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What is a Screen Test?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A screen test is a filmed audition, in which an actor has a chance to demonstrate his or her suitability for a role in a movie or television show. It is used in television and the motion picture industry to audition actors for a wide variety of roles, and occasionally these tests make their way into the public, as some people find them interesting to watch. The format and content can vary widely, depending on the film the actor is auditioning for.

By using a screen test, producers can see how an actor actually plays on film, as live and filmed performances are very different. In this sense, the process is very important, as an actor may sound and look great live, but awful on film, and vice versa. Screen tests can also be used to explore the chemistry between different actors before deciding whom to cast; for example, when casting a love interest for an already cast lead, tests might be used to see how the auditioning actors look together.

In a basic screen test, an actor will be given a few lines to play on film, sometimes with the assistance of someone off screen who reads another character's dialogue. He or she may be given direction and props, or allowed to interpret the scene independently. After the scene is complete, it can be circulated among members of the production team who can review it to decide whether or not they like the actor, and he or she may be called back for an additional test before the part is firmly offered.

After a part has been cast, these film clips may be destroyed or archived, depending on the studio. Archived screen tests are often quite interesting, especially when they feature actors who later became famous, as they can provide a fascinating glimpse into earlier incarnations of the actor's career.

It is also common for short film clips to be used during filming to test the look of wardrobe, hair, and makeup. These are known as wardrobe or makeup tests, and they can be very important, as sometimes things which look fine live are surprising, unexpected, or undesired on film. By using a hair and makeup test, for example, people can see how natural an actor looks, or determine if his or her hairstyling and color are right for the piece. Wardrobe tests can be used to explore how costumes look with different lighting and sets.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Musical Expert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon320995 — On Feb 20, 2013

Don Adams hosted a show where aspiring actors and actresses came on and did a "screen test." That is, they performed a famous scene from a famous work, with another famous actor, such as Mel Brooks or James Caan.

Even though they weren't playing comedy, the three clips online from the show are the funniest things you will ever see, especially the one with James Caan as Tarzan, although the video of compiled clips involving Mel Brooks on the show is darn funny too.

The show opened up the screen test world to some actors who might never have got to do many at all.

It also shows you what a screen test is like.

By Crispety — On Feb 16, 2011

Cafe41 - What I find more interesting than those actors that were screen tested were the ones that turned down certain roles.

For example, Sarah Jessica Parker turned down the role of Julia Roberts in “Pretty Women” which made Julia Roberts an instant star.

She said that she had a problem playing a prostitute which is why she turned down the role. Matt Damon was supposed to play the lead role in Avatar but was unable to because he was filming another movie at the time so the role went to Sam Worthington.

Probably the most surprising miss was in the casting of “The Blind Side’ the lead role which won Sandra Bullock an Academy Award was originally offered to Julia Roberts who turned down the film.

Also, Will Smith was supposed to play the lead role in the Matrix, but because he was filming another movie at the time the role went to Keanu Reeves instead. I bet these stars are kicking themselves now.

By cafe41 — On Feb 14, 2011

Anon40567 - I think that the article was well written.

I wanted to add that I think that a screen test audition must be nerve wracking but I guess if you want to get into the field of acting then this is a must.

It is really funny to see these old screen test. I wonder if the actors at the time knew that they were destined to be stars.

That was my thought when I saw the Saturday Night Live screen test of John Belushi.

By anon40567 — On Aug 09, 2009

In American English, never use "as" to mean "since" or "because."

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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