A change happened when I signed with my Dallas agent five years ago this month. It marked a turning point in my career when I began auditioning more often for film and television roles. Unlike commercial auditions, the film & TV ones required a taped audition sent to my agent who then submitted it to a casting director. All these years later, I probably do more taped auditions than live ones any given month, and the experience has brought me to some important discoveries.
If you’re just getting into the business, the idea of recording an audition might seem daunting. So I’m going to mentally step back in time and reflect on what I wish I knew then. I’ll come up with a list of 10 important discoveries I have made regarding the virtual auditions, especially ones that caught me totally by surprise.
MY 10 DISCOVERIES ABOUT SELF-TAPED AUDITIONS
- Auditioning is not acting. While it takes acting skills to keep the job and get hired again, auditioning has little to do with actual acting. At best, it may be a sample of your acting choices in this setting. Embracing on it as a different challenge to be met relying on different skills is a way to stay focused on developing strong audition skills for taped and live opportunities.
- The slate can and does change a lot. What you say in your slate can vary, from name alone to name, agency, role, and height. Then, it’s important to know where to place the slate in relation to the scenes on tape: before or after. Usually the casting director will make that clear.
- A camera tapes, a coach shapes. My first taping service came from a fellow actor who came recommended by my agent and lived nearby. She charged $25 per 30 minutes and $40 for an hour, including editing. While her lavender wall and HD camera were valuable, I drew so much more from her understanding of how to shape a scene with effective eyeline choices and precise movement. Finding a reliable coach who you trust and who works well with you can make an amazing difference in what you submit.
- The timing of taped audition requests is often inconvenient. In an ideal world, every actor would have days to prepare sides, especially when it involves multiple scenes. The reality is, you may be given a day or less to learn your lines and tape your audition. In one case last year, I had 2.5 hours to learn, tape, and submit.
- One version is sometimes not enough. In my experience, most casting directors ask for one take per scene. I have encountered a few who ask for two takes per scene to see your range. That can work to your advantage, as long as you don’t create two versions that seem almost identical.
- Poor technical quality can suggest bad acting. These two areas may seem unrelated but if you turn in a taped audition with a distracting background, bad lighting, poor audio, or a soft focus, a casting director or assistant may simply assume you’re not a pro and shouldn’t be considered to work on their project. Whether your acting is acceptable or stellar, consider the impression you left by trying to take a technical shortcut.
- File size counts. It’s not enough to just get it taped beautifully. There are often restrictions on the file size for the submission, such as 30mb or 100mb. If you shoot in HD with wonderful resolution, you will need to know how to reduce that file size.
- In some cases, you may need to send scenes as separate files. For example, if you have two scenes and one of them is a 6-page scene and the other is a 4-page scene, sending them together may still exceed the recommended file size limit. Be sure to adjust how you label each one.
- Labeling changes just as much as the slate does. Instructions from casting usually state clearly how each file should be labeled, whether the slate and audition is submitted as one file or each part is submitted individually. Here’s an example of how complex it’s gotten for some of my auditions.
- PROJECT NAME_Your Name_Role_Scene 1 Take 1
- PROJECT NAME_Your Name_Role_Scene 1 Take 2
- PROJECT NAME_Your Name_Role_Scene 2 Take 1
- PROJECT NAME_Your Name_Role_Scene 2 Take 2
- PROJECT NAME_Your Name_Role_Slate
- A quality reader can make all the difference. In live auditions, you may deal with casting directors or assistants at times who give you little to react to. That’s unfortunate since listening and reacting in your audition is vital to looking connected to the scene and your character. So in these taped auditions, carefully select a reader who will bring out the best in you or provide the right chemistry to help you bring your character to life. Some actors are particular about matching the gender of the reader with the gender of the other character in the sides. For me, I just want to find someone who serves the scenes best by staying present, listening carefully, and providing the right amount of conflict or resistance in the scene.
As a newcomer to film & TV acting, you must remember finding the right person for any role is part of a larger process and virtual casting gives projects a wider reach for potential talent, far beyond your city or small town. While most veteran casting directors have an established process for finding actors and aiding in the determination of who will get the role, you have your own need to develop a process for creating memorable taped auditions when you’re fortunate enough to be requested. The sooner you are aware of all the variables affecting you, the sooner you can get to work on turning sides into unforgettable moments and scenes for the decisions makers hundreds or even thousands of miles away.