There are many phrases we keep hearing this year, but one that seems most common is the saying “the new normal”. For actors, “the new normal” is especially prevalent regarding self tape auditions.
Self tapes are a blessing and a curse. Actors generally like them because they get to film at their convenience, in the comfort of their own home, with a reader of their choice. However, they find downsides in that they don’t get to interact with the people reviewing the audition. This takes away their opportunity to take redirects or adjustments.
Covid has added many more obstacles, making self tapes a much more difficult feat.
Actors are finding self tapes to be getting increasingly more flustering. Every casting office has their own set of instructions for how they want the tapes to be done, starting with how they each prefer the execution of the slate. This begs the question, why is there no universal slate?
If you’re reading this article, you probably already know what a slate is. But, just in case, a traditional slate is an actor saying their name, what role they’re reading, and, if under 18, their age. Covid has completely changed the slate game. Now, casting offices are asking for increasingly more and more complicated information in addition to the traditional slate materials. They now often have to add their location, union status, agent, special skills, height, and, once in a while, something interesting about themselves. Sometimes slates can be longer than the actual auditions. Some people have even reported up the three pages of slate instructions.
Then, there’s the full body shot.
Casting offices often send the instruction to film the auditions with the camera in landscape instead of portrait. This creates limitations. Actors get freaked out because many don’t have the room in their homes for shots that wide. Others don’t like them because they have to zoom so far back that it reveals their entire room in which they’re filming. This often makes a professional-looking setup look like an unprofessional mess.
Maybe if actors understood the importance of all of these instructions, it would help.
Why do they have to give all of this information now that they have to film auditions remotely? Casting offices didn’t seem to need it before when they were putting actors on tape for producers/directors.
Most casting offices use the Actors Access feature Eco Cast. Actors Access has changed the way that EcoCast works by splitting the information into two different notifications. The first is the CMail notification, which then redirects you to the actual EcoCast audition invitation. More often than not, the information has slight variations on the two notifications, which makes things confusing for the actor. These differences are usually in regards to character notes and slate instructions. Why are there so often discrepancies in the same audition notice?
A further obstacle now during Covid times is finding someone to operate the camera and be the reader.
Where this used to be fairly easy, Covid has made it trickier because of social distancing measures, which casting offices (understandably) reinforce. Actors have to have someone remotely call in to read the lines, which leaves the actor to operate the camera. This is an incredibly frustrating and time-consuming task, especially with finding the correct framing for themselves.
Additionally, having to provide your own reader for every audition can be a challenge.
When in-person auditions were the main method, same-day auditions were easier. This is because the reader was provided and actors didn’t have to scramble around looking for someone who happened to be available on that day. However, with every audition being a self-tape, it’s often the case that the actor has to sacrifice much of their prep time to find a reader. This is time that they would prefer to dedicate to the character and script.
Casting offices also seem to be expecting more and more with the quality of the self-tapes.
It used to be that the only requirements regarding quality were “make sure we can hear and see you”. Now, many want professional lighting and crystal clear sound. This is difficult for actors who live alone and/or can’t afford the expensive equipment required to keep up with the quality that others are producing. Some casting offices have even sent out instructions requesting a particular color for the background. This incredibly specific instruction is impossible if the actor’s walls don’t match the color requested and they lack backdrops to alternate between. It’s very stressful because the actor wonders if their tape is being dismissed as a result of their inability to follow the instructions to the letter.
Then, it’s time to submit.
Since every casting office operates differently, actors are having to juggle between several different submission methods. The most frequent is EcoCast. But then there’s also DropBox, WeTransfer, CastItTalent, and more. It’s no wonder that actors are confused and frustrated because there is no universal self-tape process.
With some of these services, the actor gets notified when the casting office has downloaded and/or watched the audition. This has made it apparent to actors that it is common for casting to not watch all of the tapes. This means that casting directors go through hundreds, sometimes thousands of submissions, pick a handful of actors to audition. These actors then go through the whole process listed above of producing an audition, and then the casting office does not watch it. This is frustrating for actors because of the time it takes to coordinate filming the auditions, the immense amount of work the actors put into the scripts, and the fact that they are doing this for no money.
On the flip side, other services do not notify the actor whether or not their tape has been watched.
This can be just as discouraging, especially with the prior knowledge that their tapes don’t always get viewed. Many actors have expressed a wish that their time and effort be paid off with the professional courtesy of having confirmation that the tape requested of them has been received and watched.
Although virtual auditions are still an option, many casting directors opt to have actors put themselves on tape instead.
The actors are then left to, essentially, do this part of the casting director’s job and are not compensated for it. It’s obviously not financially feasible to pay every actor who sends in a self tape. Therefore, viewing confirmation would be much appreciated. This also begs the question, are casting directors taking a pay cut since part of their jobs have dissolved?
There appears to be a violation of SAG-AFTRA rules regarding sign-in sheets during video call auditions. This is possibly because no rule has been established yet. Many casting offices are not providing the sign-in sheets since it’s virtual. This means that if auditions run long and actors have to wait an hour or more to do their audition, they won’t receive compensation. According to SAG-AFTRA, if you wait for over an hour at an audition, you get paid. Having no sign-in sheet means no paper trail for the time an actor spends on hold while they wait to be called into the virtual audition room.
Hopefully this is just a phase, growing pains; not the actual “new normal”, but the casting world figuring out an effective “new normal”. In the meantime, actors will continue to have to deal with the gymnastics required to create the best quality self-tapes they can. Everyone will be relieved when the day comes of in-person auditions being the go-to method once more.
Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash