Q & A With Rene Haynes, CSA

New Moon PosterThis summer ActorCast hosted the online open call for two roles in the upcoming feature film, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. The casting director on the project, Rene Haynes, received thousands of submissions via ActorCast and she and her team viewed every audition that they received through the system. We asked Rene if she would be willing to answer a few questions from our users and she graciously accepted.

We’d like to thank Rene and her team for taking the time to answer these questions, and we’d also like to thank Summit Entertainment for allowing us to do this Q & A for our members. Renee has some invaluable advice for anyone looking to build a career in acting.

Read on:
What do you look for in an actor who has no experience, and how do you identify “potential”?

I always look for something in the EYES – there’s an indefinable “it factor” that makes someone “watchable”. This is usually a perfect combination of intelligence, charisma and skill. Whether it’s looking at photos or watching taped auditions – I want to see something going on in the eyes. If there’s a spark – there’s “potential”.

What was a common mistake people made in their auditions in this open call?

Actually – I was really proud of the ActorCast Open Casting candidates! Many of you did everything right. Casting a film is like putting a puzzle together – all the pieces have to fit together to make a whole picture. An audition may have been good – but it may not have fit into the puzzle properly… That is the reality of auditioning – MANY people will try out for a role – but there can only be one person who is cast…

If I had to pull out a few “mistakes” to note here that might help someone improve in the future – here they are:

#1 – We NEED to see your face! Some did not frame their auditions so that we could clearly see their faces and eyes. Many times the candidates were not even looking in the direction of the camera. They had placed the reader so far off to the side that I was looking at them in profile the entire audition… Or they were framed in an extreme long shot the entire read… For next time – It’s always good to introduce yourself in a long shot – but then try to frame the actual audition in a “head and shoulders” shot and place your reader right next to the camera lens – so the viewer will get the full benefit of seeing your face.

#2 – Reactions are necessary! Often – I am far more interested in watching an actor in his or her “silent” moments – than just hearing how they actually interpret the lines. Many made the mistake of not reacting to the reader – but instead, would look back at the page, or just wait for their next line… That just does not engage the viewer. Learn the lines before making an audition tape – because acting and REACTING are equally important. Also – make sure to have someone read with you – we cannot gauge a performance when someone is reading both sets of lines – OR when only reading the audition lines. The “give and take” is extremely important.

#3 – Don’t apologize, ever! So many people would preface their audition with… “Hi, sorry, I’ve never done any acting, so this is probably going to suck, but I know I can play Leah, if you just give me the chance”… “Hi, I am currently dieting and could be in shape in time for the filming…” “Hi, sorry – I know I am not what you are looking for but…” OK – all THAT does is draw attention to the fact that YOU have doubts about yourself… which puts a negative thought in the viewer’s mind before you have even begun your audition. If you are going to do something – attack it with confidence and positive energy. The reality of auditioning via tape is that you need to be “camera ready” in your audition and can never expect for the people who are making the decisions to see beyond what is on the tape in front of them. When you only have one shot at auditioning for a role – you have to make the most of it – and “be” exactly what they are looking for in the 3 minutes that you have their undivided attention.

Here’s a few tips – After filming an audition – WATCH your audition before sending it… if you can’t see your eyes or your reactions – do it again. Also – do not wait until the last minute (as many did for these auditions) and then rush through the process… All we can base our reaction on is what we see before us – so it’s important to only put your best effort forward.

Did a non-actor/unknown have a real chance at being cast in one of these roles, or was this just a publicity vehicle?

Yes – of course an unknown had a real chance. Seriously – we are all really busy – and would never just make extra work for ourselves… The Twilight Saga projects do not lack for publicity – so the Open Casting was not simply a publicity stunt. We genuinely were interested in finding new faces – just as we had discovered through our various open calls for the “Wolf Pack” in New Moon.

Can you tell us about your process of going through thousands of auditions? Did you really view them all? Did you first look at headshots and ethnicity – or did you first view the video? How many times did you view the video of someone being considered, and how did you narrow them down?

My assistant, Lisa, and I opened and viewed every single ActorCast submission. We watched every audition that was playable – Sadly, not every audition that was uploaded to the site was actually playable. We viewed the auditions in the order that they were uploaded. There was no filtering due to ethnicity or look. Some auditions were viewed more than once – many were not. Candidates that we thought had real potential, were moved to separate files for further consideration.

What were the important characteristics you were looking for in Seth and Leah? For example, was voice a major concern? Was there a certain look that you and the producers already had in mind?

One trait or aspect was not more of a consideration than another… it was the individual as a whole. We were looking for the right young man and young woman to bring these important Stephenie Meyer characters to life. Talent that had “range” and worked with our director’s vision of the picture. There were, of course, certain parameters that we had to be mindful of… These characters are of certain ages and descriptions that are well known to the fans of the books. It was my responsibility to find the closest representations possible.

Both roles are very complex. For example, on the page it may appear that Leah is just angry in the audition scene, but actually she is a young woman who is dealing with all kinds of emotions and vulnerability under the tough façade that she presents to the world. Many candidates did not explore that side of the character in their auditions. We were looking for individuals who showed the ability to convey all of the various dimensions of these characters.

Related to question 5 – many who submitted were of mixed-race background. Was not being Native American a significant “minus” in being considered?

There were no “minus” factors – all candidates were viewed with the same hopeful expectation on our part that they might be “the one”.

What are callbacks like? How many people were called back from the open call? How did you contact them and what did you ask them to do? Did people have to come and audition in person?

We contacted candidates that we were interested in by either telephone or email. Some were asked to re-tape their audition. Some we were able to audition “in person”.

Can you provide some examples of “good” and “poor” etiquette when dealing with your casting office?

Good Examples: Graciousness is ALWAYS appreciated.

Bad Examples: First let me say that there has been a rather unprecedented level of “access” on “New Moon” and “Eclipse” that is usually not common when casting a project… Due largely to the unfortunate fact that many Blogs and websites published my phone numbers without my permission… OK – so people had the number – and they DID call… but they usually had little regard for what time of day or night it might be. Calling at all is generally frowned upon – but if you MUST call – it is ONLY ever OK to call during the business hours of the recipient. If you must call – identify yourself… It’s very rude to just start asking questions without even a “hello, my name is…”

If you are going to send an email – please check your grammar and spell check. A short, intelligent, note is always preferred over a rambling opus or a curt demand (of which there were many). I get that there is a lot of passion for these particular projects – and I did try to accommodate for that – but there was a general sense of “entitlement” present in a lot of the correspondence – which was a bit offensive sometimes. My hope is that no one ever feels that it is OK to treat one of my casting colleagues in this same way – because it is not – ever.

I was inundated by many people who kept sending the same email, even though I’d already responded. Just because one does not like my reply to their question, doesn’t mean that the answer will change if you send the same email 50 more times. It will simply result in that email address getting blocked. Practically speaking, patience only lasts for so long.

Lastly – Final decisions are not up to me – so the rude notes directed at me because the writer disliked the casting choices were not appreciated.

How did you become a Casting Director? You have cast many films with Native American characters – is that particularly difficult?

Becoming a casting director is a different road for everyone… and there is really no set path. As a child, I read a lot and would “cast” the various characters in the books with voices and people that I knew – so that I could hear and see the story in a cinematic way… Growing up, I just knew that I wanted to cast film – and worked towards that goal.

My specialty in casting Native American and First Nations projects is something that I feel extremely proud to have developed. I take this challenge and responsibility very seriously. For me, there is nothing difficult about casting Native characters. Over the years I have met hundreds of very talented Native actors… The difficulty has always been that there was not more opportunity in the entertainment industry to showcase these wonderful actors. One of the really great things about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga – is that in developing these terrific Native characters – she has created opportunity for these actors. The Twilight Saga films are allowing a new generation of young Native and First Nations actors to be discovered by audiences. That is very cool and exciting!

Have you ever “discovered” someone in an unusual way? For example, it’s been reported that after hearing Q’orianka Kilcher sing on the street, you cast her as Pocahontas in The New World. Can this really happen?

Yes – there are dozens of fun stories of how someone has been cast in one of the films I’ve done… Though she was not cast – I really love this one: Years ago, I was in Edmonton, AB on a shuttle to the Airport and I met a woman with a young daughter – who was not even 10 – but the little girl was really animated and outgoing – so I gave the mom my card… Years later, while casting “The New World” – a young woman came into an advertised Open Call in Albuquerque, NM – and when she found out that I was the one conducting the session – she pulled out the exact same card that I’d given her mom 9 years earlier. She’d been carrying it all that time! She turned out to be one of our top contenders on that project and is, today, a wonderfully talented working actress.

As for Q’orianka Kilcher – I am extremely proud of having championed her and cast her as the lead in “The New World”. However, just to set the record straight, I have never seen her sing on the street. She had an agent who submitted her for a role in “Into The West” – which we were casting at the same time – and we thought that she’d be a great candidate for “The New World” – so we brought her in for that project instead – she did many brilliant auditions – and the rest is cinema history… (The “singing on the street” story is, I believe, how she was “discovered” by her first agent.)

Did you see people who weren’t right for Seth or Leah Clearwater but you thought they were good enough to be kept mind for other roles?

Yes, absolutely. I am always thinking about future projects and the potential that someone shows – and if the two might intersect in some way.

Why isn’t it customary to let people know if they DIDN’T get selected – or to provide some comments or feedback to each auditioner? How does an actor know how to improve?

I’ve always thought that the old Hollywood phrase – “Don’t call us – we’ll call you” was rather insensitive to the talent in the casting process, but I can totally appreciate the necessity for it. I had a job to do that involved casting quite a few more roles than just Seth and Leah – and … realistically speaking – there was simply not enough time in the day to contact everyone who auditioned via ActorCast (there were almost 3000 uploads!) with “feedback”. Usually, if asked nicely, I’m happy to help someone… However, everyone needs to understand that I am not in the business of educating the candidates on how to “improve” – that is a responsibility that each person needs to take on for themselves.

STUDY the craft! Do not think that looks and desire alone will carry you through – it will not. This is an extremely competitive and difficult business and you have to have skill. Audition at every opportunity. Every audition will help you gain self confidence for the next audition. Skill and confidence are the greatest tools an actor can have. In addition to studying the craft – study in school. Become the most well-rounded and interesting person that you can. The best actors are always smart, well-educated people who have a “world view” and are not just wrapped up in their pursuit of an acting career.

Will you be casting Breaking Dawn and will you have another open casting for it?

I’ve no idea – it’s still much too early to know. As for another “Open Casting”… These kinds of “searches” are extremely rare. It will really depend on the casting needs of that potential production.

One word of caution – PLEASE be wary of any advertising that you see on-line for casting calls for these projects. I was extremely distressed by the number of people who contacted me saying that they had been asked to PAY for casting information by various on-line organizations – or to attend Open Calls for “Eclipse”. We did a series of Open Calls for “New Moon” – but NONE for “Eclipse”. You simply cannot believe all that you read on-line.

ActorCast was the ONLY on-line organization that our casting team had any professional affiliation with.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the “ECLIPSE OPEN CASTING”.

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Taylor Reid

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