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The Powerful Self-Tape Mindshift

Another week, another self-tape.

You didn’t get notes before hand. No one sent the script. There’s no one in the room to offer feedback or direction except your friend/Mom/camera operator at the self-tape shop. And none of them can possibly know what the decision makers want. All you have to draw from is a cryptic, seemingly contradictory character breakdown that was written by an intern. (“She’s a sinner AND a saint”).

So, you guess at some choices, shoot too many takes, pick the one you think makes your hair look great (that also has that one really great moment at the end), edit it together and send it off to the agent or to casting. It’s a message in a bottle, tossed into an ocean teeming with bottles.

Will anyone see it?

Does it even matter?

Self-tapes have created incredible opportunities but have also drained the audition process of the kind of collaboration that actors have been used to. “Ok, let’s try it again but this time I want you to…,” isn’t a phrase actors hear much anymore. And what’s worse, you got into this for the human connection of it all in the first place; the collaboration, the relationships you explore with other actors in the work and the feedback you get from an audience. The collaboration is what got you hooked when you were putting on plays in your parents basement. So, this soul-crushing new paradigm can feel even worse than getting bad feedback. It’s not even being disliked. It’s being ignored. And that’s where many actors get stuck. They don’t like the new way, won’t accept it and so resistance emerges everytime they self-tape. “There’s chip on their shoulder everytime they do a self-tape. “Well, I don’t know what the hell you want, so what about this? Happy now?” Or worse, they detach completely. Their work and careers suffer.

And there’s also so much to like about self taping. The actor in Sao Paulo, San Dimas or Spokane now has the same potential to have their great work seen as an actor living down the street from the production office in North Hollywood. And beyond the geographic limitations, a great self-tape sent by an actor without an agent is now a viable way to get work scene without representation.

The double edged-sword of technology is that it connects while it isolates. And for actors, whose job it is to emotionally connect on the most human level possible, utilizing technology to your advantage so it doesn’t isolate is essential. And now that means figuring out self taping.

All it takes is one small shift. It can change everything.

You can let the lack of direction or collaboration of any kind leave you feeling lost, rudderless, helpless, a passenger on a pilot-less plane gliding to nowhere. Or you can see it as an amazing opportunity to be the damn captain. No notes, means it’s all on you. You can’t collaborate in real-time with the decision makers- that opportunity isn’t available to you. So, you have to lead. One quick shift turns you into the director of the self-tape. 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.

You must see every self-tape as an opportunity to create, to take full ownership of the work of it, to promote yourself to creative director of the piece.

And the amazing thing about approaching your self-tapes with leadership is that they’re way more fun to do. As opposed to trying to get it right or fulfill a vision that you aren’t privy to, and limiting yourself, you get to create. In fact you have to. You can’t do the work of the scene if elements of the scene are unclear to you. And if you say, “well I couldn’t be specific because I didn’t have the information”, you’re shirking your responsibility to be an actor. You have to make choices. So, all the blanks that would have gotten filled when you walked into the room and asked the director, now have to get filled by you. They get to be of you and your imagination. Now, you’re really a creator. So, the self-tape will include more of your artistry because it has to. And it’s that kind of creative freedom and bold leadership that makes your work stand out. Cause, the truth is, even when you’re in the room, getting specific notes from a director who is working with you, you still have to offer all of your artistry. You still have to be a leader. You still have to be a captain, not a passenger.

And, yes this means that you will make creative choices that the writers don’t “agree with”. But that’s the price of being a leader. And at the very least you need to show them that you made and committed to really strong choices. That shows them you can act and that’s what makes them want to see you again.

So let’s celebrate the self-tape. Turn it into an artistic ceremony that excites you. Make it something you look forward to do by seeing it as an opportunity for you to direct, to act, to create, to do what you love without limitations.

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