How do agents feel about phoning casting directors for feedback on their clients' auditions? I've been going on auditions and I feel like I'm doing great, but whenever I ask my agent to get feedback, he doesn't seem to want to. What does that mean?
Before we discuss how agents feel about phoning casting directors for feedback on actors' auditions, let's go through the entire process leading up to that point. An agent's primary responsibility to her clients is to procure employment for them. She does this by submitting them for projects and then "pushing" (or selling) them to casting directors to get auditions. That's what most agents spend their days doing: submitting clients and getting auditions. The more submissions we make, the more auditions we might get (and the more possible bookings). Whether responsible for 10 or 100 actors, our job is the same—getting auditions so that actors can get work.
Once the agent calls the actor with an audition appointment, the ball is out of her court and into the actor's. An agent can do very little from that point on, save assisting with audition preparation details like getting sides, locating scripts, calling the casting director for schedule changes, giving advice, etc. It is up to the actor to prepare and give the best audition he can.
The audition happens. The ball is now in the court of the casting director and all those people on the other side of the table who either smiled and chatted you up or sat stone-faced through your entire audition. During the day, you check your voicemail every 15 minutes, hoping to hear from your agent those magic words, "You have a callback." Alas, no message. You think to yourself, "Maybe she got so busy she forgot to call." So you decide to phone her. Timidly, you ask if the callbacks have come in yet for that project. When it's clear that you didn't get one, you pose the feedback question: "The audition seemed to go so well; do you think you could call for feedback?"
It's an innocent enough request. Since auditions are so important and since the most obvious feedback would be a callback, when you don't get one, it makes sense that you would want to know why. Was it a matter of "type" (not right for the role) or did you blow the audition? Agents understand an actor's need to know this. We need to know it, too. Finding out that a client isn't the right type allows both actor and agent to move on to the next project. Discovering a "blown" audition is another matter. Incidentally, agents are more likely to assume that clients weren't right for the role than that they auditioned badly. Actors, on the other hand, attribute the lack of a callback more readily to something they did wrong, which they want to know how to fix so they'll succeed next time.
Calling for feedback is like backtracking. In our daily routine, agents are continually moving forward—making submissions, getting auditions, negotiating deals, tracking down commissions. And we're doing this for our entire client roster. Interrupting the flow of activity to track down feedback for an individual actor creates a huge traffic jam.
Agents are cautious about calling for feedback because doing so sends up a red flag to the casting director, indicating that we're worried about our client's performance. We certainly wouldn't want to plant a negative seed in the casting director's mind, so we decide not to call attention to the lack of a callback. However, when agents notice that a client, after a significant number of auditions (say, five), isn't being called back or, for that matter, isn't being called in by the same casting director for other projects, we will investigate the situation by calling a trusted casting director for feedback. We don't want our hard-won auditions to be wasted.
Agents steer away from phoning casting directors for feedback because it resembles calling in a favor. Casting directors don't owe agents and actors anything. When I call for feedback, I am asking the casting director to drop everything he is doing now, locate notes from the specific casting session, and look through them to find information on my particular client. Why would he do that? What's in it for him? Consequently, I call only those casting directors with whom I feel comfortable and whose opinion I respect and value. I choose to use one of two hooks: For clients I've just started to submit, I call for feedback on their audition skills; for clients who have been with the agency for some time, I call to see whether the client's view of how the audition went corresponds to the casting director's.
Sometimes casting directors make voluntary calls to agents to share feedback. A casting director once called us with an acting note for one of our young clients. She liked this actor's work very much but felt his auditions were "too general"—his choices lacked specificity. She wanted to stop this trend before a whole year passed without callbacks and jobs. That feedback was like gold and made a huge difference in this young actor's first year out of grad school.
Feedback is not always reliable. One time we submitted a young client for a contract role on a soap opera. She was very right for the role and had a unique personal connection to the casting director, which we alluded to in our submission letter. Out of seven comparable actors, she was chosen for an audition. The audition happened and the actor called asking for feedback. When I spoke to the casting director, her comments on my client's age, look—just about everything—put me in the uncomfortable position of suggesting to the casting director that she had mistaken my client for another actor. In the end, I'm afraid the information obtained from this "feedback call" was of little value to my client.
Another client emailed us her request for feedback after she had a really "great" audition with the casting director of a prime-time television drama. We told her that the best feedback would be a callback or an audition for a role in another episode. We also warned her that calling for feedback from a casting director who casts for television episodics might alienate rather than encourage the casting director. In episodic television, the casting process happens so quickly—there is no time for anything except casting the episode. Sure enough, a phone call came in the following week with an audition for the next episode. That was our client's feedback.