Catch the Eye
Though I don't accept them for commercials, I always look at unsolicited submissions for feature films. Those are always exciting for me, because I could meet an unrepresented actor who is just the person I need for a role. I don't mind receiving emailed submissions, but in general I like receiving items through regular mail. I prefer it when actors send materials the old-fashioned way, because I personally go through a lot of the mail.
I like reading cover notes, but they shouldn't be too long and they should be to the point. If I'm casting for a specific project, then I don't mind the actor mentioning a specific role in which he or she is interested. I am a bit annoyed, though, when cover notes are addressed "Dear Sir or Madam." That's a bête noire. Actors should put a name down when possible.
In terms of headshots, I believe it's subjective. Personally, I love natural headshots. I want something that really represents the person, but I also want it to have some personality and individuality. I hate judging headshots when the actor is so made-up that I know the person doesn't really look like that. I prefer really simple headshots—the simpler, the better. I hate when headshots have busy walls behind the actors. I don't want to be distracted from the actual person, especially by too much going on in the frame. Again, the simpler, the better.
When I look at a résumé, I absolutely love to see what kinds of special skills an actor possesses. It's god for me and other casting directors to know if someone is athletic or can speak different languages. I work with a lot of European filmmakers, and New York City is such a multicultural place, so speaking multiple languages is definitely something worth mentioning. It's always important to put down if an actor has training, because I can bond with that person a little if I know his or her teacher. But experience in the real world is far more important than any amount of training.
I don't think it's good to lie on your résumé. For example, if an actor wrote that he played a supporting role in a movie and then I find out he was only an extra, that's really not good. However, I think actors can definitely be creative when crafting a résumé, because they want to intrigue people's interests. They just shouldn't be too blatant in their lying.
Use the Web
If actors list their website, that's excellent and I will absolutely check it out. Even if it's something their friends created, a website may resonate very well with casting directors. A professionally done short reel or monologue may also be helpful to have.
I am on Facebook, but I don't love it when an actor friends me or sends me a message. I know you have to publicize, but that's not the best way to approach it. I feel like Facebook is really more for one's friends or acquaintances. I don't think of it as a professional environment. When someone contacts me on it, I think that's a bit inappropriate and shows a level of desperation. You're crossing the fourth wall, and that's not great. If actors and casting directors are already communicating and are friends, then it's different. But that's not how one should introduce oneself. I think it's a bit tawdry.
Remember the Boy Scouts
During an audition, I love it when someone is prepared. An actor doesn't have to be off-book, but I cannot emphasize how much it helps if someone is prepared. For instance, their eyes shouldn't be locked on the page and they shouldn't forget to work the camera. A lot of young actors don't even bother to look at the reader, and that's definitely not good. What I mean by prepared is that I like to see people make choices before and during the audition, even if they're not exactly the right choices. When a choice is made, then I can ask the person to do something, maybe change something. I want to see if they can listen and then make adjustments.
It's really cool when people ask questions. Don't ask a hundred questions, but especially when a character can go in so many different ways, I think it's very smart to ask. It's good to be curious about a character's background or motivation. On the other hand, an actor shouldn't ask what color dress she would be wearing, because sometimes that gets a little annoying. Even though a few questions are okay, sometimes I just like to see what the person will do and then give adjustments after he or she finishes.
Don't Shoot Yourself in the Foot
An actor should decide whether to wear a costume based on the role. Remember that casting people do have imaginations, and you don't want your wardrobe to be distracting. Years ago, actors used to wear outrageous clothes when they auditioned for hookers. I don't think you have to go totally overboard, but it's good to suggest a character too.
I've already mentioned it, but the biggest mistake actors commit in an audition is arriving unprepared. Never show up making excuses. It makes you seem unfocused and disorganized. Often young actors forget to bring their headshots with them, and it's so minor, but it always amazes me. Your headshot is your card and you always need it. Another common mistake is when the headshot doesn't represent the actor. By committing these errors, actors have shot themselves in the foot before they've even done anything.
After an audition, absolutely send a thank-you note. That's really nice, and it is very polite. Sometimes it jogs my memory and I'll think, "Wow, this person was really good; maybe they deserve a callback." Or I'll think, "Perhaps this actor wasn't right for that role, but I'm doing something else now and this person is absolutely perfect for it." Either way, it's nice to have the letter. It's a good way to continue the dialogue with the casting director. Postcards with a little update are lovely as well.
I love working with independent movies because they seem far more open in many respects. They give chances to people who normally don't receive them; the actors don't have to look a certain way. Based on my experience, European directors and producers want something a little different than American ones. They want something a little more cutting-edge, something not so cookie-cutter.
Stick to Business
Just be yourself and be as prepared as you possibly can. I don't like it when actors are loquacious about themselves before auditioning. Then the discussion is not really about the character but about polite conversation. In those situations, I've noticed the work is not so good. You can be more talkative after you've auditioned. Obviously, ask questions that pertain to the character, but afterward I wouldn't discuss every other subject under the sun. I just feel it takes them out of the moment and it takes them out of the character.
Come in prepared with a résumé, a headshot, and just do the work. I love that.