The Future Of Film: Most Auditions Will Take Place Remotely

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The scene is familiar from endless films-about-films. A narrow corridor is packed with nubile young things feverishly reading over pages or reapplying make-up. Our heroine arrives late and forces her way through the throng, a script clutched in one hand and meagre belongings spilling from the other. Once inside the audition room, she's confronted by a panel of unsmiling faces who gradually turn to her with a laser-like focus when she begins to perform and her talent is revealed. That's the way it's always been, and the way it always will be, right? Well, maybe not. Thanks to current and future technology, you can lose the corridor and the competitors and replace them with a computer screen, because in the future most auditions will take place via video chat.

Says Belle director Amma Asante: "I use Skype because I live in Europe and quite often we're casting in America, or somebody is available to meet me on that day and I can't get over to America and they can't get to Europe. I also use it for talking to the studios, pitching for jobs, generally for people who want to meet me, so really practical reasons. I was pleased to discover that Hollywood isn't repelled by it either. There were times when I thought about getting on a plane and the studio said, 'You don't need to do that, we can Skype'. It's become invaluable."

THERE WERE TIMES WHEN I THOUGHT ABOUT GETTING ON A PLANE AND THE STUDIO SAID, 'YOU DON'T NEED TO DO THAT, WE CAN SKYPE'. IT'S BECOME INVALUABLE." BELLE DIRECTOR AMMA ASANTEVideo auditioning has obvious appeal to someone not based in Hollywood, but not all proponents of the tech are so far-flung. Anna Kendrick remembers, "I did an audition for… aw, fuck it, I don't care. I did an audition for David O. Russell, where I went in to casting and he was on Skype. I was in the room with the casting director and he gave me directions over Skype. So that was unusual."

A physical visit to casting, with the director on Skype, does seem to be an outlier – but then again, with directors queuing up their next film while still in post-production on the latest, and actors scattered to Louisiana, London or Wellington for roles, geography alone demands some flexibility.

Lower down the totem pole, video chat is a quick way for casting directors to narrow down the candidates for a role, especially those not based in LA. Casting agencies may ask hopefuls to tape the conversation – you can't record the other end of a conversation on most video chat services; only your own – and send in the recording, but this is a distinct process from the long-established practice of sending in tapes. With video chat services (Skype is the most prominent; Google Hangout is popular for group discussions) the emphasis is on live performance, and the actor doesn't have the luxury of recording over and over again in search of the best possible version of the scene to submit for consideration.

Another common use for Skype seems to be for directors – especially the young, hip ones – to meet established stars for an informal chat. Brie Larson told us that she met Short Term 12 director over Skype and found it relaxing: "We just video chatted and all of my fears melted away instantly when he popped up on the screen and he was in his bedroom, and his bed was unmade, and I instantly wanted to work with him. Because not only was this a very subtle and complex script, but this was somebody who was not trying to impress, but was just a human being, and that's what I'm interested in."

Amma Asante directing Belle
Director Amma Asante (right) found Skype invaluable in casting for Belle.

Having that initial meeting remotely also avoids thorny questions of etiquette, as Kendrick points out. "If it's a straight-up audition everyone knows what to do, but if you're just meeting for coffee then who's wooing who? Who pays for it? It's a little like a blind date but you're not sure if you're the one who has the good personality once you get to know her. You're never really sure if you're supposed to be pitching yourself or really laid-back like, well, 'What have you got to offer me?'"

The downside is that broadcasting video from home presents a whole new raft of potential pitfalls. What if your internet crashes? What if your cat jumps on the keyboard? Many acting sites now advise aspiring actors how to impress in these video auditions. Hopefuls are encouraged not to wear anything distracting, to avoid clothing with large logos on it and to make sure that they don't wear patterns that bleed on camera. On a technical level, they're encouraged to test their internet connection and set-up well in advance, and make sure they know how to work the software and record themselves if necessary. And while an actress like Larson might be impressed by a director's unmade bed in the background, a newcomer can't assume that others will be as forgiving, so they're are encouraged to tidy up before opening the call – an urge to impress that spills over to bigger names too.

WE JUST VIDEO CHATTED AND ALL OF MY FEARS MELTED AWAY INSTANTLY WHEN HE POPPED UP ON THE SCREEN AND THE DIRECTOR WAS IN HIS BEDROOM, AND HIS BED WAS UNMADE. BRIE LARSON"I met Marjane Satrapi over Skype for The Voices and I knew that I wanted it because I love Marjane and I loved the script," confesses Kendrick. "So I sat at my desk and I propped up my computer on a couple of books so I could get a nice, up angle. Then I got some different lights so that the old face looked nice, and I moved my couch so it looked nicer in the frame. Because the role, it's not that she's especially pretty but she's supposed to have a glow about her. So Marjane was like, 'Oh, you're like a ray of sunshine!' in her cute accent and I was thinking, 'Aha! It's just the magic of lighting!' I felt really proud of myself for that. We only talked for ten minutes and she gave me the part. The magic of light! She didn't know this until we were onstage doing a Q&A at Sundance and I told her. She was like, 'Oh, I did not know that you're a psycho!'"

If you're really well-established, however, don't even worry; your aura of stardom will make everything about the video fascinating. "I did meet someone very famous over Skype when we were casting Belle," says Asante, "She was absolutely great. But this particular person had her screen on quite wide so I could see the whole of her home world going on behind her. And where do you look? You think, 'Oh my god, I can see pictures on the sideboard.' But what this lovely actress did tell me is that because she lives away from her mum, she and her mother often have Skype on and just chat to each other during the day. Clearly this is a way she communicates with people all the time. I actually found it more relaxing than if I'd met her face-to-face."

Brie Larson in Short Term 12
Short Term 12’s Brie Larson won her role via a remote audition.

As it spreads in real life, video chat is appearing more frequently on film too. "In terms of acting on Skype," says Simon Pegg, who tried it in Hector And The Search For Happiness, "it's hard because often you have to record one half of the conversation first. But when you're the second part of the conversation to be filmed, you have to talk to a recording and pretend you're interacting. There's actually a Skype call in the film with Rosamund Pike, and I had to rehearse with this video of Rosamund in her underwear. My wife would come in and I'd be talking to a picture of Rosamund Pike in her underwear. 'Cup of tea, love? I'll be done in a minute.'"

There's still a clear preference for auditioning in person where possible among the actors we spoke to, but for casual meetings that may not lead to anything, or where it's physically not feasible to meet in person, video chat has a lot of love already. So where will it go in the future? It seems certain to become more popular as budgets get squeezed and less and less production takes place in Hollywood itself. In a few years, we might see would-be stars staying at home in Peoria and skipping the LA waitressing gig in favour of auditioning online for productions all over the world. And in a growing trend, video chat is being used for more than auditions now, and is contributing to later stages of production.

MATT REEVES WAS COMPLETELY OPEN ABOUT MANAGING HIS OWN DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES RESHOOTS OVER SKYPE IN L.A., WITH ANDY SERKIS IN HIS IMAGINARIUM STUDIO IN LONDON AND JASON CLARKE IN ROME."I've had rehearsals on Skype," Pegg tells Empire. "I was doing a movie with an actor who was working in Thailand, and she was not going to be in the UK until maybe a week before we were due to start shooting, so I would have the director and the dialect coach round at my house and we'd talk rehearse together over Skype, so that was really handy."

Neither is it just rehearsals. It's long been relatively common to direct voice performances over a distance, most often for traditional voiceover work but sometimes for animation as well. Despicable Me, for example, was largely made in Paris, so the directors used Skype to talk to their voice cast back in the US while recording them via ISDN. "I've worked with directors who were that far away emotionally," said Jason Segel at the time. "But never actually physically that far away."

There were rumours last year that Baz Luhrmann oversaw reshoots of The Great Gatsby, which took place in Sydney, from New York via Skype. While that went unconfirmed, Matt Reeves was completely open about managing his own Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes reshoots over Skype, with Andy Serkis in his Imaginarium Studio in London and Jason Clarke in Rome while the director stayed in LA.

Reeves told SlashFilm that, "This is the first movie where I've ever directed scenes over Skype, and mo-cap enables you to do that. I wanted to change things that we'd already shot. So Jason Clarke was in Rome shooting this Everest movie [and we'd Skype] in a hotel room after a day's shooting. We were in the Volume (in Manhattan Beach, California) and Jason would perform a new version of a scene to Andy, who was in a fluorescent room on Skype. They played off of Skype and then a few weeks later I got Jason here in LA and I shot him and Keri Russell against greenscreen. Then I had Andy over Skype and they played to Andy on Skype and I got that. Then we put that whole sequence together." This, believes Reeves, was a genuine first for moviemaking. "It's crazy what you can do. People have sent a crew to another movie set to get a shot of an actor against green screen before, but the idea of actors actually acting over the Internet off of each other, that's gotta be a first. I'm gonna take credit. How about that?"

If current trends are anything to go by, it will soon be possible to audition for, rehearse and shoot a film without ever meeting any of the other people involved. Forget auditioning by Skype; video conferencing could be the future of filmmaking itself.