3 Self-Tape Sins to Avoid

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Hi friends. Me again. I wanted to chat with you about another popular topic. After receiving such a positive response to my last article about postcards, I figured I’d try to demystify the almighty self-tape. Let’s get right to it!

By now I’m sure you’re seeing a common theme with everything I talk about: technology! Everything we are doing in this business is changing with technology. Like it or not, for better or worse, and most certainly for the faster, it’s changing. Self-tapes are awesome! Let me say that again clearly enough for you to really hear it…Self-tapes are awesome! It’s a quick and easy way to get yourself in front of a casting director. There are many reasons we ask for a self-taped audition versus having you come in the room, and there are pros and cons just like anything else. You also won’t be surprised to hear that there are also rules of the self-tape road that you should follow.

Why might we ask you to self-tape? Let me answer this using an example of an actor’s response to my self-tape request for a Google+ Hangouts commercial. I had this great idea that since the commercial was going to be an actual Hangout that we should hold the auditions on Hangouts! How much fun is that? How great is it that as an actor you have an opportunity to audition for a product such as Google without ever leaving your home? I’ll answer that for you: “Pretty darn cool!” One actor responded to the email I sent him, “How rude of you! If you’re too lazy to have me come in the room to audition for you then I have no desire to audition for your commercial!”

What?! Huh? OK, that’s fine. Don’t audition. However, I’m not lazy. I thought it would be fun and easy for actors and it was. The auditions were a blast and we cast the commercial in no time. Think about that possibility. Imagine if small television co-star roles could be cast from self-tape? You could literally send in your tape, I could watch it, give you notes, and have you send in another take and we could do 14 takes in less time than it took you to drive to my office and put it on tape ourselves. Boom. It’s done. Then we can bring in the three actors we really want to send to producers if that is even necessary.

I worked on an amazing show last season and we needed the villain of the season—a six-episode recurring role. It was the role of the season for us. I was super excited. One of the actors we wanted to audition just happened to be, and I kid you not, sailing across the Pacific Ocean. Bummer, I thought. “No, no…he’ll self-tape,” said his agent. “Um, uh, really? From the middle of the Pacific Ocean?” Sure enough, the very next morning, I had a self-tape from the middle of the Pacific Ocean! Wow! Wow! Wow! Nailed it! We sent the tape to producers and the next thing you know we were calling his agent begging him to port in Hawaii and fly home immediately. He did. He was cast and it made the season!

Just think about this story the next time casting asks you to self-tape and gives you a hard deadline. It’s not because we are jerks and want to make life difficult for you. We have deadlines, too. We have producers breathing down our necks because the visa deadline is approaching and directors wanting to see options and network execs needing to “run it up the flagpole.” Remember that train I talked about in my second article? It’s still charging ahead and it’s not stopping. Don’t make excuses as to why you can’t get it done. Only ask for more time if and only if you really and truly need it. We know life is crazy and we know you’re busy, but if this guy got it done from the middle of the Pacific Ocean in less than 24 hours—(where he got Wi-Fi is still a mystery)—then you can get it done here in L.A., no excuses.

Please think twice before spending money on a self-tape. Personally, I cringe when I hear about actors spending money to self-tape. Cringe. There are very few instances where your self-tape needs to be studio quality and when that is necessary, we’ll tell you. Most of the time, we just want to see you act. We aren’t looking at your editing skills or your DP skills. We just need the tape to be good enough that we can see you do what you do. Yes, the lighting needs to be good enough that we can see you, and we don’t want to hear your crying baby or your dog barking, and we’d rather not see your collection of mini spoons on the wall in the background, but you don’t need to spend $50 or more to lay down a good self-tape.

Self-taping is becoming more and more common. Stop. Breathe. Learn…now. Don’t wait for that self-tape request to come in. Figure it out now. Get together with your closest actor friends and form a little self-tape club so you can call each other at the last minute to help you record or read with you. Share the expense of a camera (and they aren’t all that expensive anyway). SAG-AFTRA members can also use the SAG Foundation equipment for free. Yes, free. I’ve even cast actors from iPhone self-tapes. We cast Peter Arpsella in “Think Like A Man” from a self-tape on an iPhone that his wife recorded as they were literally walking down the street. We cast Claude Knowlton in the same movie from an iPhone self-tape he made in his kitchen! It’s not rocket science. Don’t be scared of the self-tape. You should always strive for the best quality, but you can do it yourself for free.

Don’t send one if you’re not asked for one. The old adage, “No means no,” holds true with self-tapes. If you don’t get the audition or we say no to your agent’s self-tape request, you don’t have the right to just send one anyway. Remember that you don’t own the audition material. Somebody or some studio or network holds the proprietary rights and you can’t just do what you want with somebody else’s property. Casting Directors also have a process we each go through to determine who gets to audition and when you just decide to self-tape because you want to, that’s disrespecting our process. There are specific reasons why any one actor is given or not given an audition, and sometimes no means no.

Don’t post it online. Lastly, please do not ever send your audition via YouTube. Not ever. Technically you are only allowed to post videos on YouTube that you “own,” and you don’t own your audition videos. It’s that whole proprietary rights legal thing. Even if you make the link private, that doesn’t do the trick. Don’t put it on YouTube. If we aren’t using EcoCast or some other such service, most CDs seem to prefer a file-sharing site such as Hightail and Vimeo is also very common. Please make sure if you send your audition on Vimeo that you password protect it, otherwise the audition can be lifted and posted on Facebook and entire storylines can be given away. Don’t be that actor! OK, I’ve rambled enough. I’ll let you get back to the “Real Housewives” marathon!

Said with love. xoxo

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Jeremy Gordon
Jeremy Gordon has spent the last 12 years casting feature films, television shows, Web series, short films, and commercials at both the indie and network/studio level.
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