Auditioning in Los Angeles04.20.19
I thought I might write a little about what it’s like to audition (for me) as an actor in Los Angeles.
L.A. vs New York
Casting off of Tape
Self Submissions (via Manager/Agent)
Co-stars, Guest Stars, etc.
Non-L.A. / NYC markets
L.A. vs. New York
Prior to moving to L.A., I lived in New York City, and the audition process there — largely, was completely different. The biggest difference for me is that when I would go into a room, there seemed to just be much more chit chat before the actual audition. The sign in process was the same, but you get into the room, and there was just some social niceties which could go on for a bit before the actual audition would start. In L.A., my typical experience is you get called in and it’s some combination of, “Any questions?” or “Ready?” and then you go. Sometimes there’s chit chat — but that’s typically, for me, if I happen to know them well or have been in multiple times. In New York, that was par for the course even for casting directors that I didn’t know.
Almost to reinforce this, I met with a casting director out in L.A. who normally casts out of New York. I got into the room and it was the same New York process! I got in — I actually was completely ready to go, and she wanted to just chat. Asked about my resume, projects I worked on, etc. Very comfortable. Now, I’m sure some L.A. casting directors do this but again, in my experience — even with casting that doesn’t know me or is meeting me for the first time — it’s just straight into the audition.
The one thing from an acting perspective though is I really had to learn how to be ready at a moment’s notice. It took me a little bit of time once I got to L.A. to both figure this out and also get better at auditions, frankly. I think part of the New York style is because it’s a theater town and there’s less of a “be ready at a moment’s notice” with theater (there’s rehearsal, etc.) whereas maybe here in L.A. with TV/film — it’s like, you gotta be able to roll anytime, anywhere.
The core of any casting room is typically the same, there’s a door, a sign-in sheet near the door, probably an assistant/associate at a desk, and then a room or two — one of which is the room in which your audition will take place. Sometimes they’re on a studio lot, sometimes it’s in a building with security, sometimes it’s in a random building, often it’s in a building where another casting office works (the Samsung building on Wilshire has a ton of casting offices).
One thing that I’ve found useful is that certain offices have the waiting area so close to the actual room where you’re going to have your audition that you can hear the other actors when they audition. I personally prefer not to hear other folks audition, so I’ll try and position myself in an area so I can’t hear them or can’t hear them that well. Often that’s not possible, but sometimes there’s a nearby hallway I can wait in.
The vast majority of offices that I go into run close to on-time. I would say I typically wait between 0-15 minutes from when I arrive (regardless of my actual audition time). A non-trivial amount of times, I have arrived at an office and before I have even signed in, casting has come out and told me that I can come in whenever I’m ready. A very small percentage of the time casting is running extremely late (e.g. a wait of >40 minutes).
You know when you see a TV show that dramatizes a casting waiting room that’s just full of actors? I almost never see that. Sometimes. But it’s rare. Usually there are 3-5 other people there (often for my part, but not always), but rare for it to be full. (When I went out for commercials, it was routine that there would be dozens of actors and a huge wait time, but that was for commercials).
Certain casting offices, I think, make it a point to not schedule actors auditioning for the same role at the same time — so this way when you get to the office, you’re not seeing all the people you’re competing with. I love that, but that’s unusual.
The room itself varies. Sometimes it’s just the casting director. Sometimes it’s the CD and an associate runs camera. I’ve had a CD run camera and run lines simultaneously. It was incredible — she literally ran camera, said her lines (she had them down cold) and watched the viewfinder to check my performance.
Some offices have quite a bit of staff; most offices I go to — even if they have other staff, it’s often just the casting director. Obviously for certain roles / projects — there might be producers (or directors) there. That’s rare for me though. Especially for TV, it’s a tape and then you get the offer. No call back. There are a few shows where there seems to be multiple steps — casting and then call back w/producers — but at least for me, that’s pretty rare nowadays. Usually when there are multiple steps, it’s for a pilot.
Casting off of Tape
I’ve been cast off of tape many times. There are some offices (not in L.A.) that have called me in multiple times and either have called me in for multiple TV shows or even hired me for something — and I’ve never met them. I’ve only sent in tapes. Someone I know who works with actors has a client who lives in, San Antonio I think, and works pretty frequently — and only sends in auditions via tape.
I do think you probably have to get to a certain stage / have a certain resume for people to feel comfortable asking for tapes / accepting tapes — it’s obviously a no-brainer for me to send a tape if it’s an L.A. office, but on occasion, if I happen to have some sort of conflict and can’t go in person for an L.A. office, I’ll send a tape in. I think some offices like to see you in person though, so I’ll try and make it if I can.
One casting director I know mentioned that she had only hired, maybe twice in her entire career, someone off of a tape that she hadn’t met before, so she strongly recommends people go in in person if they can. So there’s that data point.
That being said, some offices on the instructions explicitly list out taping instructions if you can’t make it in person — but that’s definitely in the minority for now.
Self Submissions (via Manager/Agent)
Obviously there are lots of (famous) examples of actors who got a part by finding the sides, making a tape, and getting in the process that way. I’ve done this and gotten traction this way. Sometimes it’ll get me into the process — for example, I’ll make it a tape, my manager will send it in, and then I’ll be brought into the next stage (e.g. if this was for a pilot, I’ll then be brought to producers; though occasionally they’ll see the tape and then bring me in for the pre-read). Sometimes they’ll send the tape in and then casting will follow-up with some logistical question (e.g. where am I located, etc.)
There was one office that asked not to submit a tape this way and obviously my manager and I noted that for future reference — but that only happened once. Many offices seem pretty receptive to it. Most of the time, though, frankly, there’s no response.
Co-stars, Guest Stars, etc.
I get seen for a pretty wide range of roles. Everything from small co-stars (e.g. 1 or 2 lines) to lead roles in films / series regular roles for TV shows. The mix has changed over time — I used to get seen for many more small co-stars and less for the larger roles, whereas now, it’s getting rarer for me to be seen for the smaller roles.
I should note — I’m totally happy to do the smaller roles and I know my manager still submits me for them. I’m not sure if casting has just decided not to call me in for them or what, but I love working and sometimes those smaller roles have the chance to turn into recurring roles, which is really what I’m shooting for. I’ve had this happen for numerous friends. Ideally, a small role is just big enough that I can use it as stand alone footage or for my reel, but even if not, I’ll still do it for my resume / the experience.
I have some friends who think of acting as some sort of ladder and I’ll hear the phrase of, “I told my manager/agent not to send me out for co-stars anymore.” These seem to be the same people who make a distinction that they booked a “Recurring Guest Star” vs. a “Recurring Co-Star” and the like. I don’t know. My parents don’t know what any of this means. They just would know that I’m on TV. It’s sort of like when you’re working for a company and you worry if you’re like, Sales Associate I or Sales Associate II. No one cares. I think work begets work and that tiny one-line co-star might turn into a multi-episode arc. Who knows?
There honestly doesn’t seem to be a huge rhyme or reason around what I get seen for. Obviously there is some sort of at least mild correlation. As my resume and reel has gotten stronger I get seen for bigger stuff. But that being said, there are offices that see me for a one-line co-star, then for a series regular. There are offices that have seen me for 6 small co-stars so I think that office only sees me for small co-stars, and then they see me for a big feature. There are offices that seen me for a small co-star, a huge role, then a small co-star again. There are offices that have only called me in for huge projects. There are offices that the first time they called me in was for a series regular for a TV show. There are offices that have never called me in (fewer over time, but still, there are some great offices that I’d love to be called in for that have never called me in).
Diversity has definitely affected what I’ve been seen for. Some of this is hard to sort because obviously where I am in my career has changed over time as well, but when I first moved out to L.A. (around 2008) — I was far more likely to be seen for something more stereotypical. (e.g. a Chinese delivery man) Not super frequently though, but frankly, I didn’t get that many auditions then. At the minimum, I was more likely to be seen for a role where the other people competing for the role were other Asians. (I will say, and I think I’ve only been seen for a Chinese delivery man 2 or 3 times, but I’d love to play that part! I don’t know. When I get Chinese food delivered, it’s a Chinese person who delivers it. I can do that!)
BUT, this wasn’t terribly frequent for me. As an example, a more typical audition might be I would arrive and there would be 4 other people in the room — two white guys, an African-American, a Latino, and me. Whereas if I went into a room where it was all Asian-Americans, all the Asian-American actors would seem to know each other whereas I wouldn’t know any of them. It just seemed like they would all get called in for the same roles and I was less likely to be called in for those types of roles.
I think the assumption is is that most of the roles for someone of Asian descent would be something stereotypical (e.g. a doctor, lawyer, etc.) — but frankly, I try and get in for those roles and often can’t! I have played a doctor once (though that was basically an offer) and I often get auditions to play a cop, but that’s because I played a cop once and that footage frequently gets me an audition!
I have certainly seen bigger and better roles where they’re specifically looking for someone of Asian descent being made available — whereas when I first moved out here, that was super rare. It’s still not terribly frequent, but there is a level of frequency to it. Some offices are also pretty aggressive about seeing a diverse crowd for roles where no ethnicity is specified — which is great.
Nearly all the auditions (and even the process) follow almost the same path. A few have minor differences (e.g. some offices still “pin” but the vast majority of my offers have come w/out a pin).
I’ve had a Skype audition once — not super unusual, but basically the director wanted to straight offer me (no prior audition; he had seen something I was in), his producers weren’t sure, the director called me up, explained the situation (in a very nice way), and worked with me right there on my audition, taped it over Skype — and I got an offer a few days later.
The Christopher Guest movie that I did was a little unusual in the sense that there weren’t any sides. The audition (just with casting) was we would be asked three questions (not given in advance), we’d have to hear the question, take a moment, then respond direct to camera. The stage after that was a meeting (about 20 minutes) w/Chris.
I’ve had callbacks with producers/directors — usually there’s no additional interaction (i.e. they’re not adjusting your performance, etc.) — but when I was called back for a Jay Roach project, he directed me like I was on set.
Occasionally casting will email my manager for a tape — it’s not through eco-cast or anything like that — most of the time they’ve seen me before, but sometimes they haven’t. But it feels less like, “We’re seeing 20 people for this!” and more like, “Hey — I thought of Nelson for this role. Can you take a look and send us a tape?” That’s always nice.
Non-L.A. / NYC markets
Very rarely, I’ll get an audition for a project (a real project) — that’s from a non-L.A. or NYC office. I don’t know, Buffalo. Pittsburgh. No appointment. Just a tape request. I have some actor friends who have local representation in a regional market (usually Atlanta, one for Portland) — and they’ll get auditions for shows that shoot there. These are shows we all watch — but to save money, they’ll have local casting cast some of the smaller parts. Smaller is relative though as these are everything from small co-stars to real guest stars. They’re just casting local. I think all the Chicago PD / Chicago Med / etc. shows all cast out of Chicago this way. I’d love to have this local representation and could pretty easily be a local hire in these markets too — but just haven’t figured that out yet.
Personally, I think the only piece of truly meaningful feedback from an audition is if the casting office calls you in repeatedly for projects. It's not if you book the job (a little too outcome dependent in that case and there are a lot of factors in booking a job) and it's not even if you got a particular piece of feedback. Because if that office is calling you back, and audition slots are hard to come by! It's a sign that you're doing work that's castable. For that show or for a range of shows.
Here are a few pieces of feedback that I've gotten:
"As easy as that."
casting has walked me out and when we got to the waiting room, literally said to the room, "Who's next? ... But I'm not sure it's going to matter!"
casting has given me a HIGH FIVE in the room after my audition
In all those cases, I DID NOT GET THE JOB. I certainly think casting was sincere in all those cases but a lot of factors go into whether you get the job or not and I'm sure there were other auditions which were good too! Sometimes when I see a part on TV that I went out for, sometimes it went to an actor similar to me, but often it went to someone that is [fill in the blank in terms of how they're different -- ethnicity / age / height / weight / natural vibe / etc.].
I had one audition where I started my audition, didn't even make it through the first read, casting stopped me -- adjusted me, I figured that audition had gone done the tubes -- but I soldiered on. After my audition, I went across the street and got a drink, and while there, my manager emailed me and said that casting was calling me back to meet with the director that weekend. You never know. It's insanity to read too much into anything. I think it's about the process and in this case, I think the process is repeated auditions from casting offices.
I think that’s all I can think of for now. One thing that has been really helpful is that I figured out a pretty good process for getting tapes done. I have someone that I work with that both tapes + coaches (and she has a setup in her home with lights, etc.) We just tape off of my iPhone, I have a Shure audio recorder that just improves the audio a bit, we get the tape done, she edits it, and I send it off to my manager.
The few times I’ve done it myself or had to do it for a friend — it’s not terrible for sure, but there is something nice where there’s a process down pat and you know it’s a quality product coming out the other end.