Art
Fact-checked

At MusicalExpert, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is a Screen Test?

A screen test is a pivotal audition where actors showcase their talents on camera, allowing directors to gauge their suitability for a role. It captures an actor's presence, chemistry with co-stars, and adaptability to the script. Intrigued by the behind-the-scenes magic? Discover how screen tests shape cinema's most iconic characters. What might your favorite films have looked like with different stars?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

A screen test may be used to test the chemistry between different actors before final casting.
A screen test may be used to test the chemistry between different actors before final casting.

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.

Screen tests determine if actors have the necessary emotional range a director is looking for.
Screen tests determine if actors have the necessary emotional range a director is looking for.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a screen test and why is it important in the film industry?

A screen test is a method used in the casting process to evaluate an actor's suitability for a particular role. It involves recording a scene or a series of scenes on camera to assess the actor's on-screen presence, acting ability, and chemistry with other actors. Screen tests are crucial because they help directors and producers envision how the actor will appear and perform on film, ensuring the best possible match for the character. This process can significantly impact the final casting decision, as it provides a tangible preview of the actor's potential contribution to the film.

How does a screen test differ from an audition?

An audition is typically the first step in the casting process where actors perform live in front of casting directors or producers, often without extensive props or costumes. In contrast, a screen test is a more in-depth evaluation that is recorded on camera, often with full makeup, wardrobe, and sometimes on the actual set. The screen test aims to capture the actor's look and performance as it would appear in the final product, providing a more accurate representation of their fit for the role.

What should actors prepare for when going into a screen test?

Actors should prepare for a screen test by thoroughly understanding the character and the scene they will perform. They should memorize their lines, work on their delivery, and consider how their physicality can convey the character's emotions and motivations. Additionally, actors should be ready to take direction and make adjustments on the spot, as the director may ask for different interpretations of the scene. Being adaptable and showing range can make a strong impression during a screen test.

Can a screen test affect the direction of a film or character development?

Yes, a screen test can influence the direction of a film or the development of a character. Directors and writers may see something unique in an actor's performance that inspires them to adjust aspects of the character or story. For instance, an actor's chemistry with a co-star during a screen test might lead to a deeper exploration of their relationship in the film. The screen test is not only a tool for casting but also for the creative team to refine their vision for the project.

Are screen tests only used for major roles or can they be used for supporting and minor roles as well?

While screen tests are commonly associated with major roles, they can also be used for supporting and minor roles, especially if those roles are pivotal to the plot or have significant interactions with the main characters. The decision to conduct a screen test for a smaller role may depend on the project's budget, the importance of the role, and the director's preference. In some cases, a strong screen test for a minor role can even lead to an expansion of that character's presence in the film.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

Learn more...

You might also Like

Discussion Comments

anon320995

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.

Crispety

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.

cafe41

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.

anon40567

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

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • A screen test may be used to test the chemistry between different actors before final casting.
      By: oneinchpunch
      A screen test may be used to test the chemistry between different actors before final casting.
    • Screen tests determine if actors have the necessary emotional range a director is looking for.
      By: mikhaluk
      Screen tests determine if actors have the necessary emotional range a director is looking for.