There’s no doubt that the entertainment industry would fall apart without casting directors. Their job is to find the perfect actors to bring a film or TV project to life. It requires a lot of patience, attention to detail, and the ability to work with a wide variety of personalities. But it can sometimes be frustrating when actors don’t follow instructions. In this blog, I'll explore some of the most common pet peeves that casting directors encounter during the casting process, and what actors can do to avoid them.
Casting directors work closely with the director and producers to understand the vision for the project and identify the specific traits and characteristics required for each role. They then hold auditions and callbacks, review headshots and resumes, and select the best actors for the producers to consider. It is important to always be professional and timely with your auditions because it is noticed by the casting associates. CDs want to get actors booked and will ask the people they like back into the office. The opposite applies as well, so it’s important to know what not to do in your auditions.
Marie McMaster is one of the leading casting directors in New Mexico and has been working in the industry for nearly 20 years. She started her career as an assistant to Jo Edna Boldin before branching off into her own office. Since then she has cast principal roles in projects like Stranger Things, Better Call Saul, and Big Sky. I had the opportunity to talk to McMaster this week, and she shared some of her pet peeves with me along with common misconceptions people have about casting directors.
One of McMaster’s biggest pet peeves is when actors can’t follow directions on a self-tape audition. Each character breakdown is carefully written with explicit instructions, and when actors can’t follow the basic directions of the audition, they can’t be trusted to work well on set. “I think it’s important to recognize that we are all living in a post-pandemic era, so to err is human,” McMaster said. “If somebody forgets to label their tape correctly it’s not a big deal, we’ll fix it. But if everyone doesn’t label their tapes correctly it gets really annoying.”
Another thing to avoid in an audition with McMaster is the use of props or anything else that could add unnecessary distractions to the scene. Some actors try to make wardrobe choices that fit the character of the scene, but Mcmaster says it usually throws off her attention when she's just trying to focus on your skills as an actor.
Sometimes actors will try to improvise a few lines at the beginning of their self-tape to enhance the “moment before” of the scene, but I wouldn’t recommend this even if you're trying to catch her attention right away. McMaster said she wants people to stick to the script as much as they can, and if they mess up a word or two, it's no big deal. But if they’re rewording everything and adding their own stuff, that makes her think they will be trouble if ever invited to set.
During an audition, most casting directors are looking for actors who can bring the character to life and capture the essence of the role. They want to see actors who have carefully studied the character to understand their motivations and can deliver a performance that is both nuanced and compelling. They also want to see actors who are flexible and can take direction well, as this is an important skill for working on a film set.
“The auditions that stick out to me the most are the ones that are most in the moment and comfortably and confidently in the character,” McMaster said. “So no hesitation. Whatever you’ve planned and rehearsed, you have to let that go before you start reading. Let the scene develop organically and let those emotions surface organically.”
The best thing an actor can do to make a casting director's job easier is to come to the audition prepared and ready to perform. This means having read the script and thought deeply about the character they are auditioning for. It also means sending your self-tapes in early, being respectful to the casting director and other members of the audition team, and being open to direction and feedback. Additionally, it can be helpful for actors to have a professional headshot and resume that is up to date with their experience and skills.
A big misconception people have about casting directors is that they have control over who gets cast in a role. This is not the case since the directors and producers are the ones picking which actors they want to use, while the casting directors are just presenting them with the best options they can find. If you feel like a specific casting director never gives you the chance you think you deserve, it could be that you weren’t very professional in a past audition with them and they don’t consider you to be ready for the level of roles they are casting for. But in most cases, the casting director will always be rooting for you and hoping you do fabulous in your audition.
“I think there's a reason that we are rising above the rest in New Mexico and it’s not only because our talent and our crew are fabulous, but its because we have a kinder way of life,” McMaster said. “We’re more of a community and we’re more supporting of each other, so I think that's important that everyone sticks with that.”
While impressing a casting director can be challenging, following these steps can help actors get on the radar and increase their chances of getting called back for more auditions. By coming to auditions prepared and ready to perform, showing respect and professionalism, and being open to direction and feedback, actors can help casting directors find the perfect actors to bring their clients’ projects to life. Remember that even if you sent a flawless self-tape, you never know what the producers are looking for. The key to success is to continue practicing and training until one day you send an audition that changes everything! By fostering a supportive community and sticking to best practices, actors and casting directors can work together to bring the best performances to the screen.
Daniel Ward is an actor, writer, and contestant finalist of Broadway Bound Live Season 2 and can be contacted on Twitter @wordsofward34 or Instagram @wardledorp