Katie Redford’s guide to making a positive first impression as you step out into the industry…
My favourite story regarding an actor contacting a casting director was the one when they sent a single shoe with a note attached saying, “Just trying to get my foot in the door”. Now, I can’t speak for casting directors, but I’d personally just suggest keeping your shoes on and contacting them in a simpler form…
I am, by no means, writing this blog as an expert on good etiquette. In fact, not only did I want to share mistakes I’ve witnessed so far, but more so, the major ones I’ve made myself. So, hopefully we can all generally feel better about ourselves and learn something from them all. There’s no rulebook on how to handle the following situations, so here are just a few tips on how not to make an absolute shambles of them.
When approaching casting directors…
The other day, I found some emails dating back to 2011, where I’d written to casting directors to introduce myself. As I read them back, I wanted the ground to swallow me whole. I cringed reading my ridiculously long, typed out life story and how “ever since I’d watched Cold Feet, I knew this was the path I needed to follow.” Stop Katie. JUST STOP. But we all make mistakes. And it took nobody getting back to me, along with a bit of hindsight, to learn from this.
Do contact with a purpose
My favourite story regarding an actor contacting a casting director was the one when they sent a single shoe with a note attached saying, “Just trying to get my foot in the door”. Now, I can’t speak for casting directors, but I’d personally just suggest keeping your shoes on and contacting them in a simpler form. Firstly, having one shoe is a bit inconvenient (for both parties) and secondly, it’s probably more beneficial to contact them with an actual purpose. A friend of mine works in casting and he said it’s always good to hear from actors who are writing with a purpose. Whether that’s due to them having new headshots, a new showreel or an invitation to watch something they’re in. His advice was to keep it concise; no longer than 5 sentences and always link to your Spotlight profile.
Don’t contact out of hours
I don’t mean at 18:05 you’re banned from emails, but be smart about it. Think about the time it’s going to be received. For instance, early afternoon on a Tuesday is much more likely to grab attention than on a Friday night. And as a general rule, don’t email on a weekend. Remember this is a job – a job from which we all deserve time off. And a Sunday evening is for Blue Planet and apple crumble, not emailing, trying to get yourself seen.
Waiting before an audition…
Those moments before you have your audition are crucial, and you need to be in the best frame of mind you can be.
Earlier this year, I was waiting to go into an audition for the role of SUPERHERO 2 (made it) and we were all paired up in the waiting room. SUPERHERO 1 turns to me and says, “Just to let you know, If I’m walking funny, it’s because I’m got a moon cup in.” Now listen, I’m all for a bit of girl talk, but there is a time and a place. My focus was all over the shop and instead of listening to direction, I couldn’t stop observing her… movements.
Do make an effort to focus
Use the moments before an audition as a time to centre yourself. Pop a Headspace on. Who cares what you look like when you’re in a meditative zone, listening to Andy’s soothing tones? Those moments before you have your audition are crucial, and you need to be in the best frame of mind you can be. Your focus and confidence needs to be on point. And sometimes, other people in the room, if you let them, can alter both of these things. It’s not their fault; some people just love a natter. And if it’s not going to affect your concentration, go for it. But just remember this is part of the audition. Be professional and if you’re not up for it, let them know. You’re all in the same boat so they’ll get it.
Don’t talk your head off
I know audition waiting rooms can be strange places with nerves and tension floating around all over the place, but just check in with yourself before you start up a conversation with someone. I’ve met people just from auditions that I now class as friends from the chats we’ve had waiting to go in. This bit can sometimes feel like the scariest part of an audition, and when you’re in it together, you can simply just click. But just don’t go overboard. Appreciate that there may be actors in that room who need to get themselves into a zone before they go into the room. Don’t just babble at someone because you’re nervous. Not everyone wants to know about the fact you’ve had a really busy year and Call The Midwife is going exceedingly well. I’m sure it’s not being said with the intention of making others feel rubbish but it can do, especially if others in the room haven’t worked in a while. This is the sort of thing that massively affects confidence and focus, so just be aware.
During the audition…
I remember my first audition. I was so nervous, I was almost robotic. I didn’t smile, my answers to questions were very clipped and concise and I put on a RP accent (LOL). I think at the time, I thought it would make me sound more like everyone else, therefore I’d be in with more of a chance?!
A friend of mine once took a teabag into an audition. She had it in her mind that she’d pop it down on the desk, look the casting director in the eye and confidently say, “Have a brew on me.” I mean, I’m no smooth criminal myself but… sorry, what? However, instead, she got into the room, suddenly felt really nervous and just sort of threw the teabag down on the desk and muttered, “Here’s a…teabag.” She said it was one of the most painful moments of her life. It was painful hearing it, let alone actually doing it, poor girl. So yeah, don’t do that.
Do have things in mind when they ask what you’ve been up to
This won’t happen every time, but there may be time for a casting director to ask you what you’ve been up to. So, know what you’ve been up to. Which sounds daft, but it’s easy to forget in moments of pressure. Just have a mental note of 3 things you’ve been doing that are interesting to chat about. You may not even get asked but even for confidence reasons, it gives you validation that you’ve actually got other things to discuss. If it’s been a quiet year and there’s not much to say acting wise, think about personal things. Have you signed up to any fitness challenges? Have you visited somewhere you’ve never been before? Have you learnt a new instrument? And if push comes to shove, I’m sure a little exaggeration is fine…
Don’t take yourself too seriously
I remember my first audition. I was so nervous, I was almost robotic. I didn’t smile, my answers to questions were very clipped and concise and I put on a RP accent (LOL). I think at the time, I thought it would make me sound more like everyone else, therefore I’d be in with more of a chance?! Be someone that the director will want to work with. Someone taking themselves too seriously isn’t fun for anyone. So, be friendly, open and approachable. Engage in conversation and be yourself. But remember not to go over the top – there’s friendly and then there’s over familiar. It’s all very well bonding over the fact you’re both from Leeds, but don’t go on to tell them about that time when you had that great night out there and then woke up the next day in a shopping trolley with no clothes on. You might think I’m being ridiculous by pointing out these things that seem screamingly obvious not to bring up, but nerves can do funny things to us and before we know it, we’re talking waaaay too much. So just take note…
… don’t go home and email the industry professional at 4am who you chatted to at the event. And definitely don’t add them on Facebook.
I get it. We all want this. And when we meet certain people that could lead to things happening for us, it’s easy to just grab life by the horns and give it everything you’ve got. But just take a moment to think about it: if you were in their shoes, how would you want someone to approach you? What would they say that would appeal to you and make you want to meet them again?
Do follow it up with a message afterwards
If the wine’s been flowing (which, let’s be honest, at networking events, is most of the time), and you’ve had a heart to heart with someone at the bus stop on your way home about your dreams, and you’re all fired up, don’t go home and email the industry professional at 4am who you chatted to at the event. And definitely don’t add them on Facebook. It not only looks unprofessional but desperate. Leave it until the following day and then just follow up with an email. Keep it brief and don’t be overfamiliar. This would be an ideal opportunity to send over any clips of your work. Leave it on a high.
Don’t hog someone in the corner of the room or linger around them
I’ve witnessed uncomfortable moments of industry professionals almost being trapped in corners of the room. They’ve been practically dripping with sweat, gripping on to their Blossom Hill, trying to look for a way out, whilst Joe Bloggs has whipped out his reel on Vimeo. It’s about as uncomfortable as watching someone take a selfie on the tube. It all just feels forced and far too keen.
And finally: if you have done the majority of the above “DON’T’s”, so what? I reckon the majority of us have. We just need to learn from them and share our mistakes with others so that 1) Everyone else learns from them too, and 2) We can all have a good laugh. Because if we can’t laugh at these things, what’s the point in this whole journey? (I’m looking at you, teabag friend.)
Katie Redford is an actress & writer originally from Nottingham, and part of the BBC New Talent Hotlist 2017. Katie won the BBC Norman Beaton Fellowship in 2015 via Birmingham Rep. She was part of the BBC Radio Drama Company and is now currently playing Lily Pargetter in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers and Ruby Tuliver in BBC Radio 4’s Home Front. She can also be heard as Layla in BBC Radio Comedy’s All Those Women.