Sides, Sides, Everywhere Sides

Well hello and Happy New Year! I’m back from a lovely two weeks’ vacation and ready to resume the “How Can We Make Your Job Easier” themed columns. Gotta tell ya, after having written columns and answering “Your Turn” questions for 85 weeks straight, taking a break felt goooood. I highly recommend time off now and then, and I definitely want to thank the amazing folks here at Showfax for having made my job easier, just by asking me to take a little time off! So, refreshed and ready to tackle another 85 weeks, I begin by addressing the issue of audition sides.

From an email:

Pick reasonable sides from the project. I’ve had sides where one of the three scenes (two and a half pages) has all the dialogue from two other characters except one line. I prefer we skip that scene and do the other two scenes.

I always assume, when there is a one-line scene included in audition sides, that there is something the director or producer is looking for, in having selected such a scene, that wouldn’t come across in the other, more dialogue-heavy scenes. Perhaps it’s a reaction to what is being said by the other characters. Perhaps it’s the actor’s ability to handle tough material (or controversial language or violence or content of some questionable nature). If the other sides don’t hint at such issues, the inclusion of the one-line sides could simply be to prepare the actor, fully, for what the role entails. Since no one in the casting and production side of things wants to see an actor turn down a project after having auditioned for it, including potentially objectionable content in the initial audition sides can serve the purpose of filtering out actors who would pass, if offered the role. In the end, that saves time for everyone.

I’ve had sides where there is a lot of passionate kissing, or a lot of violent action. Obviously you don’t kiss the casting director, but it’s difficult to know what to do when there’s a lot of violent action going on the script.

I defer to legendary casting director Jane Jenkins, who told me the story of Vincent D’Onofrio’s audition for Mystic Pizza. The sides called for the character to roll around on the floor with Lili Taylor’s chacter in a heavy makeout scene, followed by an abrupt confrontation with her father. “Most actors felt the need to grope me, grab me, or roll around on the floor by themselves. Vincent got down on one knee and did the whole scene as if it were his close-up. When you have one of those physically-demanding, complicated scenes that is impossible to do in an office, do your close-up.” That is exactly what I advise actors do, whenever the sides are physically complicated. Generally, no one expects to see an actor do “major business” during an audition.

I’ve run into this scenario several times and I’m never sure what to do about it. I have an audition today for a major film. The audition sides run 24 pages and cover eight scenes. Another audition today for Nip/Tuck, ten pages covering four scenes. Now I know we will not be covering all that material. Is it that the director and producer have not selected the material they want to see? Or is the CD hedging her choices? If the former, is it possible for the CD to “educate” the director that choices need to be made before the audition process starts? What happens is that when you get to the audition the CD usually says something like, “We’re only doing scene X and X.” It would be nice to know that ahead of time.

It can be that the director and producer have asked the casting director to provide that much material to auditioning actors. It can also be that the casting director has been left to choose audition sides and, since she’s not sure what material the producers may want to see, she is, as you put it, “hedging her choices.” Until CDs and producers have had a nice, long history of working together, they may all choose far too much material, just to be sure everyone has the opportunity to see exactly what he or she hopes to see, in viewing the audition footage. There are definitely CDs who attempt to educate producers and directors as to how much material should be required at auditions, but until the relationship between those parties is solid enough, trust often loses out to “covering all of the bases.”

As for the “We’re only doing scene X and X” part of your email, definitely that’s something most casting directors try to communicate prior to the moment an actor actually enters the room. I know that’s not a bunch of advance notice, but it’s certainly the minimum expected notice: learning while in the waiting room that only certain scenes will be needed, in the audition. Sometimes, if CDs and producers are working together for the first time, it will only be after the first couple of audition appointments that the CD knows what it is they’re looking for, and that’s when the adjustment in audition sides will take place. Obviously, if the change in plans happens earlier than that, it would be fantastic to communicate that with all actors preparing for an audition. Unfortunately, there is rarely that kind of time.

I’ve had sides put together from multiple scenes (as many as five). I know the CD is trying to make it flow, but what are you looking for when there’s a change of energy from scene to scene (and they’re all tied together)?

What you have to understand is that everyone in the room is aware we’re looking at sides that have been merged from various parts of the script. If we’ve posted the sides as separate scenes, we’re going to look for a moment of transition from one to the other. If, however, we’ve posted the sides as “one scene” with page numbers that jump around, we’re looking for some bit of “flow.” Your question is a great one to ask of the casting assistant before you enter the room. He or she will have a good idea of what’s going on in the audition sessions and should be able to get some of your questions answered.

Have sides and scripts readily available and not only where we have pay $15 to ScreenplayOnline just to read a script.

I’m a big fan of using the Internet to make scripts available. Yes, I put scripts up at ScreenplayOnline and I put sides up at Showfax, but I also always upload scripts and sides to my company’s server. Might as well make use of the space, and provide the material for the cost of a click, since I’m not going to be inviting folks over to my home office to read copies of the script over tea. Until my casting empire is big enough to warrant the rental of casting facilities for day-to-day operations (and not just during sessions), the “script copy on the premises” option is entirely electronic.

CDs can have a few copies of the entire script, for the TV show or film their casting, out in the waiting room so actors can peruse them if they didn’t/couldn’t get a hold of the script beforehand.

Certainly, there are casting directors who aren’t as tech-heavy as I am, in their interface with actors and producers. Those CDs typically keep copies of the script in their office and welcome drop-ins for the purpose of reading the material. Some agents and managers with several clients up for roles in the film will send an assistant over to the casting office to get the script, make copies, and have those in their office, to facilitate their clients who wish to come by and prep there. There usually are several good options for reviewing the material before the audition. Always ask! You may find people are more than willing to email a copy of the script to you or open their offices to you for on-site reading.

Something to remember, however, about the audition material, is that there will be major differences in what is available based on what type of project we’re dealing with.

Feature film casting directors will usually make the whole script available and, due to the amount of time you’ll have to read it prior to the audition in most cases, you definitely should do so. At the very least, you should always have read the entire script before a callback. It is embarrassing to have actors back for final reads, have the director ask, “Did you read the script?” and see them look at their feet in shame, mumbling, “No. I’m sorry. I didn’t have time.” As I’ve said before, when it’s down to the final four or five actors for a role and one hasn’t even bothered to read the whole script, it’s pretty clear who leaves the shortlist first.

For existing TV shows, many times the whole script will not be released. Still, you can discern the tone and style of the show by having watched it. You should always watch an episode of each show on TV, if you’re intending to work in television. If your audition is for a pilot, you’re going to help create the tone and style by the work you bring to the audition, so it doesn’t matter that you aren’t able to see an episode prior to your read. If you can use IMDb to track the work of the people involved in the pilot, you can probably get an idea of the general feel of the new show. When you’ve only got a page or two of sides, that doesn’t mean you should spend less time doing research than you would for a project when the whole script is available. Use the time you would normally spend reading the whole script to do homework about the project’s tone and its principal players. Also, really commit to the exact language in the audition sides. Most writers for TV are producers and therefore they’re watching your final auditions. If you rewrite their work, they’re generally not going to love you for it.

As for commercials, sides are pretty irrelevant, actually. An actor friend who edits session video for a busy commercial casting facility described the most-frequently top-rated clips as “all about type, style, and personality,” and rarely a sign of who did the best work with the audition sides.

As always, I’d recommend that you keep good records. Once you’ve begun to notice patterns in certain casting offices (which ones will provide the entire script, which ones will give you advance notice of changes to audition material, which ones seem to put the greatest emphasis on adherence to the written word, which ones expect a little “business” during the audition, etc.), you can go in for each subsequent audition more prepared, simply by having reviewed your notes. Auditioning is a job! Prepare for it well and you’ll get promoted sooner.

Bonnie Gillespie autographed the internet


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/000334.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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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Robert October 21, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    Who selects the sides for an audition? The director or the casting director?

    Reply
    1. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie October 21, 2017 at 3:39 pm

      It depends, Robert. For most projects (especially for those first starter-tier small roles), the casting director does, but there are certainly times the director is hands-on enough as to want to be involved in selecting sides. That would almost never be the case for television, where the directors are hired week to week (and change frequently throughout the season) but sometimes for a feature film, the director will want to be very involved in the casting process and on indies is often also the writer, so they’ll have a pretty strong opinion about materials in use for the auditions. So… it varies! 🙂

      Reply

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