warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Top Four Mistakes Actors Make While Auditioning For Student Films

Rebecca Doyle |
July 13, 2013 | 11:46 a.m. PDT


Landing roles in student productions is often vital to obtaining reel footage and establishing film work on a resume. (Vancouver Film School, Creative Commons)
Landing roles in student productions is often vital to obtaining reel footage and establishing film work on a resume. (Vancouver Film School, Creative Commons)

In a field that requires spending so much time becoming someone else, it’s no wonder that new actors have a little trouble portraying their most important character - themselves. While student films are not the end goal for most aspiring Hollywood talent, landing roles in student productions is often vital to obtaining reel footage and establishing film work on a resume. After casting multiple student shorts last semester, I noticed several problems that otherwise talented actors caused for themselves during the casting process. Here are four easily avoidable major mistakes actors make when auditioning for student films:

1. Your Mom took your headshot.

So you thought you’d be smart and save the hundreds of dollars on headshots - after all, you’ve got a friend/relative/acquaintance/dog who’s practically a pro, now that they got a Canon Rebel T3i. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything. Or rather, everyone. Your amateur headshot may seem like a quality, flattering picture at first glance. However, a casting director sees that headshot from an entirely different perspective - one that involves a dozen other headshots in close proximity. While it is sometimes possible to make a so-so headshot look presentable on its own, the ones taken by friends with SLRs become painstakingly noticeable once they’re sitting next to all the pictures snapped by the pros. The most noticeable differences are lack of even lighting and poor background choices. Dark shadows on one side of the face or under the eyes are a dead giveaway - and so are color blocks in distracting backgrounds because your photographer thought that since a park with a tree, bench, wooden building, green grass area, argumentative passerby and equally as argumentative squirrel is pretty on its own, it must look pretty in the background of your headshot.

2. Your headshot looks like your (fraternal) twin.

This sounds simple, but far too many actors look nothing like their singly submitted photo would suggest. When actors make this mistake, they usually are picking a misrepresentative picture because they think it portrays them more attractively. There are two issues with this. First, you have no idea what a director is looking for - sometimes directors don’t even know themselves until they see it. If they’re looking for someone who looks just like you but your picture doesn’t look just like you, you’re only cheating yourself.

Second of all, a misleading headshot leaves casting directors about as impressed as Matt Lauer was with Paula Deen when it comes time for the actual face-to-face interaction. If the headshot alone landed you the audition, directors won’t be interested as soon as they see it looks nothing like you. Even if it was your resume or a reference that got you the audition slot, after comparing your photo with your screen test, having the incongruent images can come off as insincere or lacking in confidence.

You also want to make sure to stay away from edits that not only don’t look like you, but don’t look like anybody. I’m referring to those photos of people with glossed-over skin lines cut around their eyebrows, eyes of an exponentially different saturation than the rest of the shot, and teeth that are so white they are on the verge of being politically incorrect.

The good news is that if you avoid mistake #1, the photographer who took your headshot should be able to edit it adequately.

3. You forgot you went to school there.

Once, when I was working as a casting assistant for a thesis film, an actor came in who was an alumnus of the director’s school. He brought a school water bottle that he periodically drank from during the audition.

The average person may read this as an anticipated, nerves-induced thirst. However, a member of a network-charged school like the one in question would perceive the real intent of anticipated potential recognition - and now that you've graduated and been out in the real world, this could mean a return even more welcomed than that of the Twinkie. Being an alum doesn’t guarantee a role, but it definitely puts an actor one step ahead of the competition. Many actors state that network-building is a primary reason to study the art at an academic institution - now is the time to use that network.

In the same vein, another huge mistake is failing to note a school on your resume. Generally, actors only list the directors of the films that they worked on alongside the title. However, even if a casting director doesn’t recognize the name of an alumnus director, it’s definitely in your favor to show them that you’ve worked with that school before. Personally, I even like to see the schools of all listed student films. It shows that an actor has experience working on student sets and is obviously a top choice for other student filmmakers - which says a lot more than another generic film name alongside a director I’ve never heard of.

And in case you were wondering about the alumnus auditioner, he didn’t get the role - he got bumped up to an even bigger part in the film.

4. You count breathing, standing and blinking as “special skills.”

For some reason, when actors use casting sites, they fill out every possible category that could apply to them. For some casting databases, that means abilities like “jogging,” “cycling” and “running” show up under “Special Skills.”

Unless you’re a paraplegic, there is nothing special about these skills. Odds are they aren’t even relevant to the movie in question. Also, casting directors - even on student productions - look through hundreds of resumes. The first film I ever cast had over 450 submissions from one of the casting databases we used. Only about three percent of those actors were called in for an actual audition. No one has time to read all 45 of your hobbies and “skills.” You only have so many seconds of time a director will spend looking through your resume and so many words they will read. Make every one of them count.

Most experienced actors know that the majority of skills really only have a place on a resume if they have had professional training in that area. Otherwise, a mountain of useless skills is a bit like hashtagging on Facebook - unanticipated, out of place, and screaming “trying too hard.”

There are also a few skills that continuously show up on resumes even if an actor does not have adequate training or ability in that field. The most-abused talents: photography, modeling, dance and a British accent.


Avoiding these four mistakes may not be the golden rules for working in the world of acting, but, at least, from a student director perspective, they can help your chances of not having an audition experience as anticlimactic as the decision in Fisher v. UT Austin. Good luck, happy auditioning and break a leg - in such a way that you get in the right kind of cast.


Reach Contributor Rebecca Doyle here; follow her here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.