I’m seeing an epidemic of extremely uncomfortable actors in casting offices across the globe. Actors who are seemingly adept at tackling Shakespeare to Mamet have one major problem—slating. One would think, “My gosh, how hard could it be? You just say your name, height, representation, and whatever other info is asked of you.” Yet, time and time again I see actors tripped up by this simple task. Grown men brought to their knees by merely having to say their name to the camera.
Let me help you be a pro. Instead of standing there and feeling like you’re naked and the skin on your face is being peeled back, try slating as your character. As an actor, it’ll give you something more to grab on to.
I’ve talked to several actors about this phenomenon and they tell me that standing there just being themselves is sometimes too intimate for them to handle. They feel vulnerable and miss the security of being able to slip into another’s skin to play a character. They feel silly and awkward and it shows.
If you’re self-taping, follow the directions exactly. For my office, we ask for a full body shot, so make sure your camera is far enough away from the actor to be able to pan down from their head to their feet in one shot. If they ask for a profile make sure to do that as well. Then come back up to the actor’s face in a medium close-up (chest up) and look right at the camera and state your name, height, present location (i.e. I want to know if I’ll need to fly you out from Kansas if that’s your location), if you can be considered a local hire, and your representation. Many casting offices ask for your age but, truth be told, that’s actually illegal. If you’re under 18 and a minor you should state that. Likewise if you’re under 18 but can work as “legal 18” we need to know that.
Keep the audition scenes separate from your slate.
Make sure to keep your slate as a separate scene and not roll right from your slate into the scene—that signals an amateur.
Nowadays, many casting offices already have your profile page set up online ahead of time so you don’t have to slate. Nonetheless, it’s a good skill to develop so that you’re comfortable with it.
Australian actor Lucy Fry, whom I cast in the upcoming film “Vampire Academy,” is probably one of the best “slaters” I’ve ever seen. She seems self-assured, confident, and truly connects with the camera. She shared her process with me. “It’s the only chance you ever get to look directly at the lens, so I try to channel the energy of the character with warmth and confidence so the people watching it can see the way the character sits in me through the eyes. I try to let myself be seen without pushing a fake smile or worrying about what anyone thinks. I am nervous, so I take a breath before I speak and wait a microsecond to feel ready to speak so I am not rushing into it. I guess I treat it like a scene. I try to fill it with the same energy that I would any action as the character because focusing on energy, the breath, and the character makes it feel easier.
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.
Photo by Doug Hac.