Zen And The Art Of Surviving The Waiting Room

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Much is spoken about how to conduct yourself properly when you walk into the audition room, but very little has been said about how to survive the psychological minefield of the waiting room. The more you can tune out the distracting and often toxic and sabotaging chit chat of other actors in the waiting area, the better your work will be when you get into the room.

I’m certain many of you have crossed paths with these pre-audition misfits.

1. The Nervous Talker: This is the guy/girl who strikes up a conversation with other actors out of abject terror. These people seem harmless, as they are often friendly and chatty. Their chosen subjects of conversation appear innocuous enough (current events, sports, the weather). However, conversing with them sucks you into their web of anxiety and can indirectly impact your performance.

Solution: Do not engage. A polite “yep” with no eye contact should give them the message. Bring headphones.  

2. The Status Signaler: This actor will try to psych you out by letting you know that they are better than you. More accomplished. These are people who talk very loudly about “my time at Juilliard” or “I miss working with Phillip Seymour Hoffman.”

Solution: The key to this person is paying less than zero attention to them. Do not look at them and try to figure out which project they worked on with P.S.H. (it was a short film no one saw; Hoffman did his lines via ADR). Do not wonder if they were at Juilliard when Lupita Nyong’o attended. Do not allow a single brain cell to engage with their blather. Headphones.

3. The Legit Psycho: This person is more toxic than the status-signaler because he/she takes their remarks up to the next level of psychological warfare.

This person might talk about how the cinematographer of the project is their dad, or how they booked their last audition with a black eye and strep throat. They might even throw out something really provocative and head-scratchy like “I once had to give Daniel Day-Lewis a shot of adrenaline in Prague.” They desire attention and know how to get it.

Solution: Ignore this person and the reactions they get from others. This person goes the extra mile to psych out their competition by putting on a show. Some actors in the waiting room are guaranteed to take the bait. Pay no attention, particularly when other actors start to engage with this person, which they almost always will. Headphones.

4. The Helper: This actor may try to throw you off your game by offering you fear-based “advice” based on their limited knowledge of the casting office, the project, the industry as a whole, or what they think will win over the room. This person thinks he/she is being helpful, but it’s really just a buffet table of insecurities. This person is looking for reassurance or someone to join forces in worry. She might say something like, “I wore flats because the lead is already cast and he’s 5’9” or “This office likes a really thrown-away read.” 

Solution: A terse “sure” with no eye contact should deliver the message that unsolicited advice is not wanted. If not: headphones.

5. The Omitters: These are some of the most common people you’ll encounter. There might be a last minute change to the prepared sides (“everyone just read page 2!!” or “we are doing cold reads with new sides”) that has been announced to everyone in the waiting room. You arrive and have missed the announcement from the CD or the session runner. As you sign in, the session runner might be busy or stepped away, and all the waiting room actors look at you, knowing that you need the new instructions. However, no one says a damn thing.

Solution: Do a cursory check with the session runner or casting associate as soon as you can (“Hi, any changes to the prepared material I should know about?")

6. The Office BFF: This actor likes to pretend they are the good buddy of the casting or production office. They greet the session runner like they’re old friends and often make reference to previous (wild) social engagements (“Next time let’s get our own strippers and helicopters!”). This person will refer to the CD by their first name, often shortened (“How’s Nance doing?”) or might have a nickname for the casting director (“Jimbo’s new little girl is precious!”).

Solution: Redirect your attention away from this person and the elaborate dance they are doing. If not: headphones.

These other actors and the noise they make should be as threatening to you as a determined mosquito. Your protection is your preparation: it should be accessible in flash, as if on the tips of your fingers. When your preparation is solid and simple, you have the freedom to show production/casting who YOU are a person before you start acting. You must walk in with the understanding that your personality may be the very thing that gets you the job before any acting takes place. If your success is dependent on a technique that requires you to fluff yourself up in the waiting room before you go in, you’re going to be vulnerable to these mosquito-actors.

You wouldn’t try to make friends at the baggage claim carousel at the airport. Take that same mentality to the audition waiting room: a bare minimum of politeness, with little to no words exchanged at all. If you have a solid preparation and a great final choice for your audition then you are impenetrable. You simply get to live off of the interest of your preparation. Just put on your headphones and tune out the waiting room.

This article was originally posted on Backstage.

How To Have The Best Booking Year Ever On Your Own Terms

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With the massive shot in the arm of new content this year, it has been the busiest year for actors ever. While we can’t predict what next year will bring, we can look back at this last year in order to determine where we were challenged and caught off guard. We can use these moments as instructive springboards to be more prepared for what’s to come. 

Here’s a recap of what this year has taught us, and what we need to know to have the best booking year ever:

Be great.

It’s not enough to be “good,” you must be “great.” If you’re regularly going out for major film and TV roles, you are competing at the Olympic-level of the industry. The mafia level. The highest stakes game in the world series of poker. If you are really truly trying to a build a career in this industry, you must be great. If you are willing to go into the room with a less than stellar performance, perhaps you don’t really love acting. Take stock of what is preventing you from devoting yourself to being the best actor possible. 

There are no rules.

When you’re great, there are no rules for proper etiquette. Actors shackle each other with fear-based advice that only put obstacles in your path and screw with your head. Stop trying to model your path to success after someone else’s, as yours will definitely look very different. 

Everyone is scared. 

Not just actors. The jobs of producers, directors, writers, and casting directors are all on the line at all times. Take all hostilities with a grain of salt and take nothing personally. The casting director is trying to please the producer or agency. The director, just another fragile artist, is trying to impress everyone and show off his or her great directorial skills. The producers are trying to please the network, studio or investor team. At the end of the day, show business is a carnie lifestyle with more money on the line and accompanying panic. If someone barks at you, demeans you, mocks or dismisses you, just know that it is coming from a weak, fear-based place and view them with compassion while retaking your power back. 

Let go of outcomes.

A preoccupation with outcomes, in general, is toxic—especially for actors. With regards to the craft and your career, you must let go of your attachment to how you think something is supposed to go. The life of an actor is one big metaphorical road trip. The auditions are all the sights along the way. Just appreciate them and value them for what they can teach you. Use them as opportunities to build connections in the room and impress your peers so much to the extent that your name/face is always at the top of someone’s mental shortlist for a prospective role. 

It doesn’t get easier, you just get braver. 

This means that no matter how successful you are, sustained success in this industry is directly proportional to your work ethic and ability to do the best acting you’re capable of, and your willingness to take yourself out of your comfort zone. Some actors I meet are great at winning over the room when they walk in, but fall short with their performances. Some actors deliver perfect auditions that build on their brave performances in our coaching sessions, but stumble during the small-talk part of the audition, coming across as aloof or resigned. Other actors I work with are great at networking at cocktail nights, and at building powerful friendships in the industry, but they can’t seem to focus on preparing a solid audition despite their enormous talent.

Few people have all the tools they need to succeed. Investing in your personal development is part of the job. The parts you need to develop will force you to do scary stuff you probably aren’t crazy about doing. Your success depends on it—being brave. 

Work ethic + No/Low ego. 

Successful actors work like dogs. Sure, the work can and should be fun, but many actors simply don’t have the stomach for what it takes to make it. They aren’t willing to constantly work on their craft, seek out next-level training, and they typically scorn auditions for smaller projects because they think they’re too good for such things. Laziness combined with ego is like cyanide for your career. 

Relationships are Key.

While it’s important to form good relationships with casting directors, they do not actually cast the bulk of the roles. That is the job of the production team. Only a small percentage of major roles—series leads/series regulars, leading/supporting roles—actually go through a traditional casting office. The majority of major roles are directly cast through production companies by the producers, networks, showrunners, and writers—miles before they ever are in a casting office. Casting directors who also teach acting classes are going to tell you that all casting goes through them to propagate the false notion that casting directors are the gatekeepers of your career. They’re not. It behooves you to understand the limitations of casting directors, while still forming warm relationships with their offices. Production offices, producers, showrunners, and writers should be the center of your focus when it comes to relationship building. There’s a right way to meet and stay in touch with them, updating them on your career path when appropriate.

Very few people I work with are doing everything they can to inch their career forward. Let’s all agree to meet the new year with a renewed spirit of bravery and a commitment to proactive effort. We can all meet the challenges of this industry, along with the ones inherent in ourselves, head-on and with vigor.

This article was originally posted on Backstage.

How To Turn Any Acting Note Into An Audition Win

Getting an acting note is fantastic in any context. It means the acting coach, director or casting director is paying close attention to your work and wants to refocus it in some manner. Tinkering is a part of any craft, and it is how you reach a level of excellence. At an audition, notes are still great to receive, even though many actors don’t see it that way. Some of my clients view getting a note in an audition context as a sign that the director/casting director didn’t like something they did, or that their choice was off. I give this interpretation an emphatic no. It means that you have their attention and that something you did intrigued them and they want to see more. Don’t let getting a redirect rattle you. Use it as a springboard to solidify a spectacular audition.

1. Get clarification

Many people who work in entertainment do not know how to give actors useful notes. This includes screenwriters, directors, producers, playwrights and sometimes even casting directors. Some of the most insightful creators and writers are shockingly some of the worst communicators. Many of these people view acting as this mysterious process and they feel very comfortable critiquing it watching television on their couch at home. However, when it comes to shaping a performance, they can often not supply much clarity other than remarks like, “not so big… softer.”

Many directors, with the actual producing teams behind them, will often feel compelled to give a note, even if your performance was flawless. This is a manifestation of their own anxieties: they want to show the producers that hired them that they know how to direct actors. So this will often translate into vague or tepid notes to actors, to “just change it up” or “do something different this time.” This is a great example of some of the garbage notes actors often get.

In this case, don't be afraid to get further clarification of any notes that may be confusing. Demand specificity. Ask a question like, “Oh, ok, do you want me to show more hesitation or do you want more conviction?” Often providing the note-giver with two choices in your question can help force them to offer more specificity. If they say anything that doesn’t make any sense (which often happens), you MUST ask that follow-up question.

For example, one of my clients got a note where the director told her at a second callback to be more rhythmic. My client wasn’t sure what this meant, so she said, “more rhythmic, when I raise my voice?” And the director said, “yeah, like bones.” Bones? Luckily, my client asked for further clarification and he said, “Say the lines more rhythmically like bones snapping together.” Oh, ok. Taking that five seconds to receive more clarity meant that she could take a very oddly-worded note and apply it directly to her performance.  

2. Take your space

You'll want to get some distance from the note-giver and take a brief moment to process it. Don’t succumb to the sense of urgency that can sometimes exist in the room. On occasion, the people in the audition room are cranky or impatient—that’s not your problem. Take a minute to think about what the note means to you, how it impacts your perspective of the character or the script. Take a second to get a sense of what you’re going to do. Don’t feel like you have to hurry up and act, especially if that might cause you to do something that is motivated by a sense of panic. This is still your audition. Gather a few seconds to digest the note.

Sometimes you’ll need to gently remind the casting team of your rights as a professional.

When pushed to take a structurally significant note immediately, a phenomenally talented client in my Master Class likes to say this: “You want me to do well. I want to do well. I’m going to take this outside for a few minutes.” Take the time you need. Stand up for yourself! Most reasonable casting or producing professionals will not have a problem with such a request.

3. Make it your own

When your preparation is solid, often the note is only a minor tweak to freshen your "hook." This helps you adopt a new emotional attitude, giving you a renewed perspective on the scene. Even so, you must make the note your own. A note from the casting team is like someone tossing you a hat and saying, “here, put this on.” So put it on. But just like real life, you wouldn’t just plunk a hat on your head and walk around in it willy-nilly without tweaking it a little. You’d bend the brim, cock it upwards, turn it off center, slide it backward or inside out, slice open the lining, or add a pin or a sticker you liked to the outside. You would make it your own before parading all around town in it. You have to let those same instincts rule in this case. Whatever note you get, you have to let it jive with the character you’ve created and “adjust the adjustment” so that it meshes with the world you’ve developed. You have a right to give yourself that freedom.

Remember, the difference between "good" acting and "great" acting is the ability to start every scene emotionally full and lit up. Getting a note from the director does not invalidate the choice you made—in many cases, it’s just the opposite. If you went into the audition with an awesome and bold choice, don’t be rattled if you get a note. Production or casting can always pull you back, and sometimes they will, but they will never pull that awesome and bold choice out of you if you don't have the courage to do it when you walked in.

And while the note you get might sound nonsensical, it’s your job to build a bridge of communication between you and the director, helping this person engage in dialogue with actors. This is so important as it gives everyone in the room a glimpse of how you like to work and shows that you can make adjustments on set.

This article was originally posted on Backstage.

Why The Table Read Is Still An Audition

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Booking any role is not a guarantee that you’re going to keep it. This is one of the melancholy facts of this highly fickle business. I have overheard insecure, stressed-out producers whisper in a corner after a table read, saying things like, You still like her? I didn’t like her voice, did you like her voice? She’s got that weird thing with her eye, did you notice that? I’m not sure if she’s going to be able to nail it…

You have to learn how to survive the table read. Think of the table read as meeting your boyfriend or girlfriend’s family over dinner. Sure, your significant other likes you—at least enough to invite you to this family meal, but you still need to win over his difficult siblings, stern parents and weirdo aunts and uncles (who all have their own baggage, scars, and insecurities).

The table read is often one of the most misunderstood parts of the process for actors. A typical table read involves a group of people—actors, directors, writers, producers—

who have sacrificed their time to sit around a table at a designated location to read through the script. Most table reads are an exercise in wasted time and negligence.

There is typically a table with bagels, muffins, fruit and some other craft service items to the side. I would advise you to eat before you arrive so you’re not hungry. The food is a distraction to your performance. I’ve seen actors walk around and network after the table read with food stuck in their teeth and while I’ve never seen any actor replaced because of this… there’s a first time for everything. 

Unfortunately, the table read begins and ends with everyone’s heads buried in their scripts and not looking nor talking to each other. Thus, the awesome potential of the table read to make a deep connection to the text and to the other actors—to really talk and really listen to them—has been squandered due to negligence, ignorance or both. The greater danger to the actor is that many of them arrive at the table read unsure of how big their performance should be, or how small. Should they seem confident and just “go for it” or should they seem confident and give a more subdued, thrown-away performance? 

Follow these 4 Rules of the Table Read to ensure that you give everyone the ironclad reassurance that yes, you are the best actor for the role and that they have all done their jobs to the highest level of excellence in hiring you. And as a bonus, you get to keep the job you worked so hard to earn. 

1. Up and out!

The technical rules of the table read are exactly the same as the cold read. When talking to another person, get your head up and out of the script and actually talk to them. This by no means suggests that you must force hard eye contact—just keep your head out of the script. The same goes when listening. Don’t break the connection to your partner to see what your next line is, but rather keep your head up and out to listen. During the in-between moments, you can scoop the text off of your page with your eyes.

2. One hand on the text

Hold your script in one hand. Holding any script with two hands forces the acting to be from the neck up. As we live in our whole bodies as human beings, acting should be no less physical. Also, a one-handed grip on the script exudes confidence. It shows you’re familiar with the material, and comfortable with the character—so much so that you can free up an entire hand to help convey your performance.

3. Play yourself

It’s important to tap the gas lightly on any intense acting “choices” you have made so that you’re not entering the table read in gear. You want to be in neutral. We do this so that we don’t lose the element of surprise when we’re on set/on stage. The simple rule is this: Keep a little to yourself. In other words, don’t give away your hand at the table read of the brave and fun choices that you’re ultimately going to do on set. Also, there’s a danger of looking green if you’re the one actor at the table read who is weeping real tears, screaming till hoarse, sweating, drooling, dying etc. It’s still a table read.

You’re not expected to deliver 100% all the time. If you’re the one person killing yourself to reach some awful tragic climax, it could very well work against you. Get into the zone of sadness, heartbreak, fury, vindictiveness, annoyance, lust, dysfunction—but just stick one foot in. Save the rest for when you are on set or on stage. 

4. Be scary real

“Out-real” the other actors. Be so real that the actors you’re speaking with cannot tell that you’re “acting.” That said, this does not mean deliver 100% (see #3 above). Be scary real in the sense that you have fully merged with the character and that no one can see the scaffolding of your craft. So take time to prepare and do whatever it is you do that helps you get into character. Have your hook ready. Do everything that you would do before an audition, so that like a musician, you don’t have to think about where you’re putting your fingers on the keys/ strings of the instrument—the instrument being you.

If you follow these four steps, I guarantee you will keep your job. At worst: If the producers get antsy and anxious, your name will not come up as the one that needs to be replaced. At best: you will be the one where other attendees of the table read say, “that so-and-so was great/so perfect/flawless casting.”

This article was originally posted on Backstage.

Why It's Probably Too Late By The Time It's Casting

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By the time a role is casting, it’s often too late to meaningfully compete. Unless you have a solid pre- and post-game strategy. Once breakdowns are released, a given role has been kicking around with producers for a while, sometimes even years. They’ve already talked at length about who should play the part you’re up for. They may have even made offers to people they know. There are actors who are sent to casting under the category “network/production approved.” Casting might just be a formality, or a measure put in place “just in case” or “to see what else is out there.” You shouldn’t feel defeated by this notion. It just means you need to have a super tight pre- and post-audition game.

Pre-Game

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, it’s possible to book series-lead-level jobs before those roles ever reach a casting office. How? By building career launching relationships with the people who actually cast you: producers, writers, showrunners, and directors. You’ve heard it a million times: this town is all about relationships.

Get to know the people who create projects and forge real friendships. There is a proper way to use those relationships to leverage getting access to early releases of scripts and sides before they ever go to a casting office.

This year, fifteen of my clients booked series leads, series regulars, and leading/supporting roles in major feature films without ever setting foot in a conventional casting office. And, mostly without the help of reps.

Post-Game

Follow up! Don’t reach out after every audition, of course, but only for those roles that are important to you. Touching base on preferred parts with a method in place can give you valuable data and feedback about your audition performance.

Not having a strong post-game strategy is perhaps worse than not have a strong pre-game strategy. Following up with casting or production after important auditions is vital. It’s part of being pleasantly persistent.

A Cautionary Tale

I have a Korean actor client who is with a rep who doesn’t believe in her and thus doesn’t pitch her for major roles. He criticizes her acting and demands she put a lot of things on tape for him to prove herself. The whole professional relationship is off-balance and veering into unhealthy territory.

Your agent and/or manager should not only absolutely trust in you and your work, they should also personally like you! If your reps don’t have faith in your abilities enough to pick up the phone and pitch you hard, then you need new reps. Period. Staying with an agent or manager who lets you languish on their roster without pitching you, is like dating someone who won’t introduce you to their friends. It’s a relationship that isn’t going anywhere.

I worked with this actor and I put her on tape for a major feature film with an award-winning top Korean director. As always, I helped her to reach a booked-role caliber performance and captured it on tape. She was thrilled and loved the finished product.

Two weeks later, the actor came into class, looking somber and unhappy. I asked her about what was wrong and said told me that her rep hated the video—that the acting was “too big,” and they both had concerns given the absence of a response from casting.  

I let her know that her rep shouldn’t be saying things like that to her, as he’s not an acting coach or a director. Sure, everyone has opinions, but most agents and managers know that their opinions about their clients’ work or abilities should be kept private.

I asked the actress what her thoughts on her performance were. She said, “Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I really thought it was totally wrong and totally off, and I didn’t think it was good what we did.”

Even though she was criticizing my work as a coach in front of my class, I wasn’t perturbed. It was clear her dysfunctional agent had influenced her, in combination with the silence from casting about the role.

I reminded her that she loved the work, that it was fun for her and that I wouldn’t have given it my stamp of approval if I hadn’t thought it was her best acting. I prodded her: Was she sure her agent had sent the tape? Did he follow up? Did she?

It turns out that neither the agent nor actress had followed up with casting, which was odd, particularly since my client had recently taken the “Launch Your Career Program” with me and knew how to pitch herself.

I told her that I would personally reach out to the Casting Director to figure out if they had received the self-tape and to get any feedback. With all the craziness of this business, why deride a solid performance if you haven’t even made an attempt to follow up?

I sent a simple but powerfully worded email to the person my client identified as the CD, only to later find out that he was also the writer/director/producer who was helping with the casting for the project. He immediately responded, telling me the actor was one of the top 3 finalists and that she was also his personal favorite submission. He explained that she ultimately wasn’t selected for the part due to something out of her control: her own looks. They were looking for someone who fit a more ethnically Chinese look. He finished the email by saying that as Korean American, he was thrilled to see her perfect Korean language ability on her reel and that he would be interested in working with her on a different upcoming feature project. This was a major audition win for my client but she would have never known about it.

Takeaway

Here’s what this situation helps us all realize:

•    Actors must always believe their instincts.

•    Reps who don’t believe in you will stagnate your career.

•    Stop listening to people who engage in fear-based decision-making.

•    Following up is often as important as the actual audition: get feedback!

•    Pursue relationships with these people before you pitch for roles so you can feel better about checking in on the status of projects you’ve been submitted for.

Inquire about:

            1. Did they get the tape?

            2. Did they have a chance to review it?

            3. Is there anything else they’d like to see?

            4. Do they have any feedback?

It’s too easy to succumb to negativity in this business. Resist the urge to just throw up your hands and say to yourself, “well I guess they hated my performance.” Getting feedback can help you refocus the lens of your work, offering you invaluable clarity.

Now, what do you think the next steps for my client should be?     

Leave her agent. Start pitching herself (properly) for every role she’s right for.

This article was originally posted on Backstage.

How To Win A Series Lead Before It Goes To Casting

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For those of us who have been in the industry for decades, we can recall quite a few transformations. We remember the change from black and white headshots to colored ones, allowing us to create more vivid submissions. We remember how the internet changed the entire casting and submission process. We can recount how digital cameras let us record auditions and email them to the other side of the world. The technological age has forced the entertainment industry to grow with it and we can only reasonably expect that more shifting tides are to come.

Technology has made large and small production companies more nimble and self-sufficient. More jobs that they would traditionally outsource, they’re finding ways to complete on their own because it saves time and money to just have the person down the hall do it. The pendulum is swiftly swinging toward ‘casting’ for many major projects now taking place exclusively in-house within production studios. There’s now a new job title (subject to change) that has emerged from this shift: “Casting Producer.”

This is a win for both actors and reps who know how to use a phone to pitch, as it has created a growing trend toward major film and TV roles now being staked and won exclusively within production companies, before they ever go to a traditional casting office.

This year, fifteen of my clients booked series leads, series regulars, and leading/supporting roles in major feature films without ever setting foot in a conventional casting office. And, mostly without the help of reps.

This has been the slowest year in history for casting directors with regards to them getting jobs. In fact, many of the industry’s biggest casting facilities—places that house multiple casting offices within a single space—are going out of business. While no one wants to celebrate the struggles of any company or field, this does equate a win for actors.

Why? When it comes to actors, so many casting offices have their drawbridges up and moats filled with sharks and eels. They are built to keep actors out, except for the small number that have appointments. They’re less open to cold calls and sometimes downright hostile.

Production companies have lots of people working there with all sorts of jobs, and responsibilities. They’re typically more actor friendly, and it’s easier for actors at the top of their game who know how to sell themselves on the phone to wiggle their way in and build career-launching relationships—with or without reps! At this stage in the game, they’re simply more receptive to the unknown actor who knows how to make a properly worded phone pitch.

These changes bring about an exciting new environment for truly brilliant actors. One in which the traditional rule book of etiquette can be thrown out the window.

Actors who are competing for major film and TV roles are competing at the Olympic level of the industry. It’s simply not enough to be “good.” You must be “great” to win at this level—otherwise you run the very real risk of closing more doors than you open. This means that your pitch strategy for getting your foot in the door must be great as well.

When you’re “great” there are no rules. Just more opportunities for bravery.

What is for you will not go by you.

This holds true with regards to launching a successful acting career, and it also applies to life. This doesn’t mean awesome opportunities will simply fall into your lap. Nor does it mean that some agent or manager will magically bestow a career upon you. It’s your responsibility to learn how to do the heavy lifting to reach out and grab them.

This article was originally posted on Backstage.