Dear Friends: Hartley and I are excited (read: nervous, eager, bittersweet, enthused, and ALL of the other emotions,) to announce that our little family is moving east! By mid-December, we will be living in Asheville, North Carolina, near Hartley’s family. While we will be quite blue to be physically far from our LA friends, (who […]
Back before the internet became a streaming hub, (cue creaking/old age sound effects,) a demo reel was comprised of work that casting directors would easily recognize. Footage from TV shows, (with only four networks doing scripted television, it was easy to know of every show on the air,) and features (before indies became hip,) populated […]
Today is a dark day. As I type this, the death toll in Las Vegas’ mass shooting is 59 souls, and climbing. Citizens in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico are struggling to recover from massive hurricane damage. Mexico is reeling from a major earthquake. Catalonians were beaten for trying to enter a polling location… These […]
You’re laser-focused on getting your acting career off the ground: kudos to you and your hard work!
However, remaining singly focused on acting can easily lead to one or more of the following issues:
1. If you’re not seeing a pay-off, you’ll go slightly crazy with frustration.
2. You could alienate your friends and/or family by never being available to them.
3. You’ll get a little bored by the repetition and forget why you wanted to do this in the first place.
Your craft is important. Being in class, studying, working whenever you can… all of these things will help lead to your success. But if that’s ALL you do, (besides your less-exciting day job,) it’s too easy to become stagnate and resentful.
You are a human being with other interests and desires. You have friends and family who bring out different sides of you and make you appreciate different things about your life. So don’t forget to experience all of that! Take a trip, join a softball team, visit your parents, read a novel, learn a language, write that screenplay… do whatever makes you feel good.
The beauty of doing activities outside of acting is that they will often serve to remind you why you love your chosen career path. And being with people who don’t work in the industry will not only keep you grounded, but will also serve as excellent character studies. On top of these benefits, your life experiences will also make you a more well-rounded actor: you’ll be able to pull emotions and memories from your real life and bring them to your characters.
So take a second and think about this:
“If I weren’t acting, I would be doing _________________.”
Whatever it is (binge-watching THE WEST WING, traveling to South America, learning Italian, photographing your loved ones, etc.) GO AND DO IT. If it’s something that requires research before action, then start your information dive NOW. There’s no need to take a break from acting while you do this, so just know that you’re not derailing your momentum. Just take a moment and prioritize something else, for a change.
You’ll be delighted with the results.
“What’s your biggest pet peeve?”
I’ve been asked this question HUNDREDS of times. Every Casting Director you meet will likely have a unique answer. For me, the worst thing an actor can do is come in unprepared.
Let me clarify:
I’m not speaking to your memorization skills. Do I want you to be off-book so we can really play? Absolutely. But being prepared goes far deeper than that:
1. If you received a full script, did you read it? Scripts are rarely distributed these days, since everything tends to end up on the internet. If we are lucky enough to send you a script we expect you to read it. A full script gives you total context; it’s a literal gift. But often, actors feel too rushed to read/skim a script AND learn their lines. Do your best. It will help you IMMENSELY.
2. If there are words or names in your sides that you are unfamiliar with, did you look them up? (How to pronounce them as well as what they mean in that context?) If you don’t know what you’re saying, how will we believe that you are that character? If you’re supposed to be an expert medical examiner and you mispronounce “carotid”, it will quickly take us out of the moment and remind us that you are an actor. Could we just correct you and have you do it again? Sure. But we’d rather you do your homework, because if we correct an actor in the audition room, it often makes them freeze up a bit and inevitably, they’ll mispronounce the word again anyway.
- Side Story: We once cast a pilot where we needed a “techie.” The sides these women had to read included the phrase “coax cable”. Inevitably, half the women pronounced it “coax” (as in “persuade”,) as opposed to “co-ax” (as in “coaxial cable,” which is a tool that a “techie” might use.) If they missed that one line, it immediately took us out of the moment.
3. Did you look to see who was involved in the project? When you receive your appt. information, you usually receive the breakdown as well. The top portion of the breakdown holds a WEALTH of information. Such as:
- What type of project is it? (Pilot, Feature, 1/2 hour, sitcom, single-cam, etc.)
- Who are the prods, director and casting team?
- Is anyone already cast?
- Which studio/network is it for?
- A brief synopsis of the story
If you don’t know who someone is, look them up! Do a search for the project in the trades to learn a little more about its evolution. Would you go in to interview at Google without looking to see with whom you were meeting, what kind of resume they had and what you could bring to their team? The breakdown header could help you understand the tone of the project, as well as being aware of for whom you might be reading.
- Side Story: We once cast a pilot with a VERY well-known director who liked to be in the room for auditions. For some reason, perhaps because they were so focused on learning the material, many actors didn’t realize he would be in the room, (despite his name being on the breakdown/in the trades and us putting a sign in the lobby, saying who they would be reading for.) We’d walk the actors in to the audition room and they’d freeze when they saw the director – not exactly a wonderful way to buck the audition nerves. Eventually, he ended up sitting out of auditions and just watching everything on tape because he was concerned about how distracting his presence was.
4. Did you look to see if we’re ONLY reading certain scenes? Oftentimes, we will give out more scenes than we know we want to read, mostly because it provides context. If we know ahead of time that we only want to read specific scenes/pages, we will tell you every way we can:
- We’ll write it on the sides
- We’ll put it in the audition notification
- We’ll put a sign in the lobby
- We’ll tell you when you walk in the room
I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve reminded an actor that we’re ONLY doing scenes 1 and 3, and they look at me like I’ve run over their dog, or they give me the, “oh really? But scene 2 is so great! I’d love to try it anyway…” (The answer to that is almost always no. Save your energy.) Pay attention to that stuff so that you aren’t wasting time rehearsing a scene that we aren’t going to run.
We realize that sometimes we do this to you at the last minute – we’re not trying to torture you by taking away a scene right as you walk in the door. There’s always a good reason for it, so try to not let it frustrate you.
So by all means, study your sides, but also arm yourself with knowledge about the project and creative team involved. It is the quickest way to up your confidence before you walk in the door.
The last self-taping technical element that I’ll be identifying is your frame and aspect ratio.
Here’s the good news: this is the EASIEST technical aspect of self-taping to nail. Minor adjustments will get you exactly where you need.
COMMON FRAME ISSUES:
1. Your frame is too wide. We can hardly see your face and hence, miss all of your subtleties and nuances.
2. Your frame is too tight. We have full access to your facial features, but now you’re just a floating head.
3. You’ve filmed your scene with your camera or device held the wrong way. Aspect ratio: it’s a real thing.
1. You should frame yourself from around mid-bust to just above your head. Even if the scene calls for some “business” (typing on a computer, for example,) we don’t need to see what your hands are doing. Resist the urge to go wider. (Your eyes are the window; they hold OUR gaze and grab our attention… we need to be able to see your eyes/face clearly!)
Be careful not to frame yourself TOO tightly. Yes, we want to see your face, but it just feels odd and overly dramatic if that face is not attached to a neck and torso.
2. Your device or camera should ALWAYS be turned so that the image is HORIZONTAL or LANDSCAPE. It feels more natural to hold a device vertically, since that’s how we use them in our daily lives. However, it will throw off the aspect ratio and you’ll end up with giant black bars on the sides (see image above.) You will also have inadvertently shrunken the amount of space available for YOUR image.
3. Use a tripod. It will make your life so much easier. You’ll be able to set the device up, check the frame and then shoot. If you’re propping your device up on something, it could slide. If your reader is holding it, your frame could drift or shake (doesn’t matter if they have surgeon-steady hands. Their breathing alone will cause the camera to move.)
See! Easy! You’ve got this.
Next up… How many takes should I send?
Bad sound is frustrating. Think of all of those times when you couldn’t hear someone speak clearly; did it make you want to give up on listening and walk away? If the sound on your self-tape isn’t up-to-par, it’s easy to become annoyed and stop watching. If you pay a bit of extra attention to your sound, that dreaded outcome is easily avoided.
COMMON SOUND ISSUES:
1. Your reader is 20x louder than you. This is the MOST common sound problem we see in self-tapes. (Especially egregious if your reader is not a great actor or their voice is more engaging than yours.)
2. There’s an echo. You’ve cleared your space so that you have a plain background, but now you’re in an empty room/hallway which is ripe for sound issues.
3. The ambient noise is constant and distracting. Dogs barking, kids playing, sirens, air conditioning, etc. All of these things can land in your audio and take away from your read. (Note: it’s ok if some normal ambient noises exist, but if a siren is taking over 20+ seconds of your tape, we’re losing something…)
4. The volume is just WAY lower than you expected. This generally happens at the source/on your device, but can also happen as you’re exporting and compressing your file… OR it’s because…
5. You aren’t using your full voice. Perhaps this is because the device feels like it’s in your face, or you don’t want to wake someone, but an unnecessarily whispered read feels energetically dead.
6. The sound is out of sync. Again, this is usually an export/compression issue when something truly goes awry. But it can also be the curse of taping on an old device. This is the #1 thing that will make us turn off a self-tape.
SIMPLEST SOUND SOLUTIONS:
1. BUY A MIC (lavs, shotgun, etc.) A microphone kit can be quite pricey, but if you look on eBay or another site for gently-used equipment, you can find some great products at a discount. (Videographers are constantly upgrading and re-selling their equipment!)
- Side story: We use lavalier microphones in our office. 98% of the time, they’re AMAZING. The other 2% of the time, they’ve run out of batteries without us noticing or the “mute” button was accidentally switched on or the adapter wasn’t pushed hard enough into the camera for the sound to be picked up or a cell phone rings (on silent) and the phone waves create static. Sound afflictions happen to the best of us. So if you DO decide to buy mics, test/check them OFTEN.
2. WHEN TAPING ON A DEVICE THAT HAS AN INTERNAL MIC (phone, tablet, DSLR) PLACE THE CAMERA CLOSE TO YOU, AND HAVE YOUR READER SIT A FEW FEET BACK FROM IT. Not only will this help your frame/light, but it will clear up the issue of your reader being too loud or you being too soft.
3. AVOID LOUD AMBIENT NOISE BY MAKING SURE THAT WINDOWS AND DOORS ARE CLOSED, and your pet/children/roommates are either aware of what you’re doing, away, or asleep. You will likely always have SOME ambient sound (unless using mics,) and that’s ok. As long as it’s not massively distracting, it won’t ruin your tape.
- Side story: we were once in an office where the AC was UNBELIEVABLY loud for some unknown reason. Even though we used lavalier mics, when the AC kicked on, you could barely hear the actor and the reader became non-existent. As such, we had to turn the AC off whenever we had sessions. (It was July, in the valley. Fun.) So as long as your ambient noise doesn’t drown you or your reader out at any point, you’re probably ok.
4. LEARN HOW TO EXPORT OR COMPRESS A FILE WITHOUT LOSING QUALITY. YouTube vids are a great way for you to pick up some exact settings for whatever program you use to edit/export.
5. AVOID AN ECHO BY MAKING SURE YOU TAPE IN A ROOM WITH SOME SORT OF SOUND-ABSORBING MATERIAL. If the emptiest place for you to tape is the hallway or stairwell in your apartment building, you will likely end up with an echo. Taping in a room with furniture or things on the walls (just not in the frame,) will almost always help you avoid this issue.
6. USE YOUR FULL VOICE. Remember that this is an audition: would you come in to a casting office and use a quarter of your voice because you don’t want to disturb anyone? Probably not. (If yes, then we’ve got bigger things to discuss.) A self-tape should make use of the same kind of energy, voice and breathing techniques as an in-person audition. If you feel like the scene has too much yelling/screaming and someone may call the cops on you, perhaps do that audition at a taping/coaching facility. Otherwise, don’t muffle yourself for civility’s sake or because you think you’ll be overly loud due to your proximity to the camera. Perform appropriately for the scene.
7. CHECK YOUR TAPE. I can’t stress this enough. Once you’ve picked a clip and/or compressed/exported/uploaded it, CHECK IT. Watch it back, and make sure that nothing went awry in the process. Actors are always shocked when we tell them about technical issues we’re having with their tapes. Before you send it to casting or your reps, take 30 seconds and make sure it plays the way you want it to.
Next up… FRAME/ASPECT RATIO!