Filmmaking / Directing : Auditions for actors by Anthony D Paul

Anthony D Paul

Auditions for actors

So what do directors look for in auditions? I've read actors that audition badly do a great job in the film or the opposite when they do good in an audition and flounder a film. Eventually I plan on directing a short film and auditions will be necessary. Seriously, what do you directors look for in an audition?

Kat Albert

First, I look for someone who can show up on time, or even early and is "off book." Next, run the scene and give some directions to see how they react to "being directed." Finally, always shoot your auditions and don't make up your mind until you've reviewed it. It's amazing how performances play on screen verses in person. Good luck.

David Suszek

Auditions are a lot of feeling out the chemistry between you and the actors. Do they take redirection well, do they seem well-adjusted (seriously, some of the things you see when you start auditioning people...), are they professional (on time, with headshot/resume presented)? You have to spend many months with these people, so you have to get along as you work on the art of your combined project. Sometimes yur gut feeling is the best thing to listen to. Also, network with other directors if you can.

Joe Harkins

Respectfully, regarding the suggestion that being "off book" at an audition is something to look for, that is not my own experience here in NYC. I audition regularly for dramatic stage and film, plus Musical Theater. Off book is not expected nor is it considered special. Of course, singing auditions for MT, by their nature, are expected to be off book, but you get to choose the song. What you choose to sing is something they consider in deciding to call you back. But for everything else. stage or movie, sides are often not available until a day or two before an audition. I regularly encounter situations where they are not available until I walk into the room. Twice in the past two months I've been asked to cold read scenes, just so the casting team could see how well I can work my way into a character based on the spontaneous reading of the text, without even one moment of pre-reading. (one of those times I was cast). If I am working when invited to an audition, I simply do not have time to memorize the script. Recently, I was auditioning at Ripley-Grier Studios, actually standing in line, as the next person to enter in the room, when the Casting Director for the largest group of shows on Broadway and national tours, texted me to come "ASAP" to Pearl Studios, literally the next building on 8th Ave., to audition for a principal role. He met me at the door to the room, handed me the script and walked me into the room in front of the casting team and said, "Joe is going to read and sing for us." Zero prep time. I'd gladly do it again any day. (show still hasn't been cast, so I may still be in contention.) I've done 15 short films and roughly 30/35 Musical Theater and Commercial auditions and workshops and public event performances in the past 8 months or so, plus a few commercials. I spend an average of 4 hours per week with various vocal and performance coaches, in addition to my own daily practice. I'm now in rehearsal as one of the principals in a 3-hour long new opera that will premier at the NY Fringe Festival next month. Even if I did have time to memorize audition scripts, why should I when what matters is how I deliver the audition? Aside from not having the time to learn a few pages of dialogue that experience tells me I probably will never see again, I just don't have the brain RAM for it. Am I really any different from thousands of other actors and singers in this area? I don't think so. The one time I ever auditioned off book for a dramatic role, the production crashed before it was cast because of a failure of its financing. Bottom line, my experience tells me that off book auditioning is a waste of time and energy that can be better used elsewhere. I hope this rant helps a fellow actor.

Anthony D Paul

Thanks for all your comments!

David Rountree

Every director is different. In most cases, you have to get past the casting director to even be seen by the director. I've directed 4 features and personally cast all of my films and try to make it easy on the actors coming in to the room. I was an actor for a long time and understand how frustrating the casting process can be. The main thing for me is that the actor grasp and stay true to the character they bring into the room... no matter what. If their choice is wrong, but they stay true, I can easily make a note for them to do it a different way. If their choice of a character goes in and out, they will appear as "green" and it's hard to take a chance on that actor. For me, off-book is not necessary, but the more off-book, the less of a prisoner to the words the actor will be and the more room they will have to create and play. For me, I don't care if they get all of the words exactly right because I know that they will have time to do that later. of course, the closer to being correct though, the better. If the actor is not "listening" at the audition and are just waiting to talk, they will not go any further in the casting process. This goes for the actual scene and when I am briefly talking to them before they even read. If I see potential, I may ask for them to try something different. Sometimes I want to see it a different way, sometimes I just want to see how well they take direction and, again, listen. I may also want to see how well they can change something on the fly, because that will happen from time to time on the set. The audition is usually much harder than actually doing the job because there is more pressure to "get it right" and "seek approval" with just one shot. An actor seeking approval can come across as desperate to "get something" instead of coming across as being able to offer something to the project. Just my notes. I could write more on this, but that's the quick version.

George L. Heredia

I have done all the casting for the films I have made. I have sent the actors sides days in advance and sometimes notes. Most of the actors that make it to the casting sessions (i.e., the few that get past the stacks and stacks of headshots and poorly made reels) have done their preparation. It is not necessary for me to see 100% off book and sometimes it can be interesting to see a new direction. But there is a reason the script reads the way it does and it is important that the actor understands that they need to deliver as close a performance as possible in their casting call.

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