Casting Basics: How to Make a Great First Impression on Your Actors During Auditions
Offer Healthy Snacks and Bottled Water for Actors at Auditinos
1) Provide Bottled Water And a Variety of Snacks
This selection of refreshments is separate from any food you provide for the crew inside the audition room. Water bottles are ideal, as it ensures that actors don't let their throats dry out while they audition. Also, in case the building in which you're hosting the auditions does not have a readily available water fountain, the bottles will have you covered. You can choose to include any additional individually packaged drinks, but best to stay away from sodas and high-fructose corn syrup-based drinks (they both tend to leave the throat dry). Tea, coffee, and/or juice are acceptable options, but each adds to your costs and set-up/clean-up time.
Snacks should also preferably be something healthy, as actors have to protect both their voices and their bodies. While a fruit/cheese/vegetable tray might be ideal, it also can be messy and costly. For a less expensive option, granola bars, individually packaged nuts or dried fruit, and/or crackers do well in a pinch. The individual packaging helps to minimize clean-up, but also allows you to retain any leftovers for future meetings or in-office snacks.
*At this point in pre-production, if you do not have someone in your company with a Costco or other wholesale membership, then it is worth your investment to purchase one. You will be able to acquire all sorts of basic production goodies, including drinks and snacks, at a fraction of the retail cost. If you know you'll be spending at least $5,000 for such items, then I highly recommend getting the Executive Membership, which allows you to receive 2% cash back ($100 back for your $5,000 spent).
Actors, as the quintessential "viewed", rely on their director to then act as the all-encompassing "viewer".
Wait Until After You Call "CUT" To Write Director's Notes
2) Do Not Interrupt The Actors!
Turn off your cell phones, pagers, anything that could go off inside the audition room. Between actors, you may check your phone for messages or makes calls. If you want someone to be able to take your calls, hand your phone to the greeter, seated outside the audition room, who will be able to take the calls for you. Casting directors will do this so that any actors who call or text, asking for directions or saying they'll be late, can be fielded by someone who won't be interrupting the auditions. Also, let the greeter deal with any incoming actors. It is the greeter's responsibility to monitor the actors "on deck", making sure they are quiet and respectful. If volume outside the audition room escalates, the casting director will inform the greeter.
Not sure who or what a "greeter" is? Check out How to Prepare for Auditions, which outlines each of the recommended crew needed for a casting session.
Directors - don’t take notes while the actor is performing. Actors, as the quintessential "viewed", rely on their director to then act as the all-encompassing "viewer". If the director is not "viewing" the actor, then he is non-verbally indicating something is wrong, and the actor will take it personally. Thus, while the actor is performing, give him/her your undivided attention. You can always pause to scribble down notes after each take.
Great Example of Rudeness – TV Guide Audition Stories:
3) Invite or Limit Creativity
Just as improvisation can involve accessories, props, and costumes, so can auditions. Most actors try to dress as similarly to the part as possible, regardless if it's requested or not. An actor will not show up in a three-piece suit if he is auditioning for a homeless veteran (though he'll still be well-groomed, because actors know the importance of looking good on camera). If you want to see actors with a certain piece of clothing for the audition, however, best to provide it yourself. When inviting actors to your auditions, you can set the parameters of "getting into character". If you wish to include the actors, invite them to bring whatever they feel works. Using props, even simple ones, can open yourself to a whole new scene interpretation, even establishing a new character goal or obstacle otherwise unestablished.
However, if your directing style is more akin to Hitchcock, then such freedom is unwarranted and undesirable. Best to inform your actors, in such a case, that there is no need to dress for the part or attempt to add anything to the audition. Doing what the director asks to the best of their abilities is the objective.
These choices are neither good nor bad, but simply the prerogative of the director. How you choose to run auditions will show actors how your on-set relationship will work, and whether or not it's a relationship they want to be a part of. No matter how you decide to work within the audition room, being engaged and decisive is paramount.
How you choose to run auditions will show actors how your on-set relationship will work, and whether or not it's a relationship they want to be a part of. No matter how you decide to work within the audition room, being engaged and decisive is paramount.
Summer Glau's First Professional Acting Gig, And She's Entirely Nude
STILL Haven't Seen The TV Series "Firefly"? It's Worth Every SHINY Penny!
4) Confirm Actor’s Comfort with Role Requirements
Role requirements are any and all of the difficult parts in the entire script – kissing scene, sex scene, dancing, singing, fighting, filming in another country, etc. Sometimes this conversation will happen before auditions even start. However, most people end their audition time with asking the actor, "do you have any questions?", just like any other interview. It's worth it to specify what your actor may be concerned about, but is too distracted to remember. For example, "later in this scene, you kiss the lead actress passionately. Are you ok with that?" That way the only words your actor has to worry about are "yes" or "no".
Taking a moment to address these concerns can be monumental for building trust. For Summer Glau’s first acting role and scene, as River on the TV series Firefly, she was entirely nude. Without building trust between her and her director, Joss Whedon, Glau would never have been able to perform so entirely. Whedon makes mention on the DVD commentary that he admired her for being so bold so early in her career. Being sensitive early on to what pains your actor will go through to deliver what you ask for will create a safe space for your actors to perform and shine.
In contrast, the ladies of Pitch Perfect, who knew they needed to sing as part of their acting role, were not so prepared for the required dancing, as per the commentary below. Luckily, their magic formula of great cast and enthusiastic production crew overcame that set back; both singing and dancing were highly entertaining!
Pitch Perfect Casting Stories:
The Female Ensemble Comedy Everyone Loves
5) Be Careful What Praise Or Criticism You Offer
After a take, when you call "cut", the first words out of your mouth should be positive. Whether a simple "that was good" or a more articulate "I really enjoyed how you interpreted the direction I gave you", always start with something that shows appreciation for the actor's effort. When you continue onto your request for how you want the next take, try not to make it an attack on what was just done. For example, instead of saying "that was way too angry, I was hoping for more frustrated and sarcastic", try "this time, let's have you do it again with more sarcasm and less anger". The latter still allows you to reference the previous take without dwelling on what did or did not work. Criticism while you're still trying to elicit a performance will only distract an actor's attention away from the task at hand. Similarly, if you are wowed by an actor's performance, save whatever commentary you may want to share until you are shaking the actor's hand and walking them out of the audition room. Praise can be just as distracting as criticism; they both can make an actor dangerously self-aware.
The video below includes an anecdote by Elijah Wood who received brutal criticism at an audition as a child.
Want more advice on how to make the most of auditions? Check out my Tips From a Casting Director!