Pre-Production: Auditions Part 05

For my previous posts on auditions, choose the one you want and click: A Cautionary Tale, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

When we last left talking about auditions, we were nearly ready to have the actors walk into the space and do their thing. Before you get there, you have to book them in. This is how I do it, which may not work for everyone, but it works well enough for me.

For WALHFOF, we were time restricted. We only had a few hours in the room and we had eighteen actors to see. I divided the time up into ten minute blocks, then allocated one ten minute block in every forty minutes to a different character. My reasoning is this: I didn’t want to see six Lucy’s in a row. Chances are, they’d all blend into each other and I wouldn’t be able to remember the first one. So I use the other auditions as markers. ‘That Lucy was the one after the Des in the green shirt,’ or ‘That Lucy was the one with the blue dress before the Abby with the massively curly hair.’ That way too I have no preconceptions of character from the actor before them – because the actor before them was auditioning for a different character.

Ten minutes might not seem like a lot. For a short film, it’s PLENTY. The first time I ever scheduled auditions, I scheduled them in half hour blocks. The auditions definitely didn’t go for half an hour, most went for ten minutes, fifteen if they were amazing, five if they were terrible. I learnt from that and realised that half an hour is way too much for a short. Trust me, if the actor is good, you’ll smash through everything you want them to in ten minutes. If the actor is bad, you won’t want much more than ten minutes with them because you know in the first thirty seconds. The actors know too. They are sizing you up just as much as you’re sizing them up.

Which brings me to the audition itself. This is the way I run my auditions.

Start with a chat. Small talk. Break the tension, talk about niceties. It was raining on our audition day, so we had instant small talk. Brilliant.

Make sure you introduce everyone. Regardless of whether you’ve been talking to them to organise the auditions or not, introduce everyone in the room – including yourself. Remember that you’re likely the only person who knows everyone there. You’ve seen the actors headshots, you know the guy operating the video camera. Be polite and make sure everyone knows who everyone else is.

– Chat to camera. To start off, I get the actors to chat to camera. They introduce themselves, their agency (if they have one) and I like to get them to say something about themselves. I know people who ask them about a project they’ve worked on that they particularly enjoyed, I know others who skip this bit entirely. This time around, I asked them to tell me (and by me, I mean the camera) something that I didn’t know about them. Turns out this was a lot tougher than it seemed, even though I didn’t know anything about any of them. Always get them to look straight down the barrel of the camera. That way, if you need it, you’ve got a back-up shot of their face.

– First run through. The first time we run the piece, I get them to do it fresh with no direction. It’s always interesting to see how they’ve read the character and the scenario without me pointing them in any particular direction. After all, one of them might’ve seen something entirely different in it and that’s something you can definitely explore. The first run through is also good to do loose as it gets rid of any jitters they might have. I’ve only ever had an actor nail a first run through once – they read it exactly as I saw all of it in my head. Needless to say, they got the part.

– Second run through. For me, the second run through depends on the actor. Generally, I jump straight in to having a bit of a play with it so that the actors have a bit of reign to put a bit more flair into it and then return to the way I properly see it unfolding once they’re a bit more familiar with the words. For WALHFOF, I got the actors to play the scene as though they were in a library. This was a really interesting concept because it also showed me how many of them were paying attention to my direction – there was a rising tension in the audition piece and although most people used the library setting to their advantage (getting frustrated and loud before realising they were in a library and retreating back to stage whispers), some did forget and stayed flat and whispering the whole time.

– Third run through. This is generally the point where the actors start to really get into it. The third run through can be the magic one (although you can often tell whether someone is going to be good in the first thirty seconds or so). I come back to the way I want it to run (out of the library and back to its original setting) and challenge the actors to lift the energy. Most of the time, they do.

– Fourth run through. This one depends on the actor. If I want a little more from them, I’ll give them a bit more direction and we’ll do a Third Run Through V2. If I’ve seen everything I need to see, this is something that I love doing with actors because I think they’re wonderful. For these particular auditions, I wanted to see how far the actors would push it and go with it. I wanted them to be big, loud, passionate, outrageous – I wanted them to go nuts with it. This was generally the run through that made me laugh the hardest, the one with the most physical comedy and the one that the actors seemed to enjoy the most.

For some actors, you might like to do a few extra run throughs of the script. It depends on what kind of film you’re making as to how you’d like to run your auditions. There is no right or wrong way. If you want tips, I’d suggest talking to actors to see what they think are the best audition techniques they’ve seen. After all, you want auditions that are going to get the best out of your actors, so why not ask some?

You’ve held your auditions. You’ve remembered your textas and paper. Everyone’s been amazing.

Now you have to cast.

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