An Actor's Guide to Shooting a Great Audition
The pandemic has thrown a wrench in many of our 2020 and 2021 plans. Maybe it was a planned international trip that turned into a trip a little closer to home. Maybe we thought we’d use the time in quarantine to learn a new language or a new hobby, but instead found ourselves in a sort of sweatpants-clad, quasi-hibernation. And it’s not just individuals who are experiencing changes during the pandemic, many industries are too, including the entertainment industry.
Luckily, it’s possible for your career to not only survive this time of change, but to thrive. How? Acting teachers and coaches from three schools across the United States share their tips on how to succeed as an actor, even during the pandemic.
Many auditions are now being held virtually, instead of in person. This means you’ll either be recording your own audition or having someone do it for you. (Major thanks to all the long-suffering romantic partners, friends, and others who help out with this.) You might also find yourself on a Zoom call for your first audition or call-back.
One of the most important things an actor can do, whether the audition is a self-tape or live, is to prepare. James Price, the Studio Director at The Acting Studio, believes actors should “do the work”. “Be off book,” he advises. Casting directors appreciate it when actors have taken the time to learn their sides- it demonstrates professionalism. It’s also less distracting than if an actor is constantly looking down at their sides. You want to stand out- in a good way. Price says that the better you understand the story behind the role, the more you stand out. If a director feels like they can immediately film you, you have a better chance of getting the role.
Before you shoot your audition, Price suggests that you “score your script.” This means you should mark the different phrases in your script. You want your lines to sound as realistic as possible. “Don’t break up a line in the middle of a thought”, he says. Don’t come to the end of sentence and pause just because there’s a period at the end of the sentence. Don’t break up a thought or pause in the middle of a thought- that’s not how people normally speak. Pausing too often can cause a situation where you “lose the listener.” Score (in parenthesis) which words belong together. “There is no punctuation when you’re speaking naturally.” Price is a proponent of Meisner training for actors.
Ready to shoot your audition? Mark Stolzenberg of The New York Acting School for Film and Television advises that you stand in front of a “a very clean background, without obstruction or busy-ness, a plain backdrop or a curtain is good. A white wall is fine. There shouldn’t be any furniture or pets. Simplicity is of the essence.” Reis McCormick, of KD Conservatory Acting School in Dallas Texas, says to make sure there is extra headroom above your face in the shot. Make sure there are no shadows. Make sure the lighting is good. The light should be on your face.
Many people don’t have access to expensive lights or cameras, but you can still shoot a great audition. Natural sunlight does wonders. And you can shoot the audition on your cell phone if you don't have a camera. If you do so, Stolzenberg suggests that you invest in a Ring light for your cell phone since it makes your audition video look more professional. Stolzenberg teaches acting classes online and teaches a class specifically on how to do a better audition.
Another aspect of a good audition is to make sure your volume is good. McCormick says a common mistake that she sees with auditions is that the volume is too low. Make sure to keep your “eyes up and available to the camera. That’s where the story is- in the eyes!”
If you’ve followed James Price’s advice, you’ve memorized your lines and you’re ready to shoot the audition. Before you start, read over the casting notice to make sure you’re following the guidelines. Stolzenberg says to follow these directions carefully- “they are asking for very specific things that have to be observed.” For example, “they might ask for a close-up, a medium-shot, etc. Casting directions are very important.”
Since you’re shooting the audition yourself at home, Stolzenberg suggests that you should be picky about what you submit. “There’s no reason why you can’t do multiple takes.” Watch your video and make sure you’ve given it your best. You’re likely using a reader for the audition so make sure they are as prepared as you are to shoot. McCormick says to make sure they’re not reading too quietly. Everyone should be audible in your audition video.
Even when you’re not actively auditioning, actors should take every opportunity to train and grow in their craft. There are a lot of classes and workshops available, many of them online now because of the pandemic. If you’re looking to get an agent or more exposure, McCormick suggests starting a Youtube channel. You could also work with other actors and film scenes if you don’t have a substantial filmography. Use what you have to create a demo reel.
As these experts have shown us, the pandemic might have changed the way some things are done, but it’s still possible to grow as an actor and to shoot a great audition video from home. Want to learn more? As each expert suggested, training and classes are a great investment for any actor.