First, the disclaimer. I am an actor. Probably first and foremost, but certainly through and through. My nickname growing up wasn’t Sarah Bernhardt for nothin’. So my prejudice is a given.
But lord help me, I do love actors.
They have been my colleagues, my friends, my support on stage and off, my nemeses and my heroes. They inspire me and humble me on a daily basis. And since I have been a writer/producer of radio spots, they have graciously saved my butt many times over.
One of the foundations of an award-winning radio spot is spot-on casting. Pun intended. Of course, even great actors can’t deliver if it just isn’t on the page first. We never let the writer off the hook. BUT a wonderful actor can elevate your words to that next level. Give you the extra shades of funny (or sad or sardonic) that make the listener sit up and go, “Oh, yeah, I wanna hear that again.”
Getting that performance is kind of a three-pronged attack. First and foremost – and we cannot harp on this too often – you write a spot with conflict, emotion, characters, all those things that are red meat to your prospective thespians. Beyond that, acting is story telling. All great radio spots tell a story. You see the obvious conclusion.
So step one, give ’em a great script.
Step two, unless you have written for a specific actor you know and love (and we all develop our stables), then send it out to agents to have it auditioned. There is a reason why not conducting your own auditions is a good idea. The response from the un-involved professional can tell you what so much about your script.
This is a big deal: For just a minute, stop yammering about what they’re doing to your script, and listen to what they’re doing to with your script!
That response to only the written word, with no prompting from you, no explanation of the joke, and only on-the-fly prep and spontaneous timing, that’s the real value in collaborating with top actors. And when the scripts are tuned just right, you get to spend a session with aces who really get your stuff and can make it sing.
Now it’s time to let go, to release that little voice in your head, the one that’s been saying the lines for you during the creative process. That little voice sounds a lot like you, and you are going to be on the other side of the glass in the studio. So indulge yourself in a great round of auditions.
Lastly: Listen listen listen to the actors you do cast.
And, be forewarned, there is a decent chance the client is not going to pick your favorite. That’s why you never send them anyone you wouldn’t be thrilled with. They will inevitably go with the safest choice. Let them win the round. Because you have rigged it to be win-win.
On the day, pay attention to what the actor gives you. Because on any given day, with any given script in any given studio with any given cast, there is going to be an outcome. And if you can truly let go of everything, from the maniacal way you laughed to yourself sitting at the computer, to that delicious ego-driven line-reading in your head, and even to the exact way they said things in the audition, if you send all that out into the ether and tune in to what those actors are giving you at that very moment, you are gonna knock it out of the park. All of you. Go team.