In many ways, the playing field has never been this level for actors. From your apartment in Queens, Harlem, or Brooklyn, you can capture your talent on video, send it West in the blink of an eye, and be considered for some of the biggest roles Hollywood has to offer.
The self-tape is now the industry standard and given the choice, some directors, showrunners, and executives even prefer it to being in the room with actors. Even though you’re 2,500 miles away in New York, you have the power to affect people in Los Angeles. But you still need the tools to use that power. Here’s what you need to know.
Talent is talent.
Actors can look for reasons to sabotage. One way is to tell yourselves that what happens in L.A. is SO different than New York. “I know New York acting but I have to do something else for L.A.”
We call BS. Talent is talent. Never doubt that. Yes, some shows have a particular tone or pace but that’s an easy pivot. Technical elements of tone and pace happen after you’ve brought the full force of your talent. If you don’t show up with your unique creative talent, it won’t matter that the pace or tone was “right.” If you hear the voice in your head saying your work isn’t good enough for L.A., call BS on yourself and come back to the work.
“But I do theatre so…”
Theatre actors are constantly reminding us they’re theatre actors and therefore too big for film and TV so they have to bring it “way down” for auditions. But then they’re flat. And self-conscious.
Yes, in theatre you have to reach the back of the house. And in film and TV you have to reach the person a foot in front of you when the camera frame is tighter. But sometimes you have to offer the back row of the theater some intimacy. How do you do that? You have to listen, be aware of who you’re talking to, be affected by them. It’s a delicate balance—reaching them but not overdoing it so you lose the intimacy.
That same level of active listening and awareness is all you need to reach a reader or scene partner who is two feet from you. There’s no “bringing it in.” Just talk to someone. Create reasons within the work why your reader needs you to be still and present. It’s a lot easier than you think but it requires letting go of the bullshit, limiting beliefs that hold you back.
Lo-Fi is in!
Don’t for a second let the technical part of self-taping hold you back. First of all, it doesn’t have to be visually breathtaking. In fact, if it does, it might distract the viewer from your work. The only question to ask is, “Can they see and hear me clearly?”
Said a different way, the only thing you need to worry about are distractions. Get rid of anything that gets in the way of the viewer seeing and hearing your talent. If you’re taping in front of a wall with some hideous, brightly colored floral print, that will be distracting. If we can’t hear what you’re saying because you live above the subway, that will be distracting. Just use a camera that can take a clear picture of you, shoot yourself in a quiet space with natural light that isn’t behind you (don’t backlight), and shoot it against a neutral background. Try to get a generous reader who knows how to support you and your work. Then do your work and have fun!
You must be brilliant.
No matter what it looks like, if the work you present isn’t amazing, it probably won’t get noticed in L.A. The self-tape can often feel easier and offer less pressure than reading in person but you can’t get comfy or lazy. You must prepare.
Lose yourself in the joy of preparing for the self-tape. Step away from “getting it right” or giving them what they want and find the scene within you. Look at this as a chance to work at the level you know you’re capable of. This is your “take,” your best work. Make bold, personal choices, explore and discover in the work. When you’ve done that kind of work, it reveals itself as leadership and strength. It moves us and we want to see more of it.
Let it go.
Beyond the possibilities of fame and fortune, the self-tape offers an opportunity for you to act. You don’t need an agent, you don’t need permission. You can get a breakdown and tape the scene on your own. You can do what you love. And the more you can see the self-tape as an opportunity to play, explore, discover, and find the joy in that, the better your work will be.
If self-taping becomes nothing but an exercise in investing your time and money into work that never gets seen or validated (“I mean, does anyone even watch my tape?”), your work will suffer. At every level, actors have to stave off the plague of bitterness and hopelessness. If you start feeling that way, you have to do the work of finding joy in the work again.
Ask yourself, “What do I have to do to find joy in making this tape?” To the bitter mind, the answer may feel at odds with booking. “Well, if I do what I want to do, they won’t like it, it won’t be right.” Never doubt the power of your passion. And besides, none of the decision-makers in L.A. really know what they want anyway—they’re waiting for you to move them.
Do this kind of work, do it consistently, do it with the lust you have for acting, and it will travel 2,500 miles across the country and be the disruptive force that gets the industry to pay attention and book you work. We’ve seen it happen over and over.
Steve and Risa are coming to New York this November with The BGB New York Audition Revolution. Bring the full force of your talent into the audition room!
Get all of your self-tape questions answered by peers and experts on the Backstage Community forums!
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