And thanks for reading! Times have changed, auditioning has changed! When COVID sent workers home to work remotely, it pushed auditions from the casting director’s office to the actor’s home and added some complexities that didn’t exist previously. This week I’d like to talk a bit about the new audition landscape.
Just a reminder here that when I use the term “actor” I mean it to encompass all forms of acting including voice, stage, and screen. Yeah, I know I say this every week, but it falls under the heading of “The things that go without saying are the things that most need to be said”. What follows applies relatively equally to all of these forms of acting.
Auditions have changed.
Not too many years ago, pre-COVID, auditions were primarily held in-person, but these days self-tape auditions are the norm. They’ve become so prevalent, in fact, that regulating them became a part of last year’s SAG strike negotiations! Self-tape auditions have opened opportunities for more actors but have also added a few wrinkles.
The old days…
Way back before COVID the only thing an actor had to be concerned about was preparing their character and the situation the character was in. But then it was necessary to make the time to jump in the car and travel to the audition site. In some cases that may have been out of town and required a stay in local lodging as well. Because of this, many actors passed on submitting for roles due to time and expense. Essentially, if you were a beginning actor, or had a full-time day job to contend with you were pretty much stuck only working local gigs.
The “vibe” is different…
Having to walk into a room, or a sound studio, fully prepared to perform in front of a “live audience”, if you will, just feels different than stepping in front of a camera in your basement at home. The nerves, the butterflies, the stage fright is missing in a self-tape. What is also missing is the personal interactions with the people casting the project, so that your personality has no real opportunity to shine through.
One and done…
In-person auditions required an actor to be totally prepared before stepping into the room. You generally had ONE opportunity to wow the casting team, and then you were on your way. Sometimes, if they were happy with your performance, but maybe saw the role slightly differently, you’d get a “note” and had a chance to perform the scene again in a different way, but sometimes that was it. Thanks for your audition, send in the next person.
There are (or were at least) some advantages to doing an in-person audition. For one, you got to look the casting team (even if it was just a team of one) in the eye and have personal interactions with them. They got to see you and not just your character portrayal. On top of that you did your audition, applied notes if given for a second take, and then…left. That was it. There was little opportunity to second guess your choices and re-do the audition over and over again stressing out over every detail. Some might say that is a disadvantage, but I say it is less stressful in the long run.
These days auditions are primarily done through self-tapes. In some ways, this is great! In other ways, not so much. For starters you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home, and you can schedule your audition around your busy schedule. That aspect certainly relieves scheduling and day job stress, but self-tapes add some other stressors that may not be so great. Like most anything in life, self-tape auditions are a mixed bag of good and bad.
First, the bad
I always like to get the bad news first so when the good news comes it takes the edge off the bad. Because of that, I’m going to talk about the bad aspects of self-tapes first. If you like the good news before the bad, just read these sections out of order.
One of the biggest drawbacks to auditioning via self-tape is technology. No, not like technology is bad, but like technology is necessary. In order to provide a self-tape audition actors now have to have appropriate equipment. They need to be camera operators, lighting technicians, set designers (ok, really just have a plain background) and sound engineers. Not to mention, they will need to have and understand (at least somewhat) audio and video editing software.
That need for technology adds cost to being an actor. On top of headshots, reels, websites and acting lessons, actors now also need to buy cameras (OK, your cell phone works too), tripods, lights, backdrops, and software. While you save in travel expenses and time off work, you will need to make an up-front investment to produce a professional self-tape.
Self-tapes are done in relative isolation and lack feedback from the casting team. Self-tapes could lack the energy and personal connection you get from an in-person audition. It is not only impossible to gauge how the performance is going (based on facial expression and body language) in order to make corrections but also means an actor will miss the opportunity to establish a personal connection with casting directors and other actors.
Perfection is the enemy of good enough.
OK, “good enough” is an ambiguous term, but the point is self-tapes give you a chance to agonize over your performance to the point that you tape so many takes that the performance loses its luster and uses a LOT of time (one of the things you save by not having to travel). This one is a two-edged sword, which is why it appears at the edge between good and bad. You have an opportunity to correct a flubbed performance but may take it to the extreme and endlessly try over and over.
For me, self-tapes are pretty much all I’ve known, and I like them a lot. I have had a couple of in-person auditions as well as a number of Zoom auditions, but I personally like self-tapes the best. There are those (usually people who started out doing mostly in-person auditions) who simply do not like them. For me, they are a blessing.
Time is our most valuable resource. It is absolutely non-renewable. The biggest plus to the industry moving primarily to self-taping is that it has given us back time. Yes, there are deadlines, and nearly everyone who knows anything about the industry will tell you that early submission is much better than late submission, but having the flexibility to work around your schedule is a major plus. No stressing about getting the time off work, or how long it will take to travel to the audition location.
NOT one and done.
This one shows up in the positive category, but it definitely overlaps into the negative category, which I’ll mention below. But for the positives, self-taping gives you an opportunity for a do-over. Flub a line and get flustered in an in-person audition and that’s it. Do that in a self-tape? Stop the camera, reset and do it over (hopefully without the flub). Along the same lines, self-tapes give you an opportunity to watch your audition to see how it comes across, then adjust if things don’t look right.
In-person auditions required you to be AT the location where auditions were being held, which limited many actors to only local, or semi-local productions. Newsflash: Not all locations have an abundance of acting opportunities. Self-tapes have opened up opportunities to submit and audition for projects in non-local areas, even globally. Self-tapes have broadened an actors ability to audition for productions they may not have been able to with in-person auditions.
With no casting people in the room, many actors are less nervous which gives them a chance to provide a more relaxed, natural performance. The pressure comes back once you’re on set to some degree, but personally I feel like the actual performance is a lot less stressful than the audition anyway.
Like a lot of things…
Like so many other aspects of acting, and well, life in general, self-taping auditions has its pros and cons. I find that while self-tape auditions offer convenience and flexibility, they also come with challenges. However, the challenges are easy enough to overcome, and the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. I personally prefer them. Either way, self-tapes are here to stay.