By the time you’re reading this, I’m likely on the road.
The four-hour drive to Hollywood in my Dodge Ram pickup on a monotonous I-15 commute across the Mojave desert is just the beginning of my audition gamble.
Before the day is done, I will have driven 500 miles… all for a 5 minute (if that long) on-camera chance at fame.
A Big Committment
Over a year ago, after I left TV news, I decided to augment my field of opportunities with on-camera auditions as well. I took acting classes, studied with Mary Lynn Wissner’s ex-husband (a casting director), and started making THE COMMUTE.
The really big commercial and theatrical on-camera jobs are in LA. Don’t even try anywhere else. Yes, self-directed, self-shot video auditions are becoming more commonplace. But to land the big (translate: Union) jobs, you gotta show up in person. NYC probably provides an equal number of these opportunities, maybe Chicago…I dunno Atlanta? Miami? But the 800lb. gorilla in this sphere is LA. I don’t see this stuff happening in Vegas hardly at all…and it’s the so-called “Entertainment Capital of the World”.
So for me, that means a commute to SoCal. I leave at 6am for an 11:30 call. I always cross my fingers that the LA traffic gods will cooperate. So far, I’ve done this 8-10 times.
If I’m lucky, I’ll arrive on time to a small, usually seedy-looking and cramped office in an obscure building in or around downtown LA. There’s a sign-in sheet. If the casting agency is so inclined, or the client allows, I might have seen the copy ahead of time. That’s the case today. I’m to play a 60-something Russian Military officer. So the copy has to be delivered in a Rusky accent, which is probably my best accent.
If I’m lucky there will be a chair to sit and wait till they call my name. It could take 5 mins or an hour to hear my name called.. Other 60-ish looking potential Russian Military officers are there, too, glowering at me. Each of us is sure he will get the job. Not one of these other schmucks!
When my name is called, I enter a sparse room with 1-5 people sitting with their backs against the wall, and a videographer standing next to an adequate video camera on a tripod. Everybody plays nice, and I act like I’m thrilled to be there. Usually one person will offer a few directions. By union rules, the copy I’m supposed to deliver will also be hand-written out (usually barely legible) on a big poster-board situated on an easel in front of me.
The videographer will ask for me to give my name to a live camera. There are nuances to even this. I smile big, and give a bold declaration of my name. Then the videographer pans my image from head to toe. Then I get the go-ahead cue to deliver my lines. They may ask me to do it again. Sometimes one of the people watching (a casting director…an ad agency wonk?) may ask me to try something else. An ad-lib, or a gesture.
Then I’m done. Max…5 mins.
I leave the room deflated. No matter what my coaches have said about putting EVERYTHING into the audition, you always end up leaving thinking “…I shoulda done THAT!…”
I’ll nod gratuitously at the other Russian officers waiting for their call, and emerge once again to the never-ending near perfect 70-something Southerm California weather, and try to decide if I have the time to drive about 20-minutes to see my youngest daughter before facing the long drive back.
At 2pm, the LA freeways will start getting congested, so that’s the deadline.
4 hours, and 500 miles later, I’ve done my one hopeful, on-camera 5-min LA audition, at the sacrifice of virtually every other job opportunity this day. Worth it?
I’ve learned not to even make this attempt unless the job pays AT LEAST $500 (after agency fees). Sometimes, if you get the gig, they will pay gas. You won’t believe how many audition calls go out in the no-pay to $363 range. 90% of them at least. Non-union on-camera jobs comprise 65-70% of opportunities today.
If I get the call-back, I’ll go. That means I’m probably one of 5-20 auditioners they liked. If I actually, then, get the gig, the payoff is huge. A 30-sec commercial can pay up to $50,000 on a 13-week run. If it repeats… even more. If it’s a recurring role…I’ve hit the Holy Grail. Odds are something like 1,356,785-to-1. But hey!…you never get the job if you don’t at least audition.
At least that’s the wisdom to voice-over auditions, right? But if I’d stayed at home today, I might have mustered, what?…15 auditions?
No time to think about that now…I’ve gotta get around that slow-moving tractor-trailer with the Amazon smile logo on it.