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. But right now, it’s our way forward, so 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, 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.