Why actors get paid a lot...

…They’re called auditions.

These are the weekly interviews that actors must attend in order to be cast in films, commercials, industrials, etc. For those of you who haven’t the pleasure of enduring one of these emotionally-draining appointments, I will elaborate on this experience in this blog to give y’all a better idea of why we actors deserve the scratch we earn for acting gigs. I may also throw in some (unsolicited) advice without realizing it, but I talk to a lot of young actors and vent to the veterans about this process often, so it’s hard not to.

(Disclaimer: This is my blog. The opinions presented here are very specific to my experiences. I live in Dallas, which is a “right-to-work” and commercial-friendly market, so this blog will not necessarily delve into what one would experience in NYC or LA. Big difference, trust me. But some of it holds true across the board. Just want to make that clear. Cool? Good.)

Chapter I – Preparing for Battle

1. Headshots and resume. You must always have copies of current headshots, both commercial (smiling) and theatrical (serious), as well as recently updated copies of your resume ready to go. The day of an audition is not a good time to realize that you need to reorder headshots or that the ink on your printer is out. Want to piss off your agent? Just try to get an audition pushed back for one of the reasons. Fury. Wrath.

2. Learn sides. “Sides” are excerpts from the script that you memorize for the audition. In most cases you do not see the whole script before the audition, and thus begins the decision-making process: based on the little info I have about this story, the characters, and this scene, how do I want to play this? (This usually applies to film roles. Commercial audition roles are more clear cut.) On rare occasions you will get the chance to ask questions about the sides, or the Casting Director (CD) will explain it to you, but generally you’ve got to wing it. Another note about sides is that, as of late, the amount of copy or lines you are expected to learn per audition has increased quite a bit. You get about two days max to work on the material, and sometimes are even given about three different scenes to prepare, knowing that they will likely only have you read one. This is part of cultivating your craft; you must learn to multi-task and memorize like a fiend, especially if you have multiple auditions in a day/week.

3. What to wear? I have a few very smart actor friends who have three to five outfits that they rotate out for auditions, which takes a lot of the stress of preparing for auditions. But I guess I enjoy the drama because I choose a different outfit each time. There are also times when a breakdown will call for specific dress (business suit, preppy, going-out attire, etc.), or when the role calls for a certain look based on your choices for the character (glasses, ponytail, etc.). Makeup is also an important consideration. It should be age-appropriate for the character (which, for me, means less MU for younger or dowdy roles, more MU for older or sexy roles), but also look right on camera and in photos, regardless of the lighting with which you have to work.

4. Get there. Good directions are a must, as is a little buffer time just in case you get lost or can’t find parking. You are usually going to a building you’ve never been to, somewhere in the DFW area, that generally has no visitor parking to speak of. And the best way to guarantee that the casting will be running late is to park illegally, hoping for a quickie. Quarters are a must-have for meters downtown, too.

Chapter II – The Front Lines

1. Sign in and sit. As a rule of thumb, I arrive at least ten minutes before my call time, knowing full well that the chances of me being seen within half hour of my call time are slim to none. But the motto of the biz is “Hurry up and wait,” so this shouldn’t be a surprise to actors. This is also one of the reasons actors tend to have seemingly lame or odd-hour jobs; we can never guarantee that at the end of our allotted lunch hour that we will be done with our audition, much less back to the office and ready to clock in.

2. Review sides. It’s not unusual to show up to an audition to find that the sides you have down cold are no longer valid, or they’ve changed the wording in some spots. Great times. But grin and bear it, and learn the new dialogue. Resiliency is the name of the game if you’re serious about this biz. It’s tempting to spend this time talking to fellow actors, especially if you’ve got good friends in the industry, but only on rare occasions (such as the 2.5 hour wait for my audition today) should you give in to this temptation. Better to stay focused, spend the time getting into character, and thinking about how you will make the most of the two minutes you have in that magical room. Magazines and Blackberries/iPhones should also be avoided.

3. Go time! Your name is called and everyone looks expectedly in your direction as you follow the casting assistant. In the casting room you generally find a long table, a video camera on a tripod, a monitor of some sort, a mark for you, and anywhere from two to five people. (Only hardcore auditions and call-backs feature the dreaded dozen; I think my Nickelodeon call-back in LA was the only time I’ve seen more than six people behind the table.) It’s important to be polite but confident as you take your mark, knowing that this foreplay is as much a part of the casting as your read.

4. Slate. You look right into the camera and state your name and agency, as well as whatever additional information they’ve asked you to include, such as role, age, height, etc. This seems like a simple task, which it is, but a lot of actors throw this away, treating it as a formality, or simply coming across too desperate and cheesy. I also love when I get to hand slate, which is basically an industry term for jazz hands.

5. Read. You are generally reading with someone behind the table who simply runs the lines of the other characters in the scene(s). There is no attempt on their part to “act out” the scene with you, nor is that expected, but it does make it a little difficult to react to sometimes. But, in my opinion, acting is all about subtle, honest reactions, so I think it’s better to focus on keeping your face oriented toward the camera (never looking right at it, of course) versus lamenting your lifeless scene partner. Keeping a good eye line is a great way to make the most of your “screen” time, and also helps guide your movements and reactions so they aren’t lost on whoever will be watching the tape, who is sometimes the most important judge. Whether sitting on a stool or just standing on your mark, you’ve got to show that you can act and speak at the same time without looking like a damn mime or theater actor (no judgment, but it’s a totally different craft). Sometimes you get a few takes with direction, and other times it’s one take and “thank you.” No preparation is wasted as you get about five minutes tops to prove that you’re the best actor for the job, as well as any future jobs for which they are casting. (Actors are always hustling and building their rep; auditions are a huge part of that, not just a means to a paycheck.)

Chapter III – The After-math

1. Take a bow. Once you’re excused by the casting panel, you exit gracefully, collect your things, thank all the appropriate parties, get in your car, and don’t think another second about what just happened. Leave it all in that room on your mark. It’s easy to go ballistic wondering why you stumbled over that line, or why you forgot to incorporate that action you worked on, or why no one told you that your hair is a hot mess. (Seriously, they’re competing against you. Friends or not, go to the bathroom and check yourself before you go in. Don’t depend on the other actors to do that for you. Lock it up.)

2. Lessons learned. Though I just said not to worry about the audition after you’ve left, I do think it’s important to learn from whatever you deemed a mistake, such as cutting it too close to call time, not fully memorizing that last page, or wearing those wedges on which you almost broke your neck. (True story.) Even if you had the worst audition of your life, it’s important to at least be constructive and try to formulate a game plan to make sure you never again feel like you just threw away a great opportunity. That’s the worst.

3. On to the next! Once I’ve recorded the mileage on my “Acting Expenses 2009” spreadsheet (nerd alert, I know, but I’ll be the one laughing when it’s tax time and I get thru it without cursing all those 1099s), I tear up the sides and focus on my next gig, prospective or in the bag. And, as sweet as it is, I still have to remind friends and family to not ask me how an audition went or whether I ever heard back about a specific job. I love thoughtful people, but they can make you feel lousy without even thinking about it by bringing up the fact that you didn’t land the gig you’ve been secretly hoping you did for months. Not to mention, we rarely know how we did. Unless we totally hit out of the park (which is, of course, a subjective estimation), we have no clue what to expect. It’s a cruel joke of the biz that you usually book the gigs you think you blew, and never hear back on the ones you really thought you nailed. Furthermore, like it or not, you could have had the best read by far, but they liked someone’s look better than yours and therefore they were cast over you. (This happens all the time, and it’s so hard to stay motivated when it continually happens to the same person.)

So there you have it: a little insight into what we go through in order to get work. As terrible as it sounds, I actually like auditioning. I am lucky in that I only rarely get nervous. But regardless of one’s feelings toward auditions, they’re a means to an end and you will always hear us complain if we don’t have any.

1 comment:

  1. Chapter 1 point 4 is so true. I always would be trying different things in the car ride to the audition, sing a note a different way, try to give parts more 'character' to areas that were weak and so on. But in all my last minute practicing I would end up getting completely lost cause I wasn't paying attention and didnt really know where I was heading to begin with.