I always thought auditions were horseshit.
Let me clarify: I knew they were (a) necessary (evil), but I found it maddening the way people on both sides of the camera looked at them as a one-way proposition, with the power flowing from the producer end to the (ahem) “talent” end. Because frankly, that was horseshit. Too often, and I know this because I was guilty of it myself as a copywriter, auditions are used to figure out how a commercial works…or doesn’t. What is or isn’t funny about the script/premise/action. And sometimes, horror upon horrors, auditions are actually used as a means for old ad chums to get back in touch with me.*
And then there’s the whole pathetic actor-y side of auditions, the Just tell me what you’re looking for/I can play that, gambit, which is a bigger, steamier and infinitely more treacherous pile of horseshit. I am fairly certain there are street people wandering around Los Angeles right now who were driven over the edge trying to discern that elusive whatsis that the producer/director/whoever wanted. Which was usually just to be anywhere but in a room that smelled like feet, stuffed full of M&Ms and bad deli.
At some point in my checkered career as an actor, I began hearing people, teachers, casting directors, random passersby, pay lip service to the notion of using the audition to show what you could do rather than what they’d asked for. As someone who grew up being handsomely rewarded for coloring within the lines**, I immediately recognized this as yet another manifestation of horse pokey, and happily freed up precious gray cells for important things like remembering my own phone number and what I’d paid for a particular shirt back in 1977.
Fast forward to…this weekend. I was working on a design job for an actress putting up a one-person show. They’d delivered a full-on, finished photo for me to work with, which is usually nice, all I have to do is figure out the font thing and bing-bam-boom, we’re off to the races.
But every time I sat down to apply type, I got this funny feeling that something wasn’t right. That even though I’d been given a complete image, the show, with its suggestive title and goofy provenance (the actress is an Ivy-educated woman who’s done time on MAD TV), needed something else. Which is, of course, craaaaaazy thinking. And yet…
I messed around. I shredded the image, blew it up so the client’s (very pretty) head was out of frame, stripped it of color and instead saturated the card with garish printer’s inks. And I sent it off, knowing full well it was nuts, I mean, the client’s HEAD was cut out of the frame…and she’s a BEAUTIFUL ACTRESS, but also that, nuts or not, it was what I had to offer the show.
There was a little, um, back & forth. Wanting to see the head. (Visionless ingrates!) Wanting her name to be legible. (Bourgeois killjoys!) I could have succumbed or I could have pitched a fit. Actually, I did both, quietly, in succession, at my desk, before making what changes I could. I sent off several of the very-next-best things that really weren’t nearly as cool, but hell, if I want to be an artist, I should get out of the postcard game.
And then, a miracle. The actress wrote back saying that I was right, that my original vision was the way to go. And thanking me for all the work.
If I could, I’d comp the job. It was gratifying having someone respect my ideas, yes, but more than that, it was such a great, simple lesson of the essential rightness in doing what it is that you do, regardless of what conventional wisdom says. I might not have gotten “my” way with the card. I definitely am not always going to book an individual job, even if I knock it out of the park doing what it is that I do. Sometimes, you’re just a cruller living in an onion bagel’s world. But I keep my integrity, my compass and my identity (hey, next time maybe they’ll want a small, sullen bitch…er…pastry).
So thank you, Kathryn Fiore, my newest teacher***. And long may you run…
*Note to old ad chums: if you want to say “hi”, contact me via my agent, invite me out for a
drink at Shutters on your expense account or send me a goddamn e-mail. Do not drag my hide all the
way across town on a call I’m clearly not right for so you can say, “Remember me!?! We used to work together at [former agency long since swallowed up by Publicis, Saatchi or other media megacorp]!!! Because I will be remembering your sorry ass all the way home in traffic on the 10 and then I will remember it for posterity on this blog. You have been warned…
**I worked in creative, yes, but mostly packaged goods, not the sexy stuff. You do not work your way up the ladder by writing breakthrough advertising for BirdsEye and Jell-O Gelatin.
***And I do mean newest, girlfriend was born the month before I started college. Oy, am I old…
Link to large size of the graphic here.
Link to more of my theatrical flyers here.