

That said, if you have one or two lines such as “Here’s your coffee, sir,” you don’t want to do anything other than walk up and deliver the coffee. Adding too much “business” at the top (or end of a scene) is distracting and calls attention to what should be a simple action of moving the plot forward.

Have you had these experiences before? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment and get into the conversation!

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.

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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