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.
Hello actors, friends, dreamers, doers!
As a very fun and different treat before the end of the year, my fantastic Mama and I have collaborated on something special for y’all:
What’s a “MOMtra” you ask? It’s a highly-personalized mantra, meant to help you quell anxiety, unblock your energy and put you in the right frame of mind to accept the wonderful things that will undoubtedly come your way.
Watch our chat for much more information, examples and lots of talk on energy, (including the importance of “negatives” in our life, how there’s no real such thing as “rejection” and how to let your light SHINE in the new year!)
As we say in our house, some people have normal mothers, I don’t. And now you’ll all get to see why that’s a truly spectacular thing!
Erica and Robin (aka “Mom”)
Repeat after me: “Casting Directors and Actors are COLLABORATORS. (Not enemies.)”
Recently, one of my Casting colleagues lamented that she wished actors knew how hard we work for them. It made me realize… there’s a whole mountain of activity we Casting Directors do that actors (and other industry folk) really aren’t privy to.
So here is a brief list, specific to the things Casting Directors (and their hard-working staff) do to help actors get the job.
By no means is it limited to the below, nor do we do all of these things on a daily basis. This list also doesn’t include the obvious: run auditions, watch tapes, provide direction, etc.
Without further ado… Casting loves you. Let us count the ways.
Before your audition, Casting Directors:
- Advocate for more roles to be open to gender-identity, ethnicity, physical ability, etc.
- Provide other deeply talented, realistic options when our wide-eyed, passionate director says they want Anthony Hopkins to do a scale role.
- Keep files of actors FOREVER (online, hard copy, in our brains, etc.) And keep tabs on our favorite people.
- Strenuously recommend fewer pages of sides for the first rounds of auditions.
- Scrutinize your materials over and over via endless pitches (phone calls/emails/texts at all hours,) from your reps. We allow ourselves to be open-minded to these ideas, but clear in our concept so no one’s time is wasted.
- Set expectations and discuss process with our team to make sure you get enough time with (and info about) the material.
In/Around/After your audition, Casting Directors:
- Edit your reel/self-tape/audition clips to best present you to producers.
- Pull photos of you from the internet that are character/world appropriate to replace a generic headshot (and help folks with their imagination.)
- Make collages of you with other cast members for the sake of family resemblance. Also to help our team see the full puzzle.
- Re-style you in the audition room, (change your hair, remove your jewelry, have you put on our jacket, etc.) to better reflect the character.
- Download your tapes and reels. Upload your tapes and reels. Sync or flip clips. Check that the video plays. Re-order your scenes so the first clip up is the strongest. Follow up on the info you left out of your slate. Etc. Repeat – all day, every day.
- GUSH about you to our producers and to your reps.
- Liaise between studio/network execs, our producers and your reps CONSTANTLY. This is to make sure everyone is looped in on interest and availability, and nobody loses an opportunity or an actor they love.
- Provide constructive, workshop-like notes for re-tapes when the director says, “Just have them tape again,” and leaves it at that.
- Make sure you have all the information possible to succeed when you go in to meet/read. This includes, but is not limited to: parking instructions, all producer names/titles, word pronunciations, a page of terminology and references when you can’t have a full script, a phone call/audition/meeting with us beforehand to answer questions and so you know you have an advocate in the room.
- Tuck our feelings away when we are having a super shitty day, because we know that you feed off of our energy in the room.
- Show up on a Saturday because we KNOW you are the right person and that’s the only day you have available to read/meet.
Outside the Casting office, Casting Directors:
- Write blog posts/tweet/do panels/teach classes to help demystify the process. Casting Directors want you to have confidence when you go to audition.
- Look up flights online to prove to our line producer that there IS a way to get you to set in time.
- Educate ourselves on union rules and contracts so actors are never put in an uncomfortable or unsafe position.
- Work with our production and your other project to make sure you can logistically work on both projects. And that both shoots are protected from flight delays/weather issues/etc.
- Push production for more money for you. (We don’t always win this one, but we do try!)
- Don’t mention the things on this list because it’s part of our job and we don’t think of any of this as out of the ordinary.
**Photo courtesy of one very special post-pilot season affair, hosted by the always-wonderful Yesi Ramirez, where a bunch of us stressed Casting Directors and staff got to let loose and show off our goofy sides.**
Let’s talk about rejection. [Insert sad trombone noise.]
You all know that if you’re an artist, rejection is part of the gig. And even though you may be FULLY aware of that fact, every “no” from Casting can still feel personal. At best, rejection will (always) sting a little, and at worst, will feel utterly crushing.
Now that we’re through pilot season, (AKA the time of year when “no” is most heavily employed,) let me help put those feelings into perspective:
“No” is not failure; it’s simply, “Not this time.”
My brilliant mother has been my #1 cheerleader and emotional guide as I’ve faced rejection in my career. (And just like you, I’ve endured PLENTY. Casting and actors are not that different. Solidarity, people.) She recently wrote an article wherein she says, “Rejection isn’t because someone doesn’t like you. It’s because they like something/someone else.” (Emphasis mine.)
When it comes to industry rejection, this is WHOLLY accurate. If you aren’t cast in a role, it’s because the team liked somebody else more. And someday, if you work at your craft and behave professionally, YOU will be the somebody else they like more. In the meantime, you’ll face rejection. And in that, you’re never alone. Only one person can be cast per role. That is a single, solitary “yes” to a heaping pile of “no’s.”
The best way to manage the underlying negativity of an artist’s path is to hold on to a little perspective.
I’ve had actors reach out to me, concerned that they’ve been pinned/released for the same Casting office multiple times. They’re worried that because they aren’t having those pins turn into bookings that they MUST be doing something wrong, and surely the Casting office will eventually stop seeing them. But realistically, EVERY pin is a major victory. Their perspective has gotten skewed by the feeling of rejection. Celebrate all the victories (big and small) you achieve while on your path, because those are the yes’s you need to keep coming back to this crazy business.
I’ll finish with this:
Last year, Dave Annable did a pilot. The pilot got picked up to series (yay!) but Annable did not (womp womp.) He wrote a (now famously) thoughtful post about it wherein he celebrates the achievement of so many and forces himself to move on. Here’s a brief snippet, but make sure you read the full post for a true lesson of grace while facing massive disappointment:
“Learning to deal with failure is one of the most important lessons you’ll deal with in your life. Guess what? Failure is mandatory. It’s growth. It’ll never stop. It’s where all the good shit happens that makes you a better person when you are open to seeing the right perspective.”
Hold on to that perspective, my friends. It’s all part of the job.
It’s a stressful time of year. Many of us cling to whatever form of sanity (read: chocolate) to help us survive until mid-April. But as you all know, the more we let anxiety and stress into our bodies, the harder it is to function.
Here are a few helpful mantras or mindsets to aid your sanity this pilot season, and beyond.
Remember these buzzwords: ENCOURAGEMENT, ENTHUSIASM, PASSION, TEAMWORK, GRATITUDE.
And here’s how you can apply them, (these are just a few examples. There are MANY ways you can connect these phrases to your careers and lives):
1. ENCOURAGEMENT MANTRA: “Casting WANTS me to be the one!”
- Seriously, we are ON YOUR SIDE. If you are the one, that means that A. You’ve validated our creative choice to see you in the first place, and B. Our job is done (at least on that character.) Walk in to every Casting office and remember (no matter how cranky we are,) we are ROOTING FOR YOU. Feel the love, y’all.
2. ENTHUSIASM MANTRA: “I love a challenge!”
- Pilot season is hard, the audition process (any time of year!) can be stressful, things move quickly, sides change at the last minute, self-tapes are due in a matter of hours, etc. Prepare for these opportunities as if you’re running towards a hurdle; put your heart and energy into it and then fly, my friends. The immediate moment after can feel like a MAJOR “fuck yeah!! I did it!”
3. PASSION MANTRA: “Every audition is an opportunity for me to do what I love.”
- Sure, auditioning isn’t always the best part of being an actor, but every chance you get to sink your teeth into a new script, embody a new character and perform or workshop a scene is a big win. Enjoy the ride, my friends.
4. TEAMWORK MANTRA: “Every Casting office that sees me sets the course for a new relationship or strengthens an old one.”
- It’s a business of relationship folks! If you go into a room or send in a tape and nail that read while behaving/communicating professionally, you will UNDOUBTEDLY audition for that Casting team again. Strengthen the connection, make Casting fall in love with your talent and attitude, and you will be back before you know it.
5. GRATITUDE MANTRA: “I’m grateful I have a strong team that works hard to get me these opportunities.”
- In signing you, your reps have said “yes, I believe in your talent.” They’re working hard, doing their part to provide opportunities so you can go shine. Remember to acknowledge them in your heart, AND out loud.
Work hard, stay positive, and use these mantras to help calm your nerves! You got this.
As we head in to pilot season (aka the craziest time of year,) here are ten things for actors to remember:
1. Practice patience with appointments and sessions:
Appointments or self-tape requests may not be flooding in yet. Stay calm and read this blog post.
And please be patient with Casting when we run an hour or more behind during our sessions. We are trying to spend ample time with each actor and sometimes have to step out for various reasons. If you get in a time bind, instead of silently (or loudly) freaking out, tell a member of our staff and we’ll either squeeze you in (with the permission of others) or reschedule you.
2. Be kind to the Casting Assistant.
These amazing people work SO hard, ESPECIALLY during pilot season. They are multitasking their brains out, are wildly underpaid, and often have to cover an overflowing (restless, cranky) waiting room while trying to do ten other things. Be good to these people. They could be the future of our craft and they might have long memories for being mistreated by guests in our office. Plus, karma yo.
3. If you’re sick, reschedule.
Pilot season is also THE season for the sniffles (or worse.) We tend to work in tiny rooms, with dozens of people per day; an illness can FLY through a Casting office. And if WE get sick during pilot season, we get zero days off to recuperate. So if you feel even a WHIFF of an illness, stay home, rest and reschedule or self-tape. Everyone will appreciate it.
4. Don’t be offended if we tell you we’re not doing one of the scenes you prepped.
Things change RAPIDLY during pilot season. We may have noticed that the tone/emotion of a scene is redundant, the scene may have gotten cut and no one feels the need to keep it in the audition rotation, the character may have changed and that scene no longer reflects the role… If we pull a scene, there’s a creative/logistical reason and it’s never because you’re not a worthy-enough actor to read an extra few pages.
Casting Directors know pilot season is wild and you may have four auditions a day, all over town. We know you also have lives and families and day jobs, etc. Our team is also fully aware that sometimes we give you material only a few hours before your audition. Walk in to every pilot audition with a GOOD attitude and an open mind. If you’re there, ready and willing to play and have prepped to the best of your abilities with the time you were given, then we’re all going to have a good time.
6. A self-tape request is JUST as valuable as an in-person audition.
This and many other important things can be further extrapolated from this blog post.
7. If you are given a script, read it.
It has become increasingly rare for scripts, particularly drama scripts, to be sent out for auditions. (We know this is frustrating. It drives us crazy, too.) If you are the lucky soul who receives a script along with your sides, we expect you to read it. Nothing is more frustrating to have provided all of that wonderful information and have actors come in and say they didn’t have time to read the script. (Wanna know why our session is backed up? We are CONSTANTLY providing context/backstory to actors because they haven’t read or weren’t given a script.)
8. Stay in town!
(Unless you book a gig/have a family emergency.)
Seriously. Pilot season is 100% NOT the time to take a vacation/extended weekends in places that have bad cell/internet reception. (Sundance falling right in the midst of pilot season is the BANE of every CD’s existence.) If you need further explanation on this topic, speak to your reps. I’m sure they’ll have plenty to say.
9. It is ABSOLUTELY cool to share your passion if you love a script or really resonate with a character.
Actors will often apologize for being effusive about a script/role. We LOVE that feedback! It validates OUR creative choice to be part of that project! Plus, we pass that feedback along to our writer and producers and it helps make for a very bright spot during a very stressful time. Don’t ever apologize for sharing your true passion or fighting for an opportunity.
10. It’s not ok to purposely show up several hours early for your in-person audition.
Mistakes happen, especially when you’re juggling so many appointments. But if you deliberately show up to our office two hours early because you were “close by and thought we could squeeze you in,” it can throw off our whole day. TWO actors who show up for the morning session when they were scheduled for the afternoon could mean that we don’t eat lunch that day. If you need to change your appointment time, have your reps call and we will find a time that works for everybody.
And one more for the road…
11. Pilot season doesn’t define you as an actor.
Say it with me: “PILOT SEASON DOES NOT DEFINE YOU AS AN ACTOR.” Repeat as needed.
Go get ’em, pals.