The Audition Process: How Do Auditions Work?

Wendy Alane Wright

Wendy Alane Wright

Knowing how the auditioning processes work for television, movies, and commercials will help give you an edge. Check out our free guide now!

How Do Auditions Work

Hi actors. It’s Wendy Alane Wright, the Hollywood talent manager. New Year is a time to start thinking about, “OK. Where am I in my life and where do I want to get to ?” and I want you guys to understand that you can get wherever you really set your heart and your mind to go. Just make sure you make a very specific plan and stick to it, no matter. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Don’t doubt yourself. Just take action.

If you don’t take action, you won’t get the results and you have to put timelines on your actions. If you say you’re going to get new headshots by January 15th or by February 30th. Put a timeline. That makes you do it by that time.

A lot of people fail in this business because they think too much. They overthink everything. How do I know what to do? How do I know if this is the right scene? How do I know if this is the right photographer? How do I know if this is the right age and how do I know if I’m good enough? How do I know – it’s too much thinking. OK?

Things get done by taking action. When you take action, you will learn something from it. You will either learn you did it right or you did it wrong and you need to learn those things

Set Specific Goals

So set some very specific goals. I’m going to take these headshots. I’m going to take these acting classes. I’m going to work on getting these specific agents. I’m going to work on getting together with these producers and writers and do some projects of my own. I’m going to try to get on these TV shows with these casting directors and these are the dates I’m going to do this and that and that and really make a calendar. Put it in your calendar. I’m going to do this workshop this day. I’m going to do my writing on my play. I’m working on this day. I’m going to take my headshots this day.

You gotta put it in your calendar and do it just like you do your workout, you know, your exercise routine or your yoga or you’re going to go out with a friend. If it’s not in your calendar, you’re not going to do it. OK?

So don’t just wing it. Get your calendar together. All right. So what I wanted to talk to you this morning about is the auditioning process. A lot of you guys really don’t know how this process works. So I’m going to explain it to you.

When you’re auditioning for television, it is very, very quick because the breakdown comes out for the role on Monday, let’s say. They audition Tuesday and Wednesday and they decide to cast it – you know, Thursday, Friday, they’re casting it and they start shooting the next Monday.

So within a week, they’ve made their decisions and they’re already shooting. So if you are getting an audition for a TV show, you’re going to know by the end of the week whether you got it or not.

You usually go in for an audition – if the casting director doesn’t know you, you’re going to go in for a pre-read. Auditions are typically called pre-reads. OK? They pre-read you before you go to producers. 

So the casting director brings you in with 50 other people and they audition you and the ones that are right for the role get a callback and you might have two or three callbacks. But once you have a callback, you’re now going to meet with the producers and that’s called the “producer’s session”. 

Now actors that are very familiar to the casting director, they skip the pre-read. They skip the audition and they go straight to the callbacks, to the producers. Those are actors that casting directors have worked with before, have cast before or they’re very familiar with their work.

Actors that they’re not quite sure if it’s right for the role, they don’t take them to producers until they know for sure. So that’s why you have to go in and audition.

Now if it’s a costar role, a small role for TV, they generally don’t ask actors to tape because the decisions are made so quickly. It’s such a small role. They don’t bother taping. You have to fly in for it, blah, blah, blah.

If it’s a guest star role, a bigger role, a media role, they will sometimes take tapes from actors around the country for roles. If it’s for a serious regular role, they absolutely will take tapes. So they will look at all the tapes and determine whether or not they want to bring you in for an audition.

If you come in for an audition, you will have to pay for that yourself and then you will come in an audition and if they want you to come back, you usually have to pay for the callback. If you come in for the producer’s session, sometimes they pay for it for you to come in to do the producer’s session if you live out of the state. OK?

If the Producers Can’t Choose, the Network Executives Do

Once you get past the producer’s sessions and let’s say they’ve narrowed it down to five actors. Let’s say the breakdown went out. Two thousand actors sent their headshots in. They auditioned 50 and 5 went to the producers. Out of those five, the producers love those five. They don’t know which ones they’re going to pick yet. They sign a contract with all five of them and then the network executives get involved. The producers and the network executives sit down and look at these actors and they pick which ones they want.

OK? So the casting director is there to weed out all the wrong people, weed out people that aren’t right for the job and bring people to producers that really are right for the project.

Now that’s how television works and I could get more complicated and I will just for a second. If it’s for a series regular role, the network decides who gets the role and those projects are shot into pilots. Those pilots go to the upfronts in New York where the advertisers decide which shows they’re going to advertise on and the advertisers really have to approve of the actors that are going to be representing their product in the TV show. Weird, huh?

So really this whole thing comes down to money. Who are the advertisers going to back? Which actors are going to bring in viewers that are going to buy products? OK. It’s complicated. But let’s just talk about your audition. Let’s say you’re going up for a TV show. Prepare. Do your audition. Really learn how to audition. Learn what the moment before is. Learn what your character really needs and wants. Learn how to make contact, real personal contact with the reader and just do your very best and the rest of it is completely out of your hands. OK? Who the casting director brings back? Who knows?

You know, whether you’re too short, too tall, too white, too black, your eyes are too green, you’re too fat, you’re too skinny, you look better than the lead, nobody knows why you get a callback. You know, that’s like a mystery. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t. But if the casting director loves you and loves your work, be guaranteed they will bring you back again and again and again for stuff you’re right for and one day, you will book something and they’re hoping you do. 

They’re hoping they have the right project for you. OK? That’s how TV works.

Auditions For Film are Completely Different

Let’s get to film. Film is a completely different ballgame. They’re not under a deadline to cast it by the end of the week. Networks are not necessarily involved. Studios are. Studio executives come into play. But a lot of films are independently cast. So the casting director weeds through a whole lot of people, thousands of people, hundreds of tapes, to find the few that are really right for the role. But that could take all year long because they’re not in a crunch like you are in television. 

They could be months and months in casting. OK? When you’re right for the role, they will call you in for callbacks. They call you in to read with the producer and the directors. They will call you in to work with other actors to see how you all fit together. That’s always called a chemistry read. They do that in TV too. And then, you know, they’re looking for collaborators, people who are really interested in working on the project and making the project successful and actors who are there to serve the director’s vision because film is a director’s medium.

The film is seen in the mind of the director and the director wants to get what they see onto the film and the actor is there to serve the director, to give the director what they need, to give the director the emotion they need or the intensity they need, the funny they need.

The director is the one who’s determining who’s really going to work on the project and the producers, the people who are putting up the money. So if you audition for a film, you might not know for months and months. It’s not so important – you know, I know every actor wants to get the job. I just want to get that job. But you can’t – you have no control over who gets the job and why. I mean I’ve heard stories where actors don’t get the job because the producer thinks the actor reminds him of his wife that he’s divorcing and he doesn’t want to work with that person.

So you have no control over who gets the job. All you have control over is how well you train your own talent, how kind and polite and friendly you are to the people you work with, how prepared you are when you go into an audition, if you have great headshots, if you have a really strong demo reel or some really strong clips that show your work, so that you can send those out to agents and producers and managers and casting directors when they ask for it, and that you are just – that you follow through with everything you say you’re going to do. That you’re professional and show up on time and do good work. That you are helpful to everyone you work with and that you keep in touch with the people you meet because people hire people they know and people hire people they like.

So if you are well-known and well-liked and you’re a collaborator and you show up and try to serve the project, you’re more likely to get hired than the actor who doesn’t know what they’re doing, who has lousy materials, who is just there for themselves and only wants to get famous or, you know, it’s all about them and people don’t like that kind of people. OK?

So if you’re an actor, you really should be in this for the right reasons. You know, to be a filmmaker, to be a storyteller, to serve the cause of the entire project, to be a collaborator and to do great acting work because you love it. That’s really why you need to be in this business and if you’re not in it for those reasons, you may want to get into a different business.

All right, you guys. Listen, this is a year of – who knows what the hell is possible? Anything is possible. I hope that you achieve the success that you dream of. I hope that that voice inside your heart that’s telling you to go for it, I hope you honor it and I look forward to being here to help you and guide you along the way.

Remember, if you need to talk to me directly and you want a Skype consultation, I’m happy to do that and I love doing that. It’s really smart if you’re an actor to make sure that you talk to someone. Talk to me. Talk to someone in the business that you trust, who can tell you where you’re starting because you got to know where you’re starting, you know. Where your talent is right now, what training you need to add to that, what steps you need to take to get to the next level.

If you spent time this year doing it all on your own, you know, you’re not going to get as far as you would if you had a mentor and someone to guide you. So take me up on my offer to Skype with you because I will give you a very specific plan that you can follow the next year or two to get ahead, to get forward, and read my books because everything I know is in them. Twenty-five years of what I know is in them and every time you email me with questions that are in my book already, I’m going to tell you to read my book because I don’t have time to tell everybody the same exact thing I wrote in my books. It does make sense, doesn’t it?

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