In many ways, the playing field of the Industry has never been this level for actors. From your apartment anywhere in the world, you can capture your talent on video, send it off in the blink of an eye, and be considered for some of the biggest roles that the Industry has to offer. The self-tape is now Industry standard. Given the choice, some directors, show-runners, and executives even prefer it to being in the room with actors. Even if you’re thousands of miles away, you have the power to affect people in Los Angeles and New York. And even if you’re not in the room for a session, your self-tape is likely to be watched more now than ever before. But you still need the tools to use that power.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Talent is Talent.
Actors can look for reasons to sabotage. One way is to tell yourselves that what happens in the big leagues is SO different than where you currently are. “I know acting here, but I am expected to do something else for Hollywood.” We call BS. Talent is talent. Never doubt that. Yes, some shows have a particular tone or pace. But that’s an easy pivot. Technical elements of tone and pace happen after you’ve brought the full force of your talent. If you don’t show up with your unique creative talent, it won’t matter that the pace or tone was “right.” If you hear the voice in your head telling you that your work isn’t good enough for the big leagues, call BS on yourself and come back to the work.
2. “But I Don’t Know What They Want.”
Yeah, self-tapes have leveled the playing field for actors anywhere. But not being in the room with the actual decision makers can be frustrating What do they want? And how can you give them what they want when you can’t ask them? Part of the beauty of the self-tape is that they always require artistic leadership. You have to fill in the blanks yourself. You can’t let the lack of direction leave you lost or rudderless. You have to trust your gut and direct yourself.
Not sure of the tone of the show because it’s not on the air and you can’t ask anyone in the room? Leadership means trusting your own instincts and deciding what the tone is for you. Not even sure if you’re the killer in the episode of that procedural drama because the sides don’t tell you and you can’t ask anyone in the room? Leadership means deciding for yourself, making the choice, even if it ends up being wrong. You can waste time trying to figure out what’s inside the mind of a showrunner you’ve never met (and P.S. she’s not exactly sure what the scene should look like either) or you can take command, make your own choices that are of your artistic instincts, and show her what the scene can be. Like it or not, leadership is the only way. The Industry is not suddenly going to change to give you all the information you need to feel comfortable making choices. But the Industry will always favor leaders.
3. Lo-Fi is in!
Don’t for a second let the technical part of self-taping hold you back. And you don’t have to pay someone to shoot your audition. First of all, your self-tape doesn’t have to be visually breathtaking. In fact, if it does, it might distract the viewer from your work. The only question to ask is, “Can they see me clearly?” “Can they hear me clearly?” “Can they hear the reader off camera well enough to hear the scene?” Said a different way, the only thing you need to worry about are distractions. Get rid of anything that gets in the way of the viewer seeing and hearing your talent. If you’re taping in front of a wall with some hideous, brightly colored floral print, that can be distracting. If we can’t hear what you’re saying because you live above the subway, that will be distracting. Just use a camera that can take a clear picture of you, shoot yourself in a quiet space with natural light that isn’t behind you (don’t backlight), and shoot it against a neutral background. Try to get a generous reader who knows how to support you and your work. Then do your work and have fun!
And if you feel more comfortable having your self-tape shot in a studio, make sure you’re prepared. You know your lines, you’ve made strong, personal choices, and you’re focused, excited, and ready to engage. You’re showing up to work as if you’re showing up to set to shoot. Nothing less will succeed.
4. You must be brilliant.
No matter what it looks like, if the work you present isn’t amazing, it probably won’t get noticed. The self-tape can often feel easier and offer less pressure than reading in person, but you can’t get comfy or lazy. You must prepare. Lose yourself in the joy of preparing for the self-tape. Step away from “getting it right” or giving them what they want, and find the scene within you. Look at this as a chance to work at the level you know you’re capable of. This is your “take,” your best work. Make bold, personal choices, explore and discover in the work. When you’ve done that kind of work, it reveals itself as leadership and strength. It moves us and we want to see more of it.
5. Let it go.
Beyond the possibilities of fame and fortune, the self-tape offers an opportunity for you to act. You don’t need an agent; you don’t need permission. You can get a breakdown and tape the scene on your own. You can do what you love. And the more you can see the self-tape as an opportunity to play, explore, discover, and find the joy in that, the better your work will be. If self-taping becomes nothing but an exercise in investing your time and money into work that never gets seen or validated (“I mean, does anyone even watch my tape?”) your work will suffer. At every level actors have to stave off the plague of bitterness, and of hopelessness. If you start feeling that way, you have to do the work of finding joy in the work again. Ask yourself, “What do I have to do to find joy in making this tape?” To the bitter mind, the answer may feel at odds with booking. “Well, if I do what I want to do, they won’t like it, it won’t be right.” Never doubt the power of your passion. And besides, none of the decision-makers really know what they want anyway. They’re waiting for you to move them.
Do this kind of work, do it consistently, do it with the lust you have for acting, and it will travel thousands of miles across the country (or world) and be the disruptive force that gets the Industry to pay attention and book you work. We’ve seen it happen over and over. Now is the power of the self-tape!