Have you ever watched a TV show and thought ‘I’d quite like a go at that’, quickly replaced by the follow-up thought ‘but I’m not sure that I could?’
My name is Dave and I have now been involved with five TV productions at various levels. I have auditioned for The Weakest Link, been part of a pilot that never made it to air, and featured as a contestant on Total Wipeout, Ninja Warrior UK and Robot Wars. I suffer from low self esteem and rollercoaster depression and I have found no finer therapy for it than the character-validating world of television production.
My quest today is to try and coax the inner star out of you all, no matter how out of place you may feel. I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, far from it, but I have never failed to gain at least an audition for every show I’ve ever applied for, so I must be doing something right! I’d like to share with you a few tips and tricks that I’ve picked up along the way and to try and convince you to have a go if you want to. I can tell you there is no better feeling than the glow of personal pride that you feel when you get invited to an audition or to be part of a show you love. Yes, you may also feel there has obviously been some kind of mistake, but it is hard to shake the fact that, out of the hundreds or thousands of people who fill out an application form, they have chosen you. Fancy a go? Then let’s do this!
1) “How did you even get on?”
This is the most common question I have been asked about any of my appearances and it has lead me to realise that everybody seems to share a view that television is some magic land that only a few privileged people get to have access to. This is complete bunk. If the show you have in mind features members of the public as contestants or ‘stars’ then there is no reason that you cannot apply. The BBC and ITV have dedicated websites where they list every show they are currently casting and a quick search online will help you find the application form for any show you fancy, or, at least, details on when it’ll be available next. Most shows follow exactly the same process for casting – form, audition, show. Sometimes they extend steps (further auditions) or miss them out completely but that is your basic model. If you want to get on a show then it’s easy to find out how.
2) Do not obsess over the application form.
This is one I absolutely stand by. When I have applied for shows in the past I have met many other applicants along the way. The main topic of conversation at auditions is always finding out what everyone else put on their form that helped them reach this point. I have met many an applicant who told me that they obsessed for days over whether their form was ready to submit or not. I do not recommend this. Application forms are usually full of very open-ended statements such as “tell us something interesting about yourself” or “tell us five things your friends would say about you”. Think of an answer, write it out in good detail (casting teams like detail!) and then move on.
The key thing to remember is that there is no correct answer. The team at the other end are looking for something on your form that makes you stand out from the hundreds of others they read. They are rarely looking for specifics. Often the best contestants for, say, gameshows are the ones that don’t quite seem to fit the template of the kind of person who usually appears on the show. Your application form is not an exam and it will likely be glossed over rather hurriedly at the other end anyway! It is your ticket to audition, nothing more. Write enough to convince them that you are someone they might like to meet in person, give them something they might not have seen before, and then submit it and forget about it. If you get an invitation to an audition then your form succeeded, however long you spent on it. Once you get to audition it is a level playing field again and nothing on that form matters much. You simply have to back it up. Make it good, make it interesting, move on.
3) Know your show.
The first show I applied for was daytime quiz staple The Weakest Link during my first year at university. I was invited to an audition in York and I treated the whole thing as a bit of a lark. I wore jogging bottoms and a scrappy t-shirt that gave me the air of someone who had just rolled out of bed because, well, I had. The audition consisted of a multiple choice general knowledge test (if you choose a quiz never worry about these too much either, they want someone with a good field of knowledge but not necessarily the ones that know everything!) followed by a mock-up of the show where we all had to stand behind pretend podiums in a half-moon shape and answer questions put to us by a mean producer standing in for Anne Robinson. I messed about an awful lot, even pretending to be the voice-over man at one point. Suffice to say, I never heard back from the show.
Fast forward a couple of years and I was at an audition for the intensely silly extreme obstacle course game show Total Wipeout. My mucking about served much greater purpose here but I was gobsmacked to hear how many of my fellow auditionees had ‘never seen the show before’! Please do not do this to yourselves, everybody! There are a few personalities that can cope with being asked to do anything on TV but I am guessing you may not be one of them. Imagine being asked to fly out to Argentina and being faced with that obstacle course without knowing what you’re in for! No thank you. Anyway, the moral here is that, if you know your show, you can work out how to behave at the audition. The Weakest Link was always fun but they didn’t want a total buffoon. A good knowledge of the show impresses producers too. Mention specific parts of the show that you can’t wait to do, especially the smaller details. Tell them how much you love it!
4) Own your audition.
The name of the game at audition is to stand out for the right reasons. There are no two ways about it, I’m afraid – if you really want to get on the show you’re going to have to go for it. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds. Most TV shows will pay your expenses if you make it to filming but you have to find your own way to your audition. This is part of the test! If you quibble about times or locations or costs then, well, they’ll choose someone else.
Auditions take place in a room full of people; usually a small team who work for the show and a larger pool of applicants. For The Weakest Link, it was about twenty people. For my series of Total Wipeout, it was fifty other men. There are two things to take into account here if you are socially anxious. The first is that, in general, the only way you will ever see any of these people again is if you make it onto the show. So channel every inch of self-confidence you can muster and just go for it. If you do something cataclysmically awful that makes you cringe every time you recall it for years to come, well so what? No-one you know saw it, you never have to tell anyone about it and everyone who did see it will be long gone by then. There was a point during the Total Wipeout auditions where we were all jogging in a circle and one of the team shouted out “Can anyone do an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression?” at random. After a pause where it seemed no-one was going to answer, I mustered a loud but terrible “GET TO DE CHOPPAH!” to which the guy pointed at me and shouted “YES! GET TO DE CHOPPAH! DO IT NOW!”. This was hardly my finest hour as a human being but it got me noticed over all the guys who stood back. You’d be surprised how many of your fellow applicants are too nervous to join in until someone else has had their say. Do not be one of them. Take the lead, it’s your opportunity.
The second thing to remember is it does not matter how many people apply for the show, the only ones you are competing against are in the room with you. No production team will pick their entire contestant crop from a single audition and it is likely that someone you bump in to will make it onto the show. Break down your task – you are not trying to win one of two hundred slots in ten thousand (which were roughly the numbers for my series of Total Wipeout), you are trying to be the most noticeable applicant out of the fifty people at your audition. You don’t have to be the loudest or most alpha or fittest or most knowledgeable or best looking of the group. Your task is simply to stand out and that is a much easier goal to shoot for. And, if you spend a week after your audition trembling in a locked room refusing to come out, then well done you for putting every effort you had into it! Whether you get the magic call or not, that’s definitely something to be proud of.
5) TV is for everyone. Be yourself.
Never sit at home and think you’re just not the kind of person that ‘they’ will pick to be on a TV show because that very doubt can make you much more appealing to a casting crew. When I did the fitness-based show Ninja Warrior UK I was in the best shape I’ve ever been in but I was still a flabby, woefully inadequate specimen. But consider the crew, watching the same audition process all day long, viewing countless ultra-fit show-offs excelling at all of the gym-type tests that that audition involved. When a slightly baffling man wrapped in duct tape (err, it was part of my ‘costume’…) who was out of breath by the end of the first discipline put in every effort he had to impress and then went home in a pleasantly satisfied manner, well, I guess I stood out enough to get on the show. If you don’t think you fit the box for a show but you still want to have a go then use that to your advantage. “Oh, you never see shy people on The Cube!” Well that might be because no shy person ever applied because they have already dismissed themselves! Remember, they are generally not looking for specifics.
TV is a wonderful, ever-changing, varied beast and somewhere out there is a show that will not only be happy to have you but that you will get a real buzz out of doing. Do it for you, not for attention or fame. Enjoy every stage of the application process to the best of your ability and, if you don’t make it to the next step, you had fun, right? You left your comfort zone for an hour or two and it felt good! One day, you may even get that golden call where they tell you that they want you to be part of their show – not some fake version of you that you’ve disguised yourself with at auditions, but actual you, with all of your faults and flaws and ‘inadequate’ normalness. If you have been true to yourself throughout the process then it really is hard to dismiss the feeling that one of the people they have chosen is little old you. That really can be life-affirming.
The only thing left to do then is to throw yourself into whatever show you’ve made it on to! Remember to relax – there is no correct way to be from this point on, they have already chosen you. Don’t act up to what you think the show needs, you already are that person. Validate the faith they’ve shown in you by giving it all you’ve got and worry about the broadcast later. Much like getting exam results, that part is never as bad as you think it’s going to be. Magic things can happen when you do TV. It has helped me come to terms with my character, my place in the world and my depression. It has also helped me find a wife, who was a contestant on a different series of Total Wipeout. I had barely been on so much as a date before I did that show but my willingness to have a go lead me on a path to find another misfit soul who shared the same determination to just have a go. I urge my fellow lost souls to try it! You really have nothing to lose and who knows what benefits you may gain from gritting your teeth and taking a chance? Perhaps it’ll be the start of something big for you too, or maybe it’ll simply give you something to talk about in the future. “I auditioned for that show once” is a great conversation starter. Good luck, and go get ‘em!
Next time, I’ll take you through what it is actually like filming a show!