On auditions with bad scripts

Me, pondering a script. (Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash)

To audition, or not to audition, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the casting house to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous scripts
Or to take arms against a sea of clichés
And by opposing, stay home and do other shit
— Shakespeare (sort of)

I think there are two mindsets you might have when deciding whether to accept an audition with a less than stellar script.

There’s “I want to take every opportunity I can to practice and to learn. There doesn’t have to be a good script for something to be a great learning opportunity.”

And then there’s “I value my time and my work. A good script is the backbone of my work, and if I don’t have that, I’m not motivated to do my best.”

When I first started out as an actor, I submitted myself for every single student short film I could find. I barely bothered to look at the sides because I didn’t think a film had to have a good script to be useful to me. I saw the whole process as an opportunity to apply what I was learning in acting class, to practice auditioning, and to experiment with my work.

I also thought it would be a great way to meet more film people — cinematographers, directors, editors, etc. — who were honing their skills and getting ready to start their careers. It was exciting to work in an environment where everyone was working incredibly hard to keep learning and keep improving.

With all those things in mind, I accepted every audition I got for the first two years. No matter what I got a callback for, I went to it! And if I booked it, I filmed it.

For me, that was an excellent way to start in the industry. I got everything I wanted from jumping into every single offer that came my way. I did meet a lot of cool people who are now out in the world doing tons of amazing work. While a vast majority of the short films I was in were most useful for the on-set experience, a couple of them went on to receive some of the most prestigious awards in Canada!

As the years passed and my career began to slowly grow, I found that the way I approached my work started to change. That excitement to audition for everything under the sun slowly disappeared. I became less and less willing to take whatever came my way in the name of “opportunity.”

I went from thinking, “I really don’t like these sides, but any work has the potential to be good work!” to “I really don’t like these sides, and I don’t want to invest my energy into making them work.”

That change in thinking is what led me to slowly start turning down auditions. It gave me a sense of control over my career to be able to say “No” — and saying “no” is a power you always want to have. It’s rare that I’ll dislike sides (the short portion of the script that you work with for an audition) strongly enough to not even go to an audition. There’s almost always something exciting to explore.

The way I viewed my career and my work began to change when I started to decline auditions. Rather than feeling incredibly lucky that anyone would even consider giving me a chance to audition for them, I began to look at it as a two-way street. While I’m always happy to be considered for work, I have to find the project to be a good fit for me. Is it something I want to spend my time and energy on?

For me, that’s been a much more powerful position than “feeling lucky for the chance.”

Whenever I’m having a hard time deciding whether to accept an audition, here are the things I consider:

  1. Do I like the script or the character? If no, could it be a challenge for me as an actor to make them interesting?
  2. Do I want to do this audition just as practice?
  3. Are there people involved in this project that I would love to work with?
  4. Is this a casting director I want to build a relationship with?
  5. How long is this filming for, and are there other things in my life and work I’d rather do?

Rejecting an audition isn’t an inherently good or bad decision. It just depends on your goals and what you’re hoping to gain from it.

Me, acting. (Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash)