Yes, I know this looks suspiciously like a section on auditioning technique but I assure you that this isn’t the case. Across this entire resource we will be keeping artistry at arm’s length and dealing only with day-to-day practicalities. We did not intend to add to the already groaning bookshelves of audition technique, so it’s over to you on that one (see A Pro’s Work Ethic). However, we do wish to talk about at length is the role Casting Directors (CD’s) play within The Biz. This is because:
(a) You’re going to be dealing with them A LOT
(b) Since you are going to be dealing with them A LOT, it definitely pays to know how to work with them.
(c) If you know how to work with them, you will give them every reason to DELIGHT in seeing you each time you pop into their casting rooms.
Like agents, the poor ol’ CD tends to get
a bad wrap from us actors and are highly misunderstood figures in this
industry. Bizarrely enough, the following is not too far removed from what many
actors tend to think about them:
The Casting Director is a supreme all-devouring cacodemon that feeds exclusively on the souls of actors. They grouchily interact with actors only by necessity or clerical error. They love nothing more than watching an actor fail and pouncing on them in sardonic glee cackling “HA! You failed! You failed, you silly little actor person. What on earth were you thinking making a choice like that?! What a complete and utter waste of previous oxygen you are. What a snivelling, little turd of a scene you attempted to produce. Be gone and never darken the frame of my camera again.” *
* small amount of creative licence taken
If you read that and thought that sounded pretty close to the truth, slap yourself across the chops and dunk your poor, deluded brain in a bucket of cold water. Let’s dispense right here with the myth of CD’s hating or disliking actors. They’re in the job to thrive on the magic that they and an actor can create in front of a camera. More than anything else they want you to succeed and nail the role! And why wouldn’t they? It makes their job so much easier to find an actor that couldn’t be anything else but the character they are looking to cast. It’s not you the actor who should be desperate. It’s the casting directors who are the truly desperate ones! CD’s have all manners of studios, producers, directors and executives breathing down their neck wanting them to deliver the goods. They have to vie for jobs just as much we do and, understandably, they want to do the best job possible.
A quick warning here for our newer actors. Reputable casting directors don’t advertise their casting calls any old how. Some CD’s make good use of social media to cast specific roles, but this is an exception to the rule. Outside social media and their own hard-earned reputations, casting directors have no need to stick up posters advertising ‘try outs’ or ‘casting calls’ on community notice boards, second-rate online ‘casting services’, cold calls or questionable online forums. Neither do they send out marketing material in the mail, post in newspapers, charge for their services or advertise via local rags. If you see this kind of stuff, run a mile and warn your mates.
So, that’s those two big myths busted. The
truth is that:
(a) CD’s are BIG fans of actors, and
(b) It’s their professional reputations that keep them employed.
From our end, actors have many ways of facilitating positive relationships with CD’s or, conversely, sinking their opportunities with them completely. Here are some Long Haul Life Savers straight from some of Australia’s most respected casting directors. Once again, please remember, this is not a section on audition technique so don’t expect to find tips for believable audition work.
LONG HAUL LIFE SAVERS:
- Get a job as a reader.
There is no better lesson in how the casting process works than getting work as a reader with a casting director. From the fly-on-the-wall vantage point of the reader you will see it all. The differences in approach to material, the late actors, the nightmarish cringe moments, the underprepared excuse-giver, the close-but-no-cigar audition and the people consistently nailing their scenes. Basically, everything that you will need and more to create your own little private list of casting DO’s and DO NOTS. The moment you graduate, tell your agent that you are keen to work as a reader and get them to submit you for this gig ASAP.
- You’re not just auditioning for the role you’re going in for.
Being in the room for one role doesn’t preclude you from booking another in the same project. Or, indeed, any other role that the CD may cast in the future. So don’t pull an almighty great stink and refuse to do any preparation simply because you reckon you’ve got a snowflake’s chance in hell of booking the gig. CD’s have long memories and lazy actors (who can be spotted a mile away) tend to be put in the ‘mmmmmmyeah, we’ll be giving you a miss next time’ pile.
- Don’t expect to be liked by everyone.
CD’s are hired based on their ‘actor palette’. A CD’s ‘taste’ in actors is what makes them distinguishable from their competition. If they are hired to cast a project, they have been chosen because of the ‘flavour’ of actors they tend to cast. Therefore, it stands to reason that not all CD’s will be drawn to your work. Others will think you’re the bees-knees. So remember that not being liked by everybody does not constitute some kind of failure. It comes down to whether or not you are or aren’t someone’s cup of tea. Subjectivity reigns.
- Sell yourself with your audition, not your chit chat.
It’s fine to foster a good relationship with CD’s and of course they expect you to be personable once you’re in the room. But remember, you’re both professionals first. You haven’t been invited here for your ability to while away the hours with your sparkling small talk.
- No handshakes unless offered, please.
If you’re offered a hand to shake, shake it with a smile! Likewise, other CD’s will prefer not to shake hands for time and hygiene reasons. They see many, many actors across the day and several days worth of snotty handshakes is a sure-fire way to contract the flu… or worse. Gauge the room first to see whether or not a handshake is appropriate.
- Don’t rehearse loudly in the waiting room.
You wouldn’t BELIEVE the horror stories I got told regarding this one. Cringe city. Suffice to say: you’re a guest in someone’s home, so wait patiently and quietly.
- PHONE OFF. PHONE OFF. PHONE OFF.
Taking a note out of Shakespeare’s book and using repetition to highlight importance here. The obnoxious ringing (or vibrating) of a phone in the middle of an audition is a terrific way to waste everybody’s time and make you look unprofessional. An interesting point to note here is that I interviewed several CD’s who preferred phones be turned off completely. Anything with a Bluetooth capability can disrupt complex sound set ups and screw up the audio on tests. We say just play it safe and turn them off completely.
- Leave your excuses at the door.
“I only got the sides yesterday.”
“The train got cancelled.”
“I forgot about daylight savings.”
“Oh, you meant 10:15, not 11:15.”
Trust me, CD’s have heard them all before and will not respect them no matter how original you attempt to make them. Hiding behind excuses is amateurish. Unless there has been a death or you have severely incapacitated yourself, it is expected that you will always turn up prepared and on time. If you stuff up, be honest. Admit your mistake, take on the chin whatever comes your way and move on. Which reminds me…
- Don’t complain about getting the sides (biz talk for script/scene) ‘too late’.
(a) It’s the CD themselves who sent them out as soon as they could, so you’re essentially having a giant whinge about their professionalism right in front of their face. Not wise.
(b) Every other actor going into the room that day got those sides at the exact same time as you. You’re on an even playing field.
- Any frustrations should be discussed with your agent.
If upon genuine reflection something really weird happened when you were in the room (e.g.: a director taking a call in the middle of your scene), don’t bring it up there. Just do your best, leave with a smile and go debrief to your agent. Your agent is there to act specifically as a middle man and counsel you toward the best course of action.
- Respect your reader.
Don’t ignore that all-important person loitering next to the lens. They are your co-star for the next couple of minutes! So acknowledge their presence before your start and thank them for their time once you’re done, regardless of how good or bad you think they were. The reader is in that room by personal request of the CD. So if you treat the reader like excrement, the CD won’t miss it. A pro always honours the process and, in doing so, always treats people with professional courtesy. The same goes for anytime when you are a reader. Do your due diligence on the scene before you arrive and, once you’re in the room, work as hard as you can for the actor opposite you. You’re here to help them put down some real magic on screen.
- Do it with style, drop it with class, then get on your way.
That one, single role will go to one person and one person only. To focus on the sole goal of getting thatpart pits you against astronomical odds. Brooding on your audition (good or bad) will drain your mental health like nothing else. What is worth remembering is that you were specifically chosen to do ‘your version’ of this character because you were deemed a damn good possibility.