How much has auditioning really changed over the years?
After watching La La Land, you begin to see that it’s old situations with new complications. Not much has differed regarding an actor’s quest for work and a casting director’s mission to get the right people in the right roles. In this article, we’ll explore the world of Mia and Sebastian to see what’s stayed the same and highlight new twists along the way.
Auditioning for Roles
Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, is working in the coffee shop on the Warner Bros. lot. All of a sudden, she gets a calendar alert on her mobile phone. An audition! She jumps up and gets ready to go. On her way out, she’s bumped into by a customer who ends up spilling coffee all over her white shirt. Now she’s going to the audition with a jacket on to cover up the mess when everyone else is wearing the casting spec’s crisp, white collared shirt.
Did that clothing choice lose her the role or was the casting director just hungry?
Something we’ll never really know is why a director or producer decided to go with someone else. Whether it was something they ate or the quality of their day so far, it’s not about you. Likewise, you could be an excellent choice for an upcoming role…just not the top choice for this particular one.
Let’s go back to some wise words from a casting director I know: As an actor, your job stops once you complete the audition. Walk away politely or upload the file and send it. The next part is completely out of your control. All you can do is be selective with your opportunities and bring your best to each audition.
Networking and Building a Brand
Staying motivated and eager can be a full time job.
Remember Mia’s audition after the coffee incident? It didn’t go as she’d planned, so Mia returns home to what I consider to be “Chateau Diva.” There’s a wall-to-wall Ingrid Bergman poster and everything an actress needs to relax and get back into the swing of things, like going back to work to make up for leaving her shift early so that she could do an audition.
But when it comes to letting Mia hole up in her room to wallow in the feeling of defeat that follows her poorly received audition, Mia’s actress roommates will have nothing of it.
They persuade her to get back on the horse and try again. Now dressed to party, Mia joins the group and hopes her networking efforts will result in finding that “someone in the crowd” that she needs to know to further her acting ambitions.
Networking is important. You’ve likely heard that it isn’t necessarily ‘what’ you know but ‘who’ you know that can get you opportunities that may lead to work. Build out your network and develop relationships that benefit you and those who know you. Parties, mixers, castings and the like are all great options for being noticed and getting known. The key to networking though is making connections, not just meeting people. Making meaningful connections is what works and is always in style.
Expressing Yourself Artistically
Early on in La La Land, we see Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician, working at a dinner club where he’s playing setlists that are not of his choosing. Seb’s desire to rebel against the setlist gets him in hot water with the manager of the restaurant. First, Sebastian tries to negotiate 1 song for you, 1 song for me. He’s not seeing a positive reaction at this point so he adjusts course slightly offering, “Then 2 for you, 1 for me. Then all for you, none for me.”
Ultimately, the director (or manager in this case) wanted to see their vision lived out. This should come as no surprise to an artist. If the boss wants you to play Jingle Bells at Christmastime, play Jingle Bells! In other words, stick to the script and do it with a happy heart. People can smell cynicism and resentment a mile away. Remember, if you’re not fully invested in what you’re doing, there’s always someone else waiting for your job.
As an artist, you need to be true to yourself. It’s at the core of who you are.
What’s the struggle here? It’s Sebastian wanting artistic freedom. Sebastian’s desire to do what he wants is directly at odds with the desire of his employer. One of the best things about being a creative is that it is a liberating line of work. That said, the people who pay the bills have goals, too. By recognizing that creativity thrives within boundaries and only submitting for work that you love to do, you’ll run into far less challenging situations and conflicts, be they artistic or relational.
Being Pleasant to Work With
This might go without saying, but make it fun to work with you! Actors who are difficult to work with are remembered for all the wrong reasons. Talent is not scarce in Los Angeles or New York, so bring the best version of yourself if you want to keep being invited back.
What gets you invited back? Being open to direction is key if you want to go far. This helps you to build deeper and more satisfying relationships with those running the show, be it figuratively or literally. Also, there is great value in being a good collaborator. As a professional, you bring a lot to the table (that’s why you’re there!). Once trust is gained, your voice will become valued and may even be relied upon in the creative process.
Working for long periods of time on a project can provide more opportunities to become familiar and let your guard down. If you’re too comfortable (or prideful), you may stop treating the session with the professionalism it requires. That said, there will be times when you need to take a breather or a mental reset. Take it! If Sebastian could go back, maybe he would have made a different choice and stuck to the setlist. Better to step aside and collect yourself than create a mess that could cost you a job.
Journeying as a Creative
There are common threads and patterns in our stories. We all have a path that we’ve been on that leads to the intersection of our loves, talent and opportunity.
Mia told Sebastian about her story of growing up, watching a day of old movies and falling in love with film. Notorious. Casablanca. Reminiscing on how she would reenact scenes at home and then start writing her own plays. She wrote her own one-woman show and went on to be an accomplished actress who turned up on the Warner Bros. lot to get a coffee, seeing her career come full circle.
Sebastian’s musing on New Orleans and the birth of jazz fed his love for the art. He loves telling the tale of how the creators of jazz lived in a microcosm, speaking 5 different languages, and only being able to communicate through music. Jazz makes him want to live and it allows him to be true to himself, achieving his dream of opening his own club, called “Seb’s.”
You’ve got to have passion for what you do to keep doing it. Passion, just like making genuine connections, continues to be vital to having a successful career. Along those lines, one of my favorite Sebastian quotes about his love of jazz is:
“Composing, rearranging, writing, it’s conflict, it’s compromise, it’s new every night and it’s exciting.” -Seb
When you’re an actor, this can be true for you everyday.
Are You Living the Actors Life?
I’d love to hear from you! Be sure to comment below.