I recently held an audition, here in LA, for a new web series, which my company is producing. I didn’t know at the time, but it would be the last audition I would hold under the *two union system (AFTRA and SAG). Not that it affected me directly; my production, like a growing percentage, is non-union.
While I agree some union influence is important, independent producers embarking on a SAG affiliated shoot (despite what the glossy SAG Indie adverts claim) will see a hike in their budget which will not be reflected on the screen. However, as with most union encounters, I’m getting away from the actual point.
Let me introduce you to a concept: Auditions are a two way street. There are two parties at the table and you, as the producer, are being tested as much as the talent across the way. As a TV and film puppeteer for 15 years, and a producer for many more, I’ve sat on both sides of the table. Let me tell you, in “mi” experience, if the production company can’t run the auditions, then the shoot will be a nightmare too!
In reality, auditions are your first opportunity to do some good company PR and build trust. Handle the auditions well and the 50 people you see in your tiny rented audition space will leave with a positive memory of your company. Get it wrong and you’ll be part of the talent’s next conversation that goes something like, “Oh my god, I auditioned for them and they didn’t have a clue…blah blah…My audition was late..blah blah… they didn’t even know my name when I went in.” And so on and so on.
Conversely, for any actors reading, real producers understand you want to work (and even get paid) and you might stretch the truth on your resume/CV to get in the room, BUT stretch the truth too far (“Oh yes I have flown a fighter plane before”) and you’ll screw the pooch. I will always read your resume and I will always pick you up on something tucked away in the ‘other skills’ section [you know, the place where you claim you can juggle or speak Russian].
So everyone is on the same page vis a vis expectations when it comes to auditions, here are a few home truths loosely based on some of “mi” experiences:
The script says the lead character is a fiery Irish lass with red hair-
- Actors…the producer wants a red head. It doesn’t matter how hard you sell yourself, they won’t cast a blonde (even if you are cute), because it’s important to the story…and no, they won’t rewrite the script for you, either.
- Film makers…No, the blonde won’t have her hair dyed and cut at her own expense, especially as the project is “deferred payment.”
The script says the lead man can ride a horse:
- Actors…This means the actor can ALREADY RIDE. Yes, I know Keanu Reeves spent 3 months (on Joel Silver’s dime) learning Kung Fu, but this is not the Matrix.
- Producers…No, the man will not supply his own horse, feed, water it, care for it and transport it for free during the shoot.
The auditions are to be held in LA:
- Actors…no you can’t ask me to pay your airfare from New York to LA because “You’re the best man for the job” and “I need to see you.”
- Producers…If someone has to travel a long way to your audition, you need to ask if you really want to see them or offer some traveling expenses. Alternatively, consider video auditions as a way to bridge the gap for a first audition.
For me, auditions are all about chemistry and finding out if you can work together. It’s a challenge for both sides that is not limited to “can the actor learn the words?” If you use auditions correctly, they are exhausting and frustrating, but also ultimately rewarding. I would advise every actor to sit in on an audition panel at least once – it will change your view on the whole process.
I hope “mi” thoughts help and, as usual, please feel free to agree or disagree with what I’ve said.
* On March 30th SAG merged with AFTRA throwing the whole casting community into panic and flux. Sets like True Blood were bombarded by actors, usually paid 64/8 ($64 for an 8hr day) looking to get paid the SAG rate of $142. While I’m sure the rushed decision makes sense to some people, right now it’s causing a lot of casting problems in a town that in many respects is still getting over the Actors’ and Writers’ strikes of 2009.