The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many things, most of them unimaginable terrors, but a few of them have in a weird way – been kind of better than the way we used to do things. One of these, in my humble opinion, has been casting directors getting everything done by self-tape. I love being able to film my scene as many times as I like until I am happy with it, working with a friend to create something really wonderful and control which take gets sent off. Call me a control freak – but I love all of that. The Zoom audition or even more scary the Zoom callback, however, presents a unique set of challenges. Here is my handy guide to making your Zoom audition or callback as outstanding as possible.
#1 Check your setup
You need to be seen and you need to be heard, folks. So start by making sure all of the technical aspects of the audition are seen too so you don’t have to worry about them when it actually kicks off. Firstly, you’re going to need some space, ideally, if you have a usable self-tape setup at home you should just be able to use that. A plain background, either a white wall or a blue or grey backdrop is ideal. Also, make sure you are lit, it’s very difficult to judge your ability as an actor if you are sitting in the dark. If you are using your phone, a little ring light would be a great affordable addition to your set-up.
Just like the self-tapes that you shoot on your phone, make sure the device is in landscape! That way you will fill their full screen on the other end. I would also consider using EarPods or similar Bluetooth headphones, this is going to ensure the best audio quality for them and give you the freedom to move around the room. Bluetooth headphones are a great call especially the good quality ones because they have such great mic inputs in them. Just make sure you go into the settings in Zoom and select them! Make use of that ‘Test your audio and video” screen before you sign in to your meeting. If they sound crackly and terrible – ditch them!
Also, think about how you want to do the scene as well. If it requires you to sit down into it at the top, make sure you have the camera in the position you want it before you jump on the call. Try and avoid awkward camera movements! Remember that this is your time, and you can do the scene how you want to! Especially on the first take.
Finally, internet connection. Test it before you jump on the call, Airport Analyser can help on a Mac and Wifi Analyser on a PC or Android are great tools for testing your internet connection, here is a good article to read if you have more complicated Wifi questions! If you are working off your computer or a laptop, I would recommend plugging it directly into your wifi router via a LAN cable. Old school I know, but if you are worried about wifi dropouts there is nothing like some old school cabling to solve that problem and ease your anxiety. Also, basic things like making sure your phone or laptop is charged and/or plugged in!
Unless the Casting Director or the Director specifically asks you to look down the barrel – DO NOT LOOK DOWN THE LENS while you are doing your scene. They will want you to be looking just to one side of the lens or the other during the scene. You can check what is a good eyeline with them before you start the scene. I like to put some tape on the wall behind the camera on either side, to give me options and clear, consistent eyelines to use during the scene. Be prepared to adjust these under the instructions from casting, but having a clear idea of what you want to do, and where you are looking is very helpful.
A note on connection…
Anyone who has been in a Zoom meeting knows the pain and awkwardness that comes with that slight delay that happens with someone with a poor connection. If the casting director is reading the other side of the scene with you and they’re connection is poor, make sure you are staying alive in the moment and waiting for the next line to come. Don’t get frustrated and stare down the camera impatiently. Stay alive at the moment, stay present, wait for the line, really hear it and allow yourself to respond naturally. Also, use Zoom a few times before the audition, make sure you have the app installed! Preparation is everything!
#3 Audition ready
So once you have tested and checked your setup and equipment, your internet connection is perfect and you have a well lit, not-distracting backdrop ready to go. It’s time for the audition itself. Just like an in-person audition, get into the waiting room on Zoom at least 5 minutes ahead of your allotted time, take this time to ensure that everything is working correctly and you know exactly what you’re planning on doing in the scene. The casting director will let you into the meeting and have a brief chat to you about the project, the scene and introduce anyone else on the call, like the director, writer or producer. They’ll give you a rundown of what the scene entails and then ask you to start when you’re ready. It’s here that my next point becomes vital…
#4 The Moment before
Having a powerful, imaginative moment before that you can contact to get you into the emotional given circumstances of the scene is really important. Especially when you have to go in cold or act over a digital platform such as Zoom. There is no time for you to ease into the scene, you have to be there, emotionally from the drop, from ball one! We have a great article on contacting the moment before here, a really interesting one on being in the moment here and a life-changing approach to staying in the moment here.
Additionally, if you haven’t prepared properly, this is the moment when you are going to be exposed. A lot of actors think it is as simple as learning your lines and turning up, sometimes this is the case, but for any work that is high stakes or high profile, can I just recommend you do more work rather than less?! There is no replacement for hard work and in the challenging environment that is the Zoom audition or callback, this is where your lack of hard work can prove problematic.
Acting is reacting. If you are not listening and I mean really actively listening to your scene partner you are not going to be organically reacting and therefore your acting is going to have problems. Now, this is where the technical challenges of Zoom can enter the fray if you cannot hear your scene partner or they can’t hear you, we are going to have issues! Refer back to point number one if that’s an issue for you!
If the connection is great, then spend your time, alive in the moment, genuinely responding to the person across from you! We have some great articles about listening here.
#6 Smash it!
I mean this speaks for itself – but y’know… Smash it out of the park! Just do really good, honest, truthful, vulnerable, unpredictable, spontaneous performance. How hard can it be? Well actually given every acting methodology, school and book ever written – pretty difficult. The only way to get better is to get more experience and more training. Never stop training folks, and the StageMilk Scene Club below is a really great place to start, just saying!
So there you have it! There is the ultimate guide to auditioning on Zoom from a guy who has done more than one or two of these and made some terrible mistakes. Learn from my screw-ups, ladies and gentlemen. Get that setup sorted out, have a great internet connection, know how to use Zoom, contact a personalized moment before, really listen and smash it outta the park! Good luck and book that job!