Casting Director and Acting Coach Paul Weber on Stronger Auditions

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Casting veteran Paul Weber has two decades’ worth of experience in the industry, and he shared valuable audit advice during a “Livestream AMA.” The Los Angeles-based casting director started out as an actor and toured with the California Shakespeare Festival before being mentored by casting director Michael Shurtleff, a major force in casting on Broadway in the ’60s and ’70s. Weber went on to serve as executive in-house head of television casting for MGM Studios. His work includes the “Stargate” franchise, “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena,” “Outlander,” “Pure,” “Dead Like Me,” “Poltergeist,” and “The Outer Limits.” He’s also an acting coach, offering workshops and courses for performers.

Here are Weber’s tips on ways actors can stand out in audits:

What does “make bold choices” really mean?

To help performers make a strong impression during auditions, Weber is hesitant to give actors the instruction: “Make bold choices.” Although this advice is popularly given, he finds that actors tend to translate those words to mean “perform bigger and louder.” This is not helpful. Performers, he asserts, should instead be told to be “subtle and specific.” Take the text, study it, gain insights into it, and then find subtle, unexpected ways to express the material. “It’s the subtle moments that make all the difference,” Weber insists. However, whatever decision actors make, their approach must support the text itself.

Important qualities to exhibit in the audition room.

For either an experienced actor or newbie, there are certain qualities in a performer that go a long way. “I may see someone who’s brand new, but there’s an instinct, a willingness to be present, there’s a willingness to be vulnerable, there’s a willingness to listen,” Weber explains. “Those are really important things, and that’s what sometimes doesn’t happen because actors are so desperate and sometimes get in their own head, and they sabotage their own work.”

Focus on the work to get out of your head.

In asking himself, “What keeps actors from doing their best work in the audition room?” Weber has come to the conclusion that they tend to get in their own way. “I find that a lot of actors…are paralyzed by fear of rejection or anxiety, and that just piggybacks on itself, right?”

However, he believes this state of mind can be managed with excellent preparation. “The better the preparation, the more assured and confident the actor is not only in the choices they make, but the freedom that they now have to execute the direction they might get from a casting director or producer, if they’re lucky.” Also, actors must manage expectations, and fully understand that the actor’s journey most commonly requires many, many rejections before landing a job.

Time plus effort is the ticket.

In his experience, Weber says, “Everyone starts off pretty green.” Just like anything else in life, the more a person does something, the better he or she will get at it. This applies to auditioning and making self-tapes. Weber offers, “My advice is you get better by auditioning, by getting out there and auditioning and doing the work, and auditioning for everything you can: short films, student films, plays, do classes, practice, sacrifice. That’s my advice really because there’s no one note I can give an actor.” Weber is rooting for talent to believe in themselves and stick to the task of growing as performers. “If they just did the work and continued to do the work, they would get better at it. And then they might even enjoy it. That’s what I love to see!”

The only control an actor has.

Weber emphasizes that actors must really take to heart one aspect from the point of view of a casting director: “The only control you have is what you bring into the room, your state of being, your preparedness, your willingness to listen, take direction , to be present. You really have no control over anything else!” He cautions actors from thinking they have any additional control because that line of thinking leads to a lot of second guessing and self-sabotage. “You leave the room and wonder what you could have done differently. But if you’re present in that moment, we will see it. We will know that you’re doing the work that you’re best capable of doing in that moment. And that’s really what you should leave us with, and don’t worry about the other stuff because you can’t do anything about it anyway.” Especially, don’t waste a minute comparing yourself to others.

What’s absolutely vital for today’s actor?

“Good headshots and good demo reels are absolutely vital today because there’s a lot of casting that’s being done virtually where we may not bring you in for a role or have you self-tape for a role unless we can see some work that you’ve already done,” Weber states. “Get a minute, get two minutes, you know, thirty seconds even is enough for us to get an indication of what’s the look like on camera, is there intelligence, is there a sense of humor, does this seem to be a physical fit perhaps for the role? So…you must have some content absolutely.” Remember to place your strongest work at the beginning and have at least thirty seconds of quality work on the demo.

Tips for self-taped audits.

Weber is enjoying some of the variety he’s been seeing with self-tapes these days. While it’s certainly beneficial for actors to have an auditioning space set up at home with a light or dark blue or gray background, along with proper lighting, he’s now asking talent a new question: “Why not create as much of a cinematic experience for the casting director rather than always just have the blue screen in the background?” He continues, “You can create an environment depending on what the scene is to help support who you are in this scene.” For example, if auditioning for the role of a psychiatrist or doctor, he offers the suggestion of sitting at a desk with a nice bookcase in the background. If the text takes place in the kitchen, move the audition into the kitchen. “I’m very supportive of that if it supports the scene,” he contends.

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