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.
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.
CASTING LOVES YOU!
I like to include this hashtag in my social media posts because there seems to be an underlying sense that Casting Directors are an enemy of the actor. Truth time: outside of your family, we are your BIGGEST supporters.
The audition room (virtual or live) can be an intimidating place. Sometimes the CD isn’t always warm and fluffy, but that does not diminish the fact that Casting wants you to succeed.
With that in mind, here are TEN things to remember about us kindly Casting folks:
1. We WANT you to be “the one.” If you are invited to read, whether it be in person or via self-tape, we are envisioning you as a real option for that role. Nothing is more satisfying to a Casting Director than an actor who absolutely nails an audition/redirect, because it validates our creative genius [brushes dust off shoulders] and it means our work on that role is done.
2. We’ve selected you out of THOUSANDS of submissions. If you’ve made it in to the audition room, we already like you. (See #1.) We’ve culled down our choices from hundreds or thousands down to very few. We have to be a fan to give you one of those coveted spots. Walk into the room (or tape) with the confidence of knowing that Casting digs your work.
3. We have bad days, too. There are many aspects to a Casting Director’s job, and (shockingly) not all of them are fun. Beyond being creative and engaging with actors in the audition room, we are also up against crazy deadlines, we have producers/directors/executives all of whom might have a differing opinion on a character, we are constantly needing information from or in tough negotiations with reps, and on top of that, we are human beings with our own personal shit. Forgive us if we aren’t overly friendly when you walk into the room. We’ve got a lot on our plates.
4. If we request a self-tape instead of a live audition, it doesn’t make us any less interested in you. There are only so many hours in the day to read people and watch tapes. As such, we don’t throw out self-tape requests willy-nilly. If your rep doesn’t get you in live, but DOES get you a self-tape request, it means that we are interested to see your take on the role. Take it as a good sign (see #2.)
5. We all enjoy and appreciate actors. There is no way you can get into casting without loving actors. We love what you are capable of, and we love that you are fearless in pursuit of truth and beauty. We may not always be able to match your abundant energy, but that doesn’t mean we dislike being around you.
6. If we’re passionate about an actor for a role, we will work our BUTTS off until everyone else sees it, too. I’ve edited reels, spent hours looking for and ripping additional footage, put together photo collages, re-read actors multiple times to get an EXACT take… And I’m sure every Casting Director you meet will have similar stories of the hurdles they’ve jumped to get an actor hired.
7. If we aren’t in the room for your read, assume there’s a good reason. Casting Directors are constantly being pulled in 18 different directions at once. We’ve got conference calls, and emails, and deals in process, and self-tapes coming in, and oh yeah, sometimes we need to use the restroom. Also, occasionally, we just need a break from the audition room. If it’s your turn to read and the CD steps out and has a member of their staff read you instead, it is by no means a sign of disrespect or disinterest. We do this because we trust our staff to guide you, and we trust you to be make strong choices, and to be open-minded and professional. We will gladly watch your tape after the session.
8. If you only get one take, don’t assume it’s because we hated what you did. Hey, guess what? Sometimes you nail it on the first take. Sometimes we find you very interesting, but just not right. Both of these are reasons why we might not have you read a scene again.
9. When you are in our audition room, Casting is not your parents/therapists/spouses/acting coaches. We may adore you and even be real/social friends, but when you come to audition, we want to see you work. We are there to guide you through the material, not coach you on career obstacles or coddle you when you mess up. Remember, we have crazy deadlines and likely a waiting room full of people. We care about you, but when you’re in our room, we want to keep things (warmly) professional.
10. Do good work, and we will find you. These days, because there are so many mediums (TV, film, shorts, web series, theatre, etc.) actors are always seem concerned that they will never be seen or discovered. If you are doing strong, exciting work, then somehow, someway, we will see it. If you build it, we will come. Every time.
You’re reading the trades every day, seeing what’s been picked up and drooling over the auditions that are surely coming your way ANY SECOND. Or maybe they’ll come tomorrow. Or you know, it’s Friday at 6pm, so they will probably call on Monday. Ok, it’s Monday at noon, and you’re refreshing your email every five seconds, waiting for word of an audition, ANY audition… WHERE ARE MY AUDITIONS?!?!
You get the picture.
It’s easy to go a little bananas during pilot season. You know that this is the time of year that auditions rain down like manna from heaven. And you hear about your fellow actors and how they’re getting three auditions per day, (and complaining about it, to be sure.) You also know that you’re good enough to compete against any of them, so why aren’t you getting out?
There could be a few reasons, but first, I guarantee that it’s not because your reps aren’t submitting or pitching you. They’re submitting and pitching their brains out. (Remember, if you don’t make money, they don’t. Pilot season is just as important for them as it is for you.) They often call and email to pitch, even when casting specifically tells them not to, and at all hours of the day. All. Hours. Of. The. Day. I promise you, they are trying their damnedest to get you an opportunity on as many pilots as possible.
So here are a few other road blocks that may be keeping you from getting a series regular audition:
Your reel is old and/or doesn’t show you off that well. You have 20 headshots up on your profile, and we can’t tell which of them are current, (and maybe none of them truly portray who you are.) Your website is impossible for us to navigate through to find what we need. You’re using a self-tape in place of a reel, and unfortunately, it’s just not compelling material. If we are unfamiliar with you and none of these things are working in your favor, the audition gods will not smile upon you.
2. Casting doesn’t think you’re right for the character or world:
Based on the breakdown, you believe that you are clearly SO RIGHT for this particular role, and somehow you still can’t get an audition. Remember, trust Casting. We know this project intimately. We are also serving this script, these producers’ collective vision, and this network’s commercial and artistic desires. We have a VERY good idea of who and what we need. We may adore you, but if you’re not right for whatever reason, we’re not going to waste your time or ours. (Mind you, things change quickly during pilot season. So while you could be “not right” on Monday, by Friday, you’re exactly what we need. Or vice versa. See #5 for more on this.)
Your rep may have called and/or emailed to pitch you RIGHT when we got caught up in a session/conference call/meeting/bathroom break/other deadline, and their pitch got lost in an avalanche of message slips or a deluge of emails that we can’t bring ourselves to look at until the next morning, when inevitably, something else pulls our attention and another day goes by without us seeing their pitch. It’s not because we don’t like you or your rep, it’s because there are literally 8,000 other things that have to happen at that exact moment. (Don’t worry: your reps will continue to call and email until we look at their pitches.)
4. Timing again:
We’ve actually already selected you as someone we want to read, but we can only see so many people in a day, and your appointment will go out when our uber-talented, but overworked/underpaid staff can find a slot for you. Be patient.
5. Casting SAID they would read you, but the role you are most right for is being offered out/is changing/is no longer a regular:
If an offer is out for a role, we try not to read people simultaneously (particularly if it looks like the offer person is engaging.) We will only audition that role if we are in a time crunch (or the offer person is unlikely to be interested,) and we need to have another great option. If a character is changing or sides are about to change or the prods have MENTIONED that they THINK they MIGHT want to change the character or sides, then we put a pause on that role and focus our attention on everything else. This will put people in a bit of limbo, but I promise that Casting is working their butts off to get clarity as quickly as possible. If a role changes from a regular to a guest star, then it’s priority is down graded. We will pick up reading people for it after some of our regs are set.
This may not be your year to book a pilot. Plain and simple.
Now, to overcome some of these things:
1. Don’t compare your career to anyone else’s, ever: everyone succeeds in different ways, at different times. When your friend (who is not unlike you, type-wise,) tells you about their 10 pilot auditions, do not assume you should have the same. You are unique people, individual actors with dissimilar backgrounds and likely different reps. You are apples and oranges. Take a breath and try to be excited for your friend.
2. Update your materials: it may be too late for this pilot season, but if your reps give you that feedback, make that your priority number one.
3. Practice patience: do yoga, meditate, breathe, nap. This is a life skill that most of us don’t have. Now is a good time to work on it.
4. Change your focus: sitting around, pining for an audition will almost never result in one. Get your butt to class, pick up that script you’ve been writing, read a book, take your dog for a walk. Do ANYTHING other than twiddling your thumbs, waiting for an audition notice to come in.
5. Remember that other projects are casting right now: there are a gazillion series still in production, movies, shorts, web series, theatre… make yourself (emotionally and physically) available to those projects. Booking them can be just as rewarding.
Focus on being a good, professional actor, and do everything in your power to achieve THAT goal. (Go to class, read, do theatre, etc.)
If you do, the auditions (and bookings) will come, guaranteed.
One of the major complaints I hear regarding self-tapes, is that actors often feel like they’re acting in a vacuum.
Endless questions plague you…
- “This character should clearly have a Southern accent, right?”
- “Should I show the action in this scene? Do they want to see me fall?”
- “This scene could totally be ironic and sarcastic, OR it could be heartfelt and genuine… should I do it the way it’s written, or the way I think it should be done?”
- “How far should I go with movement/props/wardrobe?”
- “The other character in this scene is obviously her brother… or is it her ex?”
- “If I turn my phone vertically for the slate, will I be disqualified?”
- “Why couldn’t they just have seen me in person?! I have so many questions!”
In terms of your character work and prep, self-tapes should be treated no differently than live auditions.
You can (and should!) use the following information to help inform your choices:
- The breakdown header: there is a wealth of information provided when you see who is involved in a particular project. (I ranted more about this topic in a previous post.) Header info is a great source when thinking of appropriate tonal choices.
- If you were given multiple scenes, each section will represent an important character aspect, trait or turn. We’re not giving you gobs of pages to test your memorization skills. Re-read the breakdown before you scan through your material, and look for different facets of the character in each scene.
- Any notes from Casting: if there’s a certain note that will undoubtedly be helpful to your taping process, we will provide it. (Why would we want you to audition without pertinent info? Who does that help?) If we want you to do an accent, or wear something specific, or treat the other character as your brother, even though he’s your ex, then we will tell you. If we don’t give you those kinds of notes, just use your instincts to make choices based on what you see on the page.
- When in doubt, use the material as your guide. Don’t assume that the stage direction or character description included therein is a ruse. This is not the SATs; the writer is not trying to trick you.
- Remember that we are hiring you as an ACTOR. Not as an editor, a cinematographer, a HMU artist, a set decorator, a stunt performer, etc. Make smart, simple choices on those things and let the focus be on YOU and YOUR PERFORMANCE.
And please hear my endless drumbeat on slates:
YOUR SLATE IS FOR INFORMATION. Stop stressing about it. The information is hugely helpful to us, but it is not a performance and we are not looking for it to look beautiful. Info = important; your messy house = not.
If ultimately you STILL feel concerned or in the dark about something, don’t be afraid to ask!
You can have your reps reach out to Casting with your questions, or you can have them ask if it’s ok for you to call/email directly. The Casting team may not realize that there is something vague about the material. Again, we will never PURPOSELY leave out information that would have a significant impact on your choices.
Remember to trust your instincts (and the writers/Casting team,) trust your script analysis skills, and prepare your self-tape scenes the same way you would any other audition piece.
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 be chemistry, timing, direct-ability or just flexibility… when you walk into a Casting office, your reader is your reader and they are often 1. not actors and 2. cranky about getting direction from you.
Here are some tips to help you get over the reader hurdle (listed from best option to least favorable):
1. Find an actor pal to read with you. (Obviously.) In fact, do yourself a favor and have a “self-taping group” of actor pals. This way, you aren’t stuck if your usual reader isn’t available to help out. Find your tribe, start a group text chain and use each other, as needed.
- One caveat here: don’t let your actor pals over-direct you. The nice thing about having an actor opposite you is that they can provide you with some real perspective. But at the end of the day, it is YOUR audition. Listen their feedback, but YOU need to decide whether or not to incorporate their notes.
2. If you can’t get a reader in person, use Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, etc. Even if there’s a slight internet lag, you’ll have someone with whom you can connect. Don’t worry about the slightly tinny/mechanical quality of their voice. It’s not ideal, but in 2020, we’re all very used to the sound.
3. Find an able-bodied non-actor who can take some direction. Maybe your neighbor is a writer who understands timing or perhaps your roommate did theatre in high school, or your mom is an avid reader… as long as they can follow the dialogue and incorporate feedback from you, they’ll more than suffice. (Hot tip: summarize the scene, and then give them a few minutes to look it over so they aren’t reading it totally cold.)
- What you don’t want in a non-actor is someone who has an overly thick accent/doesn’t really understand what they’re saying, can’t pace it up/slow it down, or is a child, (unless the scene is written between your character and a kid.)
4. Use a rehearsal app to “read with yourself.” This is a worst case scenario because it eliminates the possibility of spontaneity. The forced/planned timing involved in using these apps tend to make your beats either rushed or overly drawn out. These apps are terrific for REHEARSING/LEARNING your lines, not performing the scene. Use these as an absolute last resort.
And the I-HAVE-TO-MENTION-IT-BUT-PLEASE-FOR-THE-LOVE-OF-MIKE-DON’T-EVER-DO-THIS:
5. Don’t read with anyone. If you just say your lines and pause in silence when the other dialogue is supposed to be read, that’s not a performance. That is just saying/reading lines. This will never make a successful audition. Ever. Seriously. The best thing that could possibly come from a read like this, is that you hear from casting that we want you to do it again, but this time with a reader. But it’s more likely that we won’t be able to see enough of a performance to request another take.
Creating your “self-tape tribe” is the key to finding a reader.
Whether your group consists of friends or coaches or family members… or all of the above… having a go-to list will relieve the anxiety around finding a reader when you’re on a tight deadline.
And don’t forget to give what you want to get back! Be as ready/willing/able to be another actor’s reader as your pals are to be yours.
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 taped audition than something that’s been produced. (And PLEASE use more than just a medium shot. No director in their right mind shoots an entire scene from one focal length.)
Spend the time/money to make it look and sound good.
- Use a quality camera, real lights and mics and then edit carefully and make sure you mix your sound. Nothing screams “FAKE SCENE” more than one of these elements being subpar.
- These people will have a role on YOUR reel. They need to be solid and giving, not drawing all of the attention.
Choose or write a scene that highlights YOUR character.
- This should be common sense, but I’ve seen many a clip where the actor clearly wanted to play a specific character or moment and didn’t pay attention to the other elements in the scene, namely that the other character had the better arc. Again, if too much attention is focused on your scene partner(s), then this activity is moot.
If you choose to write a scene, be VERY honest with yourself about your writing skills.
- An original scene is the best choice when shooting material for your reel. However not everyone can write dialogue. If you are the scribe, get feedback from your peers before filming your work. If you’re questioning your writing abilities, try to partner with a writer to craft a scene for you.
- Also… E.D.I.T. Of all the original scenes I’ve watched, (if you follow me you know I’ve seen A LOT,) 98% of them could use a good edit. Less is more.
If you are choosing previously produced material, do not choose any famous or well known scenes.
- Sure, Robin Williams’ monologue from GOOD WILL HUNTING is magnificent, but do you REALLY want to be compared to Robin Williams? Obscurity is your friend here. Dig deep for something that won’t warrant a juxtaposition.
The long and the short of it is this: if you are going to create content for your reel, take time and spend some effort (and if needed, some cash,) to do it right.