More and more on-camera auditions are asking actors to improvise and most actors think that improvising is about talking really, really fast and “trying” to be funny. These actors are ruining their years of acting experience with their skewed concept of improvisation. What they don’t realize is if you’re not listening and not in the moment, you won’t get the job.
On Jan. 9, Sean Bradley and I sat down with Grace McPhillips of the Chicago Film Actors Meet-Up Group to talk about how you can improvise effectively during on-camera auditions. Here are the top 10 things we think you need to know:
1. Determine WHAT you are reading for.
Most of time you will get a chance to improvise with commercials. If you’re auditioning for network TV shows or studio features, not so much. There is a possibility you may be expected to improvise for auditions for independent films or industrial films.
These are not hard and fast rules. You may get a feature director who wants you to improvise and commercial director who wants you to just say the words that are on the page. Remember your job is to adapt in the moment.
2. If you ad-libbed a line and it works in the audition, use it for the call back.
If you are fortunate enough to get to improvise on the set, by all means use a line or a bit. If it works, incorporate into the script; don’t feel you have to keep re-inventing.
3. It’s OK to pre-plan or write prior to the on-camera audition.
Sean suggested when preparing for an on-camera audition at home, feel free to write lines that come to you as you are working on the script with the intention that you will use them in the audition. As you are rehearsing , know where you would like to insert them, then find a couple of places where you can put the lines in the script and use them during the auditions.
4. Keep it simple.
If you do improvise at home before the audition or on set, don’t overdo it or you might not remember what you did. Instead, do a few things and keep it simple. According to Sean, “Do five things instead of 10.”
5. Know the story.
For commercial copy, know the beats of the script and understand the premise so you could improvise if they told you to throw away the script. The more comfortable you are with it, the more confidence you will have in improvising.
6. Own the room when you walk in.
Confidence can only help you in booking the job. Remember, an on-camera audition starts when you walk in the door, so be a presence when you enter. This is established through body language and feeling good about yourself. Fake till you make it. If you come in like “Oh, they’re just doing me a favor by calling me in for this,” it will affect your getting the part. Instead, walk in with the attitude, “I’m doing them a favor by showing up for this audition.” Directors want to work with confident people, so work on this, and remember sometimes your best acting happens off camera.
7. Ask the right questions.
Confidence can look like asking the right question if you don’t understand something. Ask questions about the material if you need to and remember it may lead to doing it a way you had not planned on. In fact, this may give you the edge on booking the part. This means you’ll be improvising with the script, and you’ll have to switch gears on your feet. It will also show that you can take directions. If you are afraid to ask questions or think you are bothering them or taking up their time, then that might be a bigger issue that you need to look at.
8. If they say to improvise you REALLY need to.
Sean says if they don’t mention improv, you should ANYWAY. If they say DON’T improvise, then don’t. I also discussed improvising into the scene, this means you do a couple lines and then go into the script. I usually ask if it’s okay if I improvise into the scene so they know what I am doing and can follow it.
9. Know what you can improvise.
When improvising for on-camera auditions for commercials, know the important information – whether it’s the benefits of the product or the date for an upcoming sale. That stuff stays in. Also, you need to know the comedy of the script. Don’t pile on the improv before the set up and punch line of the joke.
10. Learn by trying.
The only way to really get good at this is to take risks and actually try this stuff out. The best way to start learning is to take some improv classes.