Lost Creek - A Film by Colin Adams-Toomey

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Auditioning Actors Part 2...

SO...back to auditions. Let's say you've pre-cast several roles, but there are still a couple to fill that you don't have anybody in mind for. Time for an audition!

The mechanics of an audition are pretty self-explanatory, but let me offer some basic tips...

You want actors to send you headshots and resumes definitely. It's got lots of good info, plus the actor's e-mail and phone number will always be on the resume, so when it comes time to make your calls, you don't have to hunt around through your inbox. I often set it up when I advertise auditions that actors have to apply for a time slot by e-mailing me, and include a headshot and resume with that e-mail. It helps me make initial decisions about actors I would like to see. but...

A WORD OF WARNING: Do NOT judge an actor on their headshot and resume alone. I've seen plenty of people with impressive-looking resumes who aren't so good. Actors sometimes “massage” their resumes to appear better. I don't begrudge them, it's hard to get an acting gig, especially if you haven't done anything impressive yet. Just be aware that happens. Also headshots can be misleading. I once had a guy send me his headshot for a serious dramatic role. His headshot made him look almost whimsical, and seemed entirely wrong for the part. I called him in anyway. He turned out to be perfect for the role, and has become one of the longest-running actors with whom I work, and a personal friend. Think of headshots and resumes as guidelines. They'll tell you roughly if they're too young, too old, if they've done film work before and what kind, if they're in any unions, etc. They'll help you dismiss the OBVIOUSLY wrong-for-the-part people. Beyond that, see as many people as you can. You want options.

The next part is up to you. Do you give the sides (of the script) in advance or have the actors cold-read? I always give them in advance. It's weird enough to ask an actor to present who they are as a performer in the space of a measly 15 minutes. I would like to give them as much time to prepare as possible. Allow for some time to work with the actor too. See how they take direction, are they able to let their performance change and grow?

If they're reading sides of dialogue, they need someone to read with. And please, choose a reader who is also a decent actor. Dialogue scenes are all about partnership with your fellow performer. There's nothing more disheartening than having to perform with a dead-eyed zombie-like reader. Remember, you're looking for your perfect actor, and you want the people you see to be at their best. Don't make it harder on them and you. Find a decent reader. Not someone who's going to turn it into a mini-play, but someone who can at least give a little back in the scene.

FILM THE AUDITION.

This is for film after all! You'll want to see how the actors look on camera, and you'll want to see how they perform around a camera. Also, if you record the auditions, you can use the recordings later to help you decide!

So, the actors read the sides, and they're done! What next?

This part really can't be taught. It's up to you to decide who works best for the role, and you'll know when you find the right person. But I can give a little advice as far as etiquette and planning.

Generally, if the actor isn't right, you pretty much just say “thanks very much!”

I do a little more with actors I like, but we'll get to that. First, I want to address something.

What I actually say to actors who aren't right is, “thanks very much, and you'll hear from me either way.”

Now, this is an interesting issue. I've been on both sides of the audition table, and I can tell you as an actor, you almost NEVER hear back unless you got the part or a callback. And that's really annoying. It feels dismissive and discourteous. I try to be the director I would have liked to work with as an actor. So I have made the decision to contact actors either way after an audition. Actors always appreciate this. It takes away the suspense, it allows them to move on to other jobs, and they feel you have treated them in a courteous and professional manner.

BUT...

Now that I've been on the casting side of the table, I hate to say I kind of understand why you don't hear back. A lot of actors are gracious and professional. Some of them act like petulant children. I understand that actors want to improve and would love to hear what went wrong so they can fix problems. But some actors just throw tantrums when you tell them they didn't get the part. One actor actually demanded to know why I didn't choose her. As in “how could you be so stupid as to not cast me?!” Because I didn't! Whether or not they were good, it's my show, and my decision, and I don't owe actors any explanation really. So what I do is this:

If an actor gets the part or gets a callback, I contact them personally. First by phone, then by e-mail to make sure they get the info. If an actor didn't get the part but I thought they were good, I contact them and tell them so. Never burn a bridge. You might find a part in the future that's perfect for that actor. If they want to know what went wrong from a place of honestly wanting to improve, I'll take the time to tell them nicely. If they throw a tantrum, I never respond again and lose their e-mail. Bottom line, I'd rather work with a talented nice actor than a more talented diva.

For everyone else who didn't get the part, I send out a single e-mail to everyone, generally along the lines of:

“Thank you so much for coming in to audition for x. We saw many talented actors that day and it was a very difficult decision. However, at this point, all final casting decisions have been made. Thank you for sharing your work with us, and best of luck in the future.”

Firm, courteous. And that's all the explanation you owe.

Anyway, back to the audition.

Say you see an actor you like. That's great. But don't jump the gun. Say you see someone you like, but they're only the second person to audition? It's great you've found a potential so early, but you've still got 15 other people to see! You might find someone even better. Except in a couple of extreme circumstances, I never offer an actor a job straight out of the audition. Even if I know I'm going to cast them, I wait till I've seen everyone, and wait till I'm home and settled and have had a chance to think about it a bit longer.

Great! You've got your script, your LLC, you're building your crew, and you've started to cast! What next?

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