Monday, September 26, 2011

Heavy traffic on the road to an audition

A Hollywood commercial audition is a menacing event. You're in a pool of about 10-30 other folks, all striving for the same position: that position in front of the camera that, sadly, is only going to last as long as there are takes being shot for the commercial. For someone who finds great pleasure in on-camera time, it may actually make sense to flub a few lines, so that there can be more takes and the glorious, high-octane shoot can go on. But don't do that in the audition. In the audition, you've got to be crisp, on-point, astute, alert ... At least if that's the cast-type you're auditioning for.

That's another thing to gauge before going to the audition. What is it that the casting director is looking for in this commercial? If they want some sort of nervous chap who slips and stumbles from word to word, then that's who they're looking for. If you're not that particular bloke, then it isn't any kind of slight against you. It just means that they were looking for cherry flavored and you came to the table with Neapolitan. No hard feelings. Thanks for your audition. We'll let ya know.

Here comes Joe Roos. Fresh off his most recent sabbatical from everything and nothing in particular (he recently graduated with a bachelor's degree in communications, and had unemployment checks flowing in, while the economy swore it's first receding dash wasn't recession enough), Joe is in the city of Hollywood, California, strolling up to a studio, in response to a call-back for audition ... a real life Hollywood callback.

"Callback" might be the wrong word, but there needs to be some word to describe this next level of the process to which our contestant has ascended. "Audition" gives a correct characterization of the event itself, but it doesn't adequately describe the progressive sequence of events prior to the audition.

You see, in LA and much of the surrounding area, a great number of folks - not everyone, but a great number - are always maneuvering and posturing toward their next potential project, which is hopefully working in the heralded Hollywood entertainment industry. There are a hundred thousand routes to your next project, but much like the clogged interstates in LA, there are some routes that everyone seems to be taking. Unfortunately for those folks on the clogged routes (both on the interstate and in the entertainment industry), the amount of maneuvering that you can actually do on the interstate has very little effect in how far you're going to get. The only thing that will drastically change your situation is when you make it to your off-ramp.

"Callback" is the wrong word, but it's not a complete misnomer, and I'll explain why. If your path that you're choosing is the clogged-interstate, heavy-traffic path, then it goes a little something like this: You go online to this casting site. I'll bet there are a hundred of these sites, but I got the name of this one from an agency (of which there are also hundreds in LA), so I trustingly gave it all the credibility in the world. Much like Facebook or LinkedIn, you've got to set up your profile on this casting site. This profile consists of a headshot, previous projects you've worked on, and your special skills (everything from Irish accents to motocross ability). Nobody gives a shit what degree you do or don't have. Nor do they give a shit where you got it from. There is no information field on your casting site profile labeled, "education." That kind of credential ain't flickin' any switches on this interstate.

Once you're in the system, you start getting casting emails ... About 30-50 per day. The casting emails are from companies who make no bones about their discriminatory policies: they're looking to cast people who meet the age-range, ethnicity, height, weight, and (last, and quite possibly least) skill set that you have listed in your profile. That's why you got the email.

From there, you respond. They make this response process pretty idiot-proof, as I'd imagine they'd need to for some of these aspiring actors and actresses. There are three clicks of the mouse. One is a link from your email. Another is to submit for the part. The third is not always an option, but you can submit clips of your previous work if the casting director has specified that they are accepting those media. There is a field for entering text if you have some information you'd like to share along with your headshot and previous experience. This text field allows for 100 - count them - one hundred characters. Not one hundred words, mind you, but one hundred characters, making the message shorter than any tweet or truncated SMS message ever sent. Make your characters count, boys and girls. Make them count.

After clicking the link on the email for the part, including your submitted media clip that you're paying the casting site $9.95 per month to host, and adding a nice accompanying 100-character note to the submission, then you click "submit." After this, nothing happens. At least for about 94 percent of the time, nothing happens. Yours truly knows, because I submitted to 47 different casting directors over the course of two weeks before one of them told me that I had an audition.

Now that's not a callback, I know. But it's some sort of elevation to be told you have an audition. My headshot, my meager resume, and whatever cute note I added got me an audition. My six years of military experience, combat tour of duty, and college degree all have little torque on this interstate, and these are items that the good ol' casting directors will never know or care about.

But the system works! By George, it works. I submitted, and I got a response for an audition. It's not my off-ramp, which, in this metaphor, I think would be landing the part. It's not even the sign that says my exit is two miles ahead. That would probably be a real callback. But this response and invitation to audition is something akin to those electric-lights signs that tell me my exit is about 24 minutes away, given the flow of traffic. Even though there's more congestion on this interstate than in a pack-a-day smoker's lungs ... traffic is still moving.