Vara Gianna is currently Seventeen Magazine’s youngest contributor! Her articles are super “in the know” on the latest fashion trends and updated Pinterest vibes. Vara was discovered by Jenn David, President and Senior Agent of J.L. David Talent when she was only 10 years old. Since then Vara has become a social media influencer, YouTuber and a community service hero, volunteering many hours to charity events.
By Erin Cronican | Posted Jan. 29, 2018, 8:30 a.m.
Q: What’s the best way to bring your own take to a character that’s already written? Should you stick to the script or try to make it your own? —Mike W.
I firmly believe that what makes an actor stand out is not her talent, training, experiences, or connections. Instead, we get hired because of our unique interpretation of the text, a skill that comes from our years on the planet coupled with our life experiences. The more empathic and curious an actor can be, the more interested she is in learning about others, which will make it easier for her to bring her own take to a character.
When it comes to how to do this, it depends on how the material is being used. There’s some wiggle room when using established text in an audition, because the actor’s job is to take a scene and create an arc as though it’s a stand-alone piece. There are liberties an actor can take with her imagination, answering questions like:
Who is the character talking to? What’s happening in the scene? How does it mirror something that has happened in my life that I can relate to? What problem is the character facing and how can she overcome it? By choosing this piece, what do I want to say about who I am as an artist?
When working an established text as a project, an actor can ask herself similar questions. But then she advances, finding clues and filling in gaps for anything not answered. So in addition to the above questions, an actor can add:
What are the relationships in this piece? How do they mirror relationships I have had in my life, which might be useful for my imagination? What problem is the character walking into each scene with? Which tactics does she use to overcome the problem and get what she wants?
You might think that answering these questions means the actor is giving in to the writer’s wants and not her own, but the act of answering them gives the actor great power in blending her perspective with the writer’s story, which is a beautiful artistic collaboration.
Erin Cronican is a professional actor (SAG-AFTRA/AEA) with over 20 years of experience performing in film, TV, plays, and musicals (NYC, LA, regionally.) She also produces and directs with The Seeing Place Theater, a critically acclaimed non-profit, indie company in NYC. Passionate about sharing her knowledge with other actors, Erin is the lead coach and founder of The Actors' Enterprise, one-on-one coaching service that provides affordable career coaching to actors who want to feel more fulfilled and in control of their careers. She helps actors set goals, design their materials, organize their business, and create a plan of action with easy tools that can take them to the next level with an emphasis on feeling empowered and working smarter, not harder. The first consultation is always free. Follow her on Twitter @ErinCronican and like her on Facebook.
As a talent agent it is very important that those I work with are continually refining their performance in the audition room. FACT: How consistently well an actor performs in the audition room is what actually matters most to us!
1. If your scene has more than one person in it, do not direct your off-camera looks to include the director, producer, or anyone sitting in the room—it makes them wildly uncomfortable. You can either use the reader (who can play all the characters) or the cameraperson. You can also choose a spot directly to the side of the camera. Just make sure you’re not directing those looks too far from the lens or we’ll lose your eyes and expression.
2. The camera picks up everything, but you still can’t whisper. You’ve been taught to “play to the room,” and these new-fangled cameras (and phones) are pretty amazing. You still need to make sure you’re heard.
3. Be as off-book as possible so you can receive notes from the director. I work with one who loves actors and is very articulate with them. If he likes what you’re doing, he might give you six or seven notes per scene. If you don’t know the dialogue well, your head will explode. You’ve got to be on your toes so that you can change it up when you get those notes. Don’t just stick to the way you’ve been doing it over and over. We want to see that you can listen and adjust.
4. If your lines include a name or a word that you don’t know, look up the pronunciation and meaning. I can’t tell you how many times people have mispronounced a designer’s name. For a character who should know better, it’s an instant giveaway that you didn’t do the proper research.
5. One of our producers is the writer. He thinks his words are golden and would like to hear them read as written. However, a button—especially in comedy, and only if you know what you’re doing—can be a very good thing. (By button, I mean a look, reaction, or ad-libbed line that “buttons up” the scene.) But be careful and don’t overdo this option.
6. When we ask that you bring a hard copy of your picture and résumé, unless you’re Will Smith or Angelina Jolie, we mean it. And make sure they’re both up to date.
7. Speaking of your résumé, please—for the love of all that is holy—list your height. When we’re casting an ensemble, we need to know your height so that we can know how you’ll look in the frame with the other actors. If we envision some characters having a particular height, it would be nice to find it without having to make calls or look online.
8. We don’t always have time to procure an O-1 Visa for you. If you’re not a U.S. citizen, put your status on your résumé. If you have a green card, even better!
9. Research, research, research. Know who you’re reading for. Every script has a rhythm, like music. You’ve got to know their past work so you know the tone of the piece.
10. Separate your demo reels or clips into comedy and drama.
11. Finally, read the script. There’s no way you can understand the tone unless you do. On my current project, the script is available, and yet several actors have auditioned without reading it because “their agent didn’t send it.” If you don’t get it from your agent or manager, push back and ask them if it’s available.
Known for her work in film and television, producer and casting director Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Waters, Christopher Nolan, Brad Bird, and Herbert Ross. While working at Fenton-Feinberg Casting, she, along with Mike Fenton, cast such films as “A Christmas Story,” “Poltergeist,” “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” and “Blade Runner.” After establishing her own casting company in 1983, Liroff cast “Footloose,” “St. Elmo's Fire,” “Pretty in Pink,” “The Iron Giant,” “The Spitfire Grill," “Untamed Heart," “Freaky Friday,” “Mean Girls,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” “Vampire Academy,” and the upcoming “The Sublime and Beautiful,” which she produced as well, and the upcoming film "Magic Camp.".
Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light. The class spawned an online course available at Udemy entitled "How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp." Visit Liroff online at marciliroff.com, follow her on Twitter @marciliroff and Facebook, and watch her advice videos on YouTube. You can also read her blog.
As Told By: Beverly Hills Playhouse
The idea exists out there that acting training is a waste of time. Or that it's something you might do to "tune up for pilot season." Or that training is less important than meeting people – casting directors, agents, producers, Hollywood parties, screenings, going to Sundance – the myth is strong that success is based primarily in such networking activity.
And why invest money in a good acting class if you can take the same money nowadays and produce a short film that you can put on YouTube within 24 hours, receiving comments and acknowledgments, and maybe even... a deal!?
So why study?
Because whether you would say it aloud or not, there is something other than money and "success" that has driven you into acting. There is the thrill of performance, the ability to affect an audience, to create an emotional experience, to have an artistic experience yourself in performing – this is the true motivation. And in order to do this – you need to know what you're doing. You need to be trained. You need to study. Hard.
Money and success are the exchange you receive for providing quality performances. And the networking and parties and YouTube videos – these are means by which you try to create the opportunity to deliver a quality performance. Networking is important for sure – actors should be proactive in administrating their careers – and this is part of what we teach at the BHP.
But professional musicians, athletes, dancers, artists – they all embark on a lifetime of training that never ends. The same should be true for actors. Musicians play every day. Writers write every day. Dancers dance every day. Athletes work out every day. The actor needs a group, needs other actors, and thus a good class is the best way of maintaining your skills and developing them, even while working professionally. The pursuit of excellence and your personal expansion as an artist are lifetime endeavors.
Our culture holds celebrities up to the light of adulation, no matter the underlying talent. There are even celebrities who are just famous for being famous, without a single product to their name, nothing they offer in exchange for the attention and money they receive. In such a world, training may seem to be of diminished importance.
Who needs training when such-and-such an actor moved to LA, walked into his first audition, and that was the TV series that made him famous?
Who needs training when such-and-such a standup comedian is so funny, so personable, that ABC made a series for the guy and now he's making millions?
Who needs training when your friend Joe moved to LA only 6 months ago and hooked up with some connected people up in the Hollywood Hills and his YouTube short has 20 million views and now he swears he has a deal for a series and he keeps getting invited to these fancy parties?
Who needs training? You do. Everyone does.
The longer a student has been studying the more likely it is they are working on a regular basis, and yet some of the most successful actors in the professional world are also the ones who are the most regular in their attendance and their production in class.
You want fame? Study.
You want money? Study.
New car? Study.
Swimming pool? Study.
More importantly – you want to become the best actor you can be, which will open the door to all of the above? Study.
A New year, means a new you! Well, only if you are committed to evaluating your progress as a successful actor. The start of a new year is always a great time to hit the reset button and make new career goals that will lead to success! Backstage Experts know what tools actors need to succeed and we wanted to share with you as we start a brand new year!
What New Year’s resolutions will help actors succeed in 2018?
Here are 15 resolutions to set you up for a prosperous new year!
Paul Barry, L.A.-based acting teacher and founder of Acting 4 Camera
When was the last time you made a resolution to do something radically positive in your life? If it was last year around this time then please read my thoughts in “7 Honest Resolutions Worth Making.”
Declan Donnellan in “The Actor and the Target” speaks of “concentration versus attention.” By concentrating on one specific outcome we may overlook experiences along the way that could help us get there another way. Sometimes the seemingly random occurrence is better than our original goal.
I find focusing on how I want to be infinitely more useful than focusing on what I want to possess. “Integrity above all,” “get better every day,” and “you are deserving” are all mantras I have had written at various times on cards above my desk. They guide me in a positive way, but don’t blind me to specific experiences in the way that, “I want to play a lead in a ‘Star Wars’ film” might.
If you’d like to make a resolution, choose not what you want, but what you want to be.
Joanne Baron and D.W. Brown, L.A.-based acting teachers
A New Year’s resolution for an actor to succeed in 2016 would be for them to seriously reflect and identify a single obstacle that they have avoided dealing with or working on—whether it’s an accent they need to reduce, a fitness regime they need to start, or an Alexander Technique class they need to take. Everyone has something that is nagging them in the back of their mind that they just haven’t really worked to overcome. Make this year the year to tackle that thing. This new year, make your weakness your strength!
Risa Bramon Garcia and Steve Braun, The BGB Studio
Stop resolving and start doing! The key to success in making any resolutions is to have a plan of action. A map and calendar of what you’re going to do to actualize your dreams. It’s likely you’ve tried to start the year with the resolve to lose 10 pounds, exercise three more times per week, cut out sugar, find ways to “network,” and by Jan. 17, it’s all gone down the tube. Try setting goals with a clear and specific practice in place. Not only will you define how exactly you might do it, you can also create a creative and enjoyable process. So create a ritual. Give yourself a simple three-week goal of daily practices. Before you know it, a goal is amazingly achievable and new routines emerge. Be accountable to yourself by doing what makes you happy, what stirs you deeply. Don’t be afraid of your hunger for it, whatever it is. The aching is already there, so see what happens when you grant it power and set it free. The reward and success are in the doing, and your resolutions become your reality!
Marc Cartwright, L.A.-based headshot and editorial photographer
A great resolution that I made for myself a few years ago was to do five things for my career a day. Big or small. You could browse the latest issue of Backstage or Variety for helpful career insight. You could reach out to one industry professional that you’ve been meaning to contact. At least one of the five tasks should be challenging for you. You’ll be surprised at what you uncover over time.
1. First, make sure you really know what you want. Take time in a quiet, uninterrupted spot to get in touch with what is truly important to you. If you start going after a dream, you just might get it so make sure it’s a dream that you really want. I, personally, like to ask for the “optimal” instead of specifics (optimal love, work, happiness, prosperity, home, support, health, fulfillment, etc.). Put everything that is important to you on this list and look at it frequently.
2. Now, turn that dream into reality by planning a six-month goal and the weekly steps you must take to achieve it.
Kate McClanaghan, L.A.-based casting director
I don’t recommend you wish for just one audition, one job, one agent—don’t wish for one of anything. Strive for abundance. Otherwise, and I have no idea why this is, I simply know it to be true—you will only get one audition, one job, one agent, and so on. Instead, resolve to create an ongoing career for yourself marked by many auditions, both good and not-so-hot; many jobs, both remarkable and ridiculous. And multiple agents, colleagues, and cohorts who will effectively support and assist you in achieving a body of work you can honestly be proud of. I wish this for you every day of the coming new year, and every year to come! May your path be as extraordinary and unlimited as you and your imagination can bear. This is how you create anything, including your career. It requires a continued effort and plenty of it. Give yourself plenty of room to make a wonderful mess of things!
Anthony Meindl, L.A.-based acting coach
Resolve to fall in love with the process! We come out here with dreams of Oscars and Emmys, our names on a trailer, and buying groceries wearing a ball cap and sunglasses indoors at night while TMZ records you on a camera phone, because stars are just like us, dammit! OK, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. The process of getting to your goals—the auditioning, the showcases, the workshops, the mailings no one reads but you have to do, and your seventh round of headshots this year—we mostly see all this as the grind, the long slog to the top, something to suffer through! No! This is your life now, not some shiny future over which you have no control. Love the little things you do every day for yourself and your career and release yourself from the burden of results. So resolve to fall in love with the process every day, and success won’t be something passive that you might someday have, it will be what you already do.
Joseph Pearlman, L.A.-based acting coach, founder of Pearlman Acting Academy
Actors need to get that anything capable of being accomplished can be done, including launching a successful acting career. Stop undermining yourselves by dreaming up obstacles to your success. Memorizing lines, not having a reel, no representation, no major credits, etc. These are all bullshit excuses for delaying your career a day longer. Our actors get that nine-tenths of the performance is the personality of the actor. If you can truly fathom that 90 percent of the heavy lifting is already accomplished, then you’re going to have the best year ever.
Jackie Reid, manager, and owner of L’il Angels Unlimited
One resolution that would help actors succeed in 2016 would be to check and update their casting profiles once a month. Do you have a new credit? Have you taken a class or a workshop? Have you learned something new? Do you have any new pictures?
If you are the parent of a young actor, you can add all of the above plus update their current sizes.
This will take about 15 minutes a month and ensure that when your reps are submitting you, they are sending out the most current and viable information possible. Because we all want you to book in 2016!
Jessica Rofé, founder and artistic director of A Class Act NY
As an acting coach for young performers and the artistic director of an award-winning acting studio for kids and teens, I would suggest that all young actors do their due diligence and follow up with every casting director they audition for. Send a clever note with a picture! Let the casting director know what you’re up to! Marketing yourself is also part of your job as an actor, even if you’re still just a kid! Hint: Parents, help your kiddos out! Don’t miss out on an opportunity to remind casting directors about your adorable and talented little star!
As performers, we have to be vain, maintain a killer self-care regimen, and look and feel our best. So we spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves, and that is totally OK and necessary. However, the truly successful actors are the artists who listen during a scene, and who give attention onstage instead of volleying for it. The breathtaking dancer gives heart and soul in every gesture. Think of this saying: “What you give is what you get.” Give freely. Give attention, support, money, treats, compliments. Share monologues, sheet music, and audition tips with newbies. There is enough for everyone, and the sooner we change our focus from lack to abundance, the sooner we all succeed.
Bret Shuford, NYC-based actor and the Broadway Life Coach
I would suggest making a resolution to focus on adding value to all of your relationships. Are you only asking your reps, casting directors, and others how they can serve you? Start to ask yourself how you can serve them? When someone says they have booked/are working on a project, simply say congratulations, and restrain from asking how you can be a part of it (at least in the moment). Find ways of giving to people instead of only trying to get, then watch how freedom begins to appear in your life.
Douglas Taurel, NYC-based actor-producer
I don’t necessarily believe in New Year’s resolutions, but I do believe in goals. The one goal I would suggest is to double your effort in 2016. Effort is the great equalizer in today’s world and in our business. Those with the highest effort output usually win. And one task for each month to help increase your effort for the year would be to wake up twice a month at 4:30 a.m. to either work on your body, your mind, or your career.
Ben Whitehair, L.A.-based actor
When I moved to L.A. I replaced “resolutions” with an “Annual Review + Action Plan.” I have found it very supportive to look both forwards and backwards. Every holiday season I spend about 10 hours looking back at the previous year. What worked? What didn’t work? What were the major themes, takeaways, and lessons for the year?
Then, I spend dozens of hours setting goals and an action plan for every domain of my life in the coming year. I discovered that for me, resolutions without an action plan weren’t very likely to succeed. However, when I create an in-depth action plan for my entire life, I’m able to get specific in ways that have dramatically improved my results.
If you’re interested in conducting your own annual review, I’ve created a free template document you can download on my website.
Ryan R. Williams, L.A.-based on-camera coach, founder of Screen Actors System
Watch more great movies. Even better if you see them in a theater on opening weekend. Pay attention to the audience reaction. This will help you calibrate your own choices against what is popular with audiences currently. It may sound like a “sell out” move, but I find that if I don’t stay in touch with the multiplex, my sensibilities tend to become a bit obscure. It’s a way of connecting to the inspiration that brought you here. It’s an added bonus that it will improve your ability to network. If you are a current movie buff you will never run out of things to talk about with the filmmakers you meet. We’re all movie buffs. The holiday season is the best time to do this. You have downtime and all the Oscar contenders are in release.
Casting directors, directors, producers and anyone sitting in that audition room are expecting to see the 110% authentic and real you- on your best day- walk in to that casting room. Let me clarify that by expectations I do not mean the stereotypical Hollywood movie star "glitzed and glamed for the red carpet," type. No. I am talking about the grounded, confident and unique ALL NAT-UR-AL type. The red Lipstick.. GTG. The smokey eye... GTG. The layers of foundation GTG. The two-inch thick eye liner... GTG. Mastering your "audition look" is an art all by itself. Ladies, THIS MATTERS so listen, learn and practice.
Los Angeles hair and makeup artist Anthony Pazos offers best practices on getting such an everyday look.
Less Is More
"Lighter is better," says Pazos when it comes to audition makeup. "You want to stay natural. And it's per person, too. So [our model's] colors would be purples, mauves, light browns, skin-tone colors. You can use black eyeliner on her but I'd prefer it if you used brown on her. So it depends on the coloring."
Under the Lash
Unless you have really big eyes, Pazos recommends gliding your eyeliner pencil under the lower lashes rather than inside the tear duct area. On our model, he used MAC's "Teddy" pencil, though his favorite is "Feline" by MAC. "It the blackest of the black," he explains. "It glides on really easily. When you have a pencil that's cheaper it won't actually glide. So you're struggling putting it on."
Drawing in Your Brow
Not every actor will have to draw in her eyebrows. Says Pazos, "Try not to paint it in first with a pencil. See if you can just brow gel it. Sometimes a brow gel will make it actually darker. You won't have to pencil it in. If you have to pencil it in, whatever your natural hair color is, go a few shades lighter than that."
Eye Shadow 101
Pazos says all you need are three colors: "Use a lighter color for the [upper] lash line to the crease; that's your highlight color. The darkest color will go in the crease; that's creating a contour and giving a false effect of a crease basically in your eye. It gives you definition. And then the last color, which is also a highlight color, goes on your brow bone. It's also a light color."
Foundation of Foundations
Pazos recommends the brand Makeup Forever to all actors, particularly those working in or wanting to work on-camera. He explains, "Everything else is too oily, looks too caked on, is too thick, and is too clumpy. The best, the lightest, the one that everyone is using in the industry would be Makeup Forever." He also likes the brand's powder.
"Makeup starts before you put on the makeup," says Pazos. "It starts off with the cleaning agent you're using for your face. You want to get facials. You have to wash your face every night. If you're on camera every day, you can't afford to look bad. It's all about staying competitive."
As for moisturizer, he recommends staying away from products with a lot of oil. "Oil is going to clog your skin, therefore giving you pimples and zits and therefore making you wear more foundation to cover it. And SPF is huge. It will prevent wrinkles and give you more time in the industry." Pazos' go-to brands are Murad and Dermalogica. After moisturizing the skin, Pazos likes to use a Smashbox primer. "It's really light. It helps fill in any fine lines that you may have before you put on your foundation or concealer. You want to stay away from anything that has a luminescence—any shine, any glitter, any fine brightness to it. What that's going to do, especially on camera, is it's going to make your face look greasy. If you're going in on an audition, you want to make sure your face is staying matte."
There are two ways to go about doing blush, according to the celebrity makeup artist. "There's contouring of the cheeks and then there's blush—totally different things," he says. "Blush is supposed to be just on the apples of your cheeks. It's supposed to give you a little bit of color to make you look healthy. So that would be more of the red or mauve tones, more healthy-looking tones. Whereas contouring would be more of the grays and browns to accentuate your cheeks to make them look more defined. Depending on your face shape, if you have a really round face, I recommend actually contouring your cheekbones to make your face defined."
Other Tips From a Pro
- You don't have to spend a lot on mascara. Pazos says the cheaper brands, namely Cover Girl, Maybelline, and L'Oreal, are great. He also says not to pump your mascara as it dries it out sooner than if you swirl it in the canister. And throw out that mascara after three months.
- If you're going to spend money, invest in a good set of brushes. "If you don't have the right tools, it's not going to look the same," says Pazos. "You can fake it, but it will make your job easier if you have the right tools." He especially recommends a foundation brush. If you prefer to apply foundation with a sponge, be sure to throw it away after a few applications. "It's a breeding ground for bacteria."
Check out these amazing headshots photographed by: David Noles
- May 2018
- Feb 3, 2018 How Do I Bring My Own Take to an Already-Written Character? Feb 3, 2018
- Feb 3, 2018 5 Unbreakable Acting Resume Rules Feb 3, 2018
- Jan 23, 2018 11 Ways To Up Your Audition Game Jan 23, 2018
- Jan 19, 2018 One Question An Actor Should Never Ask. Jan 19, 2018
- Jan 15, 2018 The #1 Reason You Won’t Book The Role + How to Fix It Jan 15, 2018
- Jan 2, 2018 15 New Years Resolutions for Actors To Succeed In 2018. Jan 2, 2018
- Dec 10, 2017 10 AUDITION TIPS FOR ACTORS Dec 10, 2017
- November 2017
- Sep 4, 2017 One Audition Can Change Everything Sep 4, 2017
- Mar 29, 2017 How To Write A Talent Resume The Right Way Mar 29, 2017
- Jan 17, 2017 What Does Your Agent Do? Jan 17, 2017
- Jan 10, 2017 Four Things Talent Should Understand From The Beginning. Jan 10, 2017
- Jan 5, 2017 A Head Shot that BOOKS Is What Matters Most! Jan 5, 2017
- Sep 24, 2016 A KID DIVISION UNSTOPPABLE Sep 24, 2016