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TV Casting - 10 Things Casting Directors Want You To Know

by Khara Hanlon

Ever had an audition you knew you aced? The one that was a sure thing? All you had to do was wait for the call from the casting director confirming the booking. But the call never came and you were left wondering what the heck the casting director was looking for. I mean, you're a fantastic actor! Rather than leave you wondering what these crazy casting directors want, we picked the brains of a few on-camera auditioning experts: Meredith Jacobson Marciano, founder of Amerifilm Casting; Peter Kelley, long-time casting director and coach; and Breanna Benjamin, a director, industry veteran, and President of the Creative Talent Company. Here are the top ten things they think you should remember for your next on-camera audition!

Don't worry about the words
Forget memorizing lines. Casting directors don't care about that. Meredith Jacobson Marciano of Amerifilm Casting says, "If it's a first audition, we're surprised if you come in off book." What is expected is that you show the personality and bones of the character. "We know that the actor isn't going to be able to memorize the lines for an audition. We aren't worried," says Breanna Benjamin. "What we're looking for is the character. Encompass those things rather than being intent on the lines."

Ask questions -- but only if you really need to
"When we ask if you have any questions, it's only to help you get clarity if there's something in the sides that's confusing," says Peter Kelley. "Very often the best auditions come from actors who just say 'nope' and dive right in." It is your job to show up knowing all that you can possibly know about the part you are reading for. "I'm not crazy about someone who comes in and asks a million questions because often they could get the answers from their manager or agent," says Meredith Jacobson Marciano. If you're only given sides -- that should be enough. "Find out what you can ahead of time -- be prepared," says Marciano. "You don't know how many people are waiting!"

Listen and react
"The camera loves to watch you listen," says Peter Kelley. "Make the audition about the other person, even if the reader isn't giving you much. Don't check out or wait to act when it's not your line." Don't be afraid to let what is happening sink in a little. "In real life you internalize things," says Breanna Benjamin. "We like to see the actor think and respond. It isn't a matter of clipping off the lines."

Get it right the first time
You're not coming to an on-camera audition to get coached. You are there to blow them away the first time. Come prepared (know who your character is, what you want, etc.) and blow them away. "Someone who just nails it is impressive," says Meredith Jacobson Marciano. "Be on it." The guys in charge might not think you deserve a second chance. "They will think that they just saw your best the first time you did it," says Peter Kelley. "I've seen many theatre actors walk in, fire through a read and be shocked when the only response is: 'Great! Thanks.' That, in my experience, is common. Don't be a second take actor."

Be flexible
If you do get a second chance make the most of it. Casting directors love an actor that can take direction well. They are going to throw things at you to see how skilled you are. "If you can tell an actor to tweak something and they change it to what you want," says Meredith Jacboson Marciano, "it's great." If you don't get any direction -- don't read into it. On-camera casting takes more time than a typical theatre audition. They might be renting the equipment and paying by the hour, or they might have to change tapes, etc. There's a chance they just might be running late.

Know what you look like on the monitor
A skill that always impresses Marciano is when an actor instinctively (or by training) knows how to work the camera. "It's important to see someone who is aware of the camera and knows how to do what they need to do with the camera on them," says Meredith Jacobson Marciano, "Learn how to position your body and face so the best parts are seen in the right way and at the most important times." One actor (who wishes to remain anonymous due to extreme embarrassment) remembers being told by a casting director that she looked like a bobble head doll. In person, her subtle movements were fine, but on film the camera magnified them. She had to learn through practice that some natural movements were too much on tape. Borrow a camcorder and find out what everyone else sees. Just don't be overly critical.

Know where to look
"When you are watching a television show actors are not looking into a camera," says Marciano. You want to connect with something -- but often people in the room with you are walking around or looking at papers. You also don't want to maintain constant eye contact with your scene partner or reader. Let your eyes wander -- a little bit. "Practice finding a focus point just above your eyeline (when you look straight ahead) to drift off to," says Peter Kelly. "You needn't keep an eye-lock on the reader. We often look away while processing things in life, and a second focus, to allow us to watch you think, can be nice during an audition. Just don't look down. Lots of us look down to think."

They are paying attention to you
If you think you're going unnoticed, you are wrong. "When I'm watching an audition I tend to watch the monitor. I'm looking to see how the actor looks on-camera," says Marciano. No matter what happens -- never assume they're ignoring you. Sometimes auditions are filmed and the person who is ultimately responsible for making the final casting call isn't there. What they see might be a tape of your audition. So don't count yourself out if it seems like no one cares about your performance.

Keep the moment going
The casting director wants to see what you look like when you aren't talking. They want to know that you "can stay with it until it's over," says Meredith Jacobson Marciano. When you get on a television show you won't have the option of yelling "cut" -- out loud or internally -- so start practicing now. Stopping the action before you're told annoys everyone. "Often the reader will have the last line and the director is watching your reaction and wants to see how you move on with life at the end of the scene," says Peter Kelley. "It's a real buzz-kill when the actor just kind of stops as soon as they get to the end of their last line."

You're a person first, actor second
"People don't hire actors," says Peter Kelley. "They hire people who can act. When it's close -- and it often is -- sometimes hiring decisions have to do with the person as much as the performance." So what does that mean? "Personality. Personality. Personality," says Breanna Benjamin.

Tiny tidbits of truth from the pros:

  • Don't be surprised if there isn't a camera -- even if it is for TV!
  • Be nice to everyone -- the receptionist might be the casting director's sister. The director might look like an intern.
  • Never complain -- we are in the same air conditioning that you are in.
  • Never apologize -- we don't care if you're sorry you did a bad read.
  • Never blame -- the person that didn't give you the script ahead of time might be the person hiring you.
  • Don't schmooze -- we hate that!
  • Don't look at us like we're about to perform a root canal -- we're nice people.
  • Be professional -- after all, it is a job interview.

Meredith Jacobson Marciano has cast extras, day players, and background actors for shows like "Sex and the City" and "Ed." Her casting company, Amerifilm Casting, has cast films, commercials, industrials, videos -- you name it. She has seen more auditions than she remembers.

Peter Kelley is a former casting director turned director. He is the founder of the acting school, C.P. Casting, in Boston and is a faculty member at Boston University. Kelley has also coached several uber-successful actors including Eliza Dushku and Chris O'Donnell. He's available for private coaching and holds classes in Manhattan, LA, and Boston.

Breanna Benjamin has about 30 years of industry experience. She's credited with launching the careers of Ally Sheedy, Peter Reckell, and Tom Sizemore. President of NY's Creative Talent Company, Breanna has extensive experience working with actors, casting new talent, and producing pilots for ABC.


Fundamental Auditioning Tips

1) You can’t become a star without training!!

First and foremost, seek out and take acting classes in order to build a foundation. Acting is a craft, and you can definitely learn how to approach a script, how to make choices and find specific images “It‘s critical for actors to do their homework if they want to compete. Comprehensive classes and workshops can give you the edge!

A serious school will not only educate you but also guide you, but can also guide you when you are ready to find the agent that will send you on your first audition. Once you have found an agent “…the amount of effort that the actor puts into his own career will dictate how hard the agent will work for them. Training is part of that effort..

2) Mother always said, “be prepared”!

When you get a call from your agent you should be prepared. Chicago casting director, Jane Alderman suggests that you keep a pad of paper and a checklist by the phone. You should get the following information: where and when the audition will take place, callback and shoot dates. Understanding who and what you are auditioning for will help you do your homework. If its’ a film, find out who’s directing it, if its’ a commercial understand the product and the target customer. If you have an audition for a television film or an episodic, knowing the network, can also help. The WB tends to be hip and trendy where as Nickelodeon presents more wholesome images. Knowledge is power.

3) Turn off the TV and read, read, read

If you have a film audition, ask your agent if there is a full script available at the casting director's office that you can go read. Reading the full script is especially helpful if you are auditioning for a functionary role, such as a pizza delivery boy, or the president of a powerful company; it aids your preparation to know if you are working in a hip café in Greenwich Village or at the McDonalds outside Peoria. Preparation is key; if you are auditioning for a young mother, make sure you are believable as a young mother, in addition to making interesting choices. For a commercial audition, have your agent fax the copy to you and read it enough times so that you are very familiar with the script. This show of professionalism sets the pros apart from the beginners.

4) Hey, you need an attitude adjustment

Now that you have your script, or commercial copy and have done your homework its time to TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS, prepare your scene and make choices. It's vital that "you don't worry about camera rules that don't exist,” The primary difference between stage and screen is an adjustment of focus. On camera you no longer have an obligation to an audience. You now have only one eyeball looking at you, (the camera) not an audience of 700. A good on camera actor is one who is always thinking (inner monologue) and processing what they are receiving. This adjustment, however, doesn't mean that you cannot move. Phrases such as "less is more" or "bring it down" or "you're too big for the camera." tend to paralyze actors. You must have a physical life and "fill the frame”.


Actors Take Acting Classes Continuously

As with any skill, there is always something new to be learned about acting. There is no such thing as graduating from acting classes.  Many regularly working actors continuously take any array of classes and courses, always honing their skills to improve.  With all the various techniques, there is so much to learn.  Acting techniques were originally developed for students to learn over the course of a few years.  However, with the change of times and society's fast pace of living, acting studios have condensed these same techniques to be taught and understood within a much shorter period of time, especially Los Angeles acting classes.  Whereas continuous ongoing classes address all aspects of acting, actors also take classes for specific roles.  It is in these environmentally controlled acting classes where you have the ability to master your own personal acting skills and the techniques to make you the best you can be.  This kind of in-depth exploration of your own strengths and weaknesses is not possible in a rehearsal setting or on the set.  With whatever technique and acting coach you do end up choosing, remember that you need a technique that will allow you to be truthful and emotionally alive.  Just remember, film and TV directors are not on the set to coach actors through their lines - that would be a waste of their time.  They expect you to be ready to act and if your not, then you may never work for them again.  The acting industry is cut throat and there is always someone waiting to take an open opportunity.  Don’t let them take your opportunity because you weren’t prepared.!&q5=John+Robert+Powers;read=4985