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Take 2 Stools - How self-tape auditions are changing the face of the casting process

Take 2 stools, a pile of hard backed books, a table, a cuddly toy, and a big wad of blu tack: what have you got?  You guessed: the beginnings of a rather shaky, somewhat lopsided, and rather unconvincing self-tape. The stuffed toy “Panda” taped to the bed post to serve as my trusty eyeline /silent reader back in the day when I was unable to coral my toddlers to feed me the ”off lines”; the stools balancing the tripod stacked on top of the books; the blu tac: an attempt to lodge in place my I phone while attempting to record quickly “in landscape” before it dislodged itself and pinged across the room shattering its face on the wall opposite. Pretty hard to keep a straight face as the parcel tape slowly yielded to the gravity of the sliding stuffed animal.

“What do ya think Roger?” I asked my agent about the resulting file I finally managed to dropbox over to the agency.

“Ummm… I think it might help if you were to consider getting a REAL person to read the other lines for you”.

I was resistant to the whole self-tape thing…surely they could just watch some of my work, or

“Can’t you just get me in the room Roger?”.

“Darling: even Helen Mirren has to do self–tapes” came the response.

And so it was I evolved: dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century of the elusive/mysterious Self-Tape.

FROM DUCK-TAPED PANDA TO LOWER CARBON

It’s the way of the world now, the casting world, and I have progressed from the duck-taped panda bear strapped to my bedstead. Directors flying in to London from all over the world for rounds of initial meetings with potential castings are a thing of the past. These little self-tapes lovingly/stressfully/time-consumingly composed in people’s bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, wherever the light is decent and the noise level sufficiently low, wing their way across the oceans, thus obviating the need for international travel to cull that first picking. So, if we’re looking for pros here, that’s got to be good for carbon footprint.

But what have we lost in the process? What about those who don’t have the financial or technological resources to deliver these often high-spec requirements of the home tape? If we could remove the fronts of the homes of the aspiring self-tape giver, dolls-house style, the diverse array of set-ups would, I know, be surprising. From full-on scenarios with lights, soft boxes, remote activated recording, stable tripods which don’t require balancing on stacks of old books, or blu-tack to keep your recording device in landscape mode; to the hopeful innocent, precariously stretching out a selfy-stick with phone on flip. Do these casting directors have any idea how challenging this can be? Or how demanding their seemingly simple instructions are?

WE DIDN’T SIGN UP TO BE CIVIL ENGINEERS

We didn’t sign up to be civil engineers, sound engineers, camera operators; and we certainly didn’t sign up to the humiliation of the self –taped ident! This has surely to be the worst part: the full-length pan up the body to the face where you have to say as the camera reaches you.

“Hi! I’m Juliet Aubrey; I’m 5 foot 8 inches; and I’m based in London”.

Very hard to keep it (the slating part) serious, but perhaps this is the key here: a bit of levity in these circumstances goes a long way. I remember sitting in a café in Sofia, Bulgaria whilst filming “Fallen" in 2010 and getting into a heated conversation with the other actors…..

”Have you been asked to do one of these “self-tape” things yet?“

A vibrant discussion on the outrageousness of actors being expected to do these meetings virtually rather than in person, followed.

“Don’t give in. Just refuse. If we all stick together they won’t pursue it. It’ll fade out!” I remember my fellow actor saying.

So how far have we come on from that time? When self-tapes were just not “a thing”. My home set-up is now pretty smooth. I’ve got the technicals down; and there are some good apps online to help with speedy line learning for those times when you need to turn things around in a few hours. With some you can even record both your own lines and those of the other characters in the scene, which helps a lot with embedding those lines in your head before you engage the help of a willing/bribed child, neighbour, or fellow actor to read the off lines. You can mute your own lines and just feed yourself the cue lines whilst out say on a socially distanced run. I’m lucky in my community in south east London to have a few actress friends who regularly help with the process of giving lines off, and I help them in return. It’s a circular giving out /receiving which always feels good, together with the feeling of solidarity to handle the “audacious” demands of the home self-taping.

YOUR BEST SHOT

One of the biggest pros of this changing face of the casting process lies in the name itself: It’s a SELF-tape, which means you can do it again and again and again, providing your reader has the patience to stick with you, until you are happy with your take. Generally, I never am: always thinking I could improve it, do it better…and of course the irony is that often it’s the first take, the one you decided to record even though you weren’t quite ready; “Hey, let’s just put this one on tape in case something miraculous happens” that’s the best one of the lot: the one you end up sending. I do like the sense of camaraderie in adversity it has induced in auditionees, and I especially like the huge amounts of belly laughter it inevitably produces particularly when my daughter Lola-blue and I are trying to be serious with the body-panning idents; but no matter how far I have come with the technology and regardless of the fact that I am now pretty “au-fey” with self-taping, I still always prefer to “get in the room” with the director for an audition. What have we lost? And is it a level playing field?

Now of course the “socially – distanced corona virus self-tape” is another ball game entirely. This photo is of my reading off lines for Lizzie Berrington during lockdown…her on her staircase and me on a chair in the open front doorway in a socially distanced set-up.  

by Juliet Aubrey Saturday 22nd May 2020 My Back Garden

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