Audition Guidelines for Directors
For a successful audition and to make the most of the search for the best actors, we recommend following the guidelines…
Before the Audition
Keep in mind that auditions are stressful situations both for the actor and the director. The audition can be held in any quiet room; a rented rehearsal hall is an ideal place. The space should contain at least three chairs: one for the actor, one for the director, and one for the person who will read opposite the actor. Some additional personnel might be present at the audition, including the producer, the casting director, and a camera operator if the audition is being recorded.
Auditions for the first call usually run at 5- to 15-minute intervals. This allows for some time after the actor leaves to share your impressions of each audition. The scene you ask the actor to read should be short. This will allow you to make the most of the meeting. The actor will need to act with a partner the production provides. As we have stated, it should ideally be an actor or someone other than the director, producer, or casting director.
Beginning the Audition
Introductions. The production assistant ushers each actor into the audition space. After taking a moment to allow the actor to adjust to the surroundings, the director should greet the actor, and introduce the people in the room. At this point, you can ask the actor how they would like to proceed; would they like to chat a bit or get straight to the reading. Since actors are usually nervous, this approach will help create an open and pleasant atmosphere and put her at ease.
Whether the director chats before or after the reading, she can use the actor’s résumé as a good place to begin small talk. For example, you might say, “I see you studied with Mira Rostova” or “Do you enjoy doing Mamet?” or “When you say here you speak French, are you fluent?”
Depending then on how much of the script the actor has read, you might briefly tell the story you plan to shoot. This will put the audition scene in context, which will be helpful to the actor. If the actor feels more confident he will perform at his best, and the director will be able to make an informed decision.
The reader should make eye contact with the actor. This gives the actor someone to whom he can relate. Because the audition is for the actor, not the reader, the reader should not “act” nor read in a monotone, which would be equally distracting.
When the actor begins reading, allow him to read through the scene with no direction, but encourage him to move around if he so desires. This might reveal how comfortable the actor is with movement or how he feels about his body. Be sensitive to the actor’s creative interpretation of the material. Does he bring a unique slant to the character, one you had not considered before? How does he listen to the other actor reading with him?
If you like the actor, ask him to read the scene again but give him a simple direction, or what is called an adjustment. This direction can be as basic as he has to go to the bathroom badly but doesn’t want the other character to know. You are looking for a difference between the first reading and the second. How well and how quickly the actor receives and incorporates direction is more important than whether he understands the character. This second reading is key because it gives you an idea of the actor’s range and flexibility.
Don’t forget to express enthusiasm (honest enthusiasm) after each reading. Remember that the actor is working hard, doing the best he can and that hard works deserves recognition, regardless of the quality of the work.
If you are genuinely not interested in the actor who has just read, do a short interview. See if there is something within the actor himself that may renew your interest. Often actors read badly, especially on the first reading. The interview may reveal something within the actor that could serve the character well and it may be worth another audition. More times than not, however, your first instincts, good or bad after the first reading will usually not change, but it is always worth a shot.
When you are absolutely certain that the actor will not be called back, it is polite and respectful to let him know right after the audition. Be honest with actors. There is no reason to string them along. They deal with rejection all the time as a part of their life experience; they can handle it. A simple “Thank you very much. I am sorry we can’t offer you anything at this time. Perhaps there will be something that we can work on together in the future” is sufficient.
Notes. Take notes on your assessment of each actor. Your notes will help you decide at the end of the day which actors you would like to use or which you would like to call back. If you write pertinent observations on the actor’s résumé or on a separate log sheet during the reading, you can later review the day’s many auditions. It is also important to note the actor’s schedule and availability. (See below)
The audition process requires stamina and concentration. Reading actors all day with only a short lunch break can be exhausting. Be sure to give adequate consideration to the last few actors who audition. Among them could be the actor who is just right for the part. Remember, casting can make or break your project.
Evaluating the Audition
Is the actor right for the part? If the actor reading for the part is absolutely perfect, indicate this in your notes, but never offer an actor a part during the audition. You never know who might come in later and cause you to change your mind. If the actor is not ideal but has interesting qualities, this, too, should be noted. After all, the ideal actor for the part might never audition. You will have to cast the role based on the talent available.
The actor’s attention to the moment. An actor is said to be “in the moment” when he is completely in character and is not anticipating the next line. Is the actor able to work from moment to moment? Does the actor “listen” to the other actor, even if it is a nonfactor reading for the audition? Be on the lookout for anticipation. The skill of film acting is in the ability to react to a line (even though they know it is coming) as if they were hearing it for the first time. Great screen actors are also usually great listeners.
Can you work with the actor? One of the primary goals of the audition process is to discover the actor’s range of talent and ability to take direction. Most importantly though, is this an actor that you want to work with, that will listen and be response to your direction? You are not just casting an actor; you are forming a creative partnership for the duration of the shoot.
Keeping an open mind. The readings are an excellent opportunity to explore many different casting possibilities, and these possibilities are as varied as the actors who walk through the door. Too often, directors have a set image of a character in mind during the audition. If an actor matching that image doesn’t appear, the audition is merely an exercise.
It is important to remain flexible and open-minded as to the many ways a part can be cast. If a talented blond actor auditions, but you see the character as a redhead, consider using a wig or asking the actor to dye his hair. The director must be aware of how the various departments can help shape an actor’s look.
Do not believe that it is best to wait until the character as you have visualized him or her walks in the door with the right height, the right color hair, the right “look.” You may be waiting for a long time and working with this predisposition will most likely prohibit you from more interesting ideas than you would have thought about.
Use your imagination. Casting against type often makes the script even more vital. Can the part be played by an African American, an Asian, or a physically disabled actor? It might be interesting to cast as the villain of your piece an actor who has the appearance of a nice guy. This will create a doubt in the viewers’ minds and add a tension that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
Recording. Recording the casting sessions is an excellent way to review auditions and helps in making a casting decision. Recording the audition gives the creative team an opportunity to review the different combinations of actors at a later time. It also allows you to see how an actor relates to the camera. Certain actors have an affinity for the lens, and some don’t. Some very talented people freeze under the scrutiny of the lights and the camera.
The choice of whether to tape the first round of auditions or wait until the second or the callbacks is up to you. With so many actors appearing for the first round, recording may be a useful tool to recall them all at the end of the day. It will certainly become more important as you narrow your choices.
Using video during auditions is most effective with actors who have little or no experience in front of the camera. It is vital that you see how they look before making any final decisions.
Excerpted from Producing and Directing the Short Film and Video, Fifth Edition, by Peter Rea and David Irving. © 2015 Taylor & Francis Group LLC. All rights reserved.
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