Audition Terms and Their Definitions

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When new to acting, it can take some time before you understand the many industry terms that are thrown around. As much as possible, it’s helpful to learn the audit terminology before jumping in the game. Pretty soon, you’ll feel right at home in the world of casting. Here is a glossary of common auditioning words you’ll need to know to avoid being caught off guard.

Blocking

Blocking has to do with the physical action an actor is expected to do throughout a scene. During a commercial audition, the session director will have figured out how to shoot the full range of movement that occurs in the scene so that it’s all effectively captured on tape. When entering the audition room, listen attentively to the session director’s blocking information for two reasons. First, you’ll know what movements to do—when and where—so your performance remains in frame. And secondly, by following the instructions, you demonstrate you’re a professional who’s ready to be responsive to direction on set.

Callback

After reviewing all the participants’ first auditions for a project, casting will select a few actors who are still in the running for the role. Those performers are then “called back.” An actor is invited to audition again for the same part, only this time around, more professionals on the casting end (producers, directors, executives, the ad agency) will be present to observe the audition. Sometimes an actor will receive three or more callbacks before the role is finally cast. It’s always an encouraging sign to be called back, as it indicates you’re being strongly considered for a role.

Casting director

A casting director is the professional who organizes the casting process for every character in a given production. Casting directors may or may not have a final say over who is eventually cast, but they are experts in knowing which talented individuals would potentially be a good match for the role, and they give actors a chance to audition. In this sense, casting directors act as the gatekeepers for actors. They also negotiate fees and contracts for performers.

Character breakdown

A character breakdown is a list of characters sent to casting directors describing each character’s essential qualities, including their age range, ethnicity, and personality. Actors receive a character breakdown of just their own character for audition purposes.

Cold read

Sometimes you may not be provided the copy or sides in advance of an audition. You may not even be given a character breakdown or have any understanding of the project. With cold reads, you receive the sides right then and there at the audition, with perhaps a few minutes to prepare. The actor can hold the sides during the cold read for reference as the audition moves along; However, reading the sides verbatim is not advisable as it makes for a robotic performance. Cold reads are more about your confidence and your ability to pick up lines quickly. Also, casting may ask you to do a cold read for an additional role in the audition room because they think you might have a shot at a different part.

Copy

Copy, also known as a “commercial copy,” refers to the lines that your character says in a commercial. “Copy” is like “sides,” except it’s for commercials. You may receive your copy days before an audition or moments before.

Conflicts

There are two kinds of conflicts: product conflicts and availability conflicts. An example of a product conflict is when you can’t be featured in an ad for shampoo B because you’re already in a currently airing commercial for shampoo A. Performers can’t promote two shampoo brands at once because that presents a conflict. An example of an availability conflict is when an actor is already scheduled to work on project A for the entire month of March, so they’d have an availability conflict to work on project B, if B is scheduled for a March shoot. Nobody can be in two places at once. But availability conflicts can sometimes be worked out with a little flexibility.

Eyeline

Usually, you’ll be expected to look at your scene partner or the reader during your audition. Other times, the copy will require that you look elsewhere for a period of time, say, at a boat on the horizon. Casting will inform you of the desired eyeline so they can capture your performance on camera properly.

Framing

Framing indicates how wide or narrow the lens is set to shoot. You need to know when the shot is framed for a close-up because even your small movements will show up quite a lot on camera. On the other hand, wide framing captures your whole body and allows for more motion.

Mark

Casting will often place colored tape on the floor to indicate where they want you to stand or where they want you to move. “Hitting your mark” assures that you remain in the camera’s frame.

Off book

When you’ve memorized your lines, you are “off book,” meaning you no longer need to refer to the sides to perform. Sometimes casting will specifically tell a performer to be off book for an audition.

On avail

When you’re put “on avail” or “hold,” it means you’re one of the top contenders for a part. Casting reaches out to the actors who are in strong consideration for a role to make sure they can clear their calendars to accommodate the project’s shoot date in case they’re selected. Being on avail is a very encouraging sign, but it does not mean you’ve booked the job.

Pilot

A pilot is a new show that is being created for a television network. Once completed, the pilot will be pitched to the network for consideration of being picked up for the upcoming season.

Project breakdown

The project breakdown lists information about the production for casting purposes, including the title of the project, writer(s), producers, director, the location and dates of the shoot, rate of pay, and the union status.

Reader

The person who is saying the lines opposite of you during your audition is the reader. The reader does not appear on camera; only their voice can be heard. Sometimes the casting director or their assistant acts as the reader.

Self-tape

A self-tape is an audition recorded without the assistance of casting professionals. Self-tapes can be shot at home or at a self-taping business. Self-tapes are submitted to virtually casting.

Session director

The session director is typically the camera operator in the audition room who gives the actors. This professional works closely with the casting director and is also responsible for the technical aspects of the audition.

Sides

When you’re given a portion of a script (perhaps two or three pages) for audition purposes or while shooting on set, that section of the script is called your “sides.” Sides differ from the script, because a script refers to the entire written project.

Slate

Before an audition, you’ll likely be asked to slate. This means you are to look at the camera and say your name, as well as any pertinent information that casting specifically requests, such as your height, the name of your agent, or the role for which you’re auditioning. Slating is not considered part of your performance.

Take

Every time the camera is turned on to record a performance and then shut off, it’s called a “take.” When you enter the audition room, you may be told how many takes you’ll be given.

Union status

This refers to a project that can be considered a union or non-union production; or, it can refer to a performer who has either union or non-union status.

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