Self taped auditions: The pro's & con's

Covid changed a lot of things for us actors. The industry took a horrific beating and it will take many years to come out the other end. But with any significant event happening in the world there are always positive and negative changes that occur and that goes for how the industry now runs it's audition process.

Before the pandemic self taping was becoming the new normal for screen casting. It was starting to get more and more popular in the tv world. With iPhones getting significantly better and with increasing time constraints for casting director and directors, especially with a huge amount being shot overseas, it was a useful step forward for their side of the industry. The ability for them to watch a tape, send to the director, wherever they are in the world, without renting a space in London and paying an assistant to meet all the actors, was too good an opportunity. They were saving a huge amount of time and money without them even having to set food in London. They could watch tapes from their Uber, from the their kitchen, wherever. So, they ran with it. Especially for first round, and sometimes, second round auditions.

For us actors, self taping gets mixed reviews and understandably so. Some embrace it, citing nerves as a reason they would rather stay at home and tape in their own time. Others, feel it takes away the opportunity of connecting with and actually meeting the casting director. Both are valid. A recent video of Brian Cox, Samuel L Jackson and some other famous actors discussing self taped auditions was recently shared online. Brian Cox (Succession) added that his son, also an actor, was sending out tons of audition tapes during lockdown and hearing nothing back, which almost made him, in his words 'suicidal'. This brings up the main issue of the self tape process being impersonal. Not meeting the casting director, learning lines at home, filming it yourself, never having communicated or met any of the 'team' can, when you have the privilege of getting regular self tapes, feel extremely frustrating, especially with the added issue of never hearing anything back from the casting director, which is most often the case and is an issue within the entire industry: not getting a yes or no. It is something we actor, sadly, just have to just accept. That we will only likely hear anything back if we are successful. This can feel extremely disheartening. Especially when you have just spent all the hours available to you learning lines and working on a script you feel you are perfect for, and hearing nothing back. It's tough and our resilience needs to be on constant high alert.

On the other hand self taping has it's benefits. We no longer have to travel, which, let's face it, can be expensive. I remember travelling to an audition with a casting director, who worked from their home, way out of London. I got caught in torrential rain on route whilst having to walk across a motorway and arrived sopping wet and freezing. It put me off my audition as I couldn't recover from dripping all over her floors and being soaked through. There was no time to dry myself. This is only one example, I know, but these things do happen.

With self-taping, we also get the opportunity to do the audition in our most relaxed state of mind. If we are filming at home with a friend, there is less pressure not being 'in the audition room'. As actors, we are always likely to give our most authentic performance when we feel at ease, which is why the best casting director's are the ones that understand this and create that kind space for actors to enter. We also get the opportunity to do as many takes as we want and choose our favourite. We can then send a couple of options to our agents to let them decide which one they want to forward to the casting director. So self taping does give you the actor more creative control.

Since the pandemic, there has been a huge shift in how everyone works and where they work from. During lockdown there was no option than to resort to Zoom and work from home. It opened up a huge doorway for people to find more freedom and not have to run the rat race every morning on the tubes. It meant people could move back to the countryside and be closer to their families, reducing rent prices and travel costs. A lot shifted during this time including for us actors. Making self tapes the new normal has meant that we can be anywhere in the world and still get the opportunity to be seen for a role. The industry can seem very 'London-centric' but now there is more pressure on the casting process opening up to all areas rather than excluding people who live in Manchester because they can't spend £50 on a ticket to London just for an audition. Now, they can just send a tape. This alone, is a huge step forward in creating a more inclusive industry and opening the door to more actors. If you are abroad or working away because you need the money, you are now less likely to worry that a last minute audition will come in and you will have to be in London. If you are away on you well earned holiday - which for too long actors have felt guilty for taking! I know I have, you can now go away and send a tape. I have filmed many a self tape from the hotels of Europe. I recently shot one and the hotel room had awful grey walls - PERFECT for a self tape background.

Drama school auditions are now mostly online and this is a good thing. Many of my students feel that they fire a tape into the ether and worry they'll never get it looked at but this is not the case. Auditioning for drama school is so costly and with people applying from all over the world it means, again, doors are now open. Applicants no longer have to travel and spend the night in a hotel on multiple occasions because they want to audition for five or six different schools around the country. They can send a tape to all the schools and then if they get to a final recall round, they can then spend that money on travel. So there are huge benefits here too.

Wherever you sit in this debate, self taped auditions are to stay. I am sure a balance will come back in time but it will still be acceptable for people to tape if they are unable to make an audition in person. This gives us actors huge flexibility which we've never quite had in this way. What we lose in informality of not meeting the casting director, we seem to win in other ways.

Lee Knight.

17th Junem 2022.

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