"The label you give yourself cannot impact external forces that are not motivated by your own psychology or influenced by a third party's pre-existing consciousness of you. We are all presented with reasons to struggle which come from completely external forces; to pretend that one is not struggling is either arrogance or an admission of defeat. To admit that one is struggling is a sign and a source of strength." - Evan A. Baker

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Struggling Actress: Casting Director Edition

Oh my gosh, the fun I had today!

If you EVER get a chance to sit in on casting, whether you're a runner (the person who goes down the list, takes the headshot and introduces you to casting, walking you into the room) or a reader (duh) DO IT. I felt like I crammed 6 different audition classes into one day.

Here's a few things I learned:

When you're casting a series you wrote, it's really hard to get sleep the night before. I had 3 1/2 hours, my friends. I normally need 9 to be a civil human being.

Have your resumes and headshots stapled. It makes you look green if you hand them separately.

For smaller gigs, like a webseries, or student film, put as much contact info as you can. Your phone number, your email, your website, the link to your reel, etc.

Sometimes your headshot looks more like the character we want than you do in real life.

We want you to be awesome. We are so on your side here.

If you are a relatively new actor, I will find a way to compliment you. I might even give you an adjustment if I have the time. The times I said "Nice transition," "Nice juxtaposition," and "Good read," I really did mean. For an actor at your level.

You might have given a fantastic read but don't actually fit our specs. This isn't a bad thing. We fell in love with America and she's going to have a character written just for her for season 2.

If the project is already partially cast and you gave a fantastic read but look too much like another actress, or not enough like another, that could mean you're out.

If you're not sure how to say a word, name, or what the point of a scene is, ASK.

When we say thank you, say it back and leave as quickly as possible. Do not come back with your child's headshot for me to have in case I'm casting any kids (I'm not). When I say I don't need it, don't insist I still take it for my files. My files are a trash bucket.

What's more important, a role or your facial hair? One actor told me ahead of time, "Hey, I have a mustache (which was absolutely killer by the way) but it'll be gone after this weekend." He knew I had brought him in off his clean shaven head shot. He gave a great read and the mustache wasn't a problem.
Another actor, when asked if he would mind shaving his beard, admitted that he would.  I get it. If you're going to change the way you look, you should at least be compensated. But if I call you in off your clean shaven headshot and you come in bearded, (and hand me your same clean shaven headshot to remember you by) I have to wonder what you're thinking.

If you're going out for a doctor/nurse role, don't wear scrubs. Look professional. Look Educated. Try a sweater vest, collared shirt, tie, understated jewelry, etc.You shouldn't wear a costume unless you are on set.

If you need more time, by all means take it! This is your chance to show us how fabulous you are. Be as fabulous as you can be! Make that 40 minute commute worth it!

It is not always the best actor who books the job.

Film auditions are different from theater. In theater auditions, we are taught to look at the back wall, to talk to people over casting's heads. In film, if you have someone reading the sides, direct everything to the reader unless told otherwise.

Take a look at your audition environment: if there is no camera, you do not need to ask if you need to slate. I introduced you to the group, and we now see you standing before us.
Also, if there's room to move around and you feel the impulse to move around, do it! One actor did this wonderfully. He had even noticed a small box of Kleenex behind him, which he had incorporated into his audition. Brilliant.

Just because the character you're reading for has a coffee stain on his shirt does not mean you need to go out and spill coffee on your shirt for authenticity. I really wish I was kidding. I really do.

Friends want to bring you in to read for their projects. There is nothing more nerve wracking and panic inducing than reading for your friends. No matter what, you will think you bombed.

Don't be intimidated when the casting director is hugging a bunch of actors going in before you. They are friends, yes, but just like high school, real life is all about networks and politics too.

Don't shake our hands. I know this is weird, because IN EVERY OTHER job interview you've ever had, you shake hands. But not this. More than anything, it's time consuming. Unless we stick our hands out first, just say your thank you, take your stuff and leave.

Sometimes we seem gruff but we're simply trying to do our job.

We had a line of 9 actors waiting to be read, and when we had politely asked an actress about one of her credits to give time for her eyes to adjust to the different lighting, she took four full minutes to tell us all about it, from how she found out about the audition, to who she met onset. Unfortunately, after about the first 30 seconds, all I could think of was everyone outside. Have a quick ten second anecdote, a funny joke, anything. Because we have a job to do. Let us do it. We're just trying to be polite.

There is an instructor out there who is teaching actors to answer the question, "Any questions about the character?" with, "No, but I'm open to suggestions." I too was taught this. And it's crap. No duh you're open to suggestions. You're an actor, and a suggestion is a direction. And with the 12 or so actors who said the same thing verbatim, it no longer comes across as smart and savvy. It sounds tired.

Know what you're reading for. We had a great dramatic read for a comedic scene. Whoops!

Love what you do. Love every minute sitting in traffic, love every nerve, every shaking hand, every messed up line, ever mispronounced name. Love it.
Love every choice, love every beat, love every second of listening to the reader. Love it.
Love every "thank you!" love every "that was great!" love every "That's all we need!" Love it.

But most of all, love yourself. Love the time, the energy, the committment you have to being true to yourself. Whether this is a whim, or a lifelong passion, love evertying about what you do to get here. There's so much work, and so little reward. So love yourself. Believe in yourself. And be proud to wear your struggling as badges of honor and bravery.

This struggling actress/writer/producer/casting director salutes you.


  1. I've actually gotten the advice several times that when you're auditioning for small pieces, you should leave them clipped together but not stapled, so that the auditioners have the option of leaving the headshot face up alongside the resume. I don't know why, since they can look right at you and see what you look like, but I heard it enough times that it drilled in.

    And you're totally right. It is nerve-wracking auditioning for friends. The only comment I have from the other side of the table for you - you guys were barricading the bathroom, and some of the folks outside had been standing there for over an hour, on a hot day, drinking water. Yikes. :)

    Cheers! And missed you tonight. Hope you got some good rest.

  2. Thank you so much for this post! I especially love the last paragraph. Sometimes I wondering why I am doing this because there is so much work and so little reward, and then I remember it is because I love acting. It's where I belong and worth the struggle when you get that role you wanted! Thanks for the reminder to love ourselves and all the good tips you always give!

  3. Inspiring post. Glad it went well. Can't wait to see the show!

  4. @Irenicineri - I wasn't a big fan of the set up either but if we had everyone wait in big room while we auditioned in the small back office which was already cramped, everyone would be able to hear everything and we'd hear the noise from the waiting room. I'm sorry to hear people complain about the bathroom situation. Not one person made any mention of it to us. I too hate having to wait outside in the elements. It's unfair, but we were limited. As for the hour long wait; we really tried to steer clear of that, but I had over 30 people ask to reschedule, and they seemed to all come during our lunch break, which we decided not to take. We went from 9-5:40 without one break. We really did do our best to respect everyone's time. It was only during the time you were there that we were so backed up.
    As for the paper clipped resume idea, I have no idea who suggests that. If your resume gets moved somehow into the throwaway pile, but your headshot gets kept, then we only have a headshot and no contact info. Sure, we have google, etc, but that's a pain in the butt. Always staple.

  5. Good to know. And I know you did the best you could. Despite the commentary, it was still one of the better organized auditions I've been to in this city. And what does that say? :)

  6. Can't wait to hear all about the auditions - and your advice is terrific. So many actors need to get to know or take classes from casting directors so they can know how and what they are screwing up in auditions :)

  7. I am having my first ever casting sessions tonight and tomorrow and I am pumped! I know I am going to learn so much from this as an actor. And I'm excited to give the actors the things I wished I had when I audition. I would like to add to your suggestions, as I have encountered this multiple times- please rename your headshot and resume with your name. I can't begin to tell you how bad it looks to have a resume labeled "actor_resume_template.doc" I wish I was kidding :)

    1. There are moments in life when you just so happen to come across something that ignites an unquenchable fire deep within your soul. A passion that consumes every crevice of your being. The words that you so powerfully laced together at the end of this article generated all of the aforementioned feelings. I do believe every artist...or anyone for that matter should make this a daily declaration.

      Many blessings to you!


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