How to Audition for Movies | Getting on the Silver Screen

How to Audition for Movies

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If I was a gambling man, I’d be willing to wager that most actors realised they wanted to be actors by watching movies. They were early points of inspiration for me, and since then I’ve been lucky enough to act in some: some of them very bad, some of them very good. As actors we all want our shot at the silver screen, so here’s some acting advice on how to audition for movies: so you can get that much-coveted shot!

If you want to audition for movies, your best bet is to secure an audition through an agent, and to prep yourself as best as you possibly can. You can look for freelance opportunities, but reputable representation will serve you best. Read the audition brief, study the script and film your self-tape according to industry standards. No matter your level of experience or training background, it is vital that you maintain and project a sense of professionalism. 

(Funnily enough, my defining piece of acting inspiration was actually a commercial for Christmas trees. From the moment I saw that woman flash up on the screen and deliver her monologue about an unmissable sale, I knew that I had to be an actor. Takes all sorts, I guess)

Step One: Getting an Audition

Without a doubt, the most difficult part of an audition is actually getting it in the first place. It’s not something you have as much control over in your career, but there are some things you can do that will give you the best shot at getting ahead.

Getting an Agent

Getting an agent is getting easier these days, but getting a good agent can be tricky. In this dystopian digital age, there are a lot of agencies more concerned with turning a profit than getting their actors high quality work. A major red flag to look out for is if an agency charges a “joining fee” or a “start-up fee”: these shops turn representation into a commodity and sign as many people as possible by charging them money for the privilege of being on their books.

Work is few and far between with these agencies; the best you’ll get from them is some extra work or commercial work. There’s nothing wrong with extra work or commercial work, of course, they just aren’t the big budget movies these agencies might promise you.

You want to look for an agent that you can develop a good personal relationship with. It’s generally a good sign if an agency has fewer people on their books. This means the agency is more likely to know each of their actors and understand what kind of projects they’re interested in. Getting signed with a good agent takes time and preparation, and we’ve written an article about it full of helpful advice. 

The benefit of having a good agent is that their job is to look for films and other projects that suit you. Let them know that you’re interested in working in film and television and they’ll do their best to send suitable briefs your way. Just don’t forget to keep your ears open for any opportunities that might have slipped past them.

Freelancing & Staying in the Loop

A lot of the work I’ve landed in my career has come from hearing about auditions from other actor friends of mine. Regardless of whether or not you have an agent, you can and should be building up your network so that you’re more likely to hear about films that are casting. I’ve written an article on marketing yourself and building a network that is well worth a read, but here’s a super quick refresher:

  • Train. Go to drama school, and/or take classes and workshops. You’ll keep your skills blade sharp and meet like-minded folks.
  • Stay active. Work in independent theatre and short/student films.
  • Develop an online and social media presence. Engage in genuine conversations about acting and casting online, develop a regular posting schedule and make sure people know that you’re an actor when they click on your page or website.
  • Contact casting agents you’d like to work with. Keep it short and professional, tell them who you are and send them a headshot and a showreel. No more, no less.

The Actor’s Toolkit

Speaking of headshots and showreel: update them regularly. I’d say a new headshot each year is a good call, and your showreel will ideally build up over the years so you can slowly replace outdated material with more updated stuff as your look and your skill changes. At StageMilk, we call the headshots and showreel, along with your Acting CV, the “Actor’s Toolkit”. If you want to audition for movies, make sure your toolkit is at its best.

Freelancing and finding your own opportunities takes more work, but the benefit is that you’re managing yourself: you won’t be subject to agency fees. I would also definitely recommend looking into online casting networks like Showcast and Casting Networks and building a profile to promote yourself.

“Can I Audition for Movies Without an Agent?”

Of course you can! That’s often where you find some of the most exciting projects—the zero-budget, indie films made by a dirty dozen of up-and-comers. Just remember that this is the level of the project that you’ll likely be going for: Netflix or the MCU won’t cast outside of reputable, industry-proven agents. Should you do the small auditions? Definitely: if for no other reason than to get some audition runs on the board. But high profile jobs require representation to match.

Step Two: Preparing for an Audition

It might take some time and some elbow grease, but if you’ve been consistent with the above, eventually you’ll land an audition for a film or a television series. Congratulations! Once that sweet, sweet self-tape request email comes through, there are a few things to check before you even look at the script.

Technical Requirements

Look through all the logistical stuff that’s available to you. Firstly, read the tape instructions. I’ve failed to do this far too many times and had my heart’s been broken because of it. They’ll tell you exactly how to shoot your scene and your slate, if they need any extra photos and how to submit your tapes. If you don’t follow the instructions to the word, you’re already putting yourself at a huge disadvantage so, one last time: read the tape instructions.

Fine Print

Next, check the fine print. Where is it shooting? When is it shooting? Who is directing? Who has already been cast? Do you know the casting director? You should be treating any audition as if you have already got the job, so it’s important to be across everything.

I always like to google the director, casting director and other actors on the project to see what they’ve worked on before. It contextualises the audition and I find it helps with my nerves if I can put the name to a face. 

Don’t audition for movies you can’t actually film. If you can’t commit to a relocation during shooting, or block out the full schedule, or can’t ride a horse despite it being a western, there is nothing cute about booking the gig and working it out from there. You may put hundreds of jobs at stake doing this, and you’re likely to never work with anybody involved again.

Character Brief

The next thing to check is the character brief. These briefs are your best friend when you audition for movies, because you’re unlikely to get the whole script. Put on your detective hat and start gathering as many facts about the character as you can. Be super strict, here, about what is a fact: gender, ethnicity, age, accent–anything that you could observe physically. Also things like family and relationships if it’s given to you. Try to avoid drawing any conclusions about the character just yet. 

Another thing to note about tapes for film and television is that you’re not often given a lot of time. A few days at most, 24 hours at least. Sometimes less. Within this time, read and analyse the script as many times as you possibly can. While you’re making dinner, while you’re cleaning up, in the bathroom of your friend’s house, after a run… Get lots of different reads on it and hopefully you’ll start to identify some things about the type of person your character is. What do they want? How are they trying to get it? What has provoked them in the scene? Where were they before, and where do they go afterwards: the given circumstances.

What you’re doing here is what Declan Donnelan calls “invisible work”. All of this research should never be shown to the camera (or the audience). But you can be sure that by having it in the back of your mind, it will enrich your performance tenfold. By discovering as much as you can about the character rather than inventing it yourself, you’re building them organically and staying true to what the writer and director want.

Step Three: Completing the Audition

Alright. Go time. Let’s talk technical stuff first.

Technical Requirements

You need a couple of things to shoot a great tape:

  • A blank wall OR a blue screen. A neutral background is vital to shoot against.
  • Good natural lighting OR a ring light. Avoid shadows that make you look like Nosferatu.
  • A tripod. Failing that, a big stack of books or board games that will keep the camera level with your face.
  • Your phone, or a decent camera. 

Set your camera and tripod up so that there is nothing distracting in frame. I have a fold-out blue screen that I bought for for $100 but if that’s out of your budget, a clean blue or white wall is great. Just make sure you don’t wear any clothes that will wash you out or blend you into the background.

Make sure you’re well-lit in the frame and there are no shadows on your face. Ring-lights are really great for this and I’d recommend getting one if you can. Sometimes you’ll have to shoot your tape at night.

Phones these days usually have decent cameras and microphones. Make sure the device shoots in 1080p and is picking up your voice clearly. You can buy shotgun microphones that attach to phones, too. Frame yourself so that the camera can see just below your chest and leave about a fist-distance of space between the top of your head and the edge of the frame. Your face should be in the middle of frame.

Shooting a Draft Tape

If time allows it, I always like to shoot a draft tape the day before I shoot my actual tape. This gives me a chance to play around a bit and not take it too seriously because I’m not sending it to any hotshot directors. I’ll also ask friends and tutors for feedback on the draft tape and apply it the next day. If you don’t have the luxury of this lead-in time, it’s still worth shooting a take and looking at it to ensure that framing is correct and it’s distraction-free.

A draft tape can also help you remember that you’ve got this. Once you have the first one in the can, it’s only a matter of improving on what you’ve already shot. Every take from there should improve your chances, and boost your confidence.

Warm Up

Before you shoot your tape, do a body and voice warm-up. It’s tempting with film auditions to really tone it down. While this is usually good practice, speaking quietly doesn’t equate to a realistic performance. My StageMilk colleague Alex refers to this as the “Netflix whisper”: this half-gravelly affectation that actors think equals drama and serious but actually sounds weak.

Speak clearly from your whole body, not just your throat and your head. Directors would much rather hear your powerful voice and go “Wow! Can you tone it down?” than “What did you say? Are your lips even moving?!”

Your Scene Reader

If you need someone to read across from you, try to find a scene partner who has at least a bit of experience with acting. It can be distracting doing a romantic scene with your mum or your dad standing across from you. Place your reader ever so slightly to the side of the camera. You want to make sure your eyeline is at camera height but that you never look down the barrel during the scene.

If you don’t have the luxury of an experienced reading partner, don’t let this throw you. The camera isn’t focused on them, they’re not going for the job. This exercise is about making you look good.

“How many takes should I shoot for my audition?”

When you shoot the scene, I’d always recommend doing a couple of takes. But I secretly think that the first take is always the. Don’t try to force a different take either. This is up for debate, but I think if you’ve done your research and you’re listening to your scene partner, different reads will come up naturally. Don’t “play it angry” for the sake of getting a variation on the take. 

If you do want to try something different, vary your character’s approach to their objective. If you play to the emotion of the scene (“I want to try one where I get really sad and cry.”), it’ll sound forced. Instead, ask what actions you could play that might make your character feel sad: if your character “belittles” somebody they love rather than “flirts” with them, you’ll get a radically different reading that feels considered and real.

Parting Thoughts

A few final words of advice for shooting your tape: pretend the camera is your best friend. Not just a hunk of wires and circuits. It sounds strange, but this can shift your psychology enough to make you more comfortable in front of the camera. If you find yourself getting nervous or overthinking the text, that’s fine. Think about your feet on the ground and notice your breath. You can use the energy generated from feeling nervous and channel it into your performance by taking a moment to ground yourself.

Remind yourself that the person receiving this tape wants you to be the one for the job. Meet them half way on this.

Conclusion

Once you’ve got a tape you’re happy with, gather up all your required material to submit: CV, photos, slates, documents etc., send it all off and forget about it. Remember that the director has a problem: they need someone to play a very particular character and they’re hoping that you are the solution to that problem.

If you’re right for the job, then you’ll get cast. If you’re not, but you did a great job, you’ll make an impression and hopefully be first in line for a future project. Either way, congratulations on your audition. Keep working, keep coming back, keep hungry.

Hope this helps. See you around the traps!

About the Author

Frazer Shepherdson

Frazer (he/him) is a writer, actor and director. He has worked professionally in film, television and theatre since 2016 and graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with a Bachelor in Acting in 2021.

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