Nov 14th 2015 By Madison Davidson

From the Other Side of the Table: What I Learned as a Casting Assistant

By: Madison Davidson

After I graduated from NYU, I stumbled into a great opportunity to work for casting directors, Sig de Miguel and Stephen Vincent at S2 Entertainment. They’re known as the kings of indie casting in New York and have worked on such films as United 93, The Good Shepherd, Rabbit Hole and many others. During my time in their office, I received an intense education about what it’s like to experience auditions on the other side of the table. In addition to some of the greatest friendships I’ve cultivated in the industry, Steve and Sig dramatically changed my understanding of what it’s like to work as a casting director and how actors might better approach their auditioning and networking. Now I get to share some of these lessons with all of you.

Lesson 1: Some Tips on How to Walk Into the Room:

I wish I did not need to speak on this topic in this post but I do. I was astounded as a casting assistant at the number of actors who would come in for an audition and did not have their sides memorized. I realize that you only got these sides yesterday morning, but it’s only a page and a half of dialogue. Most actors were comfortably familiar with their dialogue but still broke eye contact with the reader after every line to make sure they knew what they needed to say next. Trust me, as an actor who is all too familiar with the auditioning hot seat, I know nerves do something crazy to us. We want to rely on those sides as a safety blanket but the more that you can just let those sides rest in your hand while you connect to the words and the reader, the better off you will be. Very rarely did I see a role go to an actor who was only comfortably familiar and I never saw a role go to an actor who was completely un-memorized. If you do your utmost to make sure you don’t need to look at the page while you’re in your audition you will already be putting yourself ahead.

In addition to being memorized, just make sure you have read the room when you walk in. I know that when we walk into auditions, nervous and excited, we are generally just trying to not trip on our own feet while we smile and shake someone’s hand. Give yourself a moment and just breathe so you can focus on what’s actually happening and where you are. If you say something silly or stumble over your words and can laugh it off, it will be fine. I have seen many actors come in to audition who are clearly so lost in their own nervousness and their own plans for how they want to act out their scenes that they have clearly not realized that I and the camera are only five feet away from them because they are shouting their lines at me as though I were on the other side of the room. Remember to breathe and relax as much as possible before you come in for your audition. Rather than feverishly looking over your lines again (that you should already have memorized) I suggest taking about ten minutes before your audition to just meditate and do some relaxation exercises. This will allow you to enter the room as present and genuine as possible.

Lesson 2: The Power Dynamic is Largely in Your Head.

From my experience, casting directors are not on a power trip. They don’t feel like they’re above you, nor are they rooting against you. When you walk in for an audition, the casting director is praying that you are the best person they have seen or will see all day. Many actors I know walk into an audition thinking that the casting director is leaning back in their chair, looking disbelievingly at them, internally thinking, “Well, show me what you’ve got, kid.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have auditioned for some not-so-nice people who clearly got up on the wrong side of the bed. But from what I’ve seen, the bigger or more important the audition, the more professional the person sitting in the casting seat. If you are able to walk in to your audition as though you were meeting a respected equal and not as though you’re meeting your fiancé’s mother for the first time, you will immediately improve your chances. Lessons in dating, business and sales teach us that as humans, we are automatically turned off by people who give us desperation vibes. Of course we want to be liked and we want to get the job, but focusing too much on how passionately desperate you are to land the role will only serve to give off an energy that would be best left at home.

The best way to view anyone in the industry is as someone you would like very much to collaborate with, rather than someone you want something from. If you can incorporate that subtle mental shift into any audition or networking interaction you have, you’ll notice a change in the way others approach you.

Lesson 3: You are More Likely to Get a Call if You Have Fun.

It’s a pretty radical act to make the audition room a place of fun and enjoyment. Trust me, sitting in front of a stream of people feeling super nervous and insecure can have a gigantic impact on your energy. I remember coming home from long audition sessions feeling drained, tired and a little confused about why we all love this industry so much when I just watched a lot of actors treating it like going through labor.

You’re allowed to be nervous and unsure and maybe you had a terrible commute getting to the audition, so just bring it with you and use it. Let it fuel your scene and let it make your performance authentic and energetic to the point where you get lost in the thing that you love.

Let’s not forget that we love acting. An audition, if anything, is an invitation to come into a room for 15 minutes and act for someone. You love acting, so enjoy that performance opportunity. If you come in to the audition room simply excited to act right then and there for the people in front of you and actually have fun while you’re doing it, you will be one of the most memorable people the casting agent sees all day. You may not be perfect for the role that they are casting, but I can guarantee that you’ll stick out in their mind. They will be more likely to think of you when another role comes across their desk that you may be right for. They will be more likely to pick you out of a crowd if you attend one of their workshops. Do not underestimate the infectiousness of your love for what you do. Have fun, indulge in the opportunity to act your heart out and enjoy your art. You will do yourself a favor and you’ll be doing a favor for the people who get to watch you.

This industry can get a little crazy. It can be filled with egos and people trying desperately to be seen and heard. It can be difficult to put yourself out there and know what to do with all of your energy and nerves and insecurities, especially when networking and auditioning are concerned. When you meet someone in the industry that you’d really like to make a good impression on, just remember that they are real people too. They want to be seen, heard and acknowledged, not just as a power figure who can help your career but as a real person. Remember that the next time you walk into an audition room. Be prepared, relax, show genuine interest in the person you are meeting and radically enjoy your art. You’ll be doing your part to make this industry and the casting experience much more effective and enjoyable for everyone.

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