Thursday, August 7, 2014

Do's and Don't of Taping Auditions

Editors NOTE: I strongly recommend you add this to your blog list to check on a regular basis. I have added a link in the right hand column of this blog. Material is to be credited to the site link above and Showfax.  The authors are highly recommended by actors I trust.

This casting process on this film was not unique. I have now cast many projects wherein the technical savor faire of the actor was what got him or her the role over someone else who may have been just as good, but who was intimidated by the technical aspect of auditioning online. 
Click on "read more" or on the showfax link above to continue reading about the use of audition tapes, self taping and how the industry is changing rapidly.

John Noughton in the Observer recently noted that "In spite of all the answers the Internet has given us, its full potential to transform our lives remains the great unknown."Well I know that the Internet has transformed my life, because when I started casting in the '90s, it would have been impossible to cast a project in my pajamas, like I did this winter. Okay so I'm exaggerating, I did get out of my pajamas a few times to walk my dog. But I swear I never had to leave my desk in Prague when I cast American, British, and German actors onSniper: Reloaded, which shot in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Sniper: Reloaded--a sequel to the original the Tom Berenger Sniper--is like many smaller scale projects in production these days, and I see the trend increasing. It is a low budget co-production, in this case made possible by German and South African funds, then sold to the US. Because of the complicated funding structure, this co-production demanded certain quotas of European, and South African cast and crew, as well as Americans. There was no travel budget for me to fly around and meet actors (too bad for me), nor for actors to meet the director,Claudio Gaeh, for callbacks.

The process went like this: I posted a breakdown to Breakdown Services in the US, Spotlight and The Casting Scene in the UK, and E-Talenta in Europe. Once we compiled a long list, I sent out sides to various actors, who taped themselves, and posted their vids on Breakdown Services in LA. The producers, director, and I viewed auditions, made another short list, and the finalists interviewed with director Claudio Faeh on Skype. Faeh was by now in Johannesburg for pre-production. We never met a single actor in person, and the candidates never had to leave their homes in order to be considered.

What surprised me, however, was the amount of actors who missed this opportunity. Out of 505 applicants for the male lead in the US, for example, we invited 75 actors to post auditions. From that list, only forty actors came through. What happened? Did thirty-five actors decide that they didn't want to star in a film? Were they afraid to fly to South Africa? Did they berate their agents for putting them up for the role? I doubt it. I'm thinking that they either weren't prepared with the necessary technology to complete the task, or they were intimidated by this process. I got several, "But how do I manage it?" type emails.

This casting process on this film was not unique. I have now cast many projects wherein the technical savor faire of the actor was what got him or her the role over someone else who may have been just as good, but who was intimidated by the technical aspect of auditioning online. Being a Luddite in these times could cost an actor the job.

As part of every actor's bag of tools should be the following:
  • a simple video camera with tripod and/or functioning webcam (many computers come equipped with these)
  • access to a computer and the Internet
  • a friend (could be a non-actor) to read the other role and possibly operate the camera
  • a basic know-how on self taping
Here is an excerpt from my book, Secrets from the Casting Couch, On Camera Strategies for Actors from a Casting Director:
A lot of it sounds like common sense, but if you could see the tapes I've seen... whew... well let's just say it could make an excellent comedy of errors.

Dos and Don'ts of Self Taping
  • Start with a wide shot that shows your entire body, both profiles, and then zoom in for the introduction. Introduce yourself breifly, saying your name, height, and maybe a few friendly facts about yourself.
  • Keep your shots simple. Face camera and expose at least three-quarters of your face most of the time. Aim the camera at eye level.
  • Have your scene partner read off-screen and close to the camera lens. The camera should always be on you.
  • Use a simple solid colored background. You don't have to rent a studio. It can be a wall in your home.
  • Sit close to the mic, or use seperate clip-on mic.
  • Practice with several takes, but just choose a few to actually send. (You can include a link to a reel if you wish as well.)
  • Send in one medium shot (from the waist up) and one close-up (just face).
  • Make sure your eyes are well lit. Film acting is all about the eyes. If we can't see your eyes, you've deprived yourself of your most precious tool.
  • Announce your age, or extrapolate too long on your biography. (Leave out the story about your cat having her period.)
  • Get fancy with editing or shooting. You're not making a film. You're simply showcasing your take on the role, the same way we would in the casting studio.
  • Focus the camera on any actor other than yourself, unless you want your friend to get a role. Believe me, I've seen it: "He's not so great, but what about her?"
  • Shoot on a location, use elaborate sets, costumes and props. If the set it more interesting than you, then you're in trouble. If the scene takes place driving, please don't shoot the scene in your car. It's not necessary and will probably ruin your sound.
  • Let your scene partner be louder than you are. Sound is often one of the biggest problems in self-taped auditions. We gotta hear you!
  • Send in many takes. They won't be watched.
  • Show a lot of blank wall space over your head. One of the biggest problems for actors seems to be centering themselves in frame.
  • Sit with the window behind you.
There are so many ways to send links now. There's YouTube, Vimeo, YouSendIt, etc. Make sure you read the directions that the production has outlined so they get your audition in the format that is easiest for them to view. Don't make them work to hard to see you. Enjoy the process of auditioning and acting. Self-taping gives you the freedom to do multiple takes and edit your own work. Have fun.

I remember when I asked actors to put themselves on tape to audition for the large supporting role of Ernest Borgnine's grandson in Another Harvest Moon. This was a wonderful opportunity, albeit in a low-budget indie film, to share the screen with an Oscar-winning legend, every scene. Exactly 35 actors took advantage of the opportunity and put themselves on tape. One agent even called me and screamed at me for asking that her client self-tape. How insulting! she said. This was in early 2008 and it does seem that folks are getting more hip to self-taped auditions now, but the point remains: There will be changes--and fast--in our industry thanks to technology. Be ready for it or be prepared to play catch-up. Your choice! I know you smart actors who read this column are already ahead of the game. Yay, you!

About Nancy Bishop
Nancy Bishop, CSA, is an Emmy-nominated casting director, author, acting coach, and head of the Film Acting Department at the Prague Film School. With more than 60 major feature film and television projects among her credits, Nancy has cast and instructed literally hundreds of actors throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, and the US. Nancy has been retained as casting director by dozens of major feature film and television producers and directors, including George Lucas, Joel Schumacher, and Roman Polanski. She also was nominated for an Emmy Award for her casting work on Anne Frank: The Whole Story for ABC/Disney Studios. Nancy specializes in casting in Prague, the film capital of Europe. Nancy is author of the recently released Secrets of the Casting Couch, the first book written from a casting director's perspective that teaches the craft of film casting and offers specific techniques for working in front of the camera. Part how-to and part workbook, Secrets contains valuable exercises that actors can practice to achieve results in the casting studio.

Nancy will be making the following appearances in LA in August:
For more information about any of these events, please visit

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