If this business is all about building relationships, a well-done pre-screen audition could be the key to starting great ones and even landing a particular role. But what is a pre-screen? Why should you care about them? Do they matter as much as a standard audition? What could they mean for your career’s future? Here, we speak with industry professionals to answer all your questions about pre-screening—and let you know why they aren’t a bad thing.
How do pre-screens benefit the casting process?
You may have it in your head that having to pre-screen is just extra “busy-work” on top of doing an audition. That is not the case! In many cases, your pre-screen self-tape can be just as important as your audition. Pre-screening allows the casting team to get a better sense of who’s walking into the audition room, giving them more information than a résumé or demo reel could.
“Your pre-screen could be the only stop on that train before you get to producers,” says casting director Erica Hart. “I think at any point, if it’s an opportunity to be seen, you should do the best you can.... You [also] don’t know what people are sticklers for, you don’t know what people’s pet peeves are—and so if you’re like, ‘This is a pre-screen so I’m not going to give it my all,’ that could harm your reputation.”
Just doing your best could open the door for you on a particular project, or later down the line. For casting director Scott Wojcik, his office uses pre-screens as a way to learn more about a new actor. “We would do tons of pre-screens, because pre-screens don’t mean that you’re not good, it just means you’re not right for the thing I’m building 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,’ ” he says. “So a lot of times the pre-screening process is an opportunity for the casting office to explore people that they might not know as well.”
This line of thinking doesn’t just apply to on-camera roles, but to the world of voice acting as well. A pre-screen is very necessary to understand more about the actor behind the voice. Andres Reyes Botello, founder of Boxel Studio, a leading VFX and animation studio based in Tijuana, Mexico, says his studio relies on receiving lines from pre-screens to get more context, beyond a reel, of how a voice can best fit for a particular project. “That [demo] only gives you the color of the voice,” he says. “You can decide, will this color be good enough for that character? Then you’ll have to provide some lines for the actor to do a delivery on what you’re going to need—why? Because you need to put it in context and see, will the color be sufficient. Would it have the right diction? Would it have the right inflection? That’s why we take the time to describe the character and let the actor know a little bit of context for that in the pre-screening, because we’re looking for something very particular.”
Knocking it out of the park for your pre-screen increases your chances of being the needle in a very large haystack. “It’s not like we’re reviewing one actor, we’re reviewing hundreds of them. So if you really want to be on top of that list... it’s a good idea to facilitate the decision to the studio by doing a proper casting and [saying], ‘Let me show you the type of actor I am,’ ” says Botello.
How seriously should actors take pre-screens?
Probably goes without saying, but if you have to pre-screen, it’s in your best interest to take it seriously. Hart puts it best with a simple, but effective, analogy: “If you had a coffee meeting with a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and it was at Starbucks... you wouldn’t come in wearing a ripped t-shirt and cargo shorts, you would look nice. But what changes from meeting a CEO at a coffee shop versus their corner office on Fifth Avenue? It’s just the location, right? But if you’re given an audition, the difference is that it’s a ‘pre-screen’ versus a ‘regular audition.’ You’re getting an audition, so do your best to be your best.”
More than anything, doing a pre-screen allows you to show casting directors just how professional you are, as well as putting yourself in the context of their project. “You’re emitting a very professional aspect to the studio that wants to hire you because you’re willing to show that you’re a great actor, not only a beautiful voice,” Botello notes.
Not putting your best foot forward in the pre-screen can seriously diminish your chances of not only getting selected for this role, but future roles as well. A large part of the process is measuring your acting abilities as well as gauging your personality. Are you pleasant to work with? Are you willing to put in the work for the role? Are you a good fit into the creative team? “There are so many places where people can create content now,” says Wojcik, “you putting it on YouTube, you doing an indie film with friends—which is awesome, and you should be doing!—[but] I can’t guarantee quality in that environment,” he says. “So I might say, ‘Great, I see possibilities, but I need you to come in the room and work on this material.’ There’s a style specificity to it that I have to explore, there’s some information that the director is giving me that you won’t know until you come into a room with me.”
As Wojcik explains it, bringing on an actor to a project is not just a reflection of you, but on the casting agency or hiring professional as well. If you don’t make a great first impression, that could very well be your only impression. “When you come in you represent my tastes, what we think is right for the project, and if it doesn’t work out that’s going to be a problem for us. So I can’t let everyone walk in if I don’t know them, I have to know who is coming in the room,” he says.
“I’m just now worried that actors are seeing pre-screen and they’re like, ‘Oh, well, I don’t have to do so much,’ ” Hart says. “I would never think that if I were to get an audition that I would not give it my all.”
Still sounds a bit stressful, what’s the best way to approach a pre-screen?
If this still sounds intimidating, regarding the expectation of the quality of the pre-screen, both Botello and Hart suggest that to alleviate that stress, reach out to the production and ask for clarification. “I think it’s fair,” Botello says. “If you think that you are the proper voice, you have the proper color [of voice], you are a super professional actor, and you also don’t want to lose time, reach out to that production and ask them, ‘Hey, I’m going to record two lines. Can I know the expectation or the scope of work?’ At the minimum I would do that [as opposed] to losing an opportunity.”
Similarly, Hart thinks it’s imperative to ask questions if you are lost on something. “I think that’s time for people to advocate for themselves and ask questions,” she says. “Like, ‘Can you explain why this is a pre-screen and not an actual audition?’ I would rather have 16,000 questions at the top so that everybody’s on the same page than someone to just assume, ‘This isn’t a real audition, so I’m going to do it this way.’ ”