Here’s a fun pilot season story from the old days: We were looking for a male love interest. It was a series regular role, not the lead but an important part of the ensemble. The creators fell in love with an actor who was younger than the role was written. We tested him and the […]
Virtual Casting is a whole different ballgame. By now, y’all know how to use Zoom. You have a great self-tape set-up. You’ve studied audition technique and feel rooted in your acting abilities and experience. Put ALLLLLLLLLL of those things together, add a bit of on-the-fly-do-it-yourself IT work and you have Virtual Casting. Virtual Casting is […]
Hey Actors! When it comes to self-tapes, these are some of the more common issues we see, (and how you can avoid them!): #1: EYE LINE It’s easy to overthink where you should be looking when creating self-tapes of car scenes or working on a scene with multiple characters, but the easiest solution is to […]
Here’s a fun pilot season story from the old days:
Live tests were sooooooooo hard (and that’s the understatement of the century) and we didn’t always know the outcome in the room – sometimes the execs had to go and discuss or rewatch tape – but very occasionally, we got to the hug the actor and break the amazing news right in that moment.
Virtual Casting is a whole different ballgame.
By now, y’all know how to use Zoom. You have a great self-tape set-up. You’ve studied audition technique and feel rooted in your acting abilities and experience.
Put ALLLLLLLLLL of those things together, add a bit of on-the-fly-do-it-yourself IT work and you have Virtual Casting.
Virtual Casting is stressful. For you, for Casting, for your roommate or partner who are desperately trying to help you fix whatever has gone wrong in the middle of your session… it’s a whole new skillset and we’re all on the learning curve together. (Remember, Casting wants you to succeed!)
In an effort to help alleviate some of the anxiety around this stuff, I’ve put together a LONG-ASS list of tips for you to reference as you practice Virtual Casting.
1. PRACTICE BEFORE YOU HAVE A REAL VIRTUAL SESSION! You will be so glad you did.
- Important: you can practice and be totally “ready” (mentally, technologically,) and things will STILL go wrong, (mostly technically, but those tech problems will make your audition nerves come roaring out of hiding.) Tech issues are simply the rules of the internet. Expect them.
- Know that when these things go wrong, there are contingencies: maybe a phone call to talk notes before you self-tape, rescheduling your virtual appt on a different platform, etc. Don’t panic. You won’t lose the opportunity just because you’re having tech problems.
2. WIFI/INTERNET ISSUES ARE COMMON. Do yourself a favor and place yourself near your router (or plug in) for your virtual session. Test your internet speed in different areas of your home to see if there is an ideal location.
- If you live with someone, kindly ask them to go for a walk or sit quietly and read a book while you are having your virtual session so you can have the full bandwidth. (If they’re scrolling through twitter or checking email it won’t hurt your speed too much, but if they’re watching Netflix or streaming videos, you’re screwed.)
3. PLACE YOUR COMPUTER OR TABLET AT EYE-LEVEL, WHETHER YOU ARE SITTING OR STANDING. I’d recommend using a computer or tablet for the session because the screen is bigger, making it easier for you to see the people with whom you’re speaking/reading. It can be harder to adjust the height of your larger devices so plan to not move it. Instead, you may need to adjust your energy, depending on the scene.
- Remember: eye level device = fewer chins/nose hairs. (You can thank me later.)
4. CLEAN YOUR LENS BEFOREHAND! I know you’re all getting good at doing this on your phones before you self-tape, but make sure you do it on your computer. (That thing is DIR-TY.) Add streaming and layers of internet to that dirty lens and it is REAL hard to see you.
5. LIGHT: Our computer cameras aren’t as great as our phones. Use the lighting set up that you use for your self-tapes. It will help the camera eye open up more and give you a clearer/sharper look.
- Ideally you do your virtual casting session in your self-tape space because it’s set-up with a plain BG, good light, quiet, etc. Just make sure the internet speed is up-to-par there. (See above.)
6. FRAME: Avoid the instinct to step back/away from your computer to give yourself more space. It’s already hard to see you with these computer cams, streaming issues, etc. Don’t make your face even tinier in the frame than necessary. Aim for the same frame as your self-tapes (about mid-bust or clavicle to just above your head.)
7. SOUND: Have your earbuds/AirPods handy. You may want to try doing your scene without them for the “look” but they may be the exact tool you need to mitigate the major sound issues (ambience, echo, low volume, etc.) Have them at arm’s length or just plan to use them.
- Ambient noise exists and for the most part you can’t do anything about it. If your dog barks in the next room or an ambulance drives by or or or… it’s fine. Virtual casting will never be perfect (a lot of in-person audition scenarios aren’t perfect either, let’s be real.) As long as you’ve taken the precautions of tucking yourself into a quiet space, asking your partners/housemates/kids to keep their voices down, etc. then you’ve done the best you can. All good.
8. THERE’S INTERNET “ECHO” (hearing ourselves through your speakers, often fixed when you put on earbuds) AND ROOM ECHO. Room echo can be managed by surrounding your space with items that soak up sound (furniture, pillows, etc.)
9. EYELINE: Before you start, ask where they’d like your eyeline. Ideally you‘d look at the reader, but they may want you to look into or near the camera to better see you. Scoot your reader’s box to the top of your screen so they’re as close to the camera as possible. Win-win (hopefully.)
10. If the session is on Zoom, pin the reader and then go to your picture box, click the three dots in the upper-right hand corner and choose “HIDE SELF-VIEW” (You’re welcome.)
- An excellent lo-fi solution if you are struggling to find that option is just to grab a little sticky note and put it up over your box so you aren’t watching yourself.
11. TURN NOTIFICATIONS OFF or put your devices on Do Not Disturb (airplane mode is ok but you have to turn your WiFi off on your phone otherwise it’ll still ring.) Those dings and rings that come in on your computer are UNBELIEVABLY loud on Zoom. Also, if you’re recording separately on your phone and a call comes in, it will stop the recording. (See #15 for more on this.)
12. EVERY VIDEO CONFERENCING PLATFORM IS DIFFERENT. Y’all know Zoom by now but have you tried Google Meetings, Microsoft Teams, WeAudition, WebEX, GoToMeeting, Eco-Cast Live, etc? If your virtual session is on a platform that’s new to you, make sure you check it out in advance… You might need to download an app or use a certain browser or create a free profile. Don’t discover these things a minute or two before your appointment time, (stress city!)
- Every Zoom issue I’ve ever had was solely because I needed to update my app. Make sure you have the most current version of whichever system you’re using.
13. SIGN ON TO YOUR SESSION A FEW MINUTES EARLY. If we’re running ahead of schedule, we’ll be glad to see you pop into the waiting room. It also alleviates a LOT of stress on our end to see you in the virtual waiting room.
14. NO VIRTUAL BACKGROUNDS. (I bet you thought that goes without saying, but I’m going to leave it here as a reminder juuuuuust in case.) Fight the urge to pop one up. They’re unbelievably distracting.
15. SET A BACK-UP RECORDING. This is the best way to alleviate your Virtual Casting-related anxiety. Sh*t will unquestionably go wrong (on your end, on their end,) and there is no bigger bummer than thinking you may have had a really great take and the director saying “oh no! You froze there for a second!”
Do your heart a favor and place a phone or camera as close to your computer lens as possible (ie JUST behind the screen.) Start recording right before you start the session. You do not need to play/cheat to it or start/stop the recording. Let it run and end the recording once you hang up – it is simply a BACK-UP. Even if you never need the recording, you will feel so much less stress knowing you’re covered if they say “we think that was good, it was just really glitchy.”
- If you forget to set a back-up recording and there’s some obvious glitchiness, plan to self-tape as soon as you can with the notes you were just given.
16. IF IT’S A CALLBACK, YOU MIGHT GET NOTES AHEAD OF TIME. OR NOT. Sometimes we say, “we’ll just chat/play when we get on.” Sometimes we just want to see you do it live and don’t have any specific notes.
- If you’re getting a CB, it’s because we like what you did in your initial tape. If we want to run a take before giving notes, aim for what got you the callback. Doesn’t have to be exact, obviously. You’re not a robot. But those choices are a good jumping-off point.
17. BE FULLY IN YOUR BODY. Remember: even though we’re seeing you from the chest up, you should still feel your toes, breath should still come from your diaphragm, etc. If you’re in your head, we can see it, (always, but especially in self-tapes/virtual casting where the camera is close.)
And that, my friends, is the tip of the iceberg.
Virtual Casting WILL get easier. It’s new, it’s weird and the anxiety we feel around it is compounded with the stress we feel living in America in 2020. It’s a lot. But this situation is doable. And if a little effort and newness/weirdness means you can get back to set sooner, then we can all buck up and figure it out together.
Start here. And for the love of all things, START PRACTICING.
Hey Actors! When it comes to self-tapes, these are some of the more common issues we see, (and how you can avoid them!):
#1: EYE LINE
It’s easy to overthink where you should be looking when creating self-tapes of car scenes or working on a scene with multiple characters, but the easiest solution is to keep it simple. We (and the camera) need to see your face. You can acknowledge the entrance of another character by looking slightly off camera/to the opposite side of the camera, and then bring your eye line back to the reader. For car scenes, keep your face forward and engage with the reader in the moments when you feel you would’ve turned sideways to look at them. If you’re not looking at/engaging with your reader, your performance will start to feel one-sided. Always bring your eye line back to the person who is in the room with you.
#2: FANCY EDITING TRICKS
Title cards, cross fades, fade in/out, 4K are all not necessary. Casting Directors don’t use them… you don’t have to either. If we need to edit your tape, those fancy-looking tools can make it difficult for us to find a clean cut. They also add to your file size (significantly.) If you’re wondering why it takes forever to upload your tape, this could be why. Keep it simple with hard cuts and a slate instead of a title card.
#3: FLAT ENERGY
“Doing less” because the proximity of the camera makes you feel like you can be small is a trap into which MOST actors fall. However, your energy will come across as completely flat if you’re not projecting it past that device to your reader. If there is an energetic void between you and your reader, we will sense it in your self-tape.
#4: SPENDING OODLES OF TIME ON A SELF-TAPE
If you’ve done your prep and are as ready to audition as you would be if you went in for a live read, then your self-tape shouldn’t take long. Do not do more than three takes before you watch it back to see if you have it. (You probably do.) If nothing else, you will be able to see EXACTLY what you’re aiming for in the 4th Any more than that, the performance will start to dissolve. If you spend hours on your self-tape, you’ll either end up sending one of your very first takes or you will send a take where we can see your choices coming a mile away. (Also: preserve your relationship with your reader and be efficient with your time.)
#5: IGNORING DIRECTIONS FROM CASTING
This. Happens. CONSTANTLY. Be one of the actors we admire for their professionalism and follow directions, (and for the love of all that is holy, adhere to deadlines!) Also, we put important performance notes in our self-tape requests. Look there before you read through your sides for extra context and notes.
All of these things are easy traps to fall into because of timing, technical issues, trying to “stand out”… but when it comes to self-tapes, all Casting wants is for them to look like an audition that took place in our office.
Keep things simple, focus on your prep and read the notes from Casting.
Actors, I’d like to let you in on a little secret…
it does NOT matter when you turn in your self-tape, as long as you get it in by the deadline.
The reason is this: you will stand out simply by being connected in an honest, layered, human way. It will not matter where your tape falls in our viewing queue.
Actors often come to me with two common concerns:
- Will they miss out on notes, new sides, ample prep time, etc. if their tape is TOO early?
- Will Casting hire someone before the deadline?
Here’s my evergreen response to those worries:
Self-tape deadlines exist for a reason: logistics on our side, time to prepare on yours. If you need to take the time we’ve given and turn your tape in just before the deadline, so be it! If you’re the kind of actor who likes to get ‘er done and turn it in 24 hours early so you can move on, then do! The ONLY THING you need to focus on is making it by the deadline.
(Side note: give yourself a few hour buffer to upload your self-tape. It is the law of the internet that your computer will crash if you try to send your tape minutes before the deadline.)
There is no science to “first up vs last up.” Variables change from role-to-role, project-to-project. We set a deadline, but things in production are fluid; a role that was supposed to work next week now works tomorrow, for example. Or half-way into casting a role, the sides change COMPLETELY and producers want to see the new material. Casting has also extended deadlines because we find enough people require it, or a schedule arrives and we are magically gifted more time.
The process is never the same because the [insert here: role, experience, producers, budget, schedule] are always different, and often, ever-changing. The only true constant is this: “does this actor fit the role in an interesting and truthful way?” If you can remember that THAT is the key, you’ll shed a lot of unnecessary stress.
Here are a few real examples from my own personal Casting history:
On a major feature film, we read a zillion people for a lead role and then decided to try one last, out-of-the-box idea. This actor’s tape was literally the LAST one to come in and he ended up booking it.
For the lead of a series, the woman who ended up booking the role was tape number 95 (out of 340) viewed. She was the 12th tape my producers saw. We read a LOT more people before our execs wised-up and we could hire her.
On another series, the woman we booked for a major recurring role was the 13th self-tape I viewed, out of 74. She was hired from her original tape, no callback or “next step” needed.
For a guest star, the very first self-tape that was uploaded ended up being the actor who booked that role.
All of this is to show you that it doesn’t matter at what point we see your audition, live or tape. If you’re the one, you’re the one. Remember that the next time you’re stressing about the “perfect” time to upload your tape. Drop that anxiety and instead focus on the things that do matter for every role, every audition: your preparation, professionalism and craft.