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Audition Tips

by Peter John Ross


As aspiring moviemakers, we are always burdened with finding actors to appear in our movies. Where do these elusive beings live? How do we get them to be in our movies? How will we know if they are right for a role? The answer is simply auditions. This is very basic info, but also handy.

First things first. Set a date(s). What will also work best is if you don’t have audition until you already have a camera, and a way to edit the movie FIRST. What good is an audition or even footage for a movie if you can’t finish it? And setting the shoot dates can let you know if certain actors are even available for those dates to begin with.

We have to let people know about the auditions. Many newspapers, especially the alternative, more arts-friendly papers, will post your audition notices for free. There are also message boards, posting boards, and Yahoo Groups on the Internet that provide one of the best new outlets for letting people know about auditions. Also a flyer or an email to acting teachers or even the local talent agencies give an outlet for this. As long as you are upfront about the amount being paid, even if it’s $0.00, will make everything work better.

Give plenty of notice, and remind people a few days before too. You may want to have more than one audition time to allow people with varying schedules the chance to audition.

Where? Public libraries have conference rooms anyone can use for free. Or you can do this at home, but for some people, that can be a turn off, but if it’s all you’ve got, then use your house. Just make sure you have two rooms. One for the auditions, and one for people to wait. It’s not fair if some people get to see how everyone else auditions and gets to talk to the director/producers and it’s not indicative of their raw ability.

Use a Sign-In Sheet – include their name, phone number, email, and the time they arrived. It’s always good to have everyone’s contact info. Also find out if they are SAG, AFTRA, or any other union. Have a column on the sign in sheet for “union or non-union”. A union actor may not be able to work on your film, or they can get permission.

You will also want them to sign a release that allows you to use their audition tape for anything you need as well. You may never know when you may have the next J-Lo audition & you pass her up. These auditions also make great DVD extras, even for us aspiring filmmakers. It can also have additional info.

If the more experienced actors come, they will have their own headshots, if not a Poleroid or digital camera will also be good to use for any new or aspiring actors that don’t have headshots. Attach the pics to the release form/info sheet.

Make sure you tape the auditions. Even if you just go to VHS, you need to see the actors on tape. It’s amazing how many people seem to read well, but watching the tape it comes across flat. Or sometimes, someone that didn’t feel good in the room really shines on tape. You don’t want to get into editing your movie to only find out THEN that this person doesn’t film well.

First you’ll want the actor to SLATE for the camera. That is state their name, their age, the part they are reading for, and a phone number so you can get a hold of them or their agency if they are represented.

You will provide the actors with SIDES, meaning 1-2 pages of script that will be used to test them for the character. So usually give them something with depth and some meat, or at least epitomizes the character to you, the director.

Tell the actor something about he character & the scene they are about to read. Then let them read it through without any direction. After one read, don’t deliver the lines yourself and tell them “more like this…” (also called LINE READINGS), but ask them to do it again with more of the particular emotion you want. Tell them “HOW” you want them to act, don’t show them. This is also called DIRECTING.

Use a poker face. Even if the actor is doing horrendous, don’t make the person feel bad. It can cause your reputation to be ruined. And even if an actor is perfect for a role, do not make any offers at the audition. Take your time, review the tapes and be sure of it.

If there are two actors that could be right for a role, and even if you’re fairly sure, try doing CALL BACKS. Call Backs are a second round of auditions. Bring the best actors back, have several of them read the sides together and see how they read with other actors.

After the Call Backs, feel free to make offers for parts. Verify their ability to work on the shoot dates. Be flexible, especially if you aren’t paying. But also know that sometimes you won’t get your first choice for a role, even though they auditioned and even did call backs. And sometimes you will even get through rehearsals and an actor will be a no-show. That’s when you call your 2nd, 3rd, and sometimes 4th choice. If you held professional auditions, it won’t be a problem to attract good actors.

Good luck.


About award winning filmmaker Peter John Ross & Sonnyboo Productions – Founded in 1999, Sonnyboo short films have played on 3 continents and at over 50 film festivals world wide. Projects directed by Peter John Ross appear on Tech TV, National Lampoon Networks, Movieola the short film channel, The “U” Network, and Vegas Indies TV. Sonnyboo films have been noted in such publications as RES Magazine, Ain’t It Cool News, Camcorder & Computer Video magazine, Film & Video Magazine, LA Weekly, Film Threat, the Village Voice, & Internet Video Magazine.

Now Available, a 244 page book by Peter John Ross, called TALES FROM THE FRONT LINE OF INDIE FILMMAKING. It features cautionary tales and tips for the Camcorder Kubricks and Backyard Spielbergs. CLICK HERE to purchase - only $14.99 (or CLICK HERE for a 9 page sample in Adobe Acrobat format)


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