The next day I set off from my very generous friends couch and make my way to East London for the casting. I’ve been sent the address and I’ve put it in my iPhone to search for directions. I’m walking to save money. But I’ve got my bag with me, so I don’t want to get lost.
I eventually find the right building. There is an A4 piece of paper with “MUSIC VIDEO CASTING” scrawled across it in permanent marker pen. Good start. The building is covered in graffiti. Not unusual for this part of London, but what does make me question my choice is the fact that the door with the makeshift sign opens onto a doorway that’s blocked by a large palette of Toilet rolls. The only alternative entry point is ducking under a metal grate that has been pulled down over the vehicle entrance. On the other side I am faced with a couch. Upon which two ‘arty types’ are chuffing away on a roll up cigarette and behind them a large window displaying a minimalist art gallery in the making. The Art Gallery gives me the confidence the sign and the toilet rolls failed to, so I continue on my quest. Round the corner and past some wheely bins there is a small alley way with a black sheet pinned across it. On a bench positioned in front there is a small Asian girl writing frantically in a notepad. She looks up, flustered. “Are you here for the music video casting?”
“Yes” Flashing her my winning smile.
She looks down at a scrap of paper, and her face returns to look at me with an equally dazzling smile. “I’ll see if they’re ready to see you” OK, this is getting much more positive. She disappears behind the black sheet and I hear some mumbling. She returns with the smile still upon her face. “They’re ready if you’d like to go through.”
I take the same route she did behind the sheet, only to bump straight into a girl with big curly red hair. “Hi. Oh sorry! I’m Paul” The smile again. This time I’m not so lucky in the response. There is a blank look on her face. We’re stood in the end of an alley way, about 150cm squared in area, sharing it with all sorts of delivery items, blocked off to the real world by a black sheet. I’ve just been told they’re ready for me. What’s going on? I then realise, a bit late, that there are two doors, one is open, the other has the same scrawl written on a piece of paper in black marker. It becomes evident that this girl is from the wrong door. “Sorry” I smile again as I squeeze past her and through the signposted door. Great, now I’m walking into this casting with a red face and my minds not in it. Deep breath.
The room is small but bright, white walls and light coloured laminate flooring. It’s empty, but for a table with a guy and a girl sitting behind it, and a camera on a tripod with another girl sat next to that. It’s the guy who grabs my attention first. Good looking, bit of a beard going on, nice kind eyes. He stands up and offers me his hand. “Tom” he says. I take his hand. “Paul, nice to meet you.” It’s the girls turn next, a petite, pretty girl with a round face, her dark hair scraped back in a pony tail. “Erin” She smiles and I smile back. This is going well I think. Last but not least, the camera girl, almost Swedish looking, long blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes. “Jen” she says, without an accent.
“Please take a seat.” Tom gestured to a chair against the wall that I hadn’t yet seen.
“Thanks” I move towards the chair. “I do have out door clothing in my bag, it was just too warm to wear it.”
“Clothing for what?” Erin this time. Crap, did I misinterpret yet another email??
“I was told to come unshaven and with outdoor clothing.”
Tom chuckles “you brought a costume? That’s a first, no one else has bothered.” The girls laugh. I’m not quite sure if this is a good or a bad thing so I just laugh along with them, all the while thinking that I can’t believe I’ve had to cart a heavy bag around London all morning and have to carry it with me for the rest of the day, for nothing!
“Oh, well I won’t bother changing then” Smile.
I sit down. Tom starts. “What we’d like you to do is look into the camera and state your name”
I do as instructed.
“Great, now if you could tell us a bit about yourself” OK, this should be easy enough.
Since Graduating 4 years ago I have been travelling round the world. I’ve been round the world three times…alone.” My 30 second pitch for that stupid reality TV show springs into my head. Why do I always have to insist on putting that particular fact out there? …and in such a pretentious, arrogant way as if I deserve a medal! “I got back at the start of this year and have been working in a school since then. Recently I decided that Acting was something I wanted to pursue, so now I’m looking to get exposure and material for a showreel.” God I sound like a twat. I really must script this introduction thing to make it sound better in the future.
“OK, thanks Paul” They’re judging me; I can feel it in the air. “The way we are filming this is partially real footage and partly animation. What we’d like to see you perform first for the camera is you simply walking across the room, but at quarter speed.” What? “What we aim to do is have you walking in slow motion, and then speed it up in real time so that it looks natural” He must see the confusion on my face because he continues to explain. “This will make it easier to animate” Goodness knows why they can’t film at normal speed and slow it down for animation purposes. But who am I to argue.
I go to the opposite corner of the room to the camera and face it. What am I doing? “I’ll take my flip flops off first, to help with balance” I’m stalling. I kick my flip flops against the wall and face the camera again and start to walk in slow motion. About two steps in I’m interrupted. “Could you try and make it as natural as possible? Don’t swing your hips, keep them straight on.” Swing my hips? What’s he trying to say? I stop. Gather my composure, and start again, thinking constantly, stop swinging hips, stop swinging hips. It works. But too much. “Sorry Paul can I stop you again? You’ve gone rigid, can you try walking at normal speed to get a feel for how you walk?” A feel for how I walk? I’ve walked pretty much every day of my life since I was 2 and a half years old (I was a late starter) I think I know how I walk! But I oblige silently. Walking across the room. “Great. Now that, but at quarter speed. Think about the way your arms were moving, it has to look natural.” Who would have thought walking was so complicated? But it actually is. I can feel myself wobbling every time I put my bare foot on the floor. I must look like such a tool.
“OK, forget that” Hmmm, sounds like I’ve done well so far. “Thanks” Smile. “What we’d now like you to do is to improvise around a few scenarios we have come up with for the video. It will obviously be a non-speaking role, so the story has to be shown through your actions and facial expressions.”
“At normal speed?”
They all laugh. “Yes, at normal speed this time” Tom assures me. “First off, I’d like you to imagine you are walking on a mountain side. You have a map with you. You are trying to figure out where you are going. The wind picks up. It takes your map. You run after it, but it goes over the edge of a cliff. You are stuck without a map.” Wow. “In your own time” How am I going to do this one? I’m in a small room at the end of an alley way in East London, I couldn’t be further from a windy mountain side. I guess if I asked that question I would be told “you’re the actor, shouldn’t you be able to do that? Oh well, ain’t nothing to it, but to do it. “Can I use a piece of paper as a prop?” I pick one off the table. I’m stalling again.
“Sure go ahead” Tom smiles
I go back to my corner and pretend I am walking with a map. I stop. Look confused. Stare at the back of the piece of paper I have in my hand. Look around. Then, in the campest fashion ever, I throw the piece of paper in the air. I fill my face with dread and horror as I follow it down the edge of the imaginary cliff. I stop. Sigh, and continue to look around.
“OK, thanks for that”
“Sorry, would you like it more dramatic?” I say, hoping they’ll give me SOMETHING more to go on.
“Erm, no” is Toms short response. “A little…less melodramatic if you can.” OUCH! I said dramatic, not melodramatic! “Can you try and make it a bit more naturalistic?” NATURALISTIC? Yeah, maybe if I actually WAS on a windy mountain side, but reacting to wind that isn’t there and scenery that isn’t there? The only way to act that is stylised!?! Now my confidence is utterly shattered. They must have had some good actors in this morning if they’ve managed to pull some good stuff out of this bag, even if they didn’t bring a change of costume. “Try again for us? Imagine there are mountains all around you, picture the scenery, imagine you are there”
I bend down to pick up my paper. Crap. I see the front of it. “I’m so sorry, I’ve just realised I’ve picked up another actors Résumé, and that’s me throwing it on the floor!”
Tom Laughs “Don’t worry, he’s late, he never turned up. That’s what you get for not turning up when you say you will.” Wow. Tough crowd.
I return to my corner. Think big mountains and beautiful scenery. And being naturalistic. I walk forward, gazing around me. All I see around me is white walls. No! All I see around me are rolling mountains and trees, and nature. I look down at my Résumé…come map. And I thank the guy on it for not coming. People not turning up might be my only hope of getting this gig. Remember it’s a map. And the confused face is back. Then I try and consciously tone it down for the camera. Oh. Here comes the wind. I fail miserably, and if possible, this loss of map attempt has turned out even camper. I may as well fly over to the fantasy cliff edge with my fairy wings and try a look of remorse. Another sigh. Less dramatic this time. And a small smile? That’s what I’d do if I lost a map over the edge of a cliff.
“OK. Thanks Paul. Next scenario is as follows.” He glances at his little note pad. “We’d like you to imagine you are lost now, in a forest” A mountain to a forest? I’d never get that lost! “It’s dark. You’re cold. You’ve been there for hours. You’re huddled up under a makeshift shelter you’ve made for yourself at the base of a tree.” Ok I can do this. “You notice a piece of string tied to your little finger.” What? “You don’t know where it’s come from. You can’t see what the other end is attached to. You get up. You follow it. You still don’t know where it’s leading to, but it gets warmer as you do. You gain some hope.” Right. This’ll be a fun one. And this is supposed to be naturalistic?
I resume my place in the corner. It’s starting to feel quite homely now. I think for a second about how I’m going to play this one. I sit down with my legs crossed and hug them. I try to look cold, but really there is just token rubbing of the legs and heavy breathing. I already know how false it looks without even being able to see it. I look down at my little finger. The look of confusion is back. I look around me as if there is pending doom. I try to turn confusion into curiosity with the intensity of my frown. I try and fail to lift one eyebrow. Probably just as well. Wouldn’t want to be ‘melodramatic’. I hold the imaginary string with my left hand. I start to stand up to follow where it’s going. But I fall over. Embarrassing. The show must go on. I pretend nothings happened and struggle to my feet, all the while holding my little finger out in wonderment. I walk a few steps pulling myself along on this pretend string. Then I catch Erin’s eye. She’s holding back a laugh. Tom looks like he’s ready to send me home there and then. Realising I’ve stopped my farce, Jen has busied herself in pretending to press buttons on the video camera. I stand upright with a confident smile on my face. Or at least what I hope looks like confidence.
“Right” says Tom, slightly too high pitched for my liking. Sounds like he’s hiding a laugh. “Last one then.” Thank goodness for that. The humiliation does have an end. I start hoping that the next scenario is seeing a light at the end of a tunnel, because I could sure as hell act that out realistically right now. “You see a girl you used to date. You still have strong feelings for her. She is stood in a clearing. You don’t know if it is real or a dream. You walk towards her. You stretch your arm out to touch her. Then you freeze in that position.”
OK. Last chance Paul. This is your shot. I imagine a girl. One that I’ve loved. I’ve never loved a girl. Pretend! I see her in a clearing. I try to smile, but make the smile falter. The confusion is back on my face. If they don’t like my confusion face then I don’t have a chance it’s played a major part in every scenario so far. I hold up my hand. I pretend to look into this fictional, imaginary girl’s eyes. I try to convey 101 emotions on my face at once. I think the final product must make me look like I’m constipated. This thought makes me laugh inside. Damn. A snigger has popped out. I’m supposed to be frozen in this pose of anguish, but now I’ve got a half grin on show. My god, how long are they going to make me pose like this? My face starts to hurt. I wobble a bit. My arm gets tired. Eventually Tom clears his throat and puts me out of my misery. “Right. That’s all we need from you. Thanks very much for your time.” Crap, that doesn’t sound good. He gets up to shake my hand again. I grasp it. Trying not to show my blatant desperation for acceptance. I search his eyes for it. But it’s not there. Erin and Jen don’t get up, but they do smile and accept my offer of a handshake. I go to pick up my bag. They’ve taken to rearranging things awkwardly on the table awaiting my departure.
“So, do you have my contact details and everything?” What I really want to say is, ‘so you’ll call me then? I shouldn’t call you?’ but I realise how clichéd it sounds. And I’m scared of the answer.
“Yes, we do. And you are available on the filming dates?”
“Yes” a glimmer of hope? “I am totally free on all three days.” Damn! He follows it up with a half arsed smile, it was obviously just a token gesture to try and make me feel better.
I look at my phone as I leave. Train fare: £20. Transport in London: £10. Obligatory dinner and drinks with friends last night: £30. 2 days worth of coffee: £8. Making a tit of myself during a 9 minute casting: Overall, fricking expensive!
Once more I leave an audition feeling dejected. Kicking myself for not being more prepared. And wondering if I’m cut out for acting on camera. Maybe stage acting, or ‘overacting’ as it now seems to be seen, is too ingrained in me. A week later I see the advert reposted. Someone with additional dance or movement experience required it now says. At least I wasn’t the only bad one they didn’t see.