I have a sneaking suspicion that for some Casting Directors, the global pandemic has done them a bit of a favour.
It’s now more common than ever for your first attempt to book that acting job to be by sending a self-tape. And blimey, does it save the Casting Director a whole lot of precious time now there’s less travelling to be done and formal introductions to be made in person.
Let’s face it, as much as they want every actor who walks into the room to be THE one, all too often it’s clear very quickly who is NOT going to get the role.
So self taping has become the standard in being able to sift the wheat from the chaff.
Some actors come to ACS just to film their self tapes in our studio. They arrive, often last minute, and rush to meet a deadline. Often they’ve had little time to prepare, and have had no objective help in making their performance decisions. They’re guided by instinct alone.
Playing it ‘safe’ is just another way of being terrified to ‘get it wrong’. Thus they typically produce a muted performance because it’s safer to make gentle choices rather than bold ones. That’s why (to be fair) some Casting Directors miss the personal interaction, because sometimes they get more energy and emotional bandwidth information from the individual’s personal behaviour than from their performance.
The problem is, how can you get something wrong when you have no idea what ‘right’ is? Some of the guidelines or backstory you might get with your audition sides isn’t that helpful - there’s often too few clues in the text as to the type of behaviour or character traits that the Author imagined. And that’s to be expected because otherwise dialogue would be terribly expositional.
It’s the Actor’s job to unearth the personality of the character and bring them to life, through purposeful behaviour and a genuine connection to the underlying meaning or message of the text.
The problem is most of their training hasn’t really taught them the tools they need to quickly and effectively analyse a scene, and then to go about making bold choices. They may have a loose idea of what the character wants, but it’s often too vague. They haven’t figured out how to play the scene in a very specific and deliberate way which shows a consistent set of behaviours that create the illusion of character in the audience's (or Casting Director’s) mind.
At ACS, we do offer coaching for actors who are auditioning - for everything from BBC pilots to Netflix shows and Studio Feature Films. Those that are most successful are those that allow us to help them figure out what a character WANTS, pick a good TASK to go with it, and have some really juicy SUBTEXT to imbue the lines with real meaning.
Whether they hit the target that someone else has designed or not, at least they’ve given it their best and bravest shot.
Nick J Field
Acting Coach Scotland