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Ch-ch-ch-changes! The self tape requests have just made their way to commercials, folks. Well, that’s not exactly true. The first time I was asked to gather a few self tapes for a job was about 5 years ago. It was for a SAG job. Production had added a completely “new role” after the job had been cast, talent had their wardrobe fitting, and they were on day one of the shoot. Instead of booking from headshot/resume/reel or hold an additional casting session (which we didn’t really have time for) they asked that I have 5 or so actors put themselves on tape. Nothing crazy, just with their phone, no fancy camera or lights necessary. It was a new request to me… but it certainly made sense. And the requests and the circumstances have continued to evolve and roll in from there. 

Commercial actors should never be unprepared for a commercial self tape request.

Did you think the self tape requests only come in on low budget non union jobs? They do, but that isn’t all. There are self tape requests that come on jobs that have no callbacks, but the powers-that-be need more info on the talent that are on the short list. This happens occasionally with both union and non union jobs. The self tape requests are made in place of first calls with in-person callbacks… the theatrical model, for union/non union commercials. And, the requests are made for decent pay non union jobs as well. I guess what I’m saying is it is happening, and for jobs all over the spectrum. There are production companies that specialize in low budget jobs (union/non union) that have been casting their own jobs via the self tape request, and are now asking casting directors to handle the task. For good or for bad, it’s happening. It is happening more and more.

What does that mean to you?

You need to decide if you are willing and able to accommodate this request. I’d like to think most of you fall in the able and willing category. The ones dragging their feet will likely come around eventually as it becomes increasingly common.

Feeling not-so-hot about it? Find the silver lining. In my experience, if you just say yes and treat it as seriously as you treat an in-person appointment then you’ll be in very good shape to book the job. I personally don’t request as many tapes per role as I’d see in a live session. And, not all the requestees actually get their tape in. I’d guess actors are still wrapping their heads around accommodating the request commercially and can’t always make the quick turnaround… or simply don’t want to. The fewer the actors, the better your chances of booking. Once everyone catches on this advantage will diminish, so I say get on the train early. With self tape only jobs, it’s (usually) a one and done situation. One round of effort and you book the job or don’t. That’s attractive too.

Do you need to go to a self tape studio? No. But you sure can if that makes it doable for you. Commercial self tapes aren’t at the “production level” of theatrical tapes, at least not yet. You don’t need the studio or the acting coach. If you can spring for it, great! But I don’t think it’s necessary at this point. That being said, throwing just anything together doesn’t exactly work, either. There are plenty of “how to self tape” articles all over the internet. I won’t be giving you that. But I can tell you what is important to me:

*A buddy or tripod that keeps the camera/phone from sitting on whatever you can find, showing you at a terrible angle. Double chins don’t look good on anyone.

*Lighting that makes you look good. When in doubt watch what you’ve taped. If you look like death, you need to add more warm light.

*The ability to give a full body shot as well as closeup. We like those in commercials.

*Decent sound. It doesn’t need to be amazing (yet) but we do need to be able to hear you. Echoes (and barking dogs) are distracting.

*Neutral background, or close to it. A bookshelf, kitchen or full apartment is, you guessed it, distracting as well.

This may seem like a no brainer, but look good in your self tape! Follow the wardrobe/hair/makeup instructions. Memorize the copy or be really familiar with it. Put up a cue card instead of carrying the script. Wrangle a reader if you need one. Set yourself up just like the in-person commercial auditions you go in for. For whatever reason, I’ve noticed a difference in appearance and delivery when actors self tape. There’s no reason/no excuse for a lesser level of prep. A self tape request is a commercial audition. Treat it like one.

Put on the clothes, do the hair, learn the script… and cover the production basics (light, sound, background) and you just might nab a job or two in the comfort of your own home. Whether you like it or not, turn the trend into a positive for YOU.

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Laurie Records (Casting Director, CCDA) has been working in the commercial realm since 2004. In 2009, Laurie launched her own company. While she casts all types of commercials, she has broadened her horizons to include casting web content for network television, television hosts, voiceover, industrials, and dabbles in casting features and short films. Recent commercial jobs include: Head & Shoulders, Mercedes, and KMART. She also cast the new Movie Surfers for seasons 16/17, as well as online content for The Muppets.