Entering the “Outside Your Comfort” Zone

As a casting director, I meet so many cool, talented, outgoing, and amazing people every day.  Actors who are truly passionate about their craft and have a complete understanding of this crazy business.  But, what if you’re not an actor. Instead, you’re a doctor, a nurse, you ride a bike to work, you live in the far reaches of Maine, you were a professional boxer, a football player or an EMT?  What if you’ve never auditioned before and you find yourself at Slate because we sent out an email looking for exactly the type of person you are. These so called ‘Real People’ never cease to amaze me.  Not just because they are experts in their field (and many often save lives on a daily basis), but also because they have the guts and the courage to step out of their comfort zone and try something new.  They are putting themselves out there in a way that I don’t think I could have done if I were in their shoes.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot.  I give people so much credit for trying something new.  For letting things happen without really knowing what will happen.  For those of us in the business, we know what to expect from the process of auditioning and if booked (yay!) we know what it’s like to be on a set and to work with a crew and other actors.  For ‘Real People’ this is a whole new world.  They thrive in their own business environment- they are the experts and if we see them in in their workplace, we follow their lead.  In the studio, it’s our job to make these people comfortable, to work with them and guide them through the audition, booking, wardrobe, call times, and the thousands of changes that almost will certainly happen.  And they take it all in stride.

I look at my own life- my family and all the commitments my kids have (I wish my own social calendar was even half as full as theirs) and I think “How could I add one more thing?”.  Yet, when we put out a call for real hospital personnel, real banking customers, real hockey players, real people with real families and real commitments at work and home, they make the time to come in and audition.  They take that hour or so to leave work, audition for 3 minutes, and go back.  They put multiple days on hold, just to have schedules change over and over again. This isn’t their job, this isn’t their life, but they’re willing to give it a go. I marvel at that.  They’re jumping into the unknown for the thrill of trying it, maybe it was on their bucket list, maybe they’ve secretly wanted to perform but medical school got in the way.  Whatever their reason, we are so thankful that these ‘real people’ are willing to give it a try.  We absolutely recognize it’s not easy to put yourself out there like that.  But we are amazed, impressed, and inspired by their courage.  I don’t think I could go out of my comfort zone and put myself in their shoes, but I’m so glad that they want to take a shot at putting themselves in mine. 


Commercial Auditions are... weird!


So many of the auditions you will get in Boston are for commercials.  It’s been amazing to see the steady stream of movies shooting here over the last several years and I certainly hope to see that trend continue.  They are great for the local acting and production communities and are a huge boost for our local economy.  Nevertheless, commercials will continue to provide the most plentiful opportunities for paid on-camera work.

And commercial auditions are…well, they’re weird.  When you audition for a play or a movie, it’s very traditional.  Regardless of the size of the role you are reading for there are scenes and you will have lines which you perform with another person.  You are telling a story and that story will almost always have a beginning, middle and end. 

Commercials on the other hand are typically very short.  15 seconds and it’s done.  Or less.  And because the point of the commercial is to sell a product, most of that time is spent featuring the product.  They rarely tell a story and you are speaking only a couple of words or, as is very often the case, you have no lines at all. 

With commercial auditions, you’re not creating characters, or following story arcs, or thinking about conflict, resolution, beats, or the like.  You’re most often just drinking coffee on a park bench.  And usually you aren’t even given a script.  Just a time and place to be (with your headshot of course).  How do you prepare for that? 

Very simple.  Just be yourself!  We hope that your career will take you to a place you get to Merryl-Streep it, spend weeks researching a role, breaking down a script, and creating something new and exciting and awesome.  But when you are hired for a commercial, you really are just being hired to be you.  There’s no time for anything else.

This can seem frustrating at first.  Does it mean that you are being judged on how you look?  To a certain extent, sure.  Most clients come into a casting with a type in mind for the role.  You either fit what is in their mind’s eye or you don’t. 

But that should also be extremely liberating.  It means that so much of whether or not you get the part is out of your hands.  Either you are what they want or you’re not.  If it’s out of your control, doesn’t that take some of the pressure off when it comes to the audition?  There’s not much you can change about you. 

And pressure is the number one killer of auditions because it leads to anxiety.  You can spot an anxious person a mile away.  They sway, they shake (literally), they can’t focus, and they don’t listen.  If you can’t focus in an audition, if you cannot take direction because you are lost in your own head, why do we or the producer have any reason to believe that you will be able to do so on set, regardless of how perfect you are for the role? 

So, don’t be nervous!  And what’s the best way to defeat your anxiety?  By remembering that there is very little you actually control.  Just be yourself sipping that coffee or riding a stationary bike or chopping vegetables.  Show us that you are a friendly, easy going and attentive person who can follow direction.  Show us your smile.  And relax.  You probably won’t book this job.  But if you come back enough, and you just be yourself, you might book the next one.   


There's A Reason


It’s a question that we get from actors all the time.  People always want to know WHY: Why didn’t I get called in for that audition? Why did I, a 5’ tall female, get an email looking for a 7’ former football player?  Though there is almost always a good reason behind these why’s, we understand that it’s not always clear to the outside eye. In light of this, I’m here to give you a bit of an inside look into our process and maybe clear up any misconceptions there may be as to WHY we at Slate may do something.

Let’s start with the most common question we get:   WHY did so and so get called in for this audition and I did not?  This is a complex one, and unfortunately the answer isn’t going to please everyone (which, as a serial people pleaser, is hard for me to say).  The first thing we look for when selecting talent for an audition is that they fit the description of type, look, and skillset that the client is asking us to find.  Now, with this comes the follow-up comment “but I am the same type as so and so and I didn’t get called in!” Well that could be for a couple reasons.  It could be because we didn’t think your resume or skillset was exactly what our client was looking for.  We also only have a certain number of spots and we simply cannot call in everybody that fits the description.  Trust me, if we could bring in everyone that was right, we would, but it’s just not always possible.  Our job is to bring in the right amount of the right people for that specific audition.   Screening the pool down for our client helps them pick the best possible actor for their job.  Bringing in 200 people just because they all look the part would only serve to overwhelm the client. We value both our client’s time and the actors’ time; by prepping the pool of people we bring in, we hope to show respect to both.  Having said that, if you feel like you are being overlooked and “so and so” who is your exact match is getting called in all the time and you are not, please reach out. We want to hear from you so we can make sure you are getting your fair chance.  Trust me- we want you to succeed in this industry.  The more successful actors we are able to show to our clients, the better we all look :)

Keeping on the audition train- here’s the next WHY.  I showed up for my audition 1 hour early but had to sit and wait an hour, while others came in and got called right away- WHY?  Simple answer to this one: at Slate Casting we audition talent according to the scheduled times.  If you are scheduled for 10am, our goal is to have you out the door by 10:15.  Now, there are always exceptions- maybe a director has come to the session and is spending more time than we thought with the talent. Occasionally (though we strive hard to prevent this) there is a technical glitch that delays the auditioning process.  But again, we value your time and we appreciate you showing up when you are supposed to- so we try our best to take you at your scheduled audition time.  While we appreciate your eagerness in showing up early, we encourage you to just come a few minutes early for your scheduled time- because that is when we are planning on auditioning you. 

Oh, and speaking of schedules, often times a certain role is scheduled to be auditioned within a certain time frame, even though auditions for the job are going all day.  There is a reason for this too!!  Often times we need to pair you up, put you in groups or set up the scene for a certain role and we want them to all be together- that’s why we ask you to come at a certain time :)

Another big WHY we get is about email blasts, particularly rush calls.  In terms of general email blasts,  WHY do I need to be on your email list if I’m on file with you and you have all my information- won’t you call me when you need me?  Well, YES, we do have your info and will call/email you when we need you, but sometimes we need something outside the box and it needs to be turned around quickly. Sending a general blast is the most efficient way to do this.  We understand it may not apply to you, and we definitely understand that getting irrelevant emails can be annoying ; we are just trying to serve our clients by hitting the greatest amount of people in the quickest way possible. Our suggestion is that, if you get an email that doesn’t apply to you, just send it where email dreams go to die, and stay on the lookout for the email that fits you perfectly. Or, better yet, maybe share the email with a friend that fits the description perfectly (they’ll be so grateful they might take you out to a nice dinner!)

   That leads me to the rush call emails.  I know for a fact that probably every single person that receives a rush call email asks, WHY do they send out an email for when they need someone on set within an hour or something crazy.  Trust me when I say:, We HATE sending those.  And trust me when I say, we would pretty much rather be doing ANYTHING than sending RUSH CALL emails!!  The reason we send those is always one of two things.  The first reason is that someone who was already placed in the scene and scheduled to be there didn’t show up and we need to fill their spot ASAP- meaning production is breathing down our necks to get someone there quickly (like yesterday). They will literally call us every 10 minutes until we get someone there.  (It’s super fun… just ask Molly and Marina- they LOVE handling that ;))  The second reason is because something was added to the schedule out of nowhere and they need us to make it happen.  And that’s what we do; we make it happen.  We send it out, cross our fingers, do a little rush-call dance and hope we get what we need, then take a big sigh of relief when we find the person they need who is only 20 mins away!

There are so many other WHYs we get- I wish I could put them all down, but this blog is already getting long, and, if I haven’t said it yet, we respect your time. So I will stop here.  But if you have more WHYs- shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to give you the reason, because 95% of the time, there is one.  And the other 5% of the time… there just isn’t ;)

Oh I almost forgot a good one!!  WHY do you guys always torture poor Aaron and make fun of him on social media?  The Reason… because you all love it just as much as we do.  It’s too good not to :)

-       Ashley