Audition Tips from a Working Film Director

By December 8, 2011 Tips/Techniques No Comments
Audition in NYC for Rising Stars

In addition to our corporate video productions we do in the Dallas, Fort Worth area, SFilms has made five feature films over the years starring Adam Baldwin, Mimi Rogers, Lou Diamond Phillips and others.  In today’s post, we talk to actors about quick tips to instantly impact their auditions and give a better chance for landing that role.

The Dilemma for Local Actors

Audition in NYC for Rising StarsWhen I was casting for Rising Stars in New York City, the producer that hired me (as well as most producers in LA and NYC) had a bias against local actors.  They were fine for bit parts and dayplayer roles, but not for principles or leads.  And as we auditioned back at home for these roles, I thought about this dilemma and why the local actors are handicapped right out of the gate.

So how can a local actor land the roles, battling the NYC/LA bias?

First, you need to be good.  Really good.  Most think they are or they would have quit.  But the LA producer is thinking “if you were really good, you’d be in LA working.”  Lou Diamond Phillips is from here in the Dallas Fort Worth area, and he moved to LA.  That’s what good actors do.  So you’ve got to overcome that thought.

Tips for the Audition

There is a ton of information about auditions out here– but almost all of it is actor to actor or casting director to actor.  What follows is not mechanics of how to act or what to wear.  This is a film director talking to actors.

  • Don’t ever be late.  If something happens, call the casting director’s office as soon as you can, preferably before the audition time.  As a director, if you’re late, I believe you don’t take this seriously… or take me seriously.  BTW, learn the difference between an excuse and a reason.  An excuse was within your power to avoid.  A reason is an event that caused the action that was outside your ability to influence.  Bad traffic is an excuse– you can leave early.  Someone ramming into you at a light is a reason.  I’m okay with reasons.  Excuses?  Not so much.
  • If you’re given the sides or the whole script beforehand, memorize your lines.  And when I mean memorize, I mean beyond the point where you finally ran them once without looking.  When the pressure of the audition hits, you’ll forget.  So have them ingrained.
  • I believe memory is a muscle, so if you’re not given sides until you get there, take ten minutes to memorize it.  I’ve seen actors do it.  They’re the ones who’ve memorized on a regular basis, building up that muscle.
  • It’s okay to hold your sides, but please don’t hide your face with them during the read.  I’ve had actors come and hold their sides down by their waist and never even look at them because they have them memorized.  Remember– I want to see your face.  Honest-to-goodness, I’ve had local actors come in for audition and put the sides up in front of their face.  The tapes I could show you…
  • It’s okay to be nervous.   If your hands are shaking, another reason not to hold the sides up high.  One of the best actor auditions I saw in NYC for Rising Stars was an actor who’s hands were shaking.  But that didn’t matter.  BTW, she kept her sides low, out of direct eyeline.  So it wasn’t distracting.
  • Act when you’re not talking.  I’m looking for how you react to lines being spoken off camera, just as much as how you deliver the lines.  Don’t be thinking about the next line.  Another reason to have it memorized.
  • Map out the beats of the scene.  As a director, I try to pick sides that have beats– I want to see how you can hit the beats.  I define the beat as a value change– you’re happy, then boom, you’re angry.  Or sad.  Or you’re happy, and then you’re ecstatic.  That moment of change is the beat.  BTW– your character’s beat will most likely happen when someone else is talking, not you.  That’s why I’m watching when you’re not delivering lines.
  • Don’t apologize.  You flub a line, keep going.  You mess up, keep going.  When you’re done, keep going.  If you apologize, it draws all attention to the mistake.  And sometimes, we might not have even noticed.  But now we do.
  • Some directors are different, but I don’t care if you read the lines perfectly as written.  I know we can easily fix that later.  I much more interested in your ability to hit the beats.
  • And here is the BIGGEST tip I can give you.  If you walk away with just ONE THING, this is it.  Tone it down.  Local actors seem to have a lot of theatrical training and experience.  FIlm and tv is not theater.  There have been many, many moments (like 80% of the time) where I think “if they’d only quit emoting, it would be a much better audition.”  I believe this is due to the nature of local casting– the part is a day player who has only four lines, so “Message for you sir,” becomes a Shatner-esque study in overacting.
  • I’m not kidding.  I’ve had plenty of chances to see great acting and bad acting and this is it– those experienced, great actors come in and read it almost nonchalantly.  And this is film.  Your believability zone is extremely small and at the bottom of the emoting scale.
  • I’ve heard of agents teaching their clients to come in too big because you can always tone it down.  I don’t know what he means– here’s my experience: Actor comes in at a level 8.  I’m looking for a 1.5.  I tell them less is more and on the second read, they come down to a 6.  Thank you, don’t call us, we’ll call you.  I’d rather you come in at a 1 and I’ll get you to come up to a 1.5. Much less road to travel.

Check back for more or search this area for more tips.  Feel free to share this page with your actor friends.  I’d like to see our local actors land more and bigger roles and smash this LA/NYC bias.