Self Taping: Where Casting Is Headed

Self Taping: Where Casting Is Headed

Not long ago, if you had a voice over audition, chances are you’d head to your agent’s office or a recording studio. Maybe you’d head to an ad agency. Someone would sit it a room and record your takes, cut them together and send them to the client.

That was when the barriers to having a home studio were still high. You needed high-priced microphones, confusing software and all the ancillary stuff that helped you do the job: stands, audio interfaces, cables and such. But then, something happened, and quickly. Those barriers started coming down. Falling like bricks, actually.

Someone invented a USB microphone and suddenly you could have a home studio for around $100. It wasn’t anywhere near the quality of what you’d get at a recording studio or even your agent’s office, but it did the trick. And boy did the industry notice.

Seemingly overnight, everyone in the long list of entities listening to an audition – agents, casting directors, ad agencies, copywriters, producers and clients – all decided that these auditions were fine. No longer did talent have to hoof it to an outside location to read for jobs. Now they not only could, but should, record at home.

This removed a lot of friction from the voiceover audition process. It freed up agents to do other things. It shortened turnaround time for ad agencies. Writers and producers could now put out an audition in the morning and get dozens of results by the afternoon. Because everything happened online, talent could audition for clients anywhere, not just in their home market.

This is now happening in the on camera world. What once took thousands of dollars worth of equipment can now be done basically for free thanks to smartphones. A couple years ago, having on-camera actors tape their own auditions was still a new idea. But boy, have we gotten used to it. Personally, I’d say half of all my auditions are self taped now, and I’m sure that number’s going higher. There are casting offices in Los Angeles that don’t bring actors in, they ask them to self tape. I can only assume there will be more like them, and eventually, the idea of actors heading to a casting office for a first audition is going to be a thing of the past. Sure, there will always be people who want to meet talent before they hire them, but really, there’s nothing stopping the industry from following the VO lead.

This presents a new challenge for actors. In addition to knowing how to act, we’ll have to become directors, editors, camera operators, lighting designers, sound techs, and we’ll have to invest in the gear required to produce an audition that looks and sounds great. For now, everyone can use their phones and stand beside a window because self taping is still a relatively new phenomenon.

But just wait until expectations go up. In VO, talent buyers cut us some slack and didn’t make an issue of audio quality at first. Everyone realized this was a new skill, and talent had to bring themselves up to speed on how to record at home. But then buyers got picky. I started seeing “no iPhone auditions” written on scripts. Everyone had to up their game or be eliminated based on audio quality alone.

Guess what? That’s going to happen in on camera auditions. Today you can get away with your phone, but tomorrow? Nope. I see a future where actors aren’t just judged by our acting, but by our ability to produce a technically good audition as well. It’ll go from iPhones and blank walls to DSLR’s with cinematic lenses on ball-head tripods flanked by LED lighting kits and boom mics in front of custom backdrops in your living room.

Is this fair? Nah. But this business isn’t really fair.

Actors have two choices: Start boning up on self taping skills, or get cozy with the people a their local taping facility. My advice is to head straight into the problem instead of trying to get around it, so I recommend learning the basics. If you make the investment in education, time and gear, you might use it some other way in other aspects of your life. You can start by downloading my free Self-Tape Resource Guide on actinginchicago.com.

There are some great taping facilities, but I wouldn’t see them as a long term solution. Nothing about that scenario is ideal. You don’t know your readers, there can be little to no coaching, availability can be an issue (especially on short notice), and turnaround times can be slow. Plus, you’re paying for every. Single. Audition. The facilities that charge you extra for getting your file quickly are particularly gross, in my opinion. Avoid all that by learning how to shoot quality auditions yourself.

Your career just might depend on it.