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.