I believe there is some anxiety in the air over the expectations for commercial self tapes. The self-tape process for commercials is still a new thing, and it’s understandable that there could be lingering questions about what casting directors are looking for. I will forever stand by the idea that the actor should simply do the best they can do with their given circumstances at the time… and get it done!
Commercial actors should never fail to get the self tape done and turn it in!
Now, let’s be very honest, there’s a difference between doing the best you can with what you have, and putting forth a lackluster or indifferent effort. Getting your self tape done with as little effort or not as quickly as possible isn’t going to serve anyone well. You likely won’t get the callback or the job, and the casting director won’t have a good tape to show their client. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Control what you can control. Do these things 100% of the time when given a self-tape audition:
Confirm the audition.
This could be the simplest, yet profound thing you can do to help the process move along. Click on the green check to let the casting office know you will be submitting a self tape. Double check to make sure it “went through” and then, of course, turn the self tape in! Casting directors will love you for this. I’m not kidding.
Read all the information.
The amount of info provided varies from casting director to casting director and the timeline in which they are working, not to mention NDAs. Whatever you are given, read through it carefully and several times. It’s all there to help you get the job. When you think of it that way, skimming the material seems less interesting.
Watch the self-tape instructional video when one is provided.
It boggles the mind that an instructional video accompanying a self tape request may go unwatched…but it happens. Again, the sole purpose is to provide the info you need to book the job. Not all casting directors provide a video, but if they do, don’t skip watching it!
- Take notes. Write down a couple of keywords or direction that will help you stay on track. Some examples: subtle comedy, real reactions, not too big.
- Make a List. You can also make a list of the order of takes to make sure you don’t miss anything. An example: slate (hands and willing to shave), full body, take 1 and 2, answer personality question.
This is all the pre-work you always did before self taping that will serve you well to keep doing. Watch previous commercials, check out the director’s reel if you have the name, look into the product if it isn’t familiar, memorize your copy, etc.
Include ALL the steps.
Too many times, an actor neglects to do/send everything that was requested. Sometimes this is due to lack of attention (which is what I’m referring to now) and other times it’s because simply too much is being requested and it’s unrealistic (I’ll address that later). Double check all (written and video) info to make sure you didn’t miss anything before sending.
Here are some “just do your best with what you have” things to not lose your mind about:
I debated which category to put this in. Commercial wardrobe is wildly important. This is an area you might want to consistently be an overachiever; however, if you are on the road and don’t have access to your “at home” options, do the best you can! If you’d normally borrow a piece from a pal, but the timeline is too short, just do your best. Better to turn in a tape with mediocre wardrobe than not turn in a tape at all.
Neutral background/good lighting/good sound.
A commercial casting director will oftentimes ask you to have these “basics” in place. We want to focus on you and your performance, not what is on the bookshelf behind you. We want to see your face clearly, hence the good lighting request (frankly, natural light is fantastic) and we need to be able to hear you. I’m aware some of you are feeling pressure to have a pro-level set up. I don’t think that is anyone’s expectation. Just do the best you can! Film against a wall in your apartment if you don’t have a backdrop, just take down the art, temporarily. If you don’t have whatever great light you feel you need, use lamps! The mic on your phone will work! Don’t sweat this stuff if you don’t have everything up to what you feel is par. You can work towards what you feel is the right setup, but your performance is the most important. Don’t let anything stop you from turning in your tape.
A casting director may ask you to create a “set” or use a prop in their instructions. Do the best you can to accommodate the request or simply do the next best thing. If the request is to be sitting on a couch and that doesn’t work for you, for whatever reason, put two chairs together! If the script calls for you to use an iPad and you don’t have one, use a book that is about the same size, or, worst case scenario, mime it. Don’t let the lack of set/props stop you from completing the self tape.
Accommodating unrealistic requests.
Hopefully, this is lessening as commercial casting directors have moved along the learning curve, but if you feel like a request for your self tape is unrealistic or too much or impossible, just do the best you can. You will never book a job you didn’t submit on, and surely others are feeling the same way you are. Stay in the game, do the best you can to turn something in. When in doubt, ask yourself what we would do in the studio, and use that as your guiding light.
Accommodating unrealistic timelines.
Commercials are fast-paced and that hasn’t changed, but it may feel worse when it comes in self-tape form. When you know the turnaround is impossible, cancel. Casting directors know when making last-minute requests that this will happen. If you can put something together, even if it isn’t under ideal circumstances, go for it!
The takeaway is: control what you can control, which is quite a lot! Watch for a temptation to give a halfhearted attempt and reject it. Simply do the best you can and turn the self tape in!
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, industrials, and dabbles in film from time to time. Recent commercial jobs include: Fancy Feast, Dyson, Snapchat, Toyota, and Mutual of Omaha. Over the last couple of years, she’s worked on “This Just In…” for the Cartoon Network. Laurie also cast the Movie Surfers for seasons 16-18, as well as online content for The Muppets & Muppets Now. Laurie teaches one-day online commercial classes almost every month and will go back to attending Los Angeles theatre as soon as humanly possible.
IG: @commercialclassesbylaurie @laurierecordscasting