How to Audition for a Movie

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Auditioning for a movie is a bit different than reading for TV or theater. First off, let’s clarify that there are many different kinds of films from big Hollywood blockbusters to small indie features that may or may not ever be seen outside the festival circuit. Depending on the director’s experience and method of working, they may employ different methods of auditioning actors. I was recently invited to submit an audition for a very big film director and all I was asked to do was self-tape a 60-second story about myself or “anything.” It’s hard to know exactly what to expect.  

That said, I believe there are a few skills that are universally expected of actors when auditioning for a film. Here are seven tips that can help you land a film role.

1. Remember character immersion

Directors want character immersion, meaning they don’t want you to act this person. Your job is to be this person. Make sure your audition is free of any kind of theatricality or performance energy (especially vocally). Strive to behave like a real person in a real-life situation.  

2. Consider improv

Some directors will want to see some improvisation from actors, particularly if there are group scenes like family dinners, office meetings, etc. In these cases, we need to exhibit a lively brand of freedom in the unscripted scenarios. Never strive for buttons or punchlines. Instead, tune into the character’s passion for whatever moment they’re currently living through.  

3. Think about character history

Obviously, in every form of auditioning, it’s important to remember that history creates behavior. When you’re speaking to another character in an audition, you’re speaking with someone with whom you have some kind of history–even if that history is only 60 seconds long. Make sure your interaction with them fully reflects whatever opinion you have formed of them.  

4. Be present

All good acting requires being wholly and completely present. That simply means you have to enter the scene with some sort of strong intention and you’re now carefully watching and listening to see if you’re winning or losing your goal. If you’re losing, do something about it.   

5. Don’t stay in the safe zone

In my experience, many actors lose roles because they remain in the safe zone throughout the entire audition. When I teach, I always stress the goal of seeking an uncomfortable position. If you don’t genuinely feel stressed, pressured, or confused, you’re probably missing the point of the scene. If you’re truly standing neck-deep in the uncomfortable position, chances are something real can and will come out of you.

6. Remember scene structure

I’m shocked that more acting teachers don’t teach this very helpful truth: from the Greeks all the way down to whatever you’re currently watching on Netflix, all scenes have the same basic structure: Somebody wants something and something goes wrong. When you look at the audition material, ask yourself “What goes wrong?” This is a very important question because something always goes wrong.

7. Practice how to work with a camera

Finally, all film auditions are taped or self-taped. Unless you’re already very experienced, you must learn how to work with a camera, and that takes a little practice.  Make sure you get that practice. There are many excellent classes out there. Find them and stay in them until you can walk out the door confident in your skillset. If you land a big audition, consider working with a coach.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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David Dean Bottrell
David Dean Bottrell is the author of “WORKING ACTOR: Breaking In, Making a Living, and Making a Life in the Fabulous Trenches of Show Business” (Random House). A veteran bi-coastal actor, his many credits include guest star roles on “FBI: Most Wanted,” “Blacklist,” “Modern Family,” “NCIS,” “Criminal Minds,” “Law & Order: SUV,” “Mad Men,” “True Blood,” “Ugly Betty,” “Boston Legal,” and “Rectify.” His theater work includes stints at the Long Wharf and Second Stage.
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