In an audition – what does a Casting Director Want?

There are many drama teachers and acting tutors imploring you to take control of your audition.

“It is your time!”

“It is your chance to impress!

Ok. That is what you want.

What do I, the casting director, want?

(I have been casting full time for 35 years. Prior to that, I was an actor for eight years. So I know BOTH sides of this argument!)

Actors and their teachers do not understand the casting journey. Until you do, you will always do deep, meaningful, emotional, heartfelt, passionate screen tests– and self tests– that do not connect to casting directors.

Why? Because you have not delivered what they want.

I am trying to populate a community. That goal is what every casting director is doing. And sure, if I am casting a Broadway drama, I need a stellar group of actors. All highly experienced.

But is it the same if I am casting Sons of Anarchy? Or Sex in the City? Or Orange is the New Black?

I watch the actors come in and I hope and pray they understand the rhythms and the body language of the characters in my project.

The swagger of a bike in Sons of Anarchy, the slouch of a female prisoner in Orange is the New Black, the slink of a duplicitous teen in True Blood, or the swish of a New York female fashion follower.

This lights up my day. Not your technique. Not your ability. Not your perfectly manufactured tears on cue.

Be daring. Be bold. But above all, ask the question: “What does the casting director want?”

Why? Because if you do, you will be seen again by this decision maker.

If you let me, I’ll show you what an audition looks like from the Casting Director’s side of the camera then you will  know what you have to deliver on your side– the actor’s side of the camera.

What should Actors Prep for in their Next Audition?

A lot of drama teachers and actors will have you believe that the only criteria we use for audition success is your ability.

A lot of drama teachers will have you believe that the only way to audition success is through scene and character analysis.

In my 30+ years of casting, I would say they are right.

But only if you take out the word “only”.

To succeed as an actor in the long term – that is, to have a career – I believe you need consummate ability and intelligent analysis of character and scene. Your performance career needs these skills.

But being in the audition space, delivering a memorable experience, in an environment of zero creativity and maximum tension, requires a different skill set.

Or am I wrong?

Did you get the job every time you really nailed your audition? You didn’t, did you?

Did you not get a call back after a tragically, confidence destroying, hopeless audition? But every now and then a bad audition does get you a call back.

Your audition prep should not simply be about the performance.

What actor can say their technique or training can realistically get you more work? To book more jobs?

Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can make that claim. The criteria for making a decision to go with one actor or another ebbs and flows. In the course of casting, we may favour a different actor for a role several times before the day comes to make a decision.

One of the main reasons is that the final decision involves so many people. How many producers get a credit on successful TV shows? All of them have a say.

What an actor can strive for though, is to get more auditions.

Because the choice of who gets an audition is usually down to one person: the casting director.

And if your acting class has weaved it’s magic and you are impressive in the room, you stand a good chance of booking the job.

The trick, though, is to get into the room in the first place.

The opportunity.

Why you must Choose to Change your Choices

Show me the actor who does contempt really well and I will show you someone whose career will not rise above smaller supporting roles.

Speaking of things that can be seen as wrong, I wanted to touch on a small issue regarding your choices in auditions. Any audition. Every audition.

It came up in the scene we worked on at a recent face to face workshop. The female in the scene showed impatience with her partner. And many females, in an environment of creative freedom, found emotional territory which included contempt, disdain, and anger. They had been given a license to go anywhere. Everywhere.

So they chose power, control, contempt over the other person in the scene.

All fully justified and can be rightly played for that character in that scene.

But if you choose this path, what you have achieved, is you have created a character we do not like.

Every movie star creates characters with qualities we admire, we like, we respect. They naturally find qualities that do not scare us off.

And you can argue ‘til you are blue in the face “but that is how she was written”.

Yes, absolutely.

But does the role go to the performer who shows utter disregard for her partner? Or the one who uses her charm with her interpersonal skills to connect?

And then you will find they have remembered you, because you have stopped being another actor, and started being an individual.

The most important person to convince you CAN do it, is you.

As an actor, you prepare your audition so there is no way anything go wrong which means you know EXACTLY what you are going to say and when.

You have not prepared the character. You have prepared the delivery.

What do I want? Well, what am I looking for? And don’t say an actor. My life has no shortage of actors.

I have auditioned a couple of people who attended ny workshops. In the workshops, they were brave, imaginative and experimental. They took chances and found new territory. So they showed the bravery that is needed to do a memorable audition. Then, they gave earnestly good, reliable and nice same auditions.

The biggest problem is you.

You try too hard.

How to avoid desperation:

A quote from an article on Backstage from Secret Agent Man:

“(Did) any of you ever learn how to have a normal conversation that doesn’t reek of desperation?”

What you want to say (and in many cases do say):

  • “I am perfect for this part.”
  • “I love this role.”
  • “I need this role.”

Don’t talk about you. Talk about the character:

  • “She (the character) has a great warmth.”
  • “I love the way she deals with children.”
  • “She has an inner strength. She doesn’t need to show it.”

At The Audition Technique, we suggest the most important person in the room is not you, not the casting director or the producer.

The most important person in the room is the character.

And it is not yours. Not yet, anyway. So treat the character with respect.

—-ooOOoo—-

Your objective in an audition is to be seen again. If not for this role, then for something else.

If you were going to a dinner party, and you wanted to be invited back again, you would enter and find a moment to connect to the hostess.

With lines like:

  • “Have you lost weight?”
  • “I heard great things about the social event you staged last week.”
  • “I love the colours you have used in this room.”

To translate that into what should be said by an actor-in-an-audition-funk:

  • “I love your casting in (project x).”
  • “You are looking fabulous.”
  • “What a great project this is. Congratulations (that you are casting it).”

P.S: As I am eternally on a diet, ‘Have you lost weight’ is always good if you come into my room.

In an audition, it’s not all about you.

Me. Me. Me.

I was given a t-shirt with this written on it by my family. They mistakenly believe that I believe it is all about me.

In an audition session though, the actors enter with unblinkered focus on their audition. They have this hyped intensity about the performance they are about to deliver.

Understandable.

But my advice to you is this: if the majority of actors are entering the audition solely focused on the performance, the dialogue, then I believe the actor who enters and creates an environment that is engaging rather than self-centered will stand out.

The trick is to not make the audition all about you!

If you can create a moment in a packed audition day for the Casting Director; where you can give them a special unexpected moment, you will be remembered.

From my experience in the room, there are many actors who enter the casting space with the sole purpose of delivering their audition.

Their expectation being the depth of their performance, the quality of their audition will win the day.

Maybe. Many times– maybe not!

There are so many good actors. In my experience, there are very few people we reject on the basis of “they are not good enough, they cannot do the role”.

Which means, that if you are in the casting session, we know you CAN do the role. What we are deciding is ‘what can you bring to the role?’

In this case, the thing that makes you memorable is your individuality. Your uniqueness.

As an actor your job is to understand what makes you memorable, how to execute your uniqueness and indicate it (not show it!) to the Casting Director.

There are many ways to do this– some work and some fail miserably!  It’s about understanding the process and giving the Casting Director what he is looking for at the right time.

P.S: The Me Me Me t-shirt? Of course it is all about me. I am a Casting Director after all 🙂

Actors: Two Words to Avoid in your Audition Prep

When an actor receives the audition sides, they are excited about what they can do and what they can create. There are no boundaries. No restrictions.

Then you start to lock things down. You start to prepare exactly what you will do at any and every moment in the scene. Many times, this is driven by the writer’s notes. Most likely that a character reacts in a certain way.

And you interpret that as “I must deliver this moment” and “I must react in this way”

When you do your audition prep, if you use the words “I MUST” – or even think the words “I MUST” – then your audition is doomed to be regulated. You have stipulated a certain feeling or response at a specific time in the scene.

And guess what? If you have arrived at that decision, so have a lot of the other actors you are auditioning with, and so will you be the same.

Think of this: When we like an actor in an audition, is it because that actor is the same as everyone else?

Of course not.

I urge all actors to see things from where I sit- where the casting directors sits.

If you are to succeed as an actor, you must understand what makes a good actor… but what goes in the minds of casting directors when they are watching your audition?

We are not looking at how GOOD an actor you are. We want to know how INTERESTING you are.

The audition decision-making process is the same all over the world. The person who engages us, who fascinates us, is the person who we remember and who we see again, and again and again.

And you do not achieve this if your audition prep includes the words “I MUST”.

The Obvious Choice in an Audition… Is Usually the Wrong Choice

The dentist chair is a wonderful place to consider what sort of performance to deliver for your next audition.

I had the great fortune to have an extraction the other day, so while I was looking at the TV screen in the ceiling– oh yes, it was an expensive dentist– with the soothing, relaxing sound of the drill in my ears, I was watching an episode of an US prime time TV series.

The type of series that suits being screened at 2:00 in the afternoon. The type of series where everyone has flawless skin and perfect teeth.

More importantly, though, was the performance style they all delivered.

Even though I could not hear what they were saying, I knew exactly what the story was because  they telegraphed their feelings. The words were not necessary because they were so OBVIOUS in their performance choices.

This is the correct method for many daytime TV performances, for soap opera. Be obvious.

But do not use this technique in the audition space.

Why? Because in the audition space, we are seeing the same lines again and again. So, if everyone arrives prepared to be obvious, then chances are, we will become very bored, very quickly. Watching the same pauses, the same inflections.

Though it is truly scary– nearly as scary as a dentist visit– remember that the best approach for an audition is to take risks.

Otherwise, it is too easy for casting directors to switch off.

If you know what is happening next, so does your audience

I have this theory about acting and auditions. For movies. For the big screen. (More about TV later).

With great dancers, performing with effortless grace, we can imagine they did not get choreographed. They seem to do it without thought or concentration: naturally, without planning or thought.

For el supremo musicians, singers, and painters it is the same. The great ones deliver their creative skill as a natural extension of their natural self.

It is self expression.

When you sit in the cinema, the joy of great acting, from great actors, is that we have no idea what is about to happen. Indeed, the very special film actors make us think that there was never a script in the first place!

What I am suggesting is not easy. In your next audition, I urge you to find a rhythm in your delivery, in your character, that is unique to you. Only then are you able to deliver something that is unexpected. You have made us sit up and take notice– in a crowded days of auditions, when most actors deliver the rhythm of the page.

The metronome like beat of an actor who has developed their technique to be fool proof. They know exactly what to deliver.

They have prepared the delivery,
rather than preparing the character.

They know what they are going to say, and how they are going to say it well before the moment arrives. And usually it is a version that obeys the page.

Yes, obeys.

If you prepare the delivery, your audition is doomed from the start. Prepare the character and only then master the lines. Now when you speak, what you say and how you say it, will be in character.

How to audition for Daytime TV

When you watch daytime TV do you think “OMG I could do a much better job than that actor!” Well, of course you could.

Why? Because the main considerations that casting directors use to cast soaps and daytime, do not necessarily include ‘are they a good actor?͛

Indeed, acting skills are preferred rather than mandatory.

Watching daytime TV, or soap operas, takes a special skill. Ridiculous things happen to characters and the audience is asked to go along with it. Because the audience welcomes the outrageous events. They celebrate them.

But these unexpected events, are seldom unexpected.

And this is the clue to what you need to deliver in an audition for soap opera.

I have seen top actors perform in soap opera and in that format, that genre, their skill, and expertise is washed away by the simplicity of the dialogue and the relationships. They are homogenised.

Here is how you must calibrate your performance:

  1. Look your best. Soap operas (like TV Commercials) make their casting decisions on the look of the person. The first decision on actor’s suitability is how they look.
  2. In soaps, the good guys are the good guys and the bad guys are the bad guys. Performances are not subtle, complex, or multi layered. They are direct and uncomplicated. The opposite is true for high end drama (cable series and feature films).
  3. One of the significant factors in casting soaps is to find an actor who is a team player. The show is bigger than the individual actor. So you need to find common ground with all the people in the room. Use your charm. Win them over.

In short, you are going to deliver a performance that is accessible, and likeable with a liberal dose of energy. Intensity and internalisation are not advised.

The key to succeed with auditions for daytime TV is to deliver appeal. How you do that, is up to the individual. But your main goal is to be liked, rather than multi dimensional or

The One Quality that is Missing from all your Auditions

Actor training is essential to empower you with the confidence and the focus to embody a character, and deliver it with an emphatic single mindedness that delivers a strong character.

This usually manifests itself in an actor believing they have to make a clear concise decision on a line or a moment and pitch it out. Communicate it succinctly to the other character and by doing so, you connect to the audience.

In my opinion, this is for theater.

In the audition/screen test studio, where I am seeing actor after actor, all of them the same gender, delivering the same lines, with the same eye line to the reader and with the same intensity; I am a different audience to your theater audience.

Am I allowed to call it dull without offending anyone? Hmm, perhaps not. OK, so it is not dull. It is simply predictable.

Remember I am seeing the same scene over and over again.

Audition day in an audition studio is Groundhog Day.

Let me say up front, this concentration on delivering power and presence was exactly what you needed in Hollywood’s Golden Age of movie stars. And of course, every superhero needs these qualities. But if you, the supporting guy or girl– simply want to be noticed– a different quality will achieve impact.

Vulnerability.

Think of the stand out screen actors and performances of recent times. Many times they were arguably the actor’s breakout role. Kristin Wiig in Bridesmaids, Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl, Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge, Naomie Harris in Collateral Beauty, Rebel Wilson, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill in anything.

An alpha character has strong eye contact, stands their ground, steps towards a conflict or crisis. And this is how most actors in the audition space approach the delivery of their character. They immediately take the higher status.

If you find the justification and motivation for your character to be indecisive, to be two minds about a decision or a moment, to avoid direct eye contact  and fails to command the delivery of their next line….Then we may be fascinated, intrigued.

You have delivered a compelling character, rather than a compelling performance. Dare I say, you have delivered YOUR version of the character rather than an actor’s version of the character.

You have come into the room and delivered a rhythm and character that has the potential to be disarming and appealing at the same time. And with these choices, you have left a lasting memory long after you have left the room.

OK, so it is not for every role. It is not for every actor. But by nurturing this thinking, you are giving yourself an alternative approach.

In your audition, you do not have to be right. You do not have to be on the front foot. You do not have to deliver a higher status dominant character.

What you have to be, is remembered.

And maybe vulnerability will deliver a lasting memory of you, better than invincibility.

How an Actor Connects to a Casting Director

The actor and casting director relationship is flawed.

Because it is so out of balance –especially in an audition.

How do you speak to a casting director?

What do they want to hear?

What can you say that allows you to come across as sensible and considered…. And not the nervous perhaps even agitated wreck that you feel inside.

There is a common understanding in marketing. Touch, don’t sell.

Because let͛s face it, that is what you are doing. You are building brand recognition with the casting director. You are hoping they know you, like you, and think about you, when they are choosing actors for an audition session.

And that they think of you at the right time. When they are casting a role you are right for.

So what is a touch? A touch can be as simple as re tweeting one of their tweets. Liking a facebook post (if you can get access to their page).

A touch is also every time I see your headshot. Or you are submitted by your agent for a role.

So in reality, I am touched by you, by every actor, more often than you realise. So why are you not getting more opportunity?

It is because the connection, the touch, the communication is saying the wrong thing.

Most actors, when given the opportunity to connect with me try and say:

  1. I am an actor (and I know that)
  2. I am a really good actor (which in my opinion is not as important as, I am a really good actor for roles with vulnerability, or testosterone). Because if you can say that, then you are empowering me to think of you at the RIGHT time
  3. And I was wondering if you have any auditions for me at the moment? (Which is what you really want to say, isn’t it?)

Put simply, most actors say to me “I am an Actor.”

You say that with your actor headshot (which makes you look like an actor and not an individual).

You say that by only talking about acting around me (hey, I am human, I support a footy team, I have a passion for good food).

Which means, you will connect to me far more effectively if you tell me about a great restaurant, a new bar, a new art gallery opening, than if you talk about you. Or your work. Or your last role.

Strive to deliver individuality, rather than commitment to acting. Because the fact is, I know you are committed to acting, I know you can act and I know you want an audition.

What I don’t know is what makes you… You