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Casting Steps in Feature Films: PART 2 (First Audition)


Daniel Radcliffe playing the title role in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

What are the casting steps in feature films?  Finding just the right performer for a role is every casting director’s dream, and it’s always a combination of luck and hard work.  Daniel Radcliffe got a whopping dose of luck followed by hard work.  While at the theater with his parents, Daniel was spotted by producer David Heyman and invited to audition for the title role of Harry Potter.

Most actors, producers and casting directors are not so lucky in instantly matching role to performer, and certainly not for an eight film franchise.  When heaping loads of luck can’t be applied, they rely heavily on the audition process, which officially begins with the first audition.

The First Audition

The first audition happens after the casting director has broken down the script and put out a casting call.  There are two kinds of casting calls:  open and closed or invited.  Likewise, there are two kinds of first auditions for feature films.  Open auditions, especially for adult-aged roles, are often used more to create publicity for a film than to actively cast any parts.  When open casting calls go out for major adult roles, the roles are actually already cast and the film makers simply want to create a huge crowd of people to demonstrate interest in the film and get press coverage.  Anyone can show up and try out at an open audition, so they tend to get a big turn-out.  Open auditions involve long lines, a lot of waiting, and anywhere from hundreds to thousands of acting hopefuls.

Casting steps in feature films: Acting hopefuls wait at an Open Audition.

On the other hand, casting directors are constantly on the lookout for capable child actors.  Acting schools for kids in Los Angeles and around the country are one place to look.  Open casting calls cast an even wider net in the hopes of finding undiscovered, untapped (and often untrained) young talent.  Child roles are not typically cast before the open auditions.  Unlike adult actors, child actors, especially with training and talent, do have a good chance of being actually considered and possibly cast in open roles for a major motion picture by answering an open casting call. Instead, “Closed” or “invited” auditions begin when casting directors alert send casting calls to talent agents and managers who try to match the casting breakdowns to their specific clients.

For feature films, actors need to be ready to perform at least one prepared monologue.  If a lot of people must be considered for that first audition, feature films sometimes only want actors to get their picture taken or state their names in a quick video “slate” to further narrow casting options.  It’s essential to be prepared because that first audition may be no more than the few seconds it takes to state your name to a video camera.  That’s why we stress slating so much in all our acting classes at 3-2-1-, and not just for our newest students.  Also, what and how you wear your clothes and hair, how you enter the room, your attitude when you sign in, are all choices.  In our acting classes for kids, teens and young adults at 3-2-1- Acting Studios in Los Angeles, we teach our students to use these opportunities to make that first, strong impression and show casting they’re right for the part.

If you’re invited to a closed film audition, you likely receive “sides” or a portion of the script the day before your audition and will have spent that time preparing.  Some feature film scripts are heavily sought after and not one page is sent out in advance in an effort to prevent piracy and spoilers.  In that case, you’ll get the sides when you get to the audition, prepare as well as you can in the time you have, and you’ll have to turn the pages in before you leave.

Whether the audition is closed or open, when you walk into the room you might find anywhere from one to a dozen or so people inside.  Sometimes there is only one person, the casting director )or casting subordinate, especially in the case of large or open auditions).   There may be several more support staff, like a camera operator recording the audition, possibly another taking a still shot of each performer, and one or more assistants.  For very large productions, even assistants might have assistants!  Sometimes producers, directors and writers will sit in the audition room as well.  Friends or relatives of any number people in prominent cast positions might also be “sitting in” or visiting.  For a film with musical parts, a dance choreographer or musical director might also be there, possibly with one or more assistants each.

Casting steps in feature films: the more intimate setting of a “closed” or “invited” audition.

No matter how many people are in the room with you when you audition, expect a minimally receptive audience.  The casting director will likely have seen many other actors before it’s your turn, which means anyone in the room is likely to be tired, bored, and even grumpy.  Some might carry on private conversations, take cell phone calls, text, type on their laptops, give their lunch order, or even get up and leave during your audition!

No matter what else is going on, try to stay focused and do your best.  If you were given lines “sides” in advance, the casting director, a casting subordinate, or another actor may run lines to help prompt you as you audition.  The casting director or director may ask you questions or give you direction.  Sometimes no one will say anything at all and you’ll finish your material unsure whether to leave or stay.

You can also expect to make a brief introductions (often only your name).  Someone may ask for your headshot and actor’s resume (if you haven’t turned on in already).  Remember, if you don’t look like your headshot, you need to get a new headshot.  The casting director will say, “Action!”  or they’ll just say, “Go,” or “Start,” or, “anytime.”  That’s when you begin your prepared or provided material.

With so many people in the room, it can be confusing where you should focus your attention when you’re performing.  In general, you perform to the camera.  Looking near the casting director but not directly into the casting director’s eyes is also good.  You can ask where you should look if you’re unsure, especially if you’re not reading with someone or don’t see a camera to look at.

No matter who is in the room, and no matter what they do, how you treat them reflects directly on you.  Be respectful, even if they are not, and do your best to treat the audition seriously without taking it personally.  Keep in mind that everyone in that room wants you to be the right one for the part before you even walk in the door.  If you’re what they want, their search was successful and their work is done!  Whether they show it or not, they’re rooting for you!

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Open Audition image credit

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