SAG-AFTRA Has Made Self-Taping an Industry Norm; Here’s How to Embrace It

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Self-taping is here to stay. In recent years, the controversial DIY auditioning practice requiring actors to film themselves for casting consideration has become ubiquitous. Although it started as an auxiliary audition method, pandemic protocols combined with advancement of smartphone technology saw self-tapes become the norm rather than the exception. 

In response, SAG-AFTRA included self-taping guidelines in its November 2023 strike-ending agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Before then, there were no union stipulations around the practice. 

Here’s everything you need to know about where the acting industry stands with self-tapes, as well as how to embrace the possibilities of the process.


What is the state of self-taped auditions in Hollywood?



Given the rapid advancement of media and smartphone technology—plus the need for social distancing at the height of the pandemic—it’s no surprise that the practice has taken off in the past few years. A typical self-taped audition begins with a casting director sending an actor sides from the script and some context about a project. The actor then records their performance of the sides on video—usually with a loyal friend, roommate, or fellow actor reading offscreen.

For some, the rise of self-taping is a positive development. Colman Domingo (“Rustin,” “Euphoria”), for example, credits a self-taped audition with reinvigorating his career. The practice is particularly beneficial for actors located outside major entertainment hubs like New York City and Los Angeles, where the cost of living is skyrocketing. Self-taping means that actors based in smaller markets can compete in bigger ones.  

“You get to choose which tape to send off, so you get the last word on the work you put out into the world. In that way, it can feel empowering. But it’s also an easy wormhole to descend [into].”
Will Connolly (“The Gilded Age”)

For others, however, the practice can be a pain; and post-lockdown, many have questioned it becoming an industry standard. “[Casting directors] don’t want to give this model up,” Michael Gaston (“First Reformed”) told Deadline last year. “What is being asked of actors now? To just get your friend to read with you? Who the fuck are you talking about? And how dare you assume that I can just impose on my friends to do that? Some of us are much better and more at ease asking our friends, but that should never be the unpaid potential employee’s responsibility.

What’s more, self-taping risks making an actor’s performance feel two-dimensional, potentially diminishing their appeal to the casting team. Without the guidance of a CD, auditioners are flying blind when interpreting a character. 

Producing a quality video requires work, time, and money—and all of that effort goes unpaid. Not only do you have to find the right room and lighting situation and make sure there isn’t too much background noise, but you must also upload the file and modify it—all using your own equipment, utilities, and scene partner. 

“It can feel very counterintuitive,” says Will Connolly (“The Gilded Age”). “Overall, it’s more [laborious] and more time-consuming. But the advantage is that you can do as many takes as you like; you can stop and restart if you’re not feeling your best. And in the end, you get to choose which tape to send off, so you get the last word on the work you put out into the world. In that way, it can feel empowering. But it’s also an easy wormhole to descend [into]. You have to know when to cut yourself off.”

How has the SAG-AFTRA agreement changed norms around self-taping?


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“We hear a lot of horror stories about self-tapes and the burden of having to rush home and do a self-tape that you got in your email,” says Ray Rodriguez, SAG-AFTRA’s chief contracts officer, who has been with the union since 2007. He adds that there are several new policies in the agreement designed to support auditioners. “We put in two pages of rules that were basically a blank page before.” 

Here are some key developments under the new agreement:

  • Audition sides must be provided to actors at least 48 hours before the deadline for adults and 72 hours for children. 
  • Sides are limited to eight pages for the first round and 12 for the callback. 
  • Memorization is not required.
  • CDs cannot ask an actor to appear nude (beyond wearing a bathing suit) or do stunt work of any kind. 
  • Slates only need to include an actor’s “name, height, city of residence, current location, age and birthday for minors, [and] information about special skills.” 
  • Tapes don’t have to be filmed in a quality greater than high-definition, and the shot can frame either the head and shoulders or the full body in a vertical portrait format.
  • Uploading platforms for audition files must be free to access, and use of specific equipment cannot be required. 

In a further landmark development, the deal stipulates that actors must be given the opportunity to do a live virtual audition instead of a prerecorded one. There are also now protocols for storage of self-tapes: Files must be archived safely and kept private. (It’s worth noting that, even before the latest agreement, union actors could request that audition videos be destroyed after casting concluded.) 

In regards to whether SAG has any concerns about a bank of self-tapes potentially being used to support the development of artificial intelligence in entertainment, Rodriguez says, “In theory, you could feed self-tapes into a generative AI system for purposes of training the model. That is not an authorized use under our contract…. There are bigger fish to fry in the world of AI.” 

Despite the union’s clarity over these terms, SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000-plus  members are divided as to whether self-taping should become the norm. “We have people on both sides of this issue,” Rodriguez explains. “The union hasn’t resolved, as an institution, that self-tapes are good or self-tapes are bad. A maximum of choice is what’s best.” 

For union and nonunion actors alike, SAG’s enforcement of rules in the Wild West of self-taping will introduce consistency into the process. While the new terms are only enforceable for union gigs, labor organizations often set professional standards in the entertainment industry. Both members and nonmembers should familiarize themselves with the agreement—not only for audition preparation, but also to avoid being manipulated. 

At this point, it’s unclear how the new stipulations will inform and shape the field overall. “This is our first time bargaining for regulations and contract rules that are specific to self-tape auditions,” says Rodriguez. “I expect there’s going to be a process of producers learning the new rules and coming around towards compliance.” 

Embracing self-taping opportunities



Take the turnaround time in the process to annotate (or “score”) sides with your own interpretations of the text and character. Considering SAG has introduced page limits to rein in the amount of material you’re required to learn, it should be easier to dig into sides. And now that there’s no memorization requirement, you can utilize this valuable time to work on your interpretation rather than on committing the words to memory.

Since tech requirements are now pared down, focus on keeping your home audition simple. 

“A self-tape can be a beautiful thing, because it frees me from any sort of expectation,” says Devyn A. Tyler (“Snowfall”). “​​I’ve been using my phone. I’m not very high-tech; I don’t have a lot of bells and whistles, because I’ve always been raised and trained that the power comes from the internal work. The simplicity of it can be nice to focus on, and it doesn’t have to be that intimidating. Just go back to the art of it…. I start on the page, and we go from there.” 

“Facing the amount of self-tapes is a very humbling experience. It makes me very cognizant [of] how we really do deal in a business of noes. But you never lose a lesson; you always learn something. ”
Devyn A. Tyler (“Snowfall”)

Casting director Nicole Arbusto (“Somebody Somewhere”) agrees. “As the technology improves, it does sometimes seem like actors feel they need to ‘do more,’ which isn’t necessarily the case. The most important thing is to read the instructions very carefully. Sometimes, some things might seem small but are important to include.”

Arbusto encourages actors to reach out if they need more information about self-taping requirements; it can even make you stand out as a candidate. “If you have questions, ask them,” she says. “Make sure you have as much information as you can access; it may be your best opportunity to be seen.”

There are pitfalls to avoid when self-taping—namely, letting lousy sound quality sabotage your performance. Also, feel free to move. “You don’t have to be super close [to the camera] all the time, as long as you’re in frame,” Arbusto explains.

Make sure you have a good reader. Tyler utilizes her mother, prodigious actor Deneen Tyler, as a scene partner in her self-tapes. “I used to be really shy to work in front of her,” the younger Tyler recalls. “But now, we self-tape really well. I can have a reader that I’m really close to, which is a definite privilege—because the other difficult part about self-tapes is they can be really expensive if you don’t have somebody.” 

As more expectations get offloaded on actors, the more essential it becomes to have a community of peers and collaborators. Reading on your own turf alongside a trusted friend does have its advantages, after all. “Be a reader for your friends,” Arbusto advises. “Start a group where you all sign up to read with each other.”  

Self-taping also calls for a healthy sense of perspective. While the practice means access to more auditions, it also means more rejections. More than a few prolific actors we interviewed for this piece cited this unfortunate side effect as going hand-in-hand with auditioning remotely. 

“Facing the amount of self-tapes is a very humbling experience,” Tyler says. “It makes me very cognizant [of] how we really do deal in a business of noes. But you never lose a lesson; you always learn something. Auditioning is a muscle; doing self-tapes keeps you nice and warm. Why not? They’re fun. In a self-tape, you’re free; you’re flying.”