Movie Auditions: How Do They Work?

Posted on 7 May 2017

movie auditions


As an actor starting out, you probably have at least some experience of auditioning – whether that’s gaining a place on an acting course or landing smaller roles for one-off jobs, advertisements or as an ‘extra’. But how do you land the bigger roles and much sought after movie auditions? While a movie audition is unique and may seem a much bigger deal to auditions for smaller roles, there’s actually a lot of crossover and many similarities.

Perhaps the greatest challenge you’ll face is keeping a lid on your own excitement for bagging a movie audition! So if you have managed to get invited to a casting session, or found one that sounds like a great match for your ‘type‘- here’s how movie auditions actually work.


Getting A Movie Audition

There are two ways to find movie auditions as an actor: get an agent or do it yourself. Getting an agent can be tricky, and they’ll expect to take around 10% of your earnings. However if you are lucky enough to get a good one, using their industry contacts and experience can be of huge benefit. Firstly they will find you movie auditions that you’re more likely to get, and secondly, you’re more likely to gain access to the industry gatekeepers that you’d be less likely to get without one. This can be a crucial part of securing movie auditions in particular.

If you’re going it alone, there are still opportunities for great movie auditions to be found, you just have to do your research. Backstage post local casting notices and a quick google search for open casting calls should give you an idea of the opportunities available in your area. Alternatively, you can use your industry contacts- friends, family or acquaintances in the business: don’t be afraid to get in touch and ask whether there are any auditions or roles coming up that they could recommend you for.


Proper Preparation

The preparation an actor does before a movie audition has the power to make or break it- without question. You may have been given a script, and in that case you will be expected to read it through and memorise your character’s lines properly. Many actors, including the legendary Anthony Hopkins not only read their own part, but everybody else’s as well in order to absorb as much information as possible. If you haven’t received a script but have a character description to work with, consider what this character might be like, and work on a monologue that might fit to the character.

You will need to have copies of your headshots and acting C.V. ready to bring with you, even if you’ve already submitted them, and this should include a link to a demo reel, if you have one.

Pick your dress as if it were inspired by the character you’re auditioning for- it shows commitment to the role before you’ve even got it. So say you’re going for a pirate role: you don’t need to arrive in full costume with a sword in hand – that would look ridiculous. But what you CAN do is wear a slightly ‘flouncy’ top, or wear something that shows off a few tattoos – if you have them of course!

Casting rooms often run on a very tight schedule so being late may very well cost you the audition. If you don’t want to risk blowing your chance, it’s a good idea to make sure you arrive at least 15 minutes early so you’ve got time to prepare and recover if you’ve had a flustered journey. As Shakespeare once said: “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late”: really – they won’t wait for you.


The Waiting Room

On arrival you will be greeted by a receptionist or the casting director’s assistant who will give you the script (if you don’t already have it). You will be asked to sit and wait to be called in. It is crucial that you are friendly and polite towards them, remember – a receptionist can always ‘accidentally’ lose your contact sheet, and you never know how influential an innocent looking casting assistant may be. There are also numerous stories of actors unknowingly insulting the script to the writer or talking down a producer to his PA. Be nice and courteous to everyone – you never really know who’s in charge.

If you have just been given a script, spend as much time as possible reading through your lines and consider how you might deliver them in the audition. In some cases you may not have a script at all and be expected to do a cold reading or be auditioning for a character without lines. In those cases take time in the waiting room to draw upon your past experience and decide how best to improvise or perform your character, so you are ready when you are called in.


The Movie Audition – What To Expect

There will be an X in the middle of the floor- that’s your mark to stand on. Be confident (you made it to the audition because they were interested in you), close the door and get to your mark. Be friendly and greet everyone in the room – judge the situation accordingly. For a large group, a friendly nod and ‘hi’ to each of them should be fine. If the group is a little smaller, it may be more appropriate to shake hands, although do this with caution. With so many actors to see, many casting directors would prefer not to shake hands with everyone for practical reasons.

Next, comes your slate, which is extremely important to get right. Movie auditions are most likely to be taped and so when the casting director is running back through the auditions after a long day, your slate is the first thing they will see of you. Look directly down the camera lens and say your name, age if you are younger than 30, and possibly your agency in both a confident and calm manner.

Next, you will be expected to do a reading, which, for a movie audition is likely to come from the script. Don’t panic. If you’ve done your preparation, you should be fine. If you are reading with an assistant who is off camera, choose where to focus your eye-line – either into the camera lens or just off camera. Whichever you choose just make sure you are consistent.

Remember, the person reading your lines with you will probably not be an actor, and may, therefore, give you a limited amount of emotion and not much to work with. Try not to let this distract you, and give the best reading you can. If you have taken the time to make some bold assumptions about your character’s personality, make sure that comes through; even if it’s not the direction they want to take, they will be impressed at your attempt to develop the character and bring it to life.

Afterward, you might get some feedback and be directed to try the lines in a different way. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve read them wrong but is, in fact, more likely an attempt to see how well you take direction and whether you can be a collaborative team player. Follow the director’s advice and be enthusiastic about trying it differently.

Eventually, your movie audition will come to a close and the casting director will thank you for your time. Briefly, thank the room yourself and make your way out politely but briskly. Most auditions are only about 10 minutes long, and as soon as you leave, the next actor will be called in immediately to keep everything running on schedule. If you’re sure they have a copy of your C.V. and headshots, as well as a contact sheet with the correct details, you’re free to go! Be just as courteous on your way out and bid farewell to the receptionist or assistants and you’re done!


After the Audition

Your adrenaline is probably pumping and you’re more than likely feeling a bit wired. Go off and do something fun. Meet friends or go to a café you like – something that will take your mind off of the audition for a while. The casting director will review the auditions over the next few days and get in touch if they’re interested.

If you’re chosen you might be asked to a call-back session or come in for a screen test. And if you’re not lucky enough to be chosen, don’t worry, it may be for a reason completely out of your control. You might not be tall enough, or they may even have decided to change the character’s sex- there are all kinds of reasons that you might not be picked, and most of them aren’t related to your acting talent.

What’s important is that you don’t miss the chance to appraise your performance. After each audition, look at what went well and what didn’t, and work on it for next time. Even if you are successful this time: analysing and working on weak spots is the only way you can ever hope to improve on your performance in auditions.


Different Ways to Audition

It’s common for movie auditions to be conducted through self-taping. Often, it’s just not practical for actors to be asked to audition in the room, as the production may be happening half-way across the world. So, if you’re in London and auditioning for a movie in LA, you might be asked to self-tape. Aside from the benefit of auditioning for productions all over the world, self-taping gives you the chance to try out a few takes and send the best one in. Be careful though – this can make it extremely time-consuming if you don’t set yourself a strict time schedule. For tips on self-taping, check out my podcast ‘how to tape yourself doing an audition and not look like an idiot’.

You may also be asked to do a movie audition over Skype for the same reason. It’s a practical way to audition international performers and it diversifies the pool of actors to choose from. However, anyone who’s ever used Skype might be aware that connection issues can greatly affect the quality of a call. If you are given this option, always choose to self-tape your audition if you can, or at the very least, go somewhere with a reliable internet connection!


Great Training Makes a Great Audition

It’s true, you can’t teach talent, but you can teach those with talent how to make the best of their abilities. And with so many actors failing to sell themselves properly in movie auditions and slowing their career growth, perfecting a great movie audition technique is key to success in this industry. If you’re serious about acting, and want to find a course that will really put you head and shoulders above the competition, consider our world-class Ultimate Acting Programme.


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