• Jesse Brooks

Nail Your Audition and Get The Big Part

So, you’ve got your heart set on the big role, the one that’s going to change things.

You’ve paid your dues and started from the bottom, with Diner Patron #2 credits to prove it. For those starting off in the acting business, making the leap from background to close-up can seem impossible. There isn’t much of a roadmap for the long, winding path to stardom. For any given role, you might be up against hundreds, even thousands of other starting artists, each hungry for their own big break. With a crowd that big, it isn’t easy to stand out. Here are some suggestions from Atlanta’s top casting directors on getting the part.

Get Out There

Once you’ve put the right tools in your belt, search for casting calls. Submit, submit, submit. Make sure your resume points out the training you’ve received, the film projects, and the theater you’ve been involved in.

When you get the audition, be prepared! “Do your homework,” says Louden-Kubin. “Are there lines? Is it an improvisation?” Learn who you are and where you are, and then make your choices. And of course, be open to direction. If you can show intensity, believability, and simplicity, all at once, you’re bound to stand out.


Shay Bentley Griffin

Chez Group, www.chezgroup.com

I prefer to audition actors in person. I only go to self tape if time does not permit the actors availability during audition schedule. We expect actors to be prepared to film. You need to have respect for other actors, and patience with the process. No excuses on this. Be in control and trust your work!


Jessica Fox-Thigpen

Fox Casting, www.foxcasting.com

In my auditions, I’m not concerned with getting each word on the script perfectly. I want to really see the character and that the goal in that particular scene is accomplished. Keep your eyes off the script as much as possible. Never give excuses for a bad read. If you want to do it again, ask if you can do it again. If this happens again in the session, then you’re probably not ready and need to come back more prepared.

Never tell the casting director this is your first time auditioning! What you’re doing is preparing us that you aren’t going to be as good as someone who’s done this before. No matter what, enjoy yourself! Happiness and joy is infectious. Self-tapes are becoming more and more common as a part of the casting process. Read each audition’s instructions carefully. What one casting director requires will not always be the same as the next. If you’re even in doubt, have your agent ask.


The type of audition you get will depend on the type of production. “For film, there is a lot of self-taping,” says Louden-Kubin. This means you’ll be asked to step in front of a camera, record your audition yourself, and email it to the casting director. If this is the case, make sure your video is up to snuff. In a 2013 editorial for backstage, Hollywood acting coach Joseph Pearlman laid out the essentials: be well-lit, be audible, and frame yourself correctly. “We’re dealing with industry professionals with extremely demanding jobs,” Pearlman explains. “If they click on your footage, and the sound is too low or they can’t see you well ... they might just as likely click to the footage of the next actor.” Keep the camera focused on your face, in a medium, waist-up shot. Get someone behind the camera who knows what they’re doing.

Having said that, keep it simple with a pale, plain backdrop. Take down any decorations, and resist the urge to shoot on location in a setting similar to your audition scene. Say no to props. Don’t let your cameraman move the camera. As Pearlman puts it, “Chances are, it will just look off-putting and clumsy.” Keep the focus on your performance. Take your time, record multiple takes, and rehearse between scenes. Above anything else there is no substitute for proper preparation. Learn your lines.

Bring in another actor to help read with you. They stand off camera. It helps if they are the correct gender for their role, but it’s not crucial. Make sure you are looking at them and playing off of them. Give yourself three or four takes to really nail the scene, but don’t get too picky. Remember, if this goes well, you are going to have to do it again in front of a human. After you’ve read the scene, stand in front of the camera and record a brief full-body shot, for the sake of shape and size.

Once you’re all done, tidy it up with some minimal editing. Again … let this be your mantra … keep it simple. Load up your editing software such as: Adobe Premiere, iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. Add a brief title card to the beginning of the clip, with your name, the name of your agent (if you have one), and the role/production you are auditioning/reading for. Fade in and out between scenes and titles. Place the body shot at the very end.

For delivery, follow all instructions stated in the casting call. As silly as it is, this could make or break you. You will likely either upload to a streaming site like YouTube or Vimeo, or file share via YouSendIt, WeTransfer or Dropbox, so the casting director can directly download your clip. If you are auditioning for a commercial or theater role, you will probably meet your casting director in person. When you do, do not blow it by making too much chit-chat. You are there to prove your skill, not make friends.

If you can pinpoint your character’s emotional and physical objectives, and then channel them through your actions, you will have a better shot than an actor who only halfway commits.


Cynthia Stillwell

Cynthia Stillwell Casting, www.stillwell-lester.com

I always prefer actors who have worked in the theater. Actors who are organic, who can BE instead of act. (downfall) Too much talking and trying to be a friend can be a real turn-off.


Heather Hylton Bivens

Hylton Casting, www.HyltonCasting.com

It is important that an actor comes to an on-camera audition well prepared… has reviewed the material beforehand and understands the requirements of the role being cast. The actor should have a commanding presence, and exudes self-confidence. One should be cognizant that each casting director has a unique persona and approach to the production/work at hand.


The Call Back

After your audition, the waiting can be daunting. You could get a call in a matter of hours, days, weeks or months … or you could hear nothing. The wait for the callback depends on the production. Sometimes the casting director will know almost instantly whether or not you’re worth calling back for a second look. “I make the decision in the room,” says Casting Director Cynthia Stillwell, adding that she picks only 25 to 30 percent of auditions for a callback. If you make it to audition #2, be ready. Ask for sides, if they are available.

If you get them, memorize them! (For the uninitiated—a side is a sample script, prepared for an audition that will serve as a fair indicator of the character or production you are auditioning for. It is not typically taken from the actual production script.) Learn the lines, do your research, and understand who your character is. Make sure you discern your objectives. A lack of preparation will leave you dead in the water. There is no way you are going to retain 100 percent of the script, however, the more you have memorized, the more you can safely forget. If you want the casting director to like you, show you can take direction. Commit to your character, but be flexible and keep yourself open to instruction.

Most importantly: do not vary your style. If the casting director liked you enough to call you back, you had to be doing something right! Something about your take on the character struck a chord. Do not try to show off your range by playing the scene from another angle. Additionally do not change your look. Appearance is key. If you received the callback, you have the look.

After the second audition, the process for filling the role can vary wildly. A casting director might consult with a director or producer by sharing your taped interview. You may be compared to another auditioning actor for chemistry. You may also be asked if you are open to playing parts different from the one you auditioned for. (Always say yes.)


Andrea Hume

Marinella Hume Casting, www.marinellahumecasting.com

First and foremost, if you have submitted please answer all unknown numbers. It is very frustrating having to speak to a machine and even worse when you get a recording stating the person’s voicemail is full, or has yet to be set up. Show a separation between your slate and your work. Your slate should be all business this isn’t necessarily true when it comes to your performance.


Cheryl Louden-Kubin

Atlanta Casting, LLC, www.atlantacastingdirector.com

Make sure your picture looks like you! Do your homework.... are there lines? Is it an improvisation? Learn who you are, and where you are, and then make your choices. And of course, be open to direction. Shop for agents through SAG/AFTRA where you’ll only find legitimate, vetted representation.


You Can’t Always Get What You Want

If you don’t get the part, chances are you won’t be notified. Don’t take it personally. “Most times,” Louden-Kubin says, “it has nothing to do with you.” The director wanted to go in a different direction. The casting director owed the other guy’s agent a favor. Your co-star was already cast, and you weren’t a perfect fit for that actor. Maybe you just had a bad audition. Or maybe you have a lot to learn.

Essentially, don’t be afraid to learn. Ask questions. Find out what you did wrong. Go back to the casting director and ask for constructive criticism. Casting directors like Cynthia Stillwell are almost always willing to help. The more you know, the better you can be, and the easier you can make their job the next time around. “I am always happy to talk with actors,” says Stillwell, “in order for them to take away what they did [or didn’t do] right.” Louden-Kubin’s advice: “Find something positive you can take from the experience.” You may have done something wrong, but hey—now you know better. Get it right next time, and you’ll be one step closer to landing the role.

Don’t get discouraged. You are going to get rejected in this industry. Probably a lot; it happens to everyone. It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. It just means you were not the right one for the part this time. If you are serious about acting for a living, keep in mind that you’re going to get a thousand no’s, and that’s normal. Even the A-listers get rejected. It just makes the yeses all that sweeter. Which brings us to…


Brian Beegle

Stilwell Casting, www.stilwellcasting.com

Actors now have a greater opportunity than ever to build and sustain a career right here in Georgia. The key to being a working actor is not making a hobby out of it, but becoming a master of the craft. An actor should always be studying, and they should be taking the classes that intimidate them, not the ones where they feel comfortable. If they attack their weaknesses, they will become a more rounded actor, and therefore be more versatile to play different roles. A beginning actor should be an extra on sets to get a sense of what filming is really like. It is not looked down upon to be an extra!


Alpha Tyler

Alpha Tyler Casting

MMake the dialogue conversational. Be present in the moment and you must actively listen. Work on your non verbal communication.


If You Get the Part

Congratulations! You’re on your way. Expect a call from the casting director, either to you or your agent, to nail down the specifics. You’ll get your hands on the script, meet with wardrobe, and be thrown headfirst into the production machine. Bask in the glory of your major accomplishment, and then get to work. You have a part to play!

Regardless of whether or not you land the role, take this opportunity to better yourself. Learn to be comfortable in front of an audience. Learn to take constructive criticism and to critique yourself. Learn what not to do. Above all else, remember why you’re doing this for a living in the first place: because you love to act! If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here.

You might have to start small, but when you land the big role, all those nameless background parts you took … and all those parts you didn’t get … will have been worth your while.


For Further Reading:

www.backstage.com - casting calls, reviews, resources

www.purocasting.com - audition tips and advice

www.sagaftra.org - industry and local union information

www.castingnetworks.com - casting calls

www.800casting.com - casting calls

www.breakdownservices.com - casting calls

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