Who are ‘They’? – Audition Myths Debunked! – Featured Article

Catrine McGregor, CSA casting director and founder of ReelGuru, debunks auditioning myths, especially the common phrase “That’s not what they told me.”

I recently taught an auditioning workshop, as I have for years, to some regional actors. After the last workshop I taught, I finally got frustrated at several attendees raising their hands and saying, “That’s not what they told me.”

Mind you, I have been doing what I do – casting and producing – for over 35 years. What I say in my auditioning classes is not radical, outside the box, or out of the norm in any way.  It is pretty standard stuff that anyone worth their salt would put out there to actors as well.

My husband, who does not work in “show biz” but is supportive, has heard my spiel to actors dozens of times. He was fascinated the other day, as we watched YouTube clips of acting coaches and casting directors, giving tips to actors. As Howard Fine, for whom I have tremendous respect – and others – talked, my husband kept saying, over and over, “That’s exactly what you say.” I can’t say that I didn’t feel validated to hear the words spoken that I had often said myself, but in all honesty, there is a universal truth about all of this. No matter what astronomer you talk to, they will tell you that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa. However, based on my experience, I do believe that someone teaching a workshop on astronomy may tell their class that very fact and have someone respond with “That’s not what they say.”

So, my question is: WHO ARE THEY? And what do THEY SAY?

Those of us who are casting directors – that’s right, casting DIRECTORS, and not casting AGENTS – are frustrated when people with virtually no training or experience teach workshops. A fledgling actor will not know the difference if info disseminated by these people is completely wrong – if not fictitious- yet that info can form their very precepts of what our industry consists of.

Here are some of my favorite “they” statements:

  • “Never put the name of the director on your resume.” 
    • The casting director may not like that director, and it will hurt your chances for a callback. Huh? Really?  Someone said that? I find the name of the director far more important than the name of the character. Remember that as casting directors, though, we can greatly influence casting decisions; it is almost always the director who has the final say. So if I see that you have been cast in a film directed by “John Doe,” whose work I greatly respect, I already have the impression that you must know what you are doing. Though this industry may seem overwhelming to you when you start as an actor, it is actually quite small. Rarely do I look at a resume anymore without seeing the name of a director I know, and this is a great springboard for a conversation.
  • “Never be memorized at your auditions unless they specifically tell you to be.”  
    • This came as a response to me telling them that we cannot ask you to be memorized, as that is construed by SAG to be a screen test, and you then need to be paid. I do, however, tell actors that we can’t TELL them to be memorized, but their competition (probably the ones getting the callbacks) will be.
  • “Always dress completely as the character at the auditions.”
    • I’ve cast many doctors in my day, but I can’t remember one of the actors coming to the audition in scrubs and stethoscope around the neck. My favorite tip is to insinuate the character in your choice of dress: Wear what the character would wear to a job interview.
  • “Ask about callbacks at the end of the audition.”
    • It will show that you are proactive about your career. NO! I cannot think of a time when it is appropriate for you to ask about callbacks at a prelim audition – for many reasons:
      • If you do not have a callback, it puts both of us in an awkward position.
      • This is what your agent is for – they serve as the third party.
      • We may not have made a decision yet as to whether or not you are getting a callback.
      • IT IS NOT DONE. Period.

By the way, in most cases, I find that it is people who ask if they have a callback that usually don’t!

  • “Resumes can never be copied onto paper that is anything but white.”
    • Really? That’s news to me – in fact, there are agencies that ask their talent to copy their resumes onto a certain color paper so that the agency can be easily recognized. Obviously, if you are going to copy resumes onto colored paper, make sure that the print is legible.
  • “Never use color headshots – black and white is the industry standard.”
    • This was the case for quite a while. For years, the only time there was an exception to the black and white rule was when an actor had vibrant red hair – which does not read well unless the photo is in color. In today’s world, however, color headshots are the norm.
  • “Always slate, even if no camera is being used.”
    • When you walk into the casting space, if you do not know the casting director, introduce yourself like you would in any other social situation, but not as a formal slate.  When you start your audition, if there is no camera, why on Earth would you stand at attention and slate? We have already been talking to you for a few minutes and are holding your headshot and resume – your name is in front of us.
  • “A comp card works as well as a headshot at a film audition.”
    • No, it doesn’t. It’s not a question of us seeing what you look like, it has to do with presenting yourself.
  • “Never move anything in the casting space.” 
    • When you come into my casting space, you are visiting me on my grounds, but my goal is to make you, the actor, comfortable enough to give you the leeway to give the best audition possible. That includes moving a chair if needed and making minor adjustments. I hope that I don’t have to say that you do not start rearranging the room or ask the casting director or reader to move, but by all means, create the comfortable environment you need to show us what you’ve got.
  • “Always walk in as the character.”
    •  I had an actor walk into callbacks for one of the Crow movies that I was casting. She was playing the part of a mother whose child had died. She walked in hysterical, and said that she didn’t feel capable of standing on a mark in order to slate because she was so emotionally distraught. According to her acting coach (!?), we were supposed to be greatly impressed that she took the role to heart as she did; instead, in their notes, the director had written “PSYCHO” and the producer had written “No way.” We will be spending a lot more time with YOU, the actor, than we will with your character. It’s nice to know who YOU are.
  • “When given an adjustment – just do it.”
    • Don’t ask to be given time to work on it. Casting is not a race. We are not looking for speed, we are looking for a great read – an understanding of the characters and their relationships to each other. When given an adjustment, there is nothing I like less than an actor who just jumps right into their second read without truly processing the adjustment. I would much rather see someone who asks for a couple of minutes, or even the time to leave the room and come back in a while. The only time I have ever said “no” to an actor stepping out of the room to process the adjustment is when it is either the end of the day or we are on our lunch break.

My advice to actors is this: Find out who is teaching the workshop. How much experience do they have? Did you check them out on IMDb? Are they an employee of an agency (bad sign)? Find out what you can before you spend your hard-earned money. I absolutely believe that people should TRAIN, but train with someone who can TEACH. Ask around – word of mouth is often the best source of legitimate information.

Based on the inane comments I’ve heard in auditioning workshops, here are some “they” comments you can take to your next cooking class:

  • The best place to grill a steak is directly on your electric stove burner.
  • In order to preserve milk, add lemon juice.
  • For each cup of spaghetti sauce being made, add two cups of wine and drink one.

Actually, that last bit of advice sounds good. When you take that cooking class, don’t give them the source for the above tips.
If you do want to take a good auditioning class, you are safe with me.

– Catrine McGregor

For more on acting from Catrine, check out her book Acting Across America!

Catrine has cast well over 400 projects, including films, TV, IMAX, commercials, webseries and video games. She is a member of the prestigious CSA (Casting Society of America). During her forty year career in the film industry, Catrine has worked extensively all over the US as well as Europe and Africa. She prides herself in discovering and developing new talent, and has done so with many people that you see every day in films and on TV.

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Last modified: August 27, 2017

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