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Backstage Experts

4 Hot Tips For Being Off-Book

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4 Hot Tips For Being Off-Book
Photo Source: Doug Hac

Many of you ask me if we expect you to be off-book. For the first audition, we expect you to be completely familiar with the material, to have read the script if available, and to have made distinct character choices. You can look down at your sides for reference as long as your head isn’t buried in them. As you come in for callbacks and certainly for any network or screen test on a film, you need to be off-book. You can still hold your sides (if you need to), but be off-book. Competition is SO stiff, and if the next guy is more prepared than you, then it doesn’t make you look very good. For us, your behavior in an audition is indicative of how you’d be on the set.

Being off book allows you to connect to the person you're reading with and be present. When the actor is continually looking down at his sides, it takes me, the viewer, out of the scene.

Being off-book means you are going to be on your toes when that rare moment comes along, and the director actually gives you notes in the room and asks you to do it again. Yay you! It means that he/she actually SEES something in you that makes them want to see the scene again with their re-direction. It means they want to see if you actually CAN take direction. Since you know the material like the back of your hand, you'll be able to LISTEN and weave those notes into your already fine-tuned and thought-out performance.

Hot Tip #1: Hold the sides in front of you. Turn the pages along with the flow of the scene so that if you do get lost, you can easily dip down and find your place and continue along, with ease and grace, and we don't have to stop and start over. If you get lost, how you get back on track is also something we look for. If you have a total meltdown and start apologizing and freak out and dissolve into a puddle because you got lost or have to start over, that gives us pause because we wonder how you will be "on the day" if you aren't handling things well in our little office when the meter isn't running yet! We're all human. We make mistakes. How we handle them is the key.

Hot Tip #2: Holding the sides shows the network and studio executives who are watching the audition outside the room, that it is a work in progress. It's not a finished product. You can't imagine how much they all scrutinize your performance. Since they're removed from the work space (our casting office), they sometimes forget that we're still playing and that this is not a finished performance. When they catch a glimpse of the sides, it plays subconsciously into their viewing skills and reminds them that, oh yeah, these aren't dailies. It's subtle but it works.

Hot Tip #3: Your memorization skills also come into play when you're shooting. I cast a TV series last year, and I couldn't believe how often lines were flying-in as we were shooting the scene. Both producers were writers on the show, and they were changing-up dialog while shooting. If you don't have this skill-set now, go get it! Develop it. It'll be the sharpest tool in your bag that'll take you a very long way in this business.

Hot Tip #4: Take control of your audition. Have you ever been given a scene and the other person in the scene has a long speech and they skip over the whole speech and just read the last line?! You're all prepared to be listening and responding to the speech, and they've jumped ahead and you're totally thrown. Ask FIRST before the audition starts if we're going to be doing the whole speech or all the dialog within their speech then you'll know whether they are going to skip over it or not. I usually advise my coaching clients to ask the CD or reader: "Can you please read the whole speech as it'll help with my reactions?" Good idea, huh?

One of the key elements in an audition is whether an actor is LISTENING. Whoever these CDs are that are skipping over large chunks of dialogue so that they can get to your lines are SO missing the point here. I love to see the look on the actor's face as he's comprehending and reacting to what the other character is telling them. 

There are many ways to memorize lines. Practice. You can learn a scene or a monologue every day, and it'll help your brain start to become comfortable with this process. Here is a long list of ways to learn lines. Figure out which one works for you and start sharpening your skills. 

Please know that we're not just looking for the actor that can memorize all the lines. That's just one very small part of your performance. How you interpret the scene and the character and make it your own is what we need to see as well. Along with knowing the material well, you've got to be able to change things up if/when the director gives you adjustments. I see some actors get so locked-up in the way they've rehearsed it that they can't make any changes. We need to see that you will be able to adapt to any changes that come along.

Known for her work in film and television, Casting Director Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Waters, Christopher Nolan, Brad Bird, and Herbert Ross. While working at Fenton-Feinberg Casting, she, along with Mike Fenton, cast such films as “A Christmas Story," “Poltergeist," “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial," “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and “Blade Runner." After establishing her own casting company in 1983, Liroff cast “Footloose," “St. Elmo's Fire," “Pretty in Pink," “The Iron Giant," “The Spitfire Grill," “Untamed Heart," “Freaky Friday," “Mean Girls," “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and the upcoming “The Sublime and Beautiful,” which she produced as well.

Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light. The class spawned a DVD, which features the highlights of the Audition Bootcamp classes.

Visit Liroff online at marciliroff.com, follow her on Twitter @marciliroff and Facebook, and watch her advice videos on YouTube. She also blogs on her Bloggity Blog.

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