This week, we’re going to take a look at in-room direction. You’ll recall that I’ve covered the audition redirect in a previous column, but this time I’m looking at the ways in which directors, CDs, and producers in the room can best serve the actor. This will be the last in the How We Can Make Your Job Easier series of columns for The Actors Voice. Thank you all for the many emailed suggestions, generating so much material!

From two emails:

An actor makes a choice to go one performance route at an audition, not knowing if it’d be wise to ask to do alternative ones to perhaps better cover himself/herself (in the event that a CD or director, at a given time, has a preconceived notion versus none at all, about what they want or hope to see).

I want very specific and clear direction. For the most part professional CDs always give this, but some general, unclear direction at the audition leads to confusion on the part of an actor and a failure for the actor to ask the CD to elaborate out of fear that they will get more unclear direction.

Unclear direction is a big problem, of course. In fact, I talked about this a little bit in that above-linked column on the subject of the audition redirect.

Miscommunication is always a possibility, especially in the high-stress environment of an audition. An actor may hear and understand the direction but get confused in the application. An actor may not understand the direction due to the fact that the director is unclear in delivering it (especially after having given the same direction to a few dozen people throughout the day and beginning to take shortcuts in explanation over time). Or, there could be references that the director has made with which the actor is unfamiliar. Definitely, an actor’s nerves could keep him or her from asking a clarifying question.

Failure to ask the CD to elaborate is a tougher issue. I’ve seen this go both ways. One actor who auditioned for me on a feature film late last year simply did not understand my answer to his initial question about the character. He asked a clarifying question that didn’t make sense to me, so here we both were, trying to have a conversation that neither of us really understood! Very frustrating. But I’ve also seen an actor choose not to ask that clarifying question and then deliver the same exact read, a second time. So, I guess this is a pick-your-poison kind of thing. Would you rather be the actor who asks the clarifying question, gets the answer, and still doesn’t nail the audition or the actor who doesn’t ask the clarifying question, does the same read twice, and is thought a dork for not using info that would’ve helped? Your choice. Like I said, I’ve seen both backfire.

From another couple of emails:

Many actors, say, under a director’s prodding once on set, are quite capable of making appropriate adjustments. Yet, it seems that often in auditions, it’s a guessing game what might be the best way to proceed (beyond general attributes like authenticity, sincerity, commitment).

Try not to give result-oriented direction to actors, like, “Be funny,” “Be sad,” etc. Maybe taking an acting class would be an educational experience.

Ooh, I am so on your side with this last one! I absolutely agree with you that an acting class for CDs, directors, producers, writers, execs in the room during network tests, etc., would be a great enhancement! Of course, we all know you can’t require anyone to do anything in this business. That said, a former child star once offered a course called Actors 101. You may remember the late Andrew Koenig as the character Boner on Growing Pains. His Actors 101 course was a hit with those who took it, as they learned all about how to speak to actors in the actors’ language.

In my interviews with casting directors over the years, I learned that the actor-turned-CD types are the ones who seem to do the best job, interacting with actors. We get the mindset, we know the deal, and since we know what we need from you in the room, we’re best able to communicate that to you, succinctly. But not everyone has performance experience, going into the audition environment.

I remember writing about having spoken to a group of indie filmmakers at the Indie Fimmaker Bootcamp. I’ll remind you of the following realization from my experiences there.

Filmmakers perceive actors as baffling little critters. They know they do magic with the words on the page and bring characters to life on screen in ways for which any number of storyboards could never prepare them. Beyond that, there is very little most filmmakers know (or, frankly, care to know) about actors and the process actors go through to show up on their set, ready to do the job.

It’s not that CDs, directors, writers, producers, financers, or network execs don’t care about the best way to speak with actors about what they’d like to see in the audition room. Truly, it’s that there are so many actors who do come in “performance ready” (meaning, they need no direction whatsoever and are really showing us exactly what we’d see from them on the set, having instinctively nailed the character without any direction from us) that there is no reason for anyone to invest in “proper actor speak.” If we see someone who doesn’t get it, we’re not very likely to work hard to make sure that actor gets it so that he or she can nail the read on redirect.

I know, I know, you’re thinking that this is totally unfair and that you would absolutely book the part, if we had just given you one tiny bit of direction in the room. Well, it’s like a brilliant actor friend of mine, Jodi Shilling, said over dinner the other night: Actor Darwinism. Survival of the Professionalest. You’re the most professional; you advance in this business. You walk in needing something; you may get another shot at it, but why chance it? Get better. Audition better. Book better.

From yet another email:

I prefer CDs to hold their thoughts and small talk until AFTER the audition. This usually applies to very intense and emotional scenes. I like to go into the room already in character, and if my character is depressed or angry, I hate having to set that emotion aside to exchange pleasantries. I know those CDs are just trying to make the auditioning process easier, so it’s very hard to be mad at them for that. I know we can ask for a moment, but most of the time, when I ask for a moment, I’m only half preparing and the other half of the time I’m thinking, “I wouldn’t have needed this moment and appear unprepared to you, if you had just let me stay in character.” I think CDs would get a better feel for our regular personalities after the audition, because the nervousness would have dissipated by then.

One of my favorite actors is a big fan of the whole “in character from the get-go” thing. I, personally, hate that. She comes in, totally not herself, and here I’ve bragged about her to the producers (since I do my best to bring her straight to callbacks, because she really does rock, as an actor). She walks in, in character (and this is really horrible for the whole meet-and-greet thing, if the character happens to be pegged to one end of the mood spectrum), and no one wants to chitchat with her, after the scene (even if she nailed it).

I think you’ll find that most rooms in Los Angeles are very “get to work” oriented. We’re not likely to chitchat at all, really, but when we do, it will almost always be before your read. You’re just going to have to get used to that, here. No one likes a Method Actor who needs time to get into “the character’s space” during auditions. That sort of thing scares filmmakers, as they imagine how in-your-head you’ll be when on the set with a dozen people barking information at you an instant before “Action!” They can’t cast someone who may or may not be “ready to be in the moment” when it’s time to shoot the scene. Sure, some famous Method Actors do just fine, but they are a known commodity (box office-wise) by the time we’re looking to bring them to set. You? Not yet.

Also, many casting offices are warm, open places, in which you are more than welcome to take a moment to get into character after coming inside, exchanging pleasantries, and handing over your headshot, seeing your mark, asking about your frame. I understand that means you may need a moment to get back into character before your read, but in most cases, that is preferred to the whole question of, “Is this person a psycho, living as the character?” And if you don’t think we’re asking ourselves that, you’ve not interned in enough casting offices. Believe me, we understand you have a process, but in the end, the buyers really don’t want to be involved in it.

Sounds harsh? Maybe. But you wouldn’t want to be a part of our process either. I absolutely understand that you are better equipped to nail the read if we don’t chat with you before the audition, but you’re just going to have to find a way to make the imperfect audition session environment work for you. Most casting offices welcome actors in with at least a tiny bit of, “Hi, how are you, thanks for coming in, how’s your manager, oh I saw you in such-and-such, great new headshots,” and most actors welcome that sort of exchange, as it lets them know they’re in a safe place to do their best work.

If you’re having trouble nailing the read in the room, talk with your acting coach about options for empowering yourself. As much as I like to talk about the importance of demystifying the process from the casting end of things, in the end, your comfort level with this crazy process has to come from within. It’s never going to be easy. Not for any of us!

So… how do you make this difficult moment more easily navigable? What is your first response, when offered in-room direction? Lemme hear it! 🙂 I look forward to learning about your in-room experiences.


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/000351.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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