Do you ever finish a take in a performance situation (be it an audition or rehearsal) to have the director stop and give you a few notes…. then have that little voice in the back of your head say “Ah yes- of course- that makes sense. Darn, I should have done it THAT way. OK- this next take I’ll do it that way and it will be better. OK- here we go on the pathway to getting it to where they want it….” If so, you are taking CORRECTION not DIRECTION.

Having spent years and years running sessions in Commercial audition rooms I wanted to share a bit about how the experience was for me. SO often we focus on how the actor experiences that environment- but we have to keep in mind that it’s certainly a social interaction and has at least two equal parties involved.

(just a note- throughout this blog I mention “session director” and “director” – The “Session Director” is the person that directs you in the audition room on the FIRST audition. The “Director” is the actual director of the commercial that will make the hiring decision. They will be present at the callback and on set. The Director usually only sees the first auditions as recorded video that’s been sent to them. They pick callbacks based on that video.)

The most common disappointment I found was that actors would fail to see the audition as a collaborative environment. They too often searched for absolutes and correct answers, and either took the words coming out of my mouth as an encrypted map through a convoluted maze towards an elusive goal of the perfect take – OR (occasionally) – decided that my words didn’t mesh with their vision and stuck to their guns forcing THEIR pre-planned interp through at all costs. Or, to put it more simply, they took what I meant to be DIRECTION as CORRECTION.

An audition session is SUCH a collaborative experience, and when the actor understands that, it can be wonderful. The session director is the eyes and the ears, and the actor holds the steering wheel. The goal of the two in the commercial world is to put together two (or maybe three) takes of the script that provide an interesting variety to intrigue the director and writers into calling the performer back. You’re not auditioning FOR the session director, you’re auditioning WITH them. Yes, of course there’s that secondary truth to auditioning at a casting office that says “you’re auditioning to get called in for that next audition.”, and they do take note of great auditions – – – but on any particular job they feel that their creative ability to direct is just as much on the line as your acting performance. If they can turn out a good crop of performances, they will get hired by that client on the next job. So the session director has skin in the game.

The DIRECTION that they give in the audition will be coming as a mix from three places : 1) any requests that the director of the commercial has made regarding style and other concerns, 2) a desire to find some contrast between a first and second take, and 3) creative ideas that were sparked by the actors first take.

1) Yes, the session director HAS been in contact with the Director of the spot and gone over stylistic ideas and other concerns. Many scripts might read differently on the page than the director will direct in real life. This means you may often show up to an audition and they will be asking for a different style than what you had intended. Something might read very goofy and they want it VERY underplayed. TRUST THEM. There will of course be times where the session director IS a bit off base and you MAY be right. But not often. Even if that REALLY feels like the case- go their way at least one of the two takes. (Preferably the first one!) And if you find that you’re in that predicament more than 5% of your auditions- you’re probably failing to trust them. 95% or more of the time they will be spot on. And keep in mind that the feel that a director is going for in the auditions is usually THEIR IDEAL – and what you see on the actual commercial on TV may wind up being bigger, more campy, not-as-good, etc. It’s just the nature of the beast on set where there’s more cooks in the kitchen. Don’t always gauge things by what you see on tv. TRUST YOUR SESSION DIRECTOR.

2) The session director wants to provide variety between takes. If you put forth a solid performance on take 1 the director knows you can act. Put forth a DIFFERENT solid performance on take 2 and they think “Oh, I like both those takes! This thing can be done well in a variety of ways! And this actor can do it at least 2 different ways, I bet they could do it in even more different ways! I should call them back to see what those ways are!” Or even if they have a very specific preconceived notion of how they want it done- they can think “Since this person can do it in multiple different ways, they are probably directable to the way I want it done. I should call them back.” This is why variety is so important in the audition. And this is the biggest place that the actor fails by taking DIRECTION as CORRECTION. More on that later.

3) A good session director learns to be very open. It’s a tough skill to hone- but when done right, the session director simply watches the first take of each actor with as fresh eyes as possible. Their goal is to watch that script for the first time, for every new actor that comes into the room. That way they can respond honestly to what they are getting from that individual’s personality, energy, look, interp, etc. The reason for this need to stay open when watching?… Because that’s where ideas come from. Custom ideas that fit the exact person in front of you. Collaborative ideas that come FROM the actor who just performed. Ideas that explore the “what if’s” that are particular to the very actor auditioning. And that is fun and exciting to be a part of. That’s where the collaboration truly happens. That’s what makes a day full of auditions wind up with a tape full of uniquely varied options of real people all who could perform the script in their own way. It’s what keeps the session from being some futile attempt to cram every actor in to some preconceived cookie-cutter notion of a take that can only happen in someones mind, but never take true life on screen. I’ve always said- “If you want them to cast YOU- you have to let them see YOU.” And that never happens if the actor is a round peg shoved into a square hole. So the session director responds to YOU and offers up direction that is sparked from YOUR performance. Take ownership of their direction. YOU CREATED IT. Too often the actor thinks “Oh, ok, I guess I’ll do it THEIR way.” But more than you can ever imagine- the words coming out of their mouth entail a potential take that was conceived by the spark of YOU. OWN IT with pride.

I’d say about 75% of the time, when you finish your first take, the session director plans on keeping that take, doing one more, and getting you out of the room and onto the next person. If they did a good job prepping everyone before the first take, the first takes should be pretty good. Besides- they only have so much time in the day to get through their schedule and can’t afford to be deleting TOO many takes. Sometimes of course the first take is bound for the trash, you may actually receive CORRECTION, and they will do two more (so they can still send two). It becomes a skill to recognize those instances when it is in fact correction. You can always ask “are you trashing that one?” – but often they won’t know yet if the future takes will be any better- so they may just wait till the whole audition is over to decide…. BUT – usually after you do your first take they will be taking the 3 components above into consideration and offering up some DIRECTION towards a new take that will satisfy the directors requests, provide variety from the first take, and use the unique ideas that YOUR performance sparked. And you can take that direction as if it was preceded by the line “I’m glad you did that first take! That was great! And YOU gave me a great idea that we can do together for a next take that will help us show the director some options…”

1) Trust your session director. Really.
2) Take DIRECTION towards variety. Not CORRECTION away from failure.
3) OWN the direction. It came from YOU.

The added benefit to all this? It makes the audition experience actually fun and enjoyable. And that’s ALWAYS bookable.

-Sean Bradley

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