Feedback

You say you want feedback. You say you crave feedback. You say, no matter what we say about your performance, you can take it. You say it’ll help make you a better actor. I believe you. Really! But I also know there are other actors out there who aren’t telling the truth when they say they want true, constructive feedback. What they really want is a point of negotiation for getting another chance at winning the role. Or they want to defend their choices. Or they want closure, since until they get feedback they may always be hoping they still have a shot at getting cast.

Just the same, I’m going to approach this column in the How We Can Make Your Job Easier series as if every single one of you reading is of the type I first mentioned: You really do want legitimate feedback and you do intend to use it in the spirit it’s given. Let’s move forward under that assumption together, for now.

From your emails:

I know that I would love to know everything about it. If I was second for a part, great. I want to know it. It only helps me in the long run. It means I’m doing something right, so it helps with my confidence. If I wasn’t chosen, just based on the type of look, then great, I now have a better idea of how people see me being cast. Although the process of casting can be tough to bear, especially when you go out for a role that you really really want (which is usually all of them), that kind of feedback is like gold — even if it’s negative about your acting — because it helps you understand the industry straight from the machine itself. If it’s bad, you know what you need to work on. If it’s good, then you know you’re on the right track. People who don’t want to know are probably just scared to hear the negative stuff, but I say, embrace it and own up to it, then figure out a way to solve it if possible; you’ll be the better actor for it in the long run, or at least the more “castable” actor.

What I think most parents of young actors want is more feedback. What did the kid do or not do that caused them not to receive the callback. I suppose it’s because we’re the primary teachers and guides for our children that we feel we can help them improve their chances in some way, if we only knew what they needed to improve. Since we’re not in the room, we can’t see what they did (and let’s face it, kids aren’t always going to tell us if they blew it in some way or not). I realize it could be something with which we have no control, like “too tall” or “not the right look.” The things we can help them with, like improving their energy or being better prepared would certainly give us some guidelines with which to help them in their next audition or even decide if this is the right path for them or not.

Absolutely great perspective, about the importance in being more “castable” due to feedback. And definitely, parents of young actors are a major factor in the actor’s ability to improve, and that means getting feedback for yourself. Remember, however, that 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 giving each actor feedback while in the room, we’d never get through the casting process. So always save your requests for feedback until after the audition (and preferably through your agent or manager). Also, understand and move on, when feedback is not provided. Feedback from a casting director is a bonus, not a given.

As I’ve mentioned here before, when I first started casting, I was very big into giving feedback. Every actor who made it to callbacks on the first three or four films I cast got an email detailing my notes from the audition sessions and any opinion expressed by the director that may be useful. I’d get calls from agents and I’d give quite a bit of thoughtful feedback, hoping it would help the actor build toward better self-awareness and an understanding that most of the time that an actor isn’t cast it has nothing to do with that actor’s work. Now that my projects are overlapping and the amount of time I have to share copious feedback notes is dwindling, I pretty much only give feedback when agents or managers happen to catch me and I have a few minutes to review performances with them.

I’ve also taken to letting agents and managers see the audition footage of their actors from the session. Since I put the best clips up on the Cricket Feet website or in the BreakdownsVirtual Casting Network, I can send agents and managers over to files already uploaded so they can see for themselves how well their clients are coming across in the room. Yes, that sort of takes feedback into a “do-it-yourself” stage, but it also ensures that agents and managers are getting a very clear idea of what their clients are doing and how they’re being seen. Remember, I’m also still working on the whole “share session videos with you” concept. Won’t it be fun to see the difference between those who ROCK auditions and those who simply show up? I hope so!

If you’re not getting enough feedback, try asking your agent or manager to get it for you. I can usually have a much quicker conversation with your rep than with you about what worked and what didn’t work in the room and therefore am more likely to deliver the feedback you’re seeking. Of course, this means that you’ll be hearing feedback second-hand (which leaves room for misinterpretation), but at least you’ll get some information that may help you next time. As for the parent of a young actor, above, consider that you are like the actor’s manager or agent in this situation. You weren’t in the room with the actor, you will be receiving feedback based on a performance you did not witness, and you will be trying to relay the information in a constructive way to the actor. Remember that miscommunication can come at every turn in this chain of passing information along. As I tell actors, parents of actors, and agents and managers of actors: If you aren’t getting feedback but keep getting invited into the room, you can assume that you are doing good work, you’re on the casting director’s short list, and you’ll continue to keep being brought in until you hit the right role for you at the right time.

From another couple of emails:

I have extensive experience working for large (Fortune-500) companies in business capacities and feel that the entertainment industry should use some operating philosophies indigenous to business leaders. I think that there should always be some sort of feedback after an audition. Feedback from a CD, whether positive or negative, is a treasure. I always appreciate it. In a job interview, more likely than not, the interviewer gives me feedback on my qualifications. I know when I leave the session whether I have the job or not. This is crucial. There is nothing worse than being left in the dark. As an actor or professional. If an actor is not getting a callback, a letter should be sent out thanking the actor for their time, letting them know they were not being picked and stating that they will be on file for six months to be considered for future projects. It was a painful experience getting these letters, however it was a lot better than waiting for a call that will never happen as in the entertainment world.

I just read for Dava Waite and booked her show called “Hot Properties.” Before I read with her, she told me of an earlier audition where the actor, whom she knew, made a very strange choice. A choice so bizarre it was hysterical. In sharing this story, she asked my opinion on whether or not she should call his agent or the actor directly. I immediately told her that she should because if there is anything we as actors need is feedback. In any other business, there are performance reviews and at least an opportunity to hear how one can improve their job. And in spite of what some casting directors think, not all actors would take this information as negative. We just want to improve on ourselves so that we can book work.

I find the first of these two emails so very amusing. I mean, I’m all about the idea of sharing as much information as possible, and in an open, constructive environment. That said, if we had to write rejection letters (and not just form letters) for each and every actor we saw for every single role in every project we cast, WE WOULD NEVER GET ANY CASTING DONE! I swear, I tried to imagine a way in which we could do some sort of letter-writing campaign in order to notify every non-called-back actor for every project we cast, but it just made me giggle! I mean, I guess I could create a form letter that actors could pick up on the way out of the audition. It would say, “You will not be getting a callback. Thank you for your time. By the way, if you get a callback, please disregard this form letter. I just want to be sure you feel respected for your time, and I’m playing the odds by asking you to pick up this form rejection letter, since most of you will not be coming back for this particular project. Remember, if I call you back for this role, you can forget you ever saw this note. Thanks for your time!”

Okay, I’m exaggerating for effect, but COME ON! There’s just no way casting can be compared to a Fortune-500 company’s human resources department! Even at the highest-budget, studio feature film casting level, this would still be an impractical step in the process. Besides, you have an agent or manager, once you’re dealing at a truly professional level, right? So, that’s like being a job-seeker with a headhunter helping out. You want your rejection letter? Go to your recruiter. Leave casting alone.

Mark Sikes, my colleague here at Showfax, said this in his article on Feedback:

It is not the responsibility of casting to give feedback. The casting office is not a classroom. By the time you’re in the room, you’re expected to be at the professional level. Unless the actor made a huge faux pas in the room, I don’t generally give feedback. Especially when so much of the time the choice comes down to a “look.”

And my friend (and one of my all-time favorite actors) Bob Clendenin, had this to say on the subject:

First off, making you a better actor is nowhere in a casting director’s job description. Their job is to find talent for that particular project and that’s it. Anything beyond that is a courtesy on their part and should not be expected.

Second, actors are generally kidding themselves when they say they want feedback. They don’t. What they really want is to convince the CD that the CD was mistaken.

Basic conversation:

Agent: I’m calling to get feedback on John Doe.
CD: He did a nice read, but we didn’t think he was vulnerable enough.
Agent: Okay, thanks.

Agent: They didn’t think you were vulnerable enough.
John: That’s crap. I almost cried at the end.
Agent: Well that’s what they said.
John: Tell them I can be more vulnerable. Seriously. Tell them to look at the “Bus Stop” scene on my tape.

Or god forbid the CD just thought you sucked. They’re not going to say that to an agent (or the actor), and you wouldn’t want them to.

Get feedback from teachers and coaches and let the CDs do their jobs.

Remember, useful feedback includes information like the confidence with which you deliver the lines; level of commitment to the choices you make; how much you look like your headshot; whether your type is being accurately conveyed in your headshot, pitch, and read; your understanding of the text and the project itself; and how you come across in the room.

By the time feedback is given to an actor, someone else has been cast in the role. So, the idea that any conversation could result in an epiphany on the part of the casting director (“Eureka! We cast the wrong guy! You’re IN!”) is ridiculous. Therefore, for feedback to be truly useful, it really does need to be requested and delivered with an agenda of actor self-awareness and improvement.

Next week: in-room direction. Yes, I’ve covered the audition redirect in a previous column, but this time we’ll look at the ways in which directors, CDs, and producers in the room can best serve the actor, in the language we use.


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 http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000349.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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