Here's a spanking new dialogue between a veteran production board revisionist and a director on a high-profile, half-hour show at one of our fine conglomerates. (We've made both anonymous in the spirit of our comments section.)
Along with information about the practices on his show, the director offers some solid career advice ...
Artist: One studio recently issued a test with 2 1/2 pages of pretty active script; which a pal told me took him over a week to do and came to over 30 (3-panel) pages.
I think people should refuse tests of this length.. If everyone refused to take them, things would change pretty quickly IMHO. I also completely respect those who refuse to take ANY type of test... If only we could all be in the position to exercise that option ...
Director: I think tests are very important tool for hiring.
I first look at a portfolio to narrow the candidates down to a select few. But the tests are helpful in not just determining if the artist is proficient in storyboarding, but whether the artist can adapt to the specific needs of the show.
Does the artist get the humor of the show? The shooting style? Are the expressions pushed enough? Is there appropriate use of dynamic and flat staging? All these things come through in a test very quickly and obviously. A sample in a portfolio, chosen by the artist, doesn't always provide these specifics.
That said ...don't do more than 1 page of script. Anything more than that is unnecessary for you to do, and, honestly, for the employer, it's too much to go over. I would wager that most employers will not look over more than 10 to 20 pages of boards (which roughly translates to 1 page of script.)
Artist: You bring up some very valid points. The (blessedly short) revisions test I took for [X] was a perfect example of how applicants might indeed need to demonstrate their understanding of a show's style, since that was a particularly tough show to "get."
I think the main issue here is the length of these tests; I am delighted to know your opinion on this. Why on earth would a studio even ISSUE a 2 1/2 script-pager? Is it some kind of endurance thing? Some outstanding artists I know haven't worked in over a year and are stressed out enough.
It would be great if directors such as yourself could in some way approve these tests before they are handed out ...
Director: Speaking only for our show ... we do approve the tests before they go out. In fact, we had to recently change our test, because the episode it was based off of aired, and we didn't want someone's test being affected by seeing the episode, intentionally or not.
I can attest to the number of people out of work by the inundation of responses each job offering gets. However, it is a fairly narrow margin of artists that have the necessary combination of talent and skills that would make them suitable for the job.
Sometimes, an artist shows great promise with inspired acting and can mine the humor from any situation, but has difficulty with good composition and nuts and bolts filmmaking (screen direction, shot flow, camera angle.) Other times, an artist doesn't break any filmmaking "rules," but the acting is not pushed far enough or it relies on cliched poses, not to mention missing opportunities for humor.
Experience will help the first type of artist, but as for the second--you can't teach "funny." It's a tough choice. The artist with the complete package is quite rare, even among "outstanding" artists.
For those artists that find themselves falling short of what productions want, my advice would be to not give up, and to continue to sharpen your skill set. Pick a scene from a script or a favorite book, and board it out. Get feedback from peers and mentors. Don't be defensive or argue why you made your choices! Listen; stew on it for a while. Consider why that person made those suggestions. Internalize those lessons so the experience you gain with each of these lessons ultimately builds into a job offer that can't help but find its way to you.
Just remember: experience takes time. But in order to gain experience, you must constantly keep moving forward. If no one will give you experience -- MAKE it yourself. I know it doesn't pay the bills right away, but it is essential for improving as an artist and a professional ...
TAG has often registered complaints to studios about test lengths across the bargaining table (and elsewhere). The response (mostly) is "Yeah, sure, you're absolutely right. We'll cut the tests down."
And the long tests stop. For awhile. But then they start again because show runners do what they please and nobody higher up is paying close attention. But I've never gotten the point of long tests, unless it's to create an obstacle course through which an artist demonstrates his powers of endurance.
Beyond that, the damn things are counterproductive. Long tests are an agonizing chore for artists to do, and a chore for the employer to plow through. (Kind of a "lose-lose" situation all around, wouldn't you say?)