Prereads are always fascinating for me. I’ll see 120 actors in one day; some of them fantastic, some just fine, some not great at all. But what’s amazing to me is how some actors get the balance between auditioning for the room and auditioning for camera. Those actors somehow always end up on the long shortlist (and fewer of those end up on the callback list, of course). It’s as if they’ve calculated the odds and actually know which performance carries the weight: the one we see in the room or the one we see on tape, later.

So, am I going to give you the answer to that dilemma? Well, no. It’s just not that simple. As with most things in an actor’s life, there is no one answer, no hard-and-fast rule. Instead, there’s the need for actors to do some calculated risk assessment, prior to determining the type of audition they’re headed in for.

Who Is in the Room?

When you receive notification of an audition, there are several questions we’re equipped to answer: What time? What’s the location? Are sides up at Showfax? Is the entire script available? When does it shoot? What’s the rate? What’s the billing? Is the audition being taped? Who will be in the room? Those last two questions are the ones we’re focusing on, for this particular column.

The reason you need to know who is in the room for the preread is simple: If the decision-makers are in the room, your audition “for the room” is as important as what goes on tape. Often the tape will be used for reference, later, but the impression that you make in the room will likely stay with those decision-makers (and color the way they review the tape). If the decision-makers are not in the room, your audition is primarily for the tape-watchers. Nailing a subtle performance in a tight shot could make all the difference. But you also have to be “special” enough in the room that your on-tape work gets flagged for the higher-ups to see. Let’s break it down a bit more, based on the type of audition you’re facing.

Commercial auditions: About 90% of the time with commercials, your audition is for the tape. The CDs will upload “CD Selects” based on what they see in the room, yes, but remember that they’re typically watching your in-room audition through a monitor. So even they are looking at you “on tape.” The decision-makers (ad agency reps, clients, execs) are almost always watching your tape and deciding whether you’ll get the gig. So, yes, you have to impress the folks in the room to get on the “CD Selects” list, but the tape is where your work really counts, for commercials.

TV prereads: First TV prereads are really for the room (and you’re almost never put on tape). You’re in front of the associate CD or the CD herself, rarely taped, and then asked back (usually the same day) to go on tape or meet producers. Sometimes, this request will happen immediately. You’ll read for the room and hear, “That was great. Let’s put you on tape for producers.” See below for details on how that goes. But basically, on a TV preread, you want to charm the room, have great timing, not overdo it, and be ready to adjust yourself slightly for tape when the camera rolls.

TV tape-to-producers: When you are put on tape for producers of a TV series (a request that either comes after a preread — see above — or because your work is already known), that’s exactly what’s happening. The producers are likely to see every actor who goes on tape at this level. As long as you know your frame, you’re in good shape to make a choice: A tight frame means you should keep your work internal, a wide shot allows you to be a bit more theatrical (never go over the top; even in very broad Disney-like sitcom auditions, you’re most likely to be supporting the wacky main characters).

Film: Keep in mind that most feature films begin casting months before principal photography starts. Many filmmakers find chemistry to be tremendously important and that involves you charming the room. Even if the casting decision is made long after your audition, the memory of how you wowed the room is often a factor. But it’s also hugely important that your performance translate on tape, since that’s basically the medium for which you’ll perform if you’re cast in the finished project. And, due to the length of time it takes to cast a film, you can bet your audition tape will be viewed several times over the course of a few months. A performance that works on tape is going to hold up long after the memory of the audition room experience fades.

Stage: If you’re put on tape when you have a theatre audition, it’s likely just going to be used for reference when the decision-makers are gathered and reviewing their options. Your work on the stage (especially if you’re auditioning in the space where the show will be mounted) carries the most weight, in this type of audition.

What if you show up at the audition and still don’t know who is in the room (and therefore, you haven’t been able to choose the style of performance you’ll be delivering ahead of time)? Ask the assistant signing you in who is in the room. It’s a totally appropriate question and one that most assistants will be able to answer with ease. “It’s just the CD,” means you’re going to need to deliver on tape. “The clients are in the room,” means decisions may be made right there in the room (and later reviewed on tape… or maybe not).

When you prep for auditions, you have to be ready to deliver based on the conditions you find upon arrival. And as much as I’ve tried to spell out a few guidelines for how to know whether your in-room or on-camera audition is the one holding more weight, I hope what you take away from this week’s column is this: Sometimes you just won’t know. And when you’re sure you’ve nailed the audition because the reaction in the room was so great — and then you get no callback — consider that perhaps something didn’t translate on tape. Add that to your growing database of “how things work in each particular casting office” and continue on.

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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