Filling the role: let us count the ways

From A (audition) to N (nudity)

So you want to be in pictures.

Take note, as any of these routes could land you there — provided you weren’t hand-picked by the director. The norm is for talent agencies to provide the prospects. But there are plenty of ways for casting directors to find new talent. Any of these methods could apply:

The Audition — Talent agencies and managers provide casting directors with a list, resumes, head shots and tapes of their clients. The casting director culls the best prospects from those offerings and other outlets, and has the candidates come in and read for the part.

Usually the actor will read for the casting director first. If he or she looks like a prime candidate, the actor will be called back to audition for the director.

The Tape — “The videotape is probably one of the best tools in casting,” says producer Mark Johnson. “This is particularly important if your director is off shooting another film, and the casting director is still doing auditions. You just ship the tape.

“The director usually does a read eventually anyway since that’s who makes the final call. But this can speed up the process significantly with final candidates.”

The Search — “You comb and you look anywhere and everywhere for the next discovery,” says casting director Joseph Middleton. “You try to go to every play in New York … read every play in London. Any place or any venue you can think of where someone with something interesting to show, shows up.”

Cattle Call — Typically, directors and casting directors will do a national or regional talent search when they are hunting for a particular look or just a fresh face in a kid’s role. “When we were casting ‘My Dog Skip’ and ‘The Little Princess,’ we chose this route,” Johnson says. “We wanted kids we hadn’t seen. We didn’t want any who had been in commercials or had bad habits. Sometimes it’s the only way to go.”

The Discovery (move over Lana Turner) — Yes the soda fountain myth lives. And sometimes — though rarely — it actually happens. “When we were casting Jon Avnet’s film ‘The War’ we did an open call throughout the Southeast,” recalls casting director Debra Zane. “At one point, my partner was at a mall, and he went over to the food court. He saw these two kids. They didn’t know about the call. He walked up to them and asked one if he was interested in trying out for the part. That kid wound up being one of the bully kids in the film.”

Usually, the discoveries happen only when there is a massive search for children’s roles. “But there have been times when I’ve walked out of my office, thinking about kids for a certain part, and I’ll see parents out with their children,” Zane adds. “I’ll just walk up and ask if they would consider having their child audition for the role.”

The Drop By — An actor or hopeful will stop by a casting director’s office unannounced to drop off a head shot and resume. Should he or she get lucky, they may get to meet the casting director. Typically, that’s not the case, and that head shot and resume are filed with all of the other drop-bys.

What are the chances of anyone in that pile ever getting a call? “Seldom,” Zane says. “An educated guess? Maybe 3 percent.”

The Favor — “Typically, this is when somebody knows somebody, or the director knows this girl, or someone else high up on the movie has this friend they think you should read,” notes Middleton. “The line usually goes, ‘Just give the kid five minutes. I’m not asking you to give them a job.’ So you do. It’s usually a colossal waste of time, but you do it. What’s five minutes? And, you never know.”

Nudity (not to be confused with the casting couch) — “At what point in your career do you strip (for a part)?” Middleton muses. “When it can get you there faster.”

Middleton isn’t talking about the audition process, but rather about agreeing to appear nude as the role demands. “It’s usually when you have these really beautiful girls who somehow come across borderline in the audition. It could go either way for them.

“But (agreeing to some nudity) usually turns it for them. It did for Shannen Elizabeth (in “American Pie”). She snapped up three roles after that film.”