Auditions are the lifeblood of an acting career. Without them, you’re just an guy with 500 headshots in the trunk of your car. For my part, commercial auditions made up the bulk of my professional life. There are several locations in the greater L.A. area that house a number of commercial casting directors.
The first rule is NEVER be late. Now the casting director may likely be 30 minutes behind schedule, but it is unwise for you to be lagging behind. Usually finding parking takes longer than the actual audition. Nothing sinks your stomach faster than running late and having to leave your car in a spot where shattered glass sparkles along the curb. I’d feed the meter with as much as I could afford or the meter could take and walk briskly into the building.
In these multi-casting director places I would walk into a large open space with doors lining the perimeter. The rest of the room often resembled a mosh pit, a sea of actors undulating to and fro as everyone shifted their weight from having had to stand so long. There were never enough places to sit and if you had the opportunity you were rewarded with a hard bench and no visibility.
Being able to see what’s happening can be the difference between getting in when it’s your time or getting passed by. Each of the doors lining the perimeter of the room led to a casting director’s suite where the audition takes place. Next to each door is a white-board listing what commercial is being casted. The sign-in sheet is below the white-board. I’d find my white-board, sign in and take a look at the copy (script of the spot). Sometimes I was able to obtain a fax of the spot the night before the audition, but most times I would have to walk in cold. I only knew what part I was up for. For me, it was either “Dad,” “Executive Boss, ” or “Bald Guy.”
At a time of their choosing, a casting assistant would poke his head out of the sacred door and call the next actor’s name. Here is where you can get passed up if you can’t see the assistant. In the cacophony of actors milling and mulling it’s easy not to hear your name called. So for that reason, I almost always stood regardless of space on the bench.
Once inside the sacred casting door, I would hand the casting assistant a photo-resume and head for a red piece of tape usually on wrinkled gray carpet. That was the “mark.” Sometimes another casting assistant sat watching, perhaps reading the other dialogue in the script or sometimes just eating a burrito from Taco Bell. Just as likely I would be there with only one assistant who read the dialogue, operated the camera recording the audition, and directed the actor. From the caliber of some these casting assistants, I used to suspect that their previous job had been making the burritos at Taco Bell.
I would slate (say my name and my agent), turn left and then right (profiles) and begin the scene. Commercial auditions are largely impersonal and quick. Dozens of actors will vie for the coveted role of “Bald Guy” in the next Jack In The Box spot. Perhaps five will be called back to read for the actual casting director and the commercial’s director. Only one gets the job. The spot may be local, regional or the ever-desired national. A national commercial can run up to 21 months, paying the actor residuals all the way.
Some actors are lucky enough the star in a continuing series of commercials. Others are just as lucky by have the “in” look. Ever notice how you will see the same actors in different commercials for about a year? They have the current “in” look. I usually looked a lot like other actors who already had the “in” look and were taking all the jobs I could potential be cast for. It can be a lonely and occasionally depressing life as a journeyman actor driving from audition to audition. Rarely would I leave an initial audition feeling good. Most times I felt like a monkey searching for his organ grinder.
However, when my agent would call and tell me I got a call-back, I would be elated. The call-back was, for my money, the real audition. I loved call-backs because I would sit in a room full of actors that I had seen on TV. This was the level of competition I enjoyed. You’re treated better at call-backs. They don’t try to know your name, mind you, but they don’t look through you as often at this stage. They also give the actor more professional direction than at the burrito-eating assistant level where I was once directed to play the scene as if I was retarded on one take and then as a child molester on the next take. This was for a telephone company commercial where I played a man asking someone directions! What’s up with that?
If this missive seems tinged with bitterness, I apologize. It should read only as being tinged with wry contempt!
I’m just saying…