I asked my actor friends what they felt was the biggest hurdle when self-taping, and the number one response was this… Finding a reader. And while finding a reader for your self-tape can be frustrating, it can also be a major benefit of self-taping. You can choose someone who will give you something, whether it […]
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 […]
Actors, here are a few rules of thumb when producing scenes SPECIFICALLY for your demo reel: Make it look like it’s from a real project. Don’t shoot a scene with the camera ONLY on you. Sure, it’s YOUR reel, but if you don’t show your scene partner/the setting you’re in, it feels more like a […]
Arguably, one of the most difficult parts of self-taping is choosing which take(s) to send to Casting.
Which is the best take? Should I send more than one to show my range? This one has a great beginning but this one has a great moment in the middle, and this one shows I can do an accent but I don’t flub the line in this take, and and and…
You have my sympathy on this. Trying to be objective when you’re staring at yourself on video is neither easy nor pleasant.
There is no science to this, I’m afraid. I can’t give you a fail-proof method to guide you. BUT! There are ways to make the process easier for yourself.
Here are some do’s and don’t’s to assist you in choosing a take:
DO as much character prep as you can before you ever step foot in front of a camera. That way, you’ll know what you’re aiming to accomplish.
DO NOT “work it out” in front of the camera. This is the equivalent to throwing sh*t at the wall and seeing what sticks. You’ll be there forever and end up with too many options. (And you’ll have a very cranky reader.)
DO limit the number of takes you do. I like to say no more than three takes before you watch those to see if you got it (you probably did) or if there’s something missing.
DO NOT stop yourself if you’re really vibing at the end of a take. Start again immediately without futzing with your camera.
DO listen to your body. When things go really right, you FEEL it. Trust that instinct.
DO NOT let your reader/coach/taper pressure you when to stop, when to do another take, or which takes to send. This is YOUR audition. You know this character better than they do. Listen to their feedback and reasoning, but the decision is ultimately yours.
DO trust that you can get it done in one or two takes! You do it ALL THE TIME in live auditions. You can do it for your self-tapes, too. Prep the same way you would if you were going in the room and you’ll get it done quicker and with more clarity.
Ok! Now, you’ve got a take that is really great. But there’s another take that’s pretty good, and another that’s pretty different and shows some range, so…
Should you send more than one take??
You have to follow your gut on this one. If you have a take that you feel great about, given your performance and everything you know about the project/tone/character, then that’s absolutely the one to send.
If you are thinking about sending a second take, consider these questions:
- Does it still fit the tone of the piece? The biggest issue we see when actors send a second “different” take is that one take fits what we’re looking for and the second take might as well be for a different project, because the energy is just TOOMUCH. If you’re TRYING to do something different, you’re schmacting. And we can see it from a mile away.
- Have you made choices that are different and interesting but still truthful and that fit within the world? Oftentimes, the second take is a near carbon-copy of the first. To help guide you, think about the things you CAN change vs. the things you CANNOT.
- Is an accent, wardrobe piece or a prop the only thing that’s different? If that’s the only change, we don’t need that take unless we specifically ask for it, which leads me to…
A few reasons Casting may ask you to send multiple takes:
- It’s a small/short scene and we’d like to see what you provide some options on the character/moment.
- Accents. We’d like to see a take WITH an accent and WITHOUT an accent.
- We don’t have the benefit of time, so we’d like you to do the scene with two different sets of directions (as opposed to having you adjust and re-tape later.)
Remember: if you only send one take and Casting wants to see you do something else, we can always ask you to re-tape (pending time.)
We don’t envy you having to make these selects. It’s not easy. But if you’ve done your homework, grounded yourself in the truth of the moment/character and trusted your instincts, you will make the take-choosing process easier.
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 or self-tape.
Finally, let’s talk about your self-tape frame and aspect ratio.
Here’s the good news: this is the EASIEST self-taping technical aspect to nail. Minor adjustments will get you exactly where you need.
COMMON SELF-TAPE 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. (Weird.)
3. You’ve filmed your scene with your camera or device held the wrong way. Aspect ratio: it’s a real thing.
SELF-TAPE FRAME SOLUTIONS:
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 your self-tape. 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.)
There you have it! The self-tape basics are lighting, sound, backdrop and frame. Get a handle on those and everything else is fun.