How to Audition, According to a Manager

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As a working actor, you’re likely to pick up nuggets of audition advice everywhere you go. And don’t worry: Los Angeles–based talent manager, educator, career coach, and author Brad Lemack is here to give you more! After first breaking down the differences between an agent’s role in the audition process and a manager’s role, Lemack highlights what his very best clients do to prepare for an audition and what the purpose of getting the opportunity to self-tape and more actually is. 

“For me, when I read breakdowns, I would say I’m vetting it in a different way than the agent.”

In short, what is a talent manager and what do they do?
To me, my definition is agents focus on jobs, managers focus on careers. I have never in nearly 40 years made a decision whether a job was right for a client based on the dollar amount they would be paid for it, if they would be paid anything. Managers are always focused on: This is the right job for the brand. And: Is it the right time for the job on the career journey? As opposed to agencies and agents who want to book as many jobs as possible. But they’re on a different business model. My agent friends have hundreds of clients and typically, managers, we have handfuls of clients that we devote much more time and attention to. So for me, it’s the global picture of the career, not the implication or the booking of a job, which I should say translates for me. When I send a client on an audition, I don’t really care if they book the job. I mean, I do—of course I care, but I’m more concerned if they book the room and frequently, but agents don’t care so much about the room as they do about booking the job. So somewhere between what I do and what they do, we have a balance that, when it works the way it’s supposed to, is terrific for the actor. 

What variables do you consider when deciding if a role is right or wrong for a client?
Well, it begins with my analysis of the breakdowns. And of course the sidebar to that is that it is still illegal in California and New York for managers to submit, procure, negotiate more for their clients—that the truth in the daylight is in the night. We do it every day, all the time because our clients expect us to do that. I have never, in nearly 40 years, found a new client who said, “You don't submit me. I don’t want you to submit me. Don’t do that.” So, of course we’re doing that work, but the laws haven’t caught up to it yet. So the legal issue isn’t an issue unless it’s a payment issue between client and manager. But that’s a whole separate conversation. 

For me, when I read breakdowns, I would say I’m vetting it in a different way than the agent. The agent is sort of looking at, “Does this read as if it would be a right fit for my client?” And I’m looking at other stuff. I’m looking at, “Is there a way I can make this role into something that’s more diverse than it might be?” Let’s say the client is 40-50; can I push 50-60 and have evidence to support that that’ll be a smart submission? I talk to the client about what’s happening in the character. They’re the actor, they’ll deal with memorizing lines, preparing for the reading. But we talk about the bigger picture. For my younger and newer clients, we talk about how, in 85 lines or less, do you have a life for this character so that you’re not just reciting lines?

When your client gets the audition, what does that conversation between manager and client look like?
Well, the conversations are, “Lets have you go in and book the room.” Go in, be prepared, be confident, make good choices, stick with them, don’t be swayed by anything you hear coming through the walls. Do your best. Have a good time. “Thank you very much.” Get out. Because it’s the first two seconds of the actor walking into the room that determines whether the guy is cast at that point. So make that impression. I say this over and over to them: It is never about the job. It is about meeting and getting reacquainted with a casting person who’s going to go on to do loads of stuff after this particular day or episode or series or movie. Making that positive impression or reminding them of that positive impression is really critical. That is how a career is built. 

Do you work with clients filming self-tapes?
I do. There’s a great a thing and a bad thing about self-tape auditions. The great thing is, from my perspective, it gives casting directors a greater opportunity to audition more people than they could fit in a casting session in person. The down side of that is it can create a sloppiness in actors that can be dangerous. When you’re doing a self-tape, you have the opportunity to do it 100 times, and that doesn’t mean you should do it 100 times because when you walk into the casting director’s office, you are expected to be camera-ready. You are expected to be as good as you know how to do, and you’re given a shot, and maybe they’ll give you some notes and ask you to do it again, but not always. So you have to be spot-on the first time you do this. [With self-tapes], I’m concerned about the ability to do more and losing the sharpness of what it needs to get it right the first time. But I talk to clients and other actors about this all the time: I urge them to be just the best that they know how to be and focus on the technical stuff, too. 

“If you keep training and keep working and stay sharp and the tools in your actor’s tool kit are exactly what they need to be all the time, then there’s no reason to feel like you should've done something different or that you did something wrong. Usually, that’s never the case.”

There’s auditions being done on Facebook and Skype now. I sent a client out on one and I was grumbling all about it and then she booked the job, so I’m a big fan now because it’s like a virtual being in the room, right? You still, at that point, have some interaction with the casting director. At the end of the day, if I have an opportunity to get my client in the same space with a casting director, that’s great. I always would do that, but I know the trends. I see the landscape. I see where we’re going. Ultimately, it’s better for actors to have access and opportunity; they just have to be ready for it so that they really wow the casting director when he or she is looking at that first two seconds of video.

So what makes a good audition in the eyes of a manager?
Confidence, which is rooted in having made strong choices. Not wavering; not worried about what you’re wearing because clothes won’t book you the job. But making strong choices about character, even in five lines or less. It’s simple, in a way. For an actor to be able to embrace that it’s not about getting the job is huge because then when you have an actor who never auditions enough, and none of them do, they put a lot of emotional impact on the opportunity, which, I think, filters their focus or deletes their focus. It should never be that way because the only room for emotion in an audition room, is what goes with the character. And I just want actors to stay positive and not personally judged, and if you keep training and keep working and stay sharp and the tools in your actor’s tool kit are exactly what they need to be all the time, then there’s no reason to feel like you should've done something different or that you did something wrong. Usually, that’s never the case. The only thing that’s in your control is being prepared, being ready, and getting a parking place.

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