The Artistes Collective Talent Management meet on the first Tuesday of every month, in one space or another, to workshop our skills and improve as acting professionals. These workshops are led by special guests and can cover anything industry related from life coaching, audition preparation, scene work, to how to network effectively. This blog post is the first in a series that will highlight the key points of each workshop and provide some tips for actors and actresses looking to get that extra edge.
This month’s session, if you haven’t guessed yet, was all about self-tapes. The art of self-taping has a close parallel to auditioning, and is a crucial step towards getting that recall or booking the job. Therefore, who else would be better to lead us through the dos and do nots of self-taping than Casting Director, Sarah Leung. Sarah currently works as an independent casting director, and you’ll be familiar with some of the projects she’s been involved with, such as; “Luther”, “Law & Order: UK”, “Inside Men”, etc… Sarah’s presence, like most casting directors is warm and welcoming. Although the power dynamic between Casting Directors and actors is generally in favour of the CD, Sarah reminds us it’s important to remember that CDs want you to be comfortable so you create your best work.
When we’re at our best, they can be at theirs. Auditioning and self-tapes can feel like artificial situations to even the most seasoned of actors. It is often something we neglect to practise, whether we’re in a job, out of a job or working on the side job, it always tends to be pushed back behind contacting directors, theatre companies and applying for those jobs on spotlight. However, whether you’re struggling to find an audition or lucky enough to be booked for the next few months, there will come a point where the audition will come in and if you haven’t been practising, you won’t be ready. Sarah highlighted how crucial this preparation is: “You, as actors, should be self-taping ten/fifteen practise scenes a week to get you in prep mode for auditions. That way when you come in the room with me, it’s easy, it’s nothing.”
As the session wore on it was clear that most people in the collective were running into similar issues and had similar worries when it came to self-taping at home. Aside from some nerves which as Sarah says will fade with practise, we seemed to be overthinking the smaller details such as worrying about limited space if the script calls for running into shot, or worrying about what our bodies or faces are doing. These issues are largely unimportant and you won’t get marked down because of them if you forget about the issue and play the truth of the moment you are in. The collective found that our better takes come after the third or fourth attempt.
What’s happening here is we’re becoming more comfortable. The takes improve because we stop overthinking. This is a problem though Sarah reveals. “When you’re in the room with a casting director, sometimes you’ll only get one go. You have to do on the first time, what you’ve just done on the fourth time.” She has a point and the only way we will improve, as Sarah states is with practise.
There were a few other nuggets of gold that Sarah brought up throughout the session, so if you ever need a reminder of what makes a good self-tape just copy and paste this list and you can’t go wrong. Sarah’s top tips for Self-tapes:
Practise. It needs to be the top of the list because it is key. You should be self-taping 10/15 practise scenes a week to get you in prep mode for auditions before you even get a real one.
Use natural light and a plain background, preferably white. If you don’t have any plain walls in your house, pin up a sheet.
Who are you speaking to, and who are you actually speaking to? Know who you’re talking to in the scene and be aware of how the person reading in with you may be affecting your performance.
Editing. Self-tapes are better in one take done truthfully than edited from multiple takes. After a while you’ll stop listening and your responses won’t be as truthful.
Throw it away. It’s the old adage “Less is more.” Just say the text as if you were having a regular conversation with someone.
Any movement on film is big movement. A focused energy to a fixed point is usually all that’s needed. More than this and the scene looks uncontrolled.
Don’t overthink. Once you’ve done the preparation, just go. Given circumstances are needed for the situation. Be in the moment and truthful.
So the next time you get that phone call or email, and you realise that you can’t make the audition, take a deep breath, consult Sarah’s checklist, and act your way into your next booking.
By Matthew Cleverly, Actor & Writer