I have a question about reading the room. During a callback, the casting director (who was stone-faced at my initial audition) was LAUGHING like I was the funniest thing alive along with the producer who seemed to like me. After my audition, the producer said I was very good and same with the CD. I left the audition feeling that I did a good job. Later, my manager got feedback on how I did and the CD told my manager: “She didn’t read as well as I thought she would.” If this CD didn’t think I did a good job, then why the charade in the casting session? I don’t want to be made to feel like I did a good job when I actually didn’t. I don’t want people telling me what they think I want to hear. I LOVE being redirected by an CD or director who is willing to take time out of their busy day and adjust me so I can be the best possible actor for that job. Ever since that experience two years ago, no matter what a casting director says to me about how good my performance is, I leave questioning myself and if I really DID do that well or if the casting director was “just being nice.” How do I leave this feeling of distrust behind?
My first recommendation is this: intern. Volunteer to work as a reader, camera operator, or general assistant in a casting office and you will see very quickly how little of what is said in CD-actor interaction has anything to do with who has the best shot at winning the role. I know I talk a lot about the importance of interning in casting offices, but there’s a very good reason for that. After every casting session during which I bring in an actor/intern, I receive an email filled with exuberant “here’s what I learned” details from the grateful actor. That’s not an ass-kissing thing. It’s a valid indication of what sort of lessons an actor invariably learns, being on the other side of the casting process even for a day. Don’t believe me? Ask any actor who has worked as an intern whether that experience changed his or her perception of the auditioning process forever.
In general, actors are not terribly skilled in room-reading. It’s not that actors cannot learn how to read a room and do so very well, it’s just that most actors have so much “other stuff” going on at the time of their auditions (And rightfully so!) that they aren’t accurately seeing what else is happening. Nor do they need to! It’s not relevant how well an actor can gauge the mood in the room. Even if you could read the room at an expert level, and nailed exactly what each person was thinking at the time you left the room, there are another bazillion factors that have bearing on which actor wins the role, and (by design) you’re not exposed to those factors. So, even though you may have read the room correctly at the time you were in the room, things change. That’s why it’s best not even to try to read the room. That’s not your job.
As for why you get a positive vibe in the room and later get feedback that you missed the mark, well, that’s pretty easy. During the audition process, we’re on a pretty tight timeline to get through a certain number of actors. If we spent a couple of minutes (and yes, even just a couple of actual minutes) giving each actor feedback while in the room, we’d never get through the casting process. Also, we need you to leave the room so that we can have a conversation about your work. While the CD in your specific example, above, may have truly loved your work during the callback, perhaps after reviewing the tape with the producer, going through notes with the director, or comparing your preread work with callback work, the casting director’s opinion changed. That’s normal! Also, there could be other factors at play.
For example, I once ran a callback with the director in the room. This particular director did not want to give any redirects. He wanted to see exactly what the actor brought to the project, and basically was thrilled when any actor did exactly what he or she had done during prereads. He had instructed me not to redirect anyone. Well, one of my favorite actors came in and did an audition that was nothing like his preread. And, since I’d been instructed not to redirect, that’s all we got: his changed take on the material. He was the frontrunner for the role until that callback. Should I have walked him out of the room saying, “Thank you so much for coming. You really blew it by changing your choices since prereads,” when I knew there was nothing he could do, at that point, to get a “do over” on the audition? No. I walked him out thanking him for his time, telling him I would always call him in when appropriate, and wishing this particular director would let me redirect this actor so that he could see what he could really do. Then I came home and wrote a column about not changing your performance unless instructed to do so. *sigh*
The point is, there are so many things potentially going on at once during the callback process (most of which you have no awareness of, as the actor coming in) that to try and read the room is futile and frustrating.
Rather than focusing on whether or not you can trust what’s being said to you, focus on your work. Know that most casting directors tend to say, “That was great. Thank you,” not because we’re brushing you off but because we truly do want to thank you for putting yourself out there, for bringing your take on the project to us, and for being willing to live your dreams in such a rejection-filled career. You’ve taken a risk by choosing this life and we appreciate that our job doesn’t exist without you and your willingness to do exactly that. Why would we want you to leave the room feeling anything but great?
My advice is that you take people at their word (I know, I know… we only may occasionally mean what we say, so I’m asking you to take a leap with me here) and move on to the next audition, confident that you did your best. That’s the best you can do!
Note: thank you so much for all of the CD workshop feedback! You heard me! Yippee! I have enough material for a really comprehensive look at the CD workshops in Los Angeles, which is what you’ll have from me in next week’s column. Woo hoo! Thanks for writing.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000272.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.