How to Use Pre-Screen Auditions to Elevate Your Casting Process

Article Image
Photo Source: Shutterstock.com/Rommel Canlas

Casting productions is an involved process. Pairing the right talent with the right project takes time, which is why pre-screen self-tape auditions, designed to speed up the process, have been such a growing trend. While you might already have a good grasp on how you should use pre-screens to determine the right actor for your project, you might be interested in hearing from other creators and casting directors on what you can expect from the pre-screening process, when you should request them, and the best way to approach them. We checked in with casting directors Erica Hart and Scott Wojcik, and founder of animation and VFX studio Boxel Studio Andres Reyes Botello about their experiences using pre-screen auditions.

How creators should approach pre-screens
Because you’re spending a lot of time searching through hundreds of actors, it makes sense to have a solid approach when requesting talent to send in self-tapes. You should look at these self-tapes as your way of getting to see how their range fits for your project specifically. You should always approach a pre-screen audition with the intention of wanting to know more about the actor beyond their demo reel and headshots.

Botello’s company, a leading VFX and animation studio, for example, requests pre-screenings to get a better understanding of a voice actor’s inflection and tone of voice. Because his studio is often auditioning for 20 different characters per project, it is more efficient for him and his team to have talent send in demos and then select from which ones they believe provide the right voice for the character in the right context. “If we don’t get pre-screenings, then we are basically incurring a lot of high-risk because there’s not only one character, and maybe those characters have 50 lines each,” Botello explains. “And for a studio like ours, that would be a waste of a lot of precious time where it’s preferable to be very honest and transparent with the voice actor.”

That transparency is the other great advantage of doing pre-screenings. For Botello specifically, it allows him to explain to voice actors that while they appreciate the color of their voice, the delivery might not be appropriate for that specific role at that time.

Probably goes without saying that it is best to avoid actors who believe they are above the casting process. “As a studio, you want people to add value to your equation of your team of creative and professional,” says Botello. “So you want people to take load off, not to add load into the production. That’s like three stars right there.”

“I’m looking for people that wanna collaborate with me so that I can bring them into collaboration with the creative team,” adds casting director Wojcik.

How NOT to approach pre-screens
Never look at it as a waste of time if it doesn’t work out! If it turns out the actor is not the fit you thought they were for this project, keep them in mind for the next. Wojcik says these occurrences happen very often while casting, and thanks to pre-screen self-tapes, actors stay on his radar for the next gig: “Those big open call kind of environments where [actors] come in and do a short piece, we’re not looking at [them] and saying ‘You’re not good,’ ” he says, “I’m looking at [them] and saying, ‘Not today, but I’ve got four other projects that you might be right for, and I’ve got folders for each of those projects and your picture will go into one of those.’ ”

Creators should also be mindful of not taking advantage of talent when requesting pre-screens. Botello believes that studios shouldn’t require talent to record hundreds of lines for the pre-screen audition. “Be fair, don’t allow the studio to take advantage and record the whole job,” he says. “[Get] a couple of lines, one paragraph, just to get the feeling, that’s it.” 

When to (and when not to) request a pre-screen
Because pre-screen self-tapes are essentially used as interviews to get to know the actors, this particular step in the process probably isn’t necessary for actors you already have a great working relationship with. “There are certain performers that because we’ve been so fortunate to have them in the room regularly, and have booked them, you start to understand them more,” Wojcik says. 

“The relationship is more intact, it’s lasted longer, like any relationship. So I might not need to pre-screen someone that we’ve already had experiences with, because I know what’s going to happen when they come in the room. If that’s not you, that just means our relationship is at a different place and I need some information before I put my stamp on you.”

The more actors send you their self-tapes and audition for you, the less likely it is needed for them to do so in the future, since you’re familiar with what they can do. Use the pre-screens to build that relationship and see how trustworthy and reliable they can be. 

 

Sometimes you might find that an actor’s reel can just be that good where an audition is not necessary. If you feel comfortable enough in your choice of talent based on their reel, then Hart, a TV and film casting director, believes you should go for it! 

If an actor can showcase their ability to play a certain type or character in their reel, Hart says conversations can then shift to whether or not the actor needs to pre-screen at all. “It’s just figuring out the why,” she says. “And if the answer is, ‘I just need to hear them say my words, my words are different than the stuff on the reel,’ there we have it.”

What expectations to set for a pre-screen
Pre-screens are auditions, after all. So as far as equipment goes, it’s reasonable to expect polished self-tapes and demos. Good lighting and great sound should be the basis of what to expect from a good self-tape. 

That said, everyone’s story is different, especially with the state of the world these days, it might be beneficial to your process to show some leniency on the technical front. Botello believes that you as a creator can set expectations yourself by clarifying what type of quality you’re looking for. If you’re casting for voice actors, let them know when requesting a self-tape that you’ll provide professional equipment during production, and that you’re just looking for a quality delivery. Of course, we all want the product to be polished enough to ascertain the potential for the work, but the important thing to look out for is effort. See if the talent is actually trying their best to give a quality performance, and not just, as Hart puts it, “half-assing” it. See how professional they can be, beyond the unorthodox setting.

It’s also believed that pre-screen auditions also help give better opportunities to those who might not typically get far in the casting process. In one instance, Botello says his team found a great child voice actor through Backstage, and found his eagerness to be really endearing. Even though the actor didn’t have the best equipment, or access to putting together a reel, Botello appreciated that the actor and his father communicated with him and his team frequently, asking about the project and for advice on a recording setup and acoustics. 

“He sent the lines through a phone,” Botello explains. “Look how far pre-screenings will actually take you, because if you’re willing to put in the extra work, we’re willing to work with you.”