Kal Sabir recording a selftape.

Selftapes: A Blessing and a Curse

Selftapes are a necessity in our new Covid-19 world. Film productions have stopped and many theatres are at risk of closure, but commercial castings are trickling through.

For actors who like to be in control of the audition process, selftapes are a blessing, but for some who loathe the technical side they can be a curse.

Let’s take a look at all the fuss, the frustrations, and how you can make the most of selftapes.

 

Last Minute

Silhouette of a man holding a film camera | Topic: SelftapesIt’s a Saturday evening, you’re relaxing with your feet up on the couch, ready for a night of binge TV. Your phone pings. It’s an email from your agent – a casting director has shortlisted you for a feature film and wants a selftape by 5pm the next day.

You’re excited. You read the email to find out there’s a big chunk of text, at least two A4 pages long, that you need to learn and record.

There is very little you can do about it. It is the way of the industry.

The entertainment sector is about business, and actors are way down the ladder. They are the pawns on a chess board, the cogs in a wheel, the links in a chain – minor and pivotal.

Learning Lines

Most selftape requests are reasonable. You’ll receive sides, usually a dialogue scene with another character. The amount of lines to learn are manageable within the alotted time.

You’ll get the occasional corporate or commercial request with a large chunk of text, sometimes two or three pages. Learning such an amount of lines can be a challenge, if not impossible given a tight deadline.

For example, a recent audition asked for three pages of A4 poetic text to be recorded straight to camera, with a less than 24 hour deadline.

This actor took one look and thought, “What the hell?”.

Thankfully, the client didn’t expect actors to learn the entire text by heart. But we are left with the hurdle of reading from a text and maintaining a certain level of eye contact with the camera. The casting directors want to see your face and eyes, not the top of your scalp.

The answer was a quickly improvised pseudo auto-cue system using my laptop and a cordless mouse to scroll the text while seated facing the camera, which was placed just in front and to the side.

It worked, after a number of trial and errors in synchronising the scroll with vocal delivery.

The package was wrapped and delivered. But then the brief changed.

Changing Goal Posts

The details of the brief can and do change at short notice. It may be the client changes their mind about what they’re looking for, or realise that they want something more specific.

This is another aspect of selftapes, and the audition process in general, which is out of the actor’s control.

In my example above, it meant that I was no longer suitable for the job, even though my recorded delivery of the text may have been fine.

It’s all about the complete package, which can change.

Lights, Camera, Action

Image of a film camera display pointed at a lady delivering a scene. | Topic: SelftapesIf you’re not tech-savvy and don’t have much experience in setting up a selftape, then it’s best to learn quickly if you’re serious about getting work.

A full tutorial about setting up your camera, lighting and location will be covered in a future post.

Key point to remember, become familiar with the practice of ‘doing’ before the opportunity presents itself.

Editing

The same can be said about editing your selftape. You may have a number of takes and an ident (i.e. an introduction in which you state your name and agent directly to camera), which must be sliced, diced and spliced together with editing software.

There are various free editing packages on the market, including those that come with your computer’s operating system. The pros and cons of these will be discussed in a future post.

Whatever software you choose, get to know it inside out.

Finding A Reading Partner

During face-to-face auditions, usually the casting director or assistant will read the lines of the other character. For selftapes, the absence of a reader can present a problem.

Tight deadlines mean you may not be able to find a reader, or perhaps your non-actor housemate is not confident in giving you what you need for your performance. Acting is about reacting.

One solution in the absence of a reader is to record yourself reading the other lines, then play them back for your role. This takes a lot of practice and fine-tuning, also some casting directors frown upon it.

Ideally, it’s best to find a human to read the other lines, but if you can get away with it and the casting directors don’t notice, then as a last resort, record.

 

The New Normal

Selftapes are here to stay, certainly for as long as we have a pandemic. They are a necessity to keep actors and casting directors safe in a Covid-19 world, to jump-start film production and ultimately the UK economy.