Tips from Prime Time Reality TV casting expert Sarah Monson

Sarah MonsonSarah Monson has a decade long career in casting reality TV shows. She has worked with America's top networks including ABC, MTV, CBS and the Discovery Channel, casting actors for shows such as 'The Bachelor' and 'Survivor'.

There are many actors looking for a way in but don't know how to start. Getting on a major TV show is always going to be a challenge as the competition is tough and the audition process is never easy. Sarah has some unique insights to share with us about the casting process with some tips on how to get ahead of the competition. She has also written a book called 'Me On TV : The first ever Kick-ass guide to get you on any reality show,' which is an in-depth guide helping actors get on top Reality TV shows. (more information below)

Iain: How did you get into the world of reality TV?

Sarah: I actually started my casting career during college, working with a prominent film casting director as a Casting Assistant on films including Spy Kids, Any Given Sunday and Scary Movie. It was there I first learned a lot about the things that make people stand out and the subtle shifts people can make in the audition process to greatly improve their chances of being cast.

Then, after college, I got my first reality TV casting job at the show Blind Date, where I had to hit the bars seven nights a week scoping out sexy singles. It was a really hard show to cast because everyone knew that if you went on that show, there was a good chance you’d be made to look like a fool!

From there, I was recruited to cast Survivor, which was the complete opposite of Blind Date. People were dying to go on that show. I had to sift through thousands of applicants each season. It was challenging and a really fantastic experience. I met a ton of really amazing reality show hopefuls there.

Since then, I’ve cast and served as Casting Director/Producer on shows of all shapes and sizes – including The Bachelor, Cash Cab, Celebridate, It’s Me Or The Dog, Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?, a ton of pilots, and even Playboy TV’s first foray into reality programming, Foursome. I’m sure you can imagine the interesting things that went on with that one!

Iain: Can you give us an insight into the casting process for major shows?

Sarah: Typically, the process goes like this: For big network shows, you either apply online, attend an open call, or send in a video and an application. Then… you wait!

The reason it takes so long to hear back is that the casting team has to go through an outrageous number of applicants and narrow them down. If we like you, you might get a phone call from someone who spends around 20 minutes prodding you for additional information, to see how you handle yourself on the phone; you may be asked to make another video, where you can show some additional sides of your personality to give us more to work with; or you may get an email asking you to fill out more paperwork, like a consent to a background check and things like that. Or, possibly even all three!

Some shows hold semi-final interviews, where a Casting Associate will fly to various towns around the country and hold in-person interviews. Based on that round, finalists will be chosen and then flown out to L.A. for the last round, often called finals.

Though, I’m finding more and more that shows are skipping semi finals altogether, probably to save money, and just having people come out for finals. If you make finals, you’ll likely be put up in a hotel where you cannot talk to anyone about anything. This can get very lonely. You’ll probably be given mental, physical, drug and even possibly STD tests. You’ll meet with network execs and head honchos in suits who are looking for reasons not to like you! It’s scary, but thrilling. And the pay off is immense if you make the show!

For smaller shows, the casting process is typically less intense. These types of shows are usually cable shows, where they don’t have the big network backed budget to fly potential contestants to L.A. for finals. If you opt for one of these, you’ll typically apply in the same way, with an application and a video, or attend an in-person audition, and play the waiting game to get called. But instead of a round of semi-finals and finals, you might only have to do one round of interviews to make the show. And sometimes that can be done with just a phone call, Skype or through a second audition video.

Iain: What does it take for an actor to get ahead of the competition? Any tips?

Sarah: Whenever I read an application, watch someone’s audition video, or see someone at an open call, contrary to popular opinion, I am absolutely hoping that you will wow me and be the perfect person for the role I am casting. I am not looking for ways to reject you or for reasons you’re not the right fit.

That said, the biggest way an actor can stand out is through their energy. Energy is key. It’s the first thing I notice, and if you come across right away as energetic and enthusiastic about the show or the project, that sets the right tone for me. Letting me see that you can light up the room tells me you’ll be great on film and on camera.

When you walk into that room, act like you own it. Don’t wait for me tell you what to do. If you see tape marks on the floor in the shape of an “X” or a “T”, don’t ask me where to stand. Just go stand there.

And look not just at me but through me. It’s a trick fashion models use to give an added intensity of energy. A powerful look can go a long way.

And spit out your gum before you come in the room!

Also, have your story down. I call it your “personal sizzle reel.” Be able to pitch yourself as the perfect person for the project in 60 seconds or less. Tell a compelling story that will make me intrigued by who you are and leave me wanting to know more. Sometimes a Casting Director won’t even ask you any questions. They might just say: “Tell me about yourself.” You must have a compelling story and sell us on wanting to keep you around.

Iain: What is the number one difficulty actors have with the casting process?

Sarah: Honestly, I think it’s getting the audition in the first place. But when you do, the next hurdle is getting on a Casting Director’s radar. Let them know that if this project isn’t the right fit, you’d love to be considered for others. Try and make an impression early on so, even if you are a right fit for the role you’re trying out for today, they’ll keep bringing you in for something else at a later date. I know people who’ve eventually gotten themselves prime projects by engaging with and impressing a Casting Director over a period of time and a number of rejections. Perseverance is key and always leave a great impression.

Iain: Can you give us an insight into your new book “Me On TV”? What will it help people achieve?

Me On TV casting bookSarah: I absolutely love helping people make their dreams come true. And with my expertise, that often comes in the form of helping them get on TV on their favorite show.

For years, people constantly ask me for my best inside secrets – the tips and tricks that can make a difference and help them get cast. Regardless of the show you want to get on, there are definite steps you can take to put your best foot forward and exponentially increase your chances.

So I compiled all of my knowledge into a simple, easy to follow formula – the “Me On TV” system – and created an insiders guide anyone can use to help get them on any show they want.

Me On TV is the first book of its kind. It’s an eBook (since I will be updating it periodically, it will be much easier to do so than if it were in print), full of over 130 pages of material that I believe will be an invaluable resource to anyone looking to get themselves on TV.

I’ve even used the secret tips, tricks and techniques in this book to get me and my friends on a bunch of TV shows, so I know first hand this stuff works.

My sole objective in writing this book is to help as many people as possible achieve their dreams. If even one person reads this book and gets themselves on their favorite show, I will be so profoundly fulfilled.

To that end, as a thank you for the incredible early support for my book, for a limited time, to people who purchase the book, I’m also offering a short, private one-on-one coaching session with me to go over your application or audition video questions and concerns. I’m so excited to be working hands on with more people.

Iain: Do you have any advice for upcoming actors who want to play roles in TV series or in films?

Sarah: Own your flaws. Don’t try and be the leading lady if you’re looks or personality fit more of a quirky sidekick. Sidekicks can make a lot of money in Hollywood these days. Be honest with yourself and realize there are fantastic roles for all types of people. Just own who you are and be the best that you can be and I know I’ll see you on TV soon!

To find out more about Sarah and to check out her book log on to her Official Website.

You can also find her on The Bichlorette

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