7 CDs Share Their Best Self-Tape Advice

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If there’s one thing casting directors can agree has changed in the industry, it’s the technology behind casting. CDs can now send someone to set in a different country without ever being in the same room as an actor and they can now consider actors from all over the world for parts they cast. It’s all thanks to self-tapes. A CD will remember a stellar self-tape and consider that actor for roles in the future based on that one submission, just like they would for an excellent audition in the room. So what do CDs want actors to know about the art of recording your own audition? They shared some tips with Backstage.

“It’s just that they’re believable in the role. They don’t even have to do anything too much. It’s when the person’s alive on tape, so when they’re not speaking, they’re still in character and I believe them. When they listen to what the other person’s saying, react, and they’re in character and on it. And it’s interesting. You don’t have to have too much with props or too much costuming, but even when people do that, it can be fun. Someone was doing self-tape, they were being shot, and they added in sound effects or bullets, and it was surprising, it was fun, because directors get bored listening and seeing the same thing over and over again and sometimes somebody will do something so random, but it’s charming, and it’s nice.” —Luci Lenox“Snatch”

“I do think in some ways it gives the actor a bit more control over their career. When you self tape for something, you are really in control of that self-tape. There are tremendous benefits to going into the audition room and meeting the CD and the director and producer and getting inside notes about the character and really working with them and forming that relationship, but I think one of the benefits to self-taping is you are in control of that. You can do as many takes as you like, you can add maybe an element of props or costume or setting, you can film it as a little movie, you don’t have to send it until you feel it’s ready, and you can watch it back. That’s a bit of a change which I think can be daunting for acting but if you look at the positive side, it can be something that can be useful to actors.” Rich Delia“The Long Dumb Road”

“We want the tape to be of good quality. It doesn’t need to be with a camera man, but we want to be able to see their faces, and we want it to be shot well. Ideally it’s great to have a good reader because sometimes that can destroy an audition. We saw one where a guy was reading the stage directions in between the lines.” —Rob Kelly“The A List”

READ: Your Guide to the Perfect Self-Tape

“We send out self-tape instructions that say tape yourself against a light colored plain background, mid shot preferably showing head and shoulders with good lighting. We have these standard things, but actors sometimes break rules. Some of the best self-tapes that I have seen have been when they’ve broken all of those rules and it has gotten them the role. I don’t think there’s one option because it depends on what the role, production, and team are like. I would always tell them to do whatever the CD is advising because then you’re safe. A self-tape that comes to mind from the Einstein season of “Genius” is one for a Nazi role. The character was getting out of a car and then he was shooting someone and then he was getting back in the car. The actor added sound effects. It was set in his living room on a chair, but when he was driving, it was like the noise of an engine and then he would open the door and there would be the noise of the door opening and the camera followed him and the movements were cut together. It was an incredible self-tape and he got the role. The risk is sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. If you want to be safe and you don’t know what the team is like, use a light background. No matter what you do, we should be able to see the actor. In casting, we’re used to watching self-tapes so you can see if someone has potential for the role you’re looking for. That comes down to accents and performance. Even if there’s drilling or a person going past in the background, if it’s a really amazing performance, it can win you over. If there’s something distracting on the tape, the director or showrunner won’t have so much time to be watching, so I will ask the actor to re-tape and give notes. You don’t want the next person that sees the tape to be put off by distracting elements.

What’s also helpful on a self-tape is what they call a slate in the U.S. Have a separate take where the actor shoots themselves and says their height and we can see their full body shot and do an introduction. If we’re casting someone from another country and potentially no one is going to meet them, I want to see what they’re about. That’s really helpful. It should be well lit and we should be able to hear you. Sometimes I receive self-tapes and I’m not sure that the person watched the self-tape back before they sent it. I’m talking on a superficial technical level, it’s always helpful if someone completely separate can have a look, not at the acting or acting level, but to consider the tape quality and ask, ‘Does the tape have what I would need in order to determine whether this person can be good for a role or not? Can I actually see the person’s facial expressions and all the things that we need in order to cast them?’ Watch the tape back and put yourself in the seat of the CD who hasn’t met you and ask if it is strong enough to say yes, let’s go for it.” —Rose Wicksteed, “Genius”

“Natural acting and understanding the piece and the character. Sometimes what we like is someone just taking a chance or taking a different direction. We like someone who could maybe go and do something different with the piece, and it may or may not work but that’s exciting for an actor to just do something different. It makes them stand out. Just be very natural. Confidence is another thing. You’ve got to have confidence because you’d be leading a show. We don’t want someone who’s too cocky but we also need someone who can hold their own.” —Kerrie Mailey“The A List

“It’s helpful if they can read with somebody who helps them. I’ve had some funny ones that come from a set where they’ve gotten a European camera man reading in pidgin English back to them and it isn’t really helping them. I know it’s tricky is when an actor hasn’t got a human being to read, but it’s not helpful when they’ve recorded the lines or there’s a program on the internet that is saying their lines and it’s a bit robotic. If it’s a dialogue, always try and get another actor or somebody who can read with an element of understanding to give you something to work off of. As CDs, we can see through the technical problems. I wouldn’t like to get people too hung up about looking professionally shot because if you’re playing the part well we can see that. We can get you to do it again with notes if something needs to be fixed. Then, we’ll present it to the director and it will give you a better chance. So there are sometimes useful tricks to the trade but ultimately it isn’t the style around it that you’re looking for. It’s the quality of the interpretation. —Rachel Freck“Howards End”

“I think every actor needs a lesson in how to self-tape. I’m not talking about the actual acting—it’s just where the camera should be. It might be something they don’t know and if that’s all we’re watching, you just want the camera angle whether it be an iPhone or a computer, to be at a better angle. That’s a technical thing I would say to every actor. Go test that out because it’s so wonderful to be able to get these self-tapes and these auditions. I’ve watched so many people get hired because they can’t be in the room but yet they get to be a participant now.” —Bernie Telsey“This Is Us”

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Elyse Roth
Elyse is a senior editor at Backstage, where she oversees all casting news and features content, including her weekly casting director Q&A series, In the Room. She came to New York from Ohio by way of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism, and now lives in Brooklyn. She might see and write about awards-worthy films, but Elyse still thinks “Legally Blonde” is a perfect movie and on any given night is probably taking in some kind of entertainment, whether it’s comedy, theater, ballet, or figuring out what show to binge next.
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