• Don't be late. Casting directors are on a busy schedule, and nothing gets things off to a rough start more than not respecting their time.
• Don't be a jerk. To anyone—assistants, other actors. Represent yourself positively and professionally.
• Don't think you don't need to practice and can just "turn it on" in the room. Spend time getting to know the scene and rehearsing in advance.
• Don't dress inappropriately. Business casual is generally a safe bet for attire; don't overdo it and come in wearing a three-piece suit. It's not a bad idea to wear something suggesting the role, but don't take that as a license to come in wearing a full pirate costume.
• Don't forget your headshot and résumé. Make sure they are pasted and/or stapled together; don't paper-clip them, as they could get separated. Bring extras just in case.
• Don't veer too far off the script. Make the scene your own, but be aware the writer might be in the room and won't appreciate an entire rewrite.
• Don't crash the session. They'll know if you try to sign in without an appointment. At the very least, you'll annoy someone. At most, you could be blacklisted.
• Don't chew gum during your audition.
• Don't ask an excessive number of questions. Do your research; know the project you're auditioning for. If it's a TV show, check out some episodes. If it's a film or play, familiarize yourself with the script or previous works by the writer and/or director.
• Don't bring in props. Similarly, if the script indicates a kiss, don't try to kiss the reader.
• Don't apologize. Don't try to gain sympathy or offer explanations or ask for another take. Do your best and move on.
• Don't forget to thank the casting director for his or her time.
How to: Stay Safe at Auditions
As an actor, you're constantly putting yourself out there—networking, attending open calls, sending headshots, post cards, demo reels, emails—just screaming for the industry's attention. Unfortunately, some people out there prey on this type of openness. They are usually found on lower-budget projects that audition actors at the producer's or director's home. Or perhaps there is no project at all.
"Someone forwarded me this ad on Craigslist looking for female martial artists for an energy drink commercial," says Jennifer Cassetta (www.healthandthecity.net), who holds a third-degree black belt in hapkido and teaches a class in Los Angeles and in New York called Stilettos and Self-Defense. "I'm sure young actresses respond to fake stuff all the time. But I thought, 'Why not? I might as well see what they say.' The details started to get shadier and shadier. I found it funny after a while. The more questions that I asked, the more he backed off, and then it kind of faded away. Basically he wanted me to go to a hotel room, where I would audition, and he would bring a big guy in there and I would have to choke him out."
Cassetta advises that you bring your ABCs to the audition: awareness, boundaries, and remaining centered and calm. "To be aware, you need all five senses, so running with your iPod can take away your hearing, so you can't hear someone coming behind you," she warns. "If you're texting, then that's your eyesight; your peripheral vision is knocked out. New York actors definitely feel unsafe walking down the street. Every time I teach a class there, someone approaches me about a story where something happened to them." In Los Angeles, she says, "there's a false sense of security. One of the scariest places to be is a parking garage, because there are so many here."
L.A. casting director John Papsidera ("Zombieland") also emphasizes awareness. He urges you to always let your agent or manager, a friend, or a roommate know where you're going for auditions. "Leave behind some kind of address and phone number, especially if it seems out of the ordinary and not a reputable or known quantity," he says. "I think you have to stay alert and aware even when you're ready for auditions. It's so much about being in the moment that the more you can prepare and be truly present, the more aware you are of what's going on around you, whether it's something inappropriate someone says or a weird situation or being in the scene and reading what the casting director thinks—it all is a positive for the actor if they can be aware and alert."
According to casting director Susie Farris ("Hot Tub Time Machine"), it's not always those on the fringe who create dangerous situations. She remembers working with a successful writer-director who was notorious for harassing young girls. "It was actually just written about in the [New York] Post or something," she notes. "Somebody forwarded it to me. It's a guy who stops young girls and says, 'Do you know who I am?' and promises to make them a star within two years and gives them his phone number and then asks for lewd things to happen."
Cassetta advises all actors to take a self-defense class, not just for defense but also for your confidence and your résumé: "Every single person should know something about defending themselves. The more tools in your tool belt, the better. You're going to be physical in the roles you play—throwing punches, shooting guns—and it builds your confidence big-time. You're stepping out of your comfort zone, doing something totally different. It makes you more fit and confident, so it would be especially great for actors."
Farris says actors can always arm themselves with information. "They just have to do their research and homework and try to find out as much as possible about the people that they are going to see," she says. "Make sure the people have credits that can be traced, to a certain extent, and that they are legitimate credits. I would say they should never do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable—whether or not it's a matter of them losing a job. They have to have integrity and trust their gut and be happy to say no if it's something that feels wrong, because it probably is."
Keep these tips in mind at all times:
• Don't go to an audition at a private residence. Always insist on meeting in a public place, such as a coffee shop, if the CD, producer, or director won't even rent a rehearsal studio or a church recreation hall.
• Nudity should never be required at an audition—even when the role calls for nudity—so don't offer and don't accede to any such request.
• Never give your Social Security number, cell phone number, or home address until you've been cast.
• Take a buddy or scene partner with you to an audition if you have any concerns. Don't eat or drink anything offered if you feel suspicious about it. If someone tries to keep you in a building against your will, use your acting skills and say you left something important in your car.
How to: Self-Tape an Audition
Los Angeles casting director Marci Liroff was working on an NBC pilot for a comedy starring Paul Reiser. She was looking for a young actor to play Reiser's wheelchair-bound son and wanted to cast as wide a net as possible. So she set up a website asking actors from across the country to videotape their auditions and submit themselves for the part.
"I use it for every project," Liroff says of online casting calls asking for self-taped auditions. "Everything is on tape. I can't be in five places at once. If someone is in Chicago and I need them to audition, I will put them on tape. So I use it all the time."
According to Liroff, whose credits include the films "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," "The Spiderwick Chronicles," and "Mean Girls," self-taped auditions are becoming a key part of the casting process—especially when it comes to finding fresh faces. "Before the age of digital technology, if we were looking for new talent, we would hop in a plane and go out on the road and do open calls, or set up interviews and auditions in towns across the country," she says. "This way we can put out the word so much quicker if we're looking for someone new."
But self-taping is still a fairly new process, and mistakes are common. The most important tip Liroff offers is the most fundamental: Read the instructions. "If they tell you to do it a specific way, do it exactly that way," she says. "Many times we give very, very explicit instructions, and people completely disregard them. We write out these instructions to make you look good, and many times people don't read through them."
Another piece of common-sense advice she offers sounds like a no-brainer but addresses an all-too-common problem she encounters. "You should know the material," Liroff says. "Be as off-book as possible. It's certainly okay to hold your sides, but we don't want to see you reading off the page, because it just doesn't really make you look very good and you don't seem like you're very engaged in the scene."
So if you're not looking at your sides, where should you look? Liroff, who offers tips for self-taping at www.facebook.com/MarciLiroffFans, suggests that actors read with someone sitting just to the side of the camera. "You've got to really engage with that person," she says. "That keeps your eye line looking really good. That's what we want to see." The casting director has seen videos in which "it looks like the reader is standing off in Cleveland somewhere," or even videos in which the actor is alone, pausing in silence at the moments when the other character's lines would be read. These are definite no-noes.
As for camera placement, Liroff suggests a tripod and is adamant that actors not have a friend hold the camera in hand. She suggests setting the camera 3 to 5 feet from the actor and framing the shot from the chest up. Patterned and brightly colored backgrounds are "too distracting," she says. Instead, shoot in front of a white, gray, or blue wall—and make sure you're well-lit. "Lighting is very important, and it's one of the things that people do very badly," she notes. "The easiest and cheapest thing to do is to use natural light. Make sure the window is in front of you, not behind you."
For those feeling a bit more ambitious, Liroff suggests a quick search on YouTube for "three-point lighting." You'll find "tons of do-it-yourself videos on how to light yourself at home." She adds, "You can literally buy a work light from Home Depot, put that on a stand, and make it look good."
Testing the lighting and sound—Liroff says most built-in microphones on home cameras are adequate for the job—beforehand is crucial. And don't bother with fancy editing software such as Final Cut Pro. According to Liroff, simple programs such as iMovie, which comes free on every Mac, are up to the task.
But when editing your video, be certain to remember one critical detail. "Make sure that you label your audition with your contact info," she says. "You should start with your slate saying, 'Hi, I'm Judy the actor from Michigan.' Make sure you have a title card with your name and contact info. This happens often with people sending stuff. If there's no contact info, I have no way to get ahold of them. Make sure that your phone number and agent information and email is in there. You can put it at the front of the clip or at the end of the clip."
Lastly, Liroff emphasizes the advantages that auditioning from home offer an actor. "The great thing about this," she says, "is that you can do it as many times as you want until you get it exactly right."
How to: Get Over a Bad Audition
Every actor, no matter how rich and famous, has experienced that soul-crushing awful audition. Logically, actors know they have to brush it off, forget about it, and go on to the next one. Easier said than done, of course. Back Stage asked several casting directors for their advice on coping after bombing in the room.
G. Charles Wright, of G. Charles Wright Casting in Los Angeles, which currently casts ABC's "The Middle," acknowledges that everyone has his or her own way of coping. "For me," he says, "I find it's healthy to acknowledge any type of pain or difficulty, accept some period of mourning—for an audition, I'd only allow it a 24-hour period—then let it go, and then assess how to not make that mistake again, and grow from that experience." Also an actor, Wright knows how hard it can be. But he says the most important thing is to "find a way to get back on the horse again quickly."
The 24-hour cooling-off period works for many actors. Things tend to look better the following day. Do something nice for yourself, whether it's a walk on the beach or buying something you've had your eye on for a while to console yourself. It's also important to remember that casting directors see many actors, and though the bad experience is memorable to you, odds are the CD isn't thinking too much about it. So don't fixate on the idea that you've blown it; you'll likely get another shot.
Los Angeles casting director John Papsidera has found fresh faces for a variety of projects, from indie films like "Memento" to blockbusters like "Zombieland." He advises actors to learn from the bad experiences and do more preparation next time. "The only way that you can combat failure is to be more and more prepared as you go in the next time, whether it be your nerves or material or speech or whatever it is," he says. "I think you just need to practice more and be more prepared, so you don't leave anything to risk."
Finally, move on. There's no sense torturing yourself over what you can't undo. L.A.-based CD Matthew Lessall, who cast the recent film "After.Life," says you have to move on because you need to be confident and prepared for the next one. "After an audition, you just have to forget it and chalk it up to experience," he advises. "If you make a mistake or feel like you've made a mistake or feel like the audition didn't go well, you can't dwell on that. Because if you dwell on that, you're never going to get through it. You need to get through it right away in order to get to your next audition."