The important thing to remember about screen auditions is that you will almost always be given a scene or scenes to read before going in to see the director. And audition technique is about accurately delivering that material PLUS the ‘X’ factor. The ‘X’ factor is what you, the actor, can uniquely bring to the role. Therefore, by definition, the director will not have anticipated quite what you will do until you read. There will be the basic dramatic logic of the situation (clear from the writing) which you need to understand and deliver, but, in addition to that, you must feel free to offer something extra they weren’t quite expecting. That’s the ‘X’ factor. Bear in mind that directors won’t by any means always know what they want until they see it. You, the actor, must feel confident enough to give the director exciting options. If you do, you will always work!
‘Audition’ by Michael Shurtleff is one of the best books I’ve read on audition technique because it resonates with my own extensive experience with TV auditions. Written from a theatrical (Broadway) perspective rather than a screen one, it nevertheless goes into huge detail about an actor can prepare for reading a role, and then illustrates examples of where actors can go wrong with a series of dialogues between Shurtleff and various actors he auditioned over the years. The points he cleverly makes come up regularly in screen auditions as well and that’s why the book is so accurate. If you only read one book on audition technique, this should be the one. Look at Shurtleff’s ’12 Guideposts.
‘Secrets From The Casting Couch’ by Nancy Bishop is subtitled ‘On Camera Strategies for Actors from a Casting Director’ and concentrates entirely on screen audition technique.
‘How To Get The Part, Without Falling Apart’ by Margie Haber with Barbara Babchick. Acting coach Margie Haber has created a revolutionary phrase technique to get actors through readings without stumbling over the script. The book helps actors break through the psychological roadblocks to auditioning with a specific, 10-step method for breaking down the scene. Actors learn to prepare thoroughly, whether they have twenty minutes or two weeks.
Another task for screen actors is to determine your psychological type. This is a complex subject, but, according to C G Jung our subconscious minds have four aspects: Thinker, Feeler, Intuit and Sensate, and Jung’s theory was that, although the mind is composed of all four functions, one of them becomes dominant in very early life as a way of dealing with scary situations. And whatever function becomes dominant tends to remain as our default problem-solving mode way into adulthood. Therefore, without realising it, when we get into a pressured situation, we revert to being Thinkers, Feelers, Intuits, or Sensates. Therefore, as we do this subconsciously, it’s a very good idea for actors, particularly, to find out what their default problem-solving type is, because you will find yourselves going there even without realising it, during the scariest time for actors: auditions. If you are, say, a Thinker and the character is as well, then you’ll feel very comfortable playing him. If the character, on the other hand, is a Feeler, then you’ll have some research to do. Best to find out your psychological type, then monitor yourself in auditions to stop yourself going o your default psychological type unless it’s appropriate.
The first step is to become familiar with what Jung meant by the terms Thinker, Feeler, Intuit and Sensate, and best introductory book is ‘Beginner’s Guide to Jungian Psychology’ by Robin Robertson. Chapter 4 of this book gives a very clear account of each of the psychological types and should give you a clue as to which you are. Those closest to you will also be able to give you feedback if you’re not sure.
If you are interested to explore Jung’s ideas further, then you can’t do better than the Portable Jung, edited by Joseph Campbell. Probably the most accessible account of Jung’s ideas are in his autobiography: Memories, Dreams, Reflections. In 1957, four years before his death, Jung began writing his life story. But what began as an exercise in autobiography soon morphed into an altogether more profound undertaking. The result is an absorbing piece of self-analysis: a frank statement of faith, philosophy and principles from one of the great explorers of the human mind. Covering everything from Sigmund Freud, analytical psychology and Jungian dream interpretation to a forthright discussion of Christianity and the existence of God, these final reflections on an extraordinary life are a fitting coda to the work of Carl Gustav Jung.
Finally, it’s a good idea to make a study of body language. Although in auditions, the voice has to do most of the work, it’s also a very good idea to adopt an appropriate body language for your character during the reading. Remain sitting only if it’s appropriate. If you feel the need to stand up, then do so. Directors will appreciate the fact that you are giving them a visual clue as to how you might play the role. The best introduction to body language is ‘How to Read a Person Like a Book’ by Gerald Nierenberg and Henry Calero.