Clinching Auditions: Insights and advice on working the system
Brian and Joe delve into the auditions process with a look at today’s culture of “immediate gratification” – the idea of being handed fame on a plate – and why that’s not how it works. They give tips and guidance on understanding the system and what it really takes to make it in the acting industry.
9 things you will learn about:
• Posting on casting websites – Is it enough?
• Spotlight – How it works and how to crack it
• How to play the auditions system – and win!
• So, you’ve got an audition – How to prove your worth
• The importance of being authentic and creating your own work
• Lessons from the Greats: How Clooney, Cooper and Pitt did it
• The X Factor delusion: Why you need to make it happen
• The role of patience: Ten-year overnight success
• Professional actors: Refining the process to up your game
Brian: Hi everyone, it’s Brian here and I’ve got Joe with me. Welcome, Joe.
Joe: Thank you very much for having me. Hello, everyone.
Brian: We are going to talk about – because, well, here’s the thing, Joe: is when we talk about auditions and getting auditions, there can be a delusional thing, especially people that are new or trying to get into the industry, about how this whole audition process happens – right? – about how do you get an audition? Sometimes people think, ‘Well, I just need to approach the people at ITV…’
Joe: Yes [laughs].
Brian: …’and say to them, “How do I get on Coronation Street?”’ or whatever.
Brian: But we know there’s a whole system behind all this, how it works.
Brian: So I think what I want to talk about today really is the difference between I guess – what would you say, a sort of, in layman terms, from the outside looking in.
Joe: From the outside, yes. What we think we want to try to help you with today is like the outside, when you’re not in the business, and then the actual professional procedure and process that goes on, and how and why it exists, and how can you get into that system.
Brian: Exactly. Right.
Joe: So, the outside, Brian, that we’ve spoken about before, is the delusional sort of idea of what…
Brian: Yes, and I think it’s that lack of understanding about what actually happens for the audition process to happen, because people I guess who are not in the industry yet or looking in from the outside might just say, ‘Oh, they must go to the BBC and they have a nice little audition…’
Brian: And then they think, ‘Well, how do I get that?’ and they think, ‘Oh, I’ll put my details/a profile on a casting web,’ because there’s quite a few different sort of casting sites now.
Joe: But you can just sort of plonk a…
Brian: Anybody. Pretty much anybody can put their headshot and create a CV and think, ‘Right, I just need to wait for the auditions to roll in now.’
Brian: Whereas we know that there’s a very different process behind this that involves casting directors, agents and specifically Spotlight.
Joe: Spotlight, yes.
Brian: Because Spotlight is the main directory by which all the big castings are happening.
Joe: Yes. So maybe we should just explain what Spotlight is so that you understand how it works – so, Brian, over to you [laughs].
Brian: [laughs] I was waiting – I was thinking, ‘I’ll go ahead, then, Joe! That’s fine, yes!’
Joe: I’ll have a cup of tea, have my little pain aux raisins, sit here, yes [laughs].
Brian: Take that one.
Joe: Right. So, how does it work? Spotlight is…
Brian: Spotlight – back in the day, what happened was, I don’t know, if we go back 50 years or whatever, Spotlight existed and what it was was it was a paper directory of all the actors that were in the UK – so, male and female actors in a directory. And what would happen is a casting director would get that directory, the physical directory, and they would look through the pictures of the actors on offer…
Joe: Yes – the headshots, kind of a small, brief description of their build, their type, you know.
Brian: Exactly. And then they would say, ‘Oh, I’m going to get that person in for an audition. They look appropriate.’
Brian: Now, obviously that scaled over time and it’s all online now, but it’s by far recognised as the casting directory in the UK. It’s the main one – right? So, what happens is that a casting director will submit a breakdown to Spotlight.
Joe: Yes. Let’s go one step further: a project gets green-lit or gets said, ‘Okay’ by BBC/ITV/ Independents – Channel 4, whatever – and then that will go to a casting director generally. And then the casting director will then submit the roles that they want filling, the actors that they want, the roles that they need to get cast. And then that goes to Spotlight. And then Spotlight puts that out to the agents. And so Spotlight’s like this little holding pen of acting work – virtually everything that’s going on, whether it’s theatre, West End productions, world productions, UK tours, European tours – you know, everything – TV, commercials (loads of commercials go through Spotlight). Everything goes through them. They’re the holding pen of like all this work.
Brian: Yes. And what’ll happen is that the agents will then submit actors on their books via Spotlight to the casting directors. Also something to know is that particular casting directors may work on a particular programme for a long period of time – for example, Coronation Street, EastEnders, Holby City…
Joe: Actually John Cannon, who cast Holby City – very nice guy.
Brian: So that’s interesting to note too because then, from time to time you might want to contact those people because you know that they are casting things that have a high turnover of actors. And you’re not quite sure what they may be casting when, but good to stay in touch. So, here’s the thing: that’s the system that is in play. And I’m not saying that it’s not a good idea to be part of other casting sites – it can be, especially at the beginning, I think, because there’s other types of work that might come up through those routes.
Brian: However, you’ve kind of got to see that it’s not just a case of writing a letter to the BBC, and there’s a whole system behind it, and you have to play by that system more or less in order to get seen, to get an audition. So it’s less random and more specific – and I think that’s important for people to understand when they’re coming into the industry.
Joe: Yes. That’s a great terminology, Brian, really great: it’s less random and more specific. You know, you might be listening and saying, ‘Oh, I’ve heard this story/that story about this person…’ You know, that’s a one-off. There are lots of very specific procedures that you can use to make your career happen through the process of what we’re discussing.
Brian: And the thing to note about this process is that you have to – you know, it’s sort of staged, I guess; you don’t get into an audition unless – we’ve talked about going it alone, right?
Brian: But we have to understand that, the vast majority of times, you have an agent – and it’s possible without but it’s less likely. So, first of all you have to get on an agent’s books. How do you do that? You have to show that you can do the job, you’ve trained, you’ve got a showreel, you’ve got a CV, you’ve got a headshot – all of these things that are basics, as far as it’s concerned when it comes to professional acting.
Now, if you just rock up – and I’ve seen/I do get emails on this, Joe, of people just saying, ‘I’m going to send a letter to this guy, to ITV, because I want to be in Coronation Street.’ Look; they don’t care. They don’t care about what your ambitions are. But what they care about is, ‘We’ve got these roles to cast – and are you the best person, and can you prove to me before I even bring you in the room that you are the best person for us to bring in?’ And that’s what you’ve got to start thinking about. They’re not going to take a chance. They don’t need you in the industry; we do not need another actor in the industry – we’ve got so many actors, we’ve got all the actors we could possibly need – right?
Brian: So, why you? And that’s where you’ve got to start when you’re thinking about this: why should it be you? And you have to prove to them, as if they’re in a court of law. You’ve got to go into – there’s a jury there and you have to prove to them you should be the one that is let into that audition room.
Joe: Yes, absolutely.
Brian: So, you have to think about that in advance. Nobody’s going to do you a favour. Nobody’s going to think, ‘Oh, well, this is a nice person…’
Joe: Because too many reputations are on the line. Nobody’s going to do you a favour because too many reputations are on the line.
Brian: And basically, Joe, too much money’s on the line…
Brian: …and that really gets people’s attention, because if you’re a producer and you’re putting five/ten/fifteen million into a drama or whatever, listen; you’re not doing anybody any favours – you are going to do it in order to get the best return on that money because that means that you can go and produce something else.
So, all of these things have to be taken into consideration when you are thinking about, ‘How do I get auditions?’ So, I think we’ve outlined the idea of Spotlight being a very big cog in our wheel. Agents, you know, you’ve got to start to get on an agent’s books, going through Spotlight to get to the casting directors, to get into the room. It’s not just a case of going on to your local casting website and putting your profile up there and saying, ‘I’m an actor.’ That is not going to do it.
Joe: Yes. It’s not going to cut it, no.
Brian: Not at the level we’re talking about.
Joe: Yes. Look; you will get some things on there – but then I’ve heard so many horror stories, you know, and personally there’s always that sense – and we understand; you’re hungry, you want to prove yourself, you want to do it and you’re not being given the opportunity at the level that you may have trained at, especially if you’re working with us. But we’re insistent that if you follow a certain procedure to the best of your ability, it’s a technique that then that will open the doors for you. You have to sometimes be patient – or not. If you’re not going to be patient and you go it alone, then you’ve got to really do something special, which is what we’re saying to you that you should do. We’ve said it time and time again: be authentic; create your own work – but then that’s a whole other kind of way/process of working.
There’s two roads, you know, and there are many actors out there. You can take George Clooney, Jared Leto, Matthew McConaughey – they’ve gone and been in things that are multi-million-pound-produced things, and they’ve been in things that are much, much smaller because it’s a project of the heart. You know, Brad Pitt and George Clooney have produced things that they’re not in because they believed in it so much and they knew, as people, as actors, they’re like, ‘No, no – if I come into this it’s going to become something else, so I kept it just as a passion thing.’ So you’ve got to know where you sit in that. And that starts now. Today. You know that if you want to have a fighting chance in the audition, you’ve got to be able to go in there and play from within.
Equally, create something outside of it as well. Don’t be afraid. So, when you’re thinking about that and you’re thinking about the audition process, I think you should just abandon the thought it’s like some X Factor thing. Abandon that thought. Just put that to one side.
Brian: Yes. I think that’s the problem, is that we do have things like X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, which have been around in different inclinations over the years.
Joe: Yes – in different inclinations over hundreds and hundreds of years, yes.
Brian: But I think it does tap into this idea that, you know, you can be sitting in your bedroom in the back of beyond and you’re going to get discovered. And I think that to become a professional actor is like any profession; it’s something you’ve got to train in; it’s something you’ve got to go towards and make happen.
Joe: Go towards and make it happen, yes.
Brian: It’s not about buying a lucky ticket and some big-shot casting director like Ridley Scott turning up in your little town and going, ‘Where’ve you been all my life? You’re the one!’ It doesn’t happen like that.
Brian: And I think you should abandon any idea that that is the way to do it. You’ve got to get inside the way the professionals work within the industry and what the process and procedure is, because then you’ll be in the system rather than outside looking in.
Joe: Yes. It reminds me of something that I heard many, many years ago in New York; it was like, generally, every actor that’s successful is a ten-year overnight success. It’s a ten-year overnight success. Think about that. It’s not to say that you’re not working and you’re not earning from being an actor, but the success where you sort of go and rise to the point of stardom and that kind of side of things is, you know, there is a lot of training going on. There’s been a lot of failing and succeeding in small increments where people start to take you seriously because you’ve come to their castings or you’ve been with this agent for three or four or five or six years and consistently been going up for things; you get some, you don’t get some – and that starts to really smell of a professional creative person.
You know, any artist didn’t happen overnight – Picasso, this one, that one, fashion people – they didn’t happen overnight. They came through a system and, you know, a little bit here and a little bit more there, and then bam! – the door opens. Let’s go back to, just because we mentioned him, Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt was the “[*0:14:11.0 weiner dog]” or whatever it was – you know, he was like a clown thing calling people in to come and have burgers or hot dogs, in a clown outfit. You know, don’t think that the door opened immediately. You know, he had one opportunity in Thelma and Louise, and he made that work. He made it amazing – right? But before that he’d been doing a lot of stuff where he…
Brian: Yes. These people, they make it happen, you’re right. But they understand the process and they get involved in the process.
Joe: They get involved in the process.
Brian: Yes. I think that that is the main point to take away from here, is that – because I do get a lot of emails, Joe, from people from different walks of life and different perspectives, and sometimes I’m shocked and dismayed by how many people actually think that acting is easy, they don’t need to train and somebody’s just going to discover them or somebody’s going to give them an audition. It is delusional to think that.
Joe: There’s just too much at stake. There’s just too much at stake.
Brian: The people that you are watching on TV or in films have worked bloody hard to get there. They have really worked the system and their own ability to get to that point. You know, the hand of God did not come down and go…
Joe: And go, ‘It’s you!’ Forget all of that! That doesn’t exist! It doesn’t exist. It’s created by you, through you, through your training, through your technique, through your understanding, through your authenticity, through your originality as a person. It’s created through you. You know, it’s never just like, ‘Ahhhhh’ and the clouds open and the light shines. No. The light shines from within, out. It doesn’t shine onto you. Your light has to shine from within, out – so that you have to really have an understanding of…
Brian: Yes. Just a thought came to mind; when I’m thinking about all the actors that are now household names, this was not by chance.
Brian: It wasn’t. They didn’t go onto some website and put a profile up and it came. Basically, they did everything in their power and they worked the system, and they understood that they had to go through a process. Bradley Cooper comes to mind: you know what Bradley Cooper did before, while he was training as an actor? Obviously he decided, ‘I have to train. I have to get into this.’ He used to work as a bellhop, and he said, ‘My job as a bellhop was in this particular hotel; in the foyer were candles,’ he said. ‘The place was lit by a lot of candles rather than normal lighting, because it created an ambiance, blah-blah-blah.’ He said, ‘My job was to make sure that all those candles were lit during the whole evening. I used to do a night shift, so all through the night I had to make sure the candles were on.’
Brian: And he said, ‘And then, next day, I’d have to go to acting class and do a day’s study. But during the night I was making – and do you know what was the worst part of it? Every time somebody opened the door, the wind would come in and blow some candles out and I’d need to rush round, light the candles again; somebody else comes through the door, blows the candles out.’ He said, ‘This was my life – right?’ Now, I think this story is interesting because it reminds you that somebody like Bradley Cooper was doing a job like that and he was doing it because it was a means to an end. He was paying for himself to get through acting school and do his tuition and his studying, and he did that as a choice of making things happen for himself.
Brian: But I find that an interesting story.
Joe: I love that – you know I love that sort of stuff. You know I don’t like this idea of a person being – not secluded but being sort of wrapped up in some kind of acting bubble where they’re just taken from their home to the studio to the studio, back. You know, you have to bring life to a character; you have to bring life. So, all the things that you’re doing in order to get where you want to go to be an actor and an artist, all of the things that you’re doing are adding to your experience and adding to your authenticity and adding to your ability to work with people.
Listen; you’ve got to go in and learn how to work with people. You know, this thing about actors throwing hissy fits and this and that and the other, it’s bullshit, man! You’ve got to be able to be in the room and work with people. there’s directors, there’s producers, there are art directors, there are production designers, there are people – you know, cooks, chefs, this, that and the other – that you have to be able to say, ‘Good morning’ to and, ‘Hello’ and this and that, and be able to function within the community. So, you are best served to be able to understand the process of being a person to begin with and the jobs that people have to do. And part of your process is to filter out what is the bullshit, and go, ‘Right – what do I actually need to do? This is what I’ve been told.’
Brian: That is a very good point. That is exactly what we’re talking about. This is what the heart of this podcast is, actually – you’re right. It’s about knowing how to filter out the bullshit, seeing the wood from the trees: what is the real core of the industry? What really happens? What happens – in order to get in front of Ridley Scott, what really happens? You know, not what you would like to happen, wish to happen…
Brian: But what actually happens. And you knowing that process is what you’ve got to focus on. So, you know, people listening to this podcast, I mean, there’s going to be professional actors listening to this and you’re probably nodding your head and going, ‘Yes, I know this. This is what I know.’ And fair enough – but you know what? There’s a lot of people that don’t.
Joe: That don’t know. And if they follow some of the basic – just follow it with your understanding, but follow it. And I guarantee you’re going to get an e-mail that says, ‘I got this casting…’ You know, you fought for it. You trained. You looked out and sniffed at, ‘Well, I might not get as much money in this project, but it looks like it’s really good professional people. Right, this will give me a nice showreel. This will give me a good one-minute scene rather than ten minutes of rubbish.’ I’d rather you have 30 seconds of brilliance on camera because that’s the difference. A casting director will see that and then go, ‘Hey, this person’s got a really nice scene.’ So, you know, ten minutes of wasted time – no. Go ahead, Brian.
Brian: I just thought, just for the actor, the professional actor, because I guess this podcast will maybe educate aspiring actors more than the professional actor, but I want to give the professional actor something from this as well, to think about, because I actually think everything we’ve said is important to hear again anyway, as a professional actor. But what you need to think, as a professional, is that system that you know and we’ve just described, you’ve got to think about optimising every part of that system.
Joe: Every single part.
Brian: Because like what you’ve just described about sending in a showreel – and you might have to create a 30-second clip of you playing that part, or you might have to think about how you deal with a certain casting director, how they respond to certain things. So there’s a process. And I think if you know the process, then it’s about refining it; it’s about proving each part of it. If you don’t know the process, it’s about educating yourself in what is that process, and then starting to get involved.
Joe: And then, ‘How can I make myself better at that process? How can I make it better? How can I make myself better? How can I bring more authenticity to that? How can I sort of – so people can turn around and go, “Yes, we’ve got to hand this over to Joe/Brian/whoever is listening out there,” because it’s trusted.’ Basically they’re trusting their baby in your hands! You know, some of these projects have been four/five years in the making, so what do you think – I’m just going to hand over my five-year-old baby to anyone?
Brian: It’s funny because like I listened to Leonardo DiCaprio speak recently about The Wolf of Wall Street film, and he said, ‘The parts I was most scared about were these big speeches that the character gave to…’ – if you’ve seen the film…
Brian: …to the whole room. He says, ‘These big inspiring speeches.’ He said, ‘I studied those speeches for six years.’
Joe: Wow. Oh, my God.
Brian: He said, ‘I studied them for six years, and still when I had to do it I felt a little bit, “This is going to be – I’ve really got to go for this.”’ And I thought, that just shows you, that was his baby for six years because he was involved in the producing of that film, getting it made. And it’s like, yes, well, yes, you’d better be on your game when you turn up for that audition, because he’s spent six years looking at that script!
Joe: Yes, looking at that! So you’re turning up, just like, ‘Yeah, mate, yeah, Leon, I got this like last night’ – rattling it out. He’s spent six years! I mean, come on, guys. You must take that on board. You must put that into…
Brian: Just bear that in mind – that that’s what you’re dealing with, you know?
Brian: Okay, that brings us to the end. We went over a little bit but, well, we had important stuff to say, Joe.
Joe: Good. I hope it was of use.
Brian: Okay. See you on the next one.
Joe: Take care.
You’ve been listening to Brian Timoney’s World of Acting. For a full transcript of today’s show, go to www.worldofacting.com.