“Why you didn’t get the Role”
Musing from local Filmmaker
The other night I was at a rather pleasant gathering of actors and film makers. One of the hottest topics of the evening was on the subject of auditions. I had never thought about it before, but there is a huge difference between auditioning for a stage play and auditioning for a film.
I think it comes down to this; in theater, you have all the time in the world to rehearse and only one time to get it right for that nights audience. In film making, practice time is begrudged (and some times disdained) but if you get it right just once, you are golden, and you can get it right several different ways.
It has always confounded me, the distance betwixt our theater and our film making communities. There are a few odd souls like myself that bounce between both worlds, but we are few and far between. I think it may be the assumption of familiarity that does us a disservice. We are more like non-identical twins that don’t get along who’s parents are divorcing but we still have all the same relatives and go to the same school. We also enjoy extended metaphors.
Auditions are a touch stone of both Theater and Film. I have done my time on both sides of the table for both film projects and stage plays. Here is a point of view from someone that typically writes and directs the project. Let’s see what knowledge I can squeeze out of my experiences that will aid you in future auditions and maybe give you some comfort to why that guy you auditioned for never called you back.
Things that have nothing to do with you
- It just didn’t happen. Seriously, the biggest reason you didn’t get the call back for the short film/feature that you totally nailed is that the whole project fell apart. The more conscientious film makers will send you an email telling you the project has been “put on hold” for the time being, but is more likely sobbing in his latte. This is because making a film is complicated, and life hits everybody with a bag of crap now and then.
- You just weren’t right for the role. Every frame of film is payed for with blood, sweat, and pain. Sometimes your appearance has to help tell the story. On stage, anybody can play siblings (part of the magic of theater) but on the screen you want to stretch the suspension of disbelief as little as possible, because you are going to need it later on.
- You are not in the clan. I have noticed that film makers tend to be fiercely loyal to people they have worked with in the past and form iron bonds. It can be harder to enter that world then it is to get into then SAG. Conversely, theater peoples relationships with their cast mates seem to be more intense but much more fleeting, promiscuous tramps that they are. (Film makers also tend to make sweeping generalizations about stage actors.)
- Rigid preconceptions. The director is fixated on a -fill in the blank- type actor. Don’t let that stop you. This is early in the game, there might be something about you that would inspire them to go a different way. It may take a late night epiphany on their part, but it happens.
- They decided to go a different way. Things get re-written. Characters get dropped, added, and gender switched for multitudes of reasons. That part that you had in the bag no longer exists.
- Competition of your ‘type’, feast or famine. This happens to me all the time, I get a lot of great actors for one role, but can’t find anybody for another role. For instance, you need an elderly cellist and a pro-basketball player. You get a million of one and none of the other. Then you adapt and now it’s a pastry chief an bass fisher, but cause of what talent the showed up at the audition. Why do I do this?
- The director is just an idiot. Yep, we make mistakes. Big, awful, expensive mistakes. This is not just something to tell yourself to help you sleep at night, it’s a fact of life. Sometimes we just make the wrong choice.
- You remind the director of somebody he doesn’t like. See the part about the director being an idiot.
- You’re just creepy. Sometimes you just get an uncomfortable vibe off of people, and people sometimes bring their kids to the set. Film makers tend to listen to their gut.
- Scheduling conflicts. Take these seriously. Most film makers with a brain will ask about it. Sometimes there’s wiggle room but sometimes there is just one day you can borrow the firetruck and that is the same day as your girlfriends sisters wedding. But then the bride decided to elope so now you are available but the producers uncle that worked at the fire station had to go in for gallbladder surgery and all you have left is a windowless van that your creepy neighbor is offering as long as you don’t ask about stains under the rug, but you go ahead and let us hear your favorite soliloquy from All ado about Nothing I’ll just be checking my email.
- You’re too good for the project. A lot of film makers suffer from low self esteem, and a formally trained talent can overwhelm them. Especially if the other two actors that have been cast is the neighbors kid and their mom.
- The directors girlfriend doesn’t like you. Half the reason we do this is because our parents wouldn’t buy a drum set when we were little and it’s the only way we can meet girls. We are a strong and resilient people, but when when it comes to the girlfriend we are helpless. I once had to walk out of a movie because the wife couldn’t stand the actresses shoes.
- Mathematics and chemistry. Rarely does casting start from zero, establishing an ensemble is putting together a puzzle with random pieces that read Craigs list ads. This is a real juggling act, often biased on body types more the talent. Amazing talent gets let go because it just doesn’t fit. It sometimes feels less like art and more like staffing the Village People.
Things that are totally your fault
- Nothing to audition with. Unlike in theater, the auditioning process for film makers can be pretty random. There SHOULD be pages of script for you to read, but don’t count on it. Have something in your pocket ready to go just in case the film maker has dropped the ball. This is a gift, do your research and learn a paragraph from the directors favorite movie, or set up an improv scene.
- Being over prepared. Here is something that is going to hurt, nobody ever got a role in a local film because they could recite Shakespeare.
- Bad contact information. I am amazed at how common this is. There have been times I’ve wanted to contact someone and all I have is an illegible email that even with my best guess gets bounced back.
- You showed up with a scary boyfriend. No matter how great you are, if you have a jealous possessive boyfriend that is watching the directors every move, your head shot is going on the ‘Probably not’ pile.
- Way too flaky. OK, we want colorful, charismatic, interesting people in our film. But we also need people we can count on showing up and not going to lock themselves in the bathroom for two days because they had a dream about spiders. You may have talent and an interesting look, but if I cringe at the idea of spending an extended shooting day on the set with you your invitation is getting lost in the mail.
- Late for your audition. Stuff happens, we understand that, so text your contact and tell them you are running late. Your behavior for the audition is a precursor to your behavior on set.
- You present your self as a blank. A theater actor address themselves as an empty canvas and uses their craft to paint you a world on the stage. In film you have to establish your presence on frame one. Film makers tend to make judgments on what they see in front of them in the moment. Be engaged , be interesting, be memorable, just don’t be annoying.
- You snuck out the back for a smoke when your turn was called. Yeah, don’t be that guy.
- Not having experience. Pretty much everybody in the world has spent some time of stage, that doesn’t set you apart, but working on a film in ANY capacity does. Roll a cable, make a stack of cheese sandwiches, just spend some time on a live set and you get a leg up.
- Not showing previous work. If you did anything, send a link. Even if it is awful. Everybody is awful when they start. Five seconds of you on camera tells me more then any cold read in an audition.
- Conditions. I am amazed at how often this happens. When you introduce yourself and it starts with a list of “I don’t do: Fridays, nudity, eat meat, and I’m uncomfortable around anything purple”. First of all, we didn’t ask. Second, shut up. Nobody likes to be told what to do, and that goes double for directors.
- You didn’t take direction. If I am giving you direction during an audition it means I’m trying to fit you in. If I am asking something extreme or ridiculous, it means you are doing TERRIBLE and I am trying to salvage something useful. If you don’t listen to direction, that means you can’t be worked with, cut and dried.
- Your sense of entitlement because of your star quality. The bigger then life persona works better on stage then on film. You may be stunningly beautiful and ‘too big for this town’ but on the precarious balance of a film set we can’t afford the maintenance fees of your ego. But good luck in getting that Kohls sweater commercial!
I suppose after all that I give the flip side.
Why I cast you for my film
- You showed up. We are shooting on Saturday, our lead got stepped on by a horse, and the circus tent rental is non-refundable. You had the only phone number we could read.
- You were exactly what I was looking for. Sometimes you just get lucky.
- You totally not what I was looking for but the role got so much more interesting when it came out of you. You ‘got it’. You convinced me you had a personal connection with material and brought something to it. There was something so engaging and interesting about you I re-wrote or added a new character just so I could have you in my film. This makes me feel better about my self, and maybe this film just might not suck after all. Are you seeing anybody?
- My lead that I’m stuck with performed better when they read with you.
- You fit the costume. Hello Johnny Bravo, this really happens.
- You are totally game for really stupid stuff. I need you to have your naked body covered in blood which will probably be fake blood but you won’t be naked because we’re going to roll you in leaves as soon as we dig some up from under snow.
- Your look is really interesting. I don’t even care if you can act. I’ll put you in a corner eating cheese.
- You are bringing something to the table that is a benefit to the project. So your dad owns an equipment rental house? Interesting.
- Your friend is very attractive. Do you think they would mind sitting in the corner eating cheese?
- You are trained at a skill beyond acting. Just the fact that you had the self discipline to practice something, becoming competent at some thing that is hard to do. It’s a character thing, and maybe I can use it.
- I talked with someone that worked with you on a previous project and they said you sometimes brought home made chocolate chip cookies to the set. Yes, we are that shallow.
- I feel sorry for you. Sometimes really sad lonely people come through the door and I throw them a bone. We always need extras somewhere, and karma doesn’t forget.
- Your audition sucked but I saw you in an awful short on YouTube and I couldn’t take my eyes off you.
- Your audition sucked but I saw you on stage/improv and you rose above the material
- Your audition sucked because you were having a bad day, so you requested a second chance and you nailed it.
- The camera loves you. Weird magic happens inside the camera, and once the artifice of the audition is removed and you are watching the playback the next day of what you thought was an unexceptional audition and you go “wow, look at that. You can see there is something amazing going on behind those eyes.”
- I believe that by having you involved I will have a better movie.
- I really do think you are something special. You may not have been the most attractive, or had the best audition, but you have that charisma of destiny. I have been privileged to witness it just a few times, but when you do, you know that if this person gets the right breaks they are going to make it big some day. I will shoe horn you into my movie for no other reason then to make the claim ‘I knew them before they made it big’ and get rich off the YouTube hits.
Here’s the thing, it’s not really a competition. At least not for us behind the table. Look at it from our point of view. We are searching for gold. When we set up auditions, we are pray to god that you walk in and blow us away. We WANT you DESPERATLY to have an awesome audition.
An experienced director will know that a cold read of a bit of script in an audition is a poor indicator to how one will preform in front of the camera. I have had much more luck using acting and improv exercises with potential actors. Sometimes I ask them to tell me a joke or a story.
I often like to have people in pairs. One thing I pulled out of the blue was to have two people and set up this scene. You both are sitting on the bus, one of you just had something amazing happen to you and you want to tell some one. The other is disinterested at first but slowly gets drawn into the story. Then I have them switch roles.
The secret is, the one that did the best listening is usually the one that gets cast.