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Want To Be On A Reality Show? Tips from a Casting Director

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This week, we sat down with casting director Shannon McIntosh to gain insight into the reality TV casting dos and don’ts.

Shannon started casting commercials and features in Atlanta nine years ago, then began working as a regional casting director in the south for several different shows like, Joe Millionaire and For Love or Money. After moving to Los Angeles four years ago, Shannon worked on almost twenty different reality and game shows, including The Bachelor, Survivor, Average Joe, and Who Wants to be a Superhero. She also recruits regularly for several new and existing MTV shows. You can check out Shannon’s profile and find occasional casting bulletins at her MySpace page. Shannon uses Reality Wanted to spread the word about new projects that she is casting!

Let’s discuss the audition tape. Tell us the dos and don’ts when it comes to making a reality TV audition video.

The first thing an applicant should do is simple — read the instructions and follow them. Most reality TV audition tapes should be no longer than three minutes. Always be sure to label your tape with all of your contact information such as name, age, city, state, and the show you're applying to.

What about people who are really good with graphics and have the ability to add special effects, etc. to their video?

Just because someone is great with computer graphics doesn’t mean we will be interested in them. Some applicants spend too much time editing a reality TV audition tape and highlighting everything but their personality. If the personality is poor and/or we don’t get to see their personality in the tape it doesn’t matter how much flair they add.

Let’s continue to talk about pet peeves or other don’ts when it comes to making an audition video.

Don’t film yourself against a window since you will end up looking like a shadow. Make sure you have balanced lighting on each side. It’s a good idea to have someone else film you since they can view audio levels, zoom in and out, etc. If you’re shooting a scene outside you will want to do it during the day so we can see you. Don’t film yourself in a loud environment such as near a street with car noise in the background. I have had tapes with people on the beach and we hear too much background noise from planes, the ocean, and other people talking.

What are some of the things you like to see in an audition video?

What we really want to see from an applicant are different looks and a day in their life. We like to see where they work, where they live, who they live with. It’s great to see a shot or two of an applicant doing one or two of their favorite hobbies.

Lets talk about the open casting calls; can an applicant prepare for one of these? I get questions like this on our site all the time.

People have to realize that they may have only 60 seconds during their first interview. If they need a shot of tequila or a shot of espresso in order to loosen up or jump start their personality, they should do it. We want to see who they are. They may want to project themselves and tell us what character they think we will pigeonhole them in. For example: Are you the hot girl, the funny guy, the bitch, the hero, or the instigator? It all depends on the show they are applying to.

What about dress code when coming to an open casting call?

Unless you’re going to apply for The Apprentice, don’t overdress. We might even ask them to remove articles of clothing. (Again, this is all relative to the show that they’re applying for!)

Another big part of the casting process is the written application. I have heard from some people in casting not to overdo it and others recommend filling out as much information and detail as possible. What are your suggestions?

We don’t like one or two word answers. If an applicant is married, they should give us a sentence or two about their spouse and what they’re like. We like to see and read examples of things applicants tell us about. If you think you are a risk taker give us an example of why you are, don’t just say “I’m adventurous”, give us and example as to why.

Don’t go on too long and don’t get writer's cramp, that’s what the audition video is for. Don’t lie about things like your height, weight, etc. If you are a finalist, we’re going to be meeting with you in person at some point. We will also more than likely conduct a background check. People need to remember that if we don’t use you for the show you applied for, we do call strong applicants back for other shows we work on.

Another part of the application process are the personal pictures. We allow people to upload photos onto our site and I know every reality show requires at least two personal pictures, a full body shot and a face shot. Tell us a little bit about what you look for.

The first thing I want to tell applicants is not to send us photos they want sent back, no pictures are returned. You’re right, we need a full face and a full body shot. However, we do not want people to send in professional headshots since 99% of the people who send them in do not look like their professional headshot. A simple clear picture from your digital camera works great. Make certain your photos are clear and you are easily seen.

As you know, our site, Reality Wanted, allows applicants to apply to shows online. The same goes for MySpace, craigslist, etc. What are some things applicants should stay away from when it comes to applying and communicating with you online?

They should only apply online once. It’s a good idea not to harass the casting directors on MySpace or send multiple emails and applications. I have seen applicants who have posted casting director’s email addresses and phone numbers online asking their friends to call and vote for them, when there isn’t a voting system in place. This is a quick way to get eliminated. Once you have applied we have your information and we will call you if we are interested. The best rule of thumb — apply once and follow the application instructions.

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  • Thanks! This was what I was looking for! Oprah’s contest is coming up and I wanted a jumping off spot. Very helpful.

  • Joseph Scaccia

    In what time period is it best to send in the application for the show? Is it best to send the application in early on in the beginning of when the show series airs? Or more toward the end of the season?