Posted by: LYF | October 8, 2008

How to Listen – real life example

This post from the “I hope they serve beer in hell” movie production blog explains why it’s important to listen. It also shows the positive impact of being humble and possessing a willingness to learn. It may be a bit long, but I highly recommend reading it. For those of you who prefer to skim, I italicized certain sections that really drive home what I was trying to say in the previous post.


I have said here, and elsewhere, that we may never find the “perfect Tucker” because two Tucker Max’s just might not exist. We are far more likely, I believe, to end up casting the “best Tucker” by finding the actor who a) comes the closest, b) possesses the most raw materials, and c) is capable of being coached/directed the rest of the way. At least through the audition process, it’s c) that’s proven to be the biggest hurdle. This is how it usually transpires:

An actor comes in the room and does a cold reading of the first side completely off-book (that means ‘memorized with nothing in front of him’ for all you cloying Hollywood neophytes). Something in his performance shows real potential but is not quite there, so one of us (usually Bob or Tucker) gives him a series of notes about the character’s personality and approach and motivation. It’s a pretty canned speech at this point since we’ve given it so many times, and we’ve each developed our own rhythm with respect to its delivery so we can pause along the way to make sure the actor is with us and understands the points we are trying to get across. Invariably, we are met with a quick “Yeah” at each of those pauses. The quicker and more frequent the “Yeahs”, the more certain I am that he is just waiting for us to stop talking so he can have the floor back and show little or no improvement in his second reading. The actor will adjust his performance by smiling more. Or smiling less. By raising his voice. Or, in the case of one particular actor who could not shake out the nerves and uncertainty, by snapping his fucking fingers.
For me, it’s gotten almost comical. When I hear the “Yeah…Yeah…Yeah”, I just want to keep going with the notes and see how much shit we can get him to agree with before he catches on.

“For this character, it’s not about whether he gets laid. If he gets laid, great, that’s gravy. It’s really about the interaction. About coming up with the funniest line possible.”
“And seeing how far he can go with it.”
“It comes from a place of consequence-free, almost childlike joy. You’ve hit on women before.”
“You know that sense of joy you get…”
“…that comes when you realize that you could tie this woman’s hands and feet together”
“Cover her eyes and mouth with duct tape”
“Toss her in the trunk and take her to your subterranean fertility dungeon”
“Like so many over-bearing Austrian fathers who’ve come before you.”
“It’s like that but without the incest.”

It should be no surprise that the actors who’ve done the best have taken the opposite tack. They are generally off-book, but they have the sides with them for reference. Despite what you might think, it’s not an issue of insecurity or lack of confidence. They’ve probably just learned a few lessons in professional humility. No matter how much you prepare for an audition or how certain you are that you’ve got the character all figured out, you can never be sure that your take jives with the views of the director, the writers, and the producers. Knowing that, when these actors get notes after the first reading, they do this really interesting thing–I think it’s called LISTENING–and they spend a minute absorbing the information, looking at the sides, figuring out how those notes create points of adjustment, then gathering themselves and delivering a second read that is almost always appreciably better than the first–which was already good to begin with. This has been the case for the casting of nearly every major role thus far, not just Tucker.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. I understand that the process is nerve-wracking and awkward. I cannot imagine the level of unease that accompanies standing in a small, warm room five feet away from a handful of people who have been judging you since you walked through the door and will not stop until well after you’ve left. But still, shouldn’t the fact that you’re being judged on everything make you want to slow down and concentrate so that what will be judged is the best you have to offer? It’s not like you’re auditioning for The Groundlings. Or Jeopardy! Speed is not necessarily an asset.

There are very few ways that Hollywood is analogous to the rest of the world, but auditioning is one of them. It’s very much like your average corporate world job interview. The only major difference between the two, besides the attractiveness of the candidate pools, is the criteria by which they are judged. Other than that, the same principles that apply to the interviewing process should be applied to the auditioning process. When was the last time you were hired for a good, well-paying job after an interview in which you reflexively answered “yeah…yeah…yeah” to every question lobbed your way? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the day after never. From the pool of qualified candidates, the people who get the good jobs are the ones who take the time to listen to the interviewer, consider what s/he is asking, consider their own feelings on the matter, and then deliver a calm, reasoned, thoughtful response.

I’m sure the insecurity and uncertainty that comes with youth plays a part in this. After all, we’re auditioning a bunch of 21-26 year olds who have probably never interviewed for a real job before. They naturally want to be everything to every person for whom they audition, and they want to have all the right answers. What they need to realize is that the right answer isn’t always “Yeah.” Fortunately, the good ones already know this. All we have to do now is find them.


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