Thursday, May 16, 2013

CAN THE CASTING OFFICE TEST YOUR CONCENTRATION?!

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Whenever I’m casting a movie and working with actors I marvel at their sheer concentration. To be able to create a believable character and a “world” around you in a small audition room is always a miracle to me.



When I get hired on a television show or a movie, the production usually has me move in to their offices so that I’m close to the creative team for auditions. It’s often a game of Russian roulette to see if I get the “cool” office space or the crap one. I’ve had some very, shall we say “interesting”, experiences along the way and it’s brought me to share this story as I witnessed actors trying to stay in character through some difficult circumstances at our casting offices.



The last film I cast had a very cool-looking office space. It had been completely redone to look very architectural and quasi industrial. My office was very long and narrow, very hip looking. BUT, one entire wall was floor to ceiling windows, which looked onto, you guessed it, the waiting room. It was like working in a fishbowl. All the actors waiting to audition could look into my office and watch the auditions. Not cool. Immediately we fashioned a “screen” with a sheet that also served as a backdrop for our filming. One problem solved.



Turns out the walls were paper-thin so that when you’re in my office auditioning, you could hear another actor in the next room auditioning with my casting associate Michelle. Again, not cool. There were actually times when they would sync up and would be reading the lines at the same time in two separate rooms. If you’re not prepared and “in your character” and able to shut out all the elements you could be very tripped up by this.



Because this office didn’t have much in the way of natural light, we had to use our professional lights – which are seriously HOT! They didn’t have central air-conditioning - which is usually whisper quiet. There was a built-in wall unit that was very effective, which we had to turn off during the auditions so that we’d get great sound. This resulted in making my office feel a lot like Suzy’s Easy-Bake Oven. Remember those? It’d be freezing cold in the waiting room and we’d have sweat streaming down our faces and would be peeling off our clothes as the day went by.



Just when you think we’ve solved enough problems, in the week that we were doing the final casting where we had our director piped in thru my laptop to direct on Skype from London, they decided to put in a new roof and a new air-conditioning unit on said roof. Banging, drilling, pounding, hot mopping with tar, toxic fumes….you get the picture. And yet, it’s your “time to shine”! It’s your audition. Again, I was amazed at how most of the actors who came in just went with the flow, planted their feet and gave some truly incredible performances in spite of all these problems.



The more I thought about it, the more I realized this was great preparation for when you actually get on set. If you think that once you’re on set, everything will be easier and you can relax, then you haven’t really experienced the full spectrum of what can go wrong while you’re shooting.



Several years ago I cast and associate produced a film staring Cary Elwes and Alicia Silverstone called “The Crush”. We were night-shooting a particular scene where Elwes’ character drove Silverstone’s character up to a lookout point. We had chosen a truly gorgeous lookout point by the bay in Vancouver. Both of them were dressed to the nines because they were coming from a dressy party in the scene. That night, of course, it starts pouring and it’s about 40 degrees outside. Then the fog roles in. Because we had to get our shot, we forged ahead. Then the foghorn starts blowing every five minutes. We call the Sherriff, and the Sea Patrol to get them to turn it off…”We’re shooting a movie here!” we protested. They just looked at us like we were crazy people. “The fog horn is so that anyone out at sea will avoid hitting the light house!!”



So, we did what any smart film company would do. We held umbrellas over their heads and had them do as many lines as they could in between the 5-minute timing of the blaring foghorn. They were shivering, eating ice so that we wouldn’t see their breath, and trying to stay in their character. If that wasn’t a test of their concentration, I don’t know what was!



You’ve got to be able to “bring it” in any given situation and not get caught up in all the external things that you can’t control.

I'd love to hear your stories about concentration (and distraction) in the audition space and on-set. It's always good to share with the community.

Glad you're here!

Marci

8 comments:

  1. I think this is one of the great things about actors who have a theater background--all that "fourth wall" experience can really make all the difference in filtering out what's going on outside your scene. Thanks, as always, for a great post!

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  2. My son, Carsen went in for a short film with a good team behind it and the facility itself was fine but, when they called for him they asked me to come in too. Now, I’ve been asked in the room after the audition many times but never before the audition. Fortunately I knew, me being in the room made no difference to Carsen. However, in the middle of the scene a truck on the other side of the outside wall, started to back up with that terribly loud beeping sound. Like you said Marci, Carsen went on without missing a beat. After the scene the Director said that he was impressed with Carsen’s performance and was surprised at how that beeping didn’t bother Carsen. BUT it did bother the Director he wanted to re-do the scene so, he could hear Carsen better. And YES.. it is always awkward when you can hear the actors auditioning through the wall. Enjoyed your post! Gave us more insight to the behind the scenes!

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    1. Thanks for sharing. I wonder why the director asked for you to be in the audition? I'll bet it was great to see him in his element and so focused!

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  3. Thanks for the post Marci! My acting teacher will often tell us to try practicing our lines at a busy train station to help us focus...especially when the trains are approaching. lol! I've tried it many times while taking the train into NY. It works! Again, thanks for the post!

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  4. Hi Marci, I have a bit of an embarrassing question and thought you'd be the best person to ask.
    Does the actor get any other information on their character apart from the script? I was reading the script of 'Silver linings playbook' (which I haven't seen yet) and trying to act it out. It proved difficult as it had little information on the character I was portraying (Bradley Coopers character, Pat.) It didn't give me any idea of what mental health condition he had which is a big part of the story, so this leads me to believe does the director or something give them another form of writing about the character? I'm usually good with scripts but this one made me completely lost. So what I was wondering is do actors get sent things before the script like brief descriptions e.g 'You're characters name is Sarah she works as chef with an anger problem her husband left her now she's on the road to recovery' or a summery, or other material? Thank you from a bewildered teenager :)

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    1. Thanks for your question Anonymous. I'm guessing you're just starting out because you aren't aware of the Breakdown that we send out to all the agencies and managers. The Breakdown (thru Actors Access) provides a thumbnail description of each character and the synopsis of the screenplay. We want you to read the script and come in with YOUR interpretation of the character, given all the info we've put out there. When you come in and read for the Casting Director (and their team) you can ask whatever intelligent questions you want.

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  5. Hello everyone,

    Very interesting to read about focusing in any circumstances:)
    I had once an audition at 10 Am, i was there at 9h45 of course but there was a problem, guess who was late?...the casting director's assitant...so i had to wait in a room 20 minutes, and it starts to get tricky as other actors start to ring at the door, and the casting director starting to have a little fight about how unprofessionnal it is to be late...etc, they kept saying "we are so sorry you had to wait for us, poor actor, look at him..." but i was ok in fact, i was saying my lines in my head, breathing, making my voice and muscles relaxed.
    I did not get the part at the end, but what ever happens in that room, nothing can touch the actor, but it can touch the character and can help to bring something specific than other actors i think:)
    Thanks everyone and keep dreaming high because we love cinemaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!

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  6. I really enjoyed reading this article. you lot of great work in the community. with the need for the districts to have website and clubs too must have a website.

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