The incredibly talented and knowledgeable casting director Vicki Goggin joined us for our October seminar to share some of her wisdom with us. Let’s see what she had to say.
1. There are a lot of myths out there. Don’t believe them.
“They” will tell you a lot of things. But what do “they” really know, anyway. Whether it’s “smiling isn’t in this year” or “always have a picture of yourself playing tennis”, “they” might not know what “they” are saying. So don’t believe the myths!
2. It’s so easy to put a reel together these days, you might as well have one.
You might have editing software on your computer, or you likely know someone else who does and can edit a reel together for you for relatively cheap. And if you don’t have any footage yet, just shoot something yourself and use that. Just get yourself on camera.
3. Your personality is more important than the lines.
Knowing your lines in an audition is important, but not as important as showcasing your personality. In commercial casting, the audition is nothing more than a vehicle for your personality. Don’t try to play a “character”, just be yourself. You’ll be amazed at the difference that makes.
4. Every line in a commercial is the answer to a question.
The dialogue in commercials don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part of a much bigger conversation. A good trick to help this shine through is to ask yourself the question that came before the line. That way you have a reason to say it. So if your line is, “This soup is delicious!”, maybe you are answering the question, “How does that soup taste?”
5. 3 Second Rule: After your last punctuation mark or word, stay in the moment
Just like you do in real life. While using a button at the end of a scene might not be the best idea, it’s a great idea to stay in the moment, even when you’re done saying your dialogue. You might find a moment that the director hadn’t thought of, and you will definitely be able to share even more of your personality.
QUESTION: How do you not self-sabotage your own auditions? I always feel like I do a better performance en route to the audition than I did at the audition, self-critiquing my performance all the way home!
ACTORS: This may be one of the hardest challenges to overcome, at least it has been for me. There have been times when I truly felt I did an Academy worthy performance en route to the audition, real tears and all, and on the way home, felt worthless for not getting even close to my car version!
If you haven’t read my blog, “Desperation Caught on Tape,” check it out: http://blog.castingnetworks.com/8363 “What you bring to the table depends on what you are hungry for; If you are starving for attention and recognition, guess what, that’s caught on tape, if you are full of love and light with an appetite for life, well, that’s what shines through.”
I had a friend who was a regular on the TV show Baywatch. She was beautiful, could act, was married and had a brand new baby. I believed she had it all… but she didn’t, because if she did she wouldn’t have sabotaged every audition by telling herself before she stepped foot into that audition room, that she wasn’t going to get a callback, as if preparing herself in advance, so she wouldn’t have to face the truth later. Guess what, she got exactly what she believed she was getting… no callback.
I believe we sabotage so much in life that doesn’t feel comfortable to us on the outside, simply because we are not comfortable inside with who we are and why we are here; whether that be a relationship, job or an audition. Just look at the media, they’d rather shine a light on darkness, highlighting all what’s wrong with society and relationships than put a spotlight on the good that gives one hope and inspiration.
When you walk into that casting room the casting director is rooting for you, the real you, that’s why you often hear, “be real,” they don’t want to see the striped down insecure, fearful version of you.
How you walk into an audition makes all the difference in the world. One of my all time favorite auditions caught on tape is Rachel McAdams reading with Ryan Gosling for The Notebook.
Yes, she is adorable, but she is also real and confident; not at all showing her hunger to get the part.
Even is she was nervous on the outside, which I can’t imagine she wasn’t, inside she had the strength to trust all of her hard work would pay off and it surely did… the rest is history. Bravo Rachel McAdams!
We have no idea going in what the producers or writers are really looking for, so why not believe they are looking for you? I don’t believe in playing it safe, that’s what the majority do; take a chance, a calculated risk to be different, instead of trying to figure out what you think they want? That’s a waste of time, use your time to prepare wisely.
Then on your drive home, instead of self-sabotaging, self-indulge! Buy a chocolate shake or a brand new pair of shoes, or walk along the beach, knowing you came from a place of truth and authenticity not a place of trying to get somewhere, like crying a bucket of tears.
What you will bring to the table, especially this Thanksgiving, will be conversations filled with love and peace, an appetite for life with plenty of left over gratitude!
DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR KAREN? SHE WOULD LOVE TO SHARE IT IN HER NEXT BLOG!
The zen teachings advise us to cultivate “beginner’s mind”, because it is the open, flexible, teachable state that is humility’s gift to growth. It’s also a dandy way to keep you in the moment, which is something every performer wants to do.
Recently, I began taking ukulele lessons, and became a newcomer all over again. It’s been challenging, exhilarating, and frustrating by turn, but I am learning a lot, and (I suspect) about a lot more than just how to play the ukulele. Here are some of my fresh-from-the-beginning takeaways that you may be able to apply to your work as an actor—or to any new hobby or endeavor you might feel like picking up.
1. Practice, practice, practice. The ukulele is a far less demanding instrument than the guitar, which I’ve tried and failed at learning beyond hacker-beginner level many times. A uke only has four strings! And a tiny neck! And—hallelujah!—open tuning! But just because it’s easier than something else doesn’t mean it’s easy, period. There are still chords to learn, finger positions to get familiar with, and, for those of us who gave up on guitar, callouses to build up. I’ve never met a teacher who doesn’t suggest that practice as the #1 thing that will turn you into a better player. And this one doesn’t ask too much of us: just 20 minutes per day! The trick is to do it every day. Because if you miss one day, it’s easy to miss two, and once you’ve missed two, you’re halfway out the door. But don’t just practice; instead…
2. Practice what you suck at. Look, I get that you don’t like to look bad. Or feel bad about your abilities, even alone, in the privacy of your own home. But as our teacher reminded us, no one ever got truly good at something by practicing what they’re good at. Do that and you will end up like me: able to play “Chopsticks” very, very well—and that’s it. Seriously: two years of piano lessons as a kid, plus two more as an adult, and that is my complete repertoire. What I’m trying to do now is devote 2/3 of practice time to what I’m bad at or find boring: fingering on the fretboard and strumming patterns, both of which feel like math problems to me. For the last 1/3, I reward myself by playing a simple song I can sing along to.
3. Add to your toolkit what YOU are most interested in. There may be some skills you need to learn that are just not fun in any way, but that are required of you as an actor. But if you’re going to stick with acting and get good enough at it to work consistently, you’re going to have to spend some of your time cultivating new skills. Try to find ones that actually interest you at least some of the time. For ukulele class, the teacher had us (a) talk about what we wanted to get out of the class, and (b) email him lists of songs we wanted to learn. Because if we can identify what it is that got us excited about the prospect of learning this instrument, and throw in a few songs that we really want to play, we stand a far better chance of staying motivated enough to learn. (For the record, the one song I asked for was “Tonight You Belong to Me,” an old duet Steve Martin & Bernadette Peters did in one of my all-time favorite movies, The Jerk. (Look for a video link in a future column—you heard it here first!)
What actor endeavors could you improve by applying “beginner’s mind”? Is there anything that you know would make you a stronger actor, but that you’re avoiding practicing on the regular? Which skills could you add to your own actor’s toolkit that might be fun to learn as well as useful to have?
BOOK(s) OF THE MONTH: By the time you read this, the 2016 U.S. presidential election will be imminent or over. (And boy, I cannot WAIT to get this one behind us!) Whatever the outcome, I am going to make the rare recommendation for a semi-political (because of context), definitely culturally-anthropological (if that’s even a word) memoir: Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. Subtitled “A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis”, it tells the story of a boy from Kentucky-Appalachian stock who made it up and out of “the holler”, ultimately becoming a real J.D., i.e. juris doctor, as an adult. It is a compulsively readable story that gives good insight into a slice of America not all of us are familiar with. And for actors, there are some truly brilliant characters to study, including the matriarch of the author’s family, J.D.’s grandmother, known as “Mamaw.”
When it comes to advancing a career, dependability rules. All things being equal—talent, for example, and suitability for the role at hand—when people know they can count on you, it goes a long way toward removing the “no,” to borrow a line from our friends in sales. So how, exactly, do you add “dependable” to your skill set?
Here are a few of the steps that have helped make me the person people feel they can rely on.
1. Deliberately build dependability muscles on your own.
Just like your voice, flexibility, and physical fitness, becoming a dependable person is something that we have to work on every day. If you don’t feel that’s the case and you’re known as a pretty reliable person, I’m guessing that you grew up in a household that modeled and instilled the reliability, duty, and diligence that is now such a part of you, you don’t even see it. Me? I grew up in a home where we learned very, very early how to fake it. So I’m good at the short run, but poop out when it comes to sustaining good behavior—which is essentially what dependability is.
If you’re more like me than those sturdy, reliable types, I humbly suggest you get yourself a thing-a-day project and some support, either real-life or virtual—or better yet, both.
Recently, I finished a year-long project where I lettered one “sign” a day—some thought, quote, or idea that appeared before me in response to a silent question, or even a question I didn’t know I was asking. For 365 days,* I showed up whether I wanted to or not, and posted a drawing to social media. I did it only to hold myself accountable (and to build some lettering skillz), but to my surprise, somewhere around the halfway mark, people started telling me how they’d come to depend on these little signs showing up in their feed every day.
*It ended up being 375 days, as I missed too many to make up in time. Guess what? NOBODY CARED AND THE WORLD DID NOT END. People still thought it was a remarkable achievement. More importantly, so did I.
2. Reverse engineer the day/drive/gig/etc.
Part of being dependable is building in enough time to actually get done the work you’ve committed to. And this includes accounting for the time required by regular human maintenance—eating, sleeping, and so forth. I am a chronic underestimator of how much time it will take to get from A to B (or deliver something from me to C).
I’ve gotten better at building in enough time by starting at the result I want and working backwards. For things I really need to get to, I first mark my calendar with the appointment time. Then I calculate the time it will take to transport myself there like a sane, rational person living in the world with other people—a lot of them, usually—who are also trying to get somewhere, and I put that time in the calendar. Then I calculate the time it will take to prepare myself for walking out the door and either add this to my calendar, or write it on my to-do list for the day.
For some people, this might be overkill. For me, it’s been a lifesaver. Even more calming than a to-do list is a to-do list with actual, actionable instructions.
3. Own your mistakes.
Whether I like it or not, I learn my greatest lessons by falling on my ass or my face. That mortifying time early on in my acting career when I missed an entrance because I was chatting up a producer backstage? It taught me the necessity of focus, even if I risked looking nerdy or uncool. That time I missed an urgent, last-minute request to show up on set before the previous night’s call time because I turned off my electronic notification device, a.k.a. pager? Taught me to never, ever turn off my electronic notification device once I’d booked a job. Or between jobs. Or, like, ever, unless absolutely necessary.
You’re going to make plenty of mistakes; it’s an inevitable part of life. The best way out is not to deny or defend in some (usually vain) hope of salvaging what you think you might have lost. It’s to own it, make it right if you can, and change what you do moving forward.
There are no short cuts to reliability; by definition, it’s something that’s won over time. But by doing a little every day, anticipating what you can, and making right what you blew, you can become the bastion of dependability we’d all love to rely on.
While everyone remembers the headlines hailing Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger as the heroic pilot behind the Miracle on the Hudson, Clint Eastwood’s new film Sully, based on the book Highest Duty, written by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow, takes a closer look at the man behind the miracle. Tom Hanks is stellar as always in the title role, while Eastwood’s pacing and attention to detail make the film considerably more dramatic and tense than you might imagine it to be—particularly during the scenes that take place during the aftermath of the accident. While it is unlikely to garner too much awards-season attention, Sully is a taut and engaging drama that is sure to please audiences all over.
Lessons from halfway through
Over the almost-10 years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve accomplished several outward-facing creative projects: a two-person show with four actors (and music! and dance!), a massive crowdfunding project for a local non-profit, and a series of 21, 30, and 100-day projects. What I’ve not done is a lot of documenting of them along the way, so at just over the midpoint of a yearlong thing-a-day project, I thought I’d step back and share what I’ve learned thus far. Hopefully, it will serve some purpose for creating, adjusting, or surviving your own long-term project, regardless of what form yours takes.
1. The perfect is the enemy of the good. This applies across the board, from inception through execution. I have finessed to the point of exhaustion ideas for scripts, books, classes I could teach, and pretty much any other writerly thing one can generate; inevitably, either someone beat me to shipping—or worse, I wore out my own interest in it. If you wait for perfect, you’ll be waiting forever, when you could be learning and growing by actually making something. So yes, a little noodling and meandering is fine, but then commit, and adapt as you go.read more
The first film that Michael Showalter has directed in over a decade, which stars Sally Field as the eccentric title character, is an incredibly sweet and funny take on an older woman who finds herself in love with her younger coworker. Showalter, who is well known for collaborating with David Wain as an actor and a writer (Wet Hot American Summer, MTV’s The State), proves that he has real chops behind the camera, as well. And Sally Field turns in her best performance in years.read more
Now and then, people will reach out on Twitter to point out a role breakdown they feel doesn’t belong on our site, one which personally offends them. It can range from looking for “real life hot homeless dudes” to “super hot girl next door who will be in her bra the entire movie.” Blech. I get it. Some project notices are a bummer. You can feel angry for even having had to read it. I’ve gotten plenty of these too and rolled my eyes so hard I gave myself a headache. Even in reputable projects that have the potential to pay a lot of money, my role usually contains the phrases “character faces please!” or “not too attractive!” Or chew on this: you know how they sometimes bring in real couples for commercial auditions? I wasn’t called back to play my actual, real life boyfriend’s girlfriend. In fact, he booked it. A woman who wasn’t me was cast as his girlfriend instead. Oh. My. God. So yeah, the industry is not an ideal world; it’s full of unrealistic beauty standards, sexist attitudes, and less than tasteful projects.
Every casting site out there has this problem because we are the medium. We are the messenger. We are a software company working to create an accessible, technology-driven platform to connect casting directors, agents, independent filmmakers, and actors. Each casting site is trying to do it better than the other and part and parcel with that is creating the space for as many opportunities for our users as possible. To enter into project approval/disapproval from a subjective standpoint of taste would be to offer less opportunity.
Commercials are funny things. The commercial audition is even funnier. Not to say that I don’t take the process very seriously. I do. And you should, too. But we aren’t curing cancer. Often times (certainly in the last few years) commercial auditions call on your comedy skills, ask you to be silly, improvise, or simply to have barrels of fun. Because if you are having fun, we, the audience, likely are too. However, comedic or not, the commercial audition can be a minefield, occasionally leaving an actor to feel embarrassed or bad about their performance as they leave. Sometimes you should feel that way and other times you shouldn’t . . .
Commercial actors should never feel embarrassed about an audition when they shouldn’t be.read more
JayR is a young Aussie actor, with a unique edge. Originally from a small town in Queensland, moved to Sydney to pursue his career. After training at NIDA, JayR booked his first jobs with commercials, short films and guest appearances on popular Australian series. His first big role was in the controversial independent film ‘Drown’ . Drown went on to win numerous awards around the world.
JayR has recently returned from LA where he met with some of the industry’s biggest casting directors. He was then signed and recently wrapped on the 4th season of a critically acclaimed Aussie drama, which will be released early 2016.
Who would you like to have coffee with and why?
Wow, I think it would have to be Quentin Tarantino! I’m obsessed with everything he does and it has always been a dream of mine to work with him. Not only is he ‘one in a million’ when it comes to the movie world, but he also stays true to himself and is not shy of ruffling some feathers, which i’m all about! Also there would be a little vodka in that coffee, chances of him casting me in one of his films goes up?
What has been your biggest WOW moment?
There has actually been a few in the last couple of years, but definitely the biggest stand out would have to be when I was traveling in New York City and I decided to take a class with a few CD’s there. Afterwards, I was called in by one of the CD”s to audition for ‘Penny Dreadful’. I was beside myself and couldn’t believe that I was going to be considered for a role on one of America’s highest rating shows. It was a month of call backs and it got down to the last 3, however it wasn’t my time and missed out. Nevertheless it was an amazing time in my life and I was constantly pinching myself and grateful to even be seen for it.