Over the last five years, there has been a surge in the number of movies created and released. Because of this, the casting process is undergoing a technological makeover to keep up with the demand.
This change is brought on by the evolution of the “self-tape.” To make a "self-tape," an actor can set up a small camera or even their smartphone in front of a solid background, provide some lighting and have a friend off-camera read the lines with them. The actor then sends the audition to the agent, who sends it off to the casting director.
This is certainly quicker than the traditional process according to Brenda Pauley, a film agent and co-owner of , one of the largest talent agencies in the Southeast. She describes how a courier used to bring the head shots from the agent to the casting director, who would go through all the hard copies to determine the actors they wanted to see.
“When I first started, there were some auditions that we got via DVD, not online links and emails,” says Drummer. “That was really the beginning of 'on-tape' auditions.”
An Actor's Perspective
As for actors, working from home is becoming the norm. Living on the East Coast, Atlanta-based actor Jesse Malinowski says self-tapes are an important facet in helping him book roles.
“Say, this week I have auditions in Wilmington, Miami and New Orleans. Obviously, I would never be able to make it to all those places, if it weren’t for the self-taping aspect,” he explains.
Actors normally would have to drive hours to and from auditions, but now with the help of technology, it’s less of an issue.
Victoria Temple, a film and television agent at People Store says, “It’s great because little pockets of America and globally are seeing more talent come to the forefront and are getting a chance, because their regional location isn’t a factor.”
Beyond the Hollywood Hills
Nationally and internationally, self-tapes are presenting actors with opportunities they might not otherwise have, says Megan McConnell of the Casting Society of America.
The Casting Society of America reaches far outside of the country, with members from Canada, Europe, Australia and Africa. One of its newest members is from Mumbai, India. Seher Latif from India casts many Bollywood productions, one of the largest entertainment providers.
“With the world shrinking and people from all over the world being able to communicate and be considered for projects way beyond their borders, you cannot shut out what technology can facilitate,” says Latif.
Los Angeles is known as the hub for casting, but the star-studded town is also making the digital transition. Joseph Pearlman, a celebrity acting coach, says there has been a “landslide shift” in self-tapes. He had seen film auditions conducted sporadically throughout the last few years, but notes that 2013 was when it really took off.
Convenience is a huge factor. “You can audition in your own house in your own room with basic tools and you can put yourself in competition for that role," says Pearlman.
“It’s going to truly revolutionize the industry when you have actors in Australia or actors who are in London or Boston realizing that they don’t have to move to Los Angeles," he says. "They can actually launch their career from the privacy of their own studio in Oklahoma!”
According to Pearlman, roughly 35 percent of his sessions are audition taping and coaching, as opposed to three years ago when audition taping was maybe 10 percent.
“Every year that number rises,” he says. "My prediction is that it will be 50 percent of my sessions by the end of the year.”
Transitioning to Tape
Drummer has also seen this trend as a casting director. She says out of every 30 or so people she auditions, at least half will be on tape. Of course, a wider scope of talent also means a wider scope of competition. And like anything else, the new technology does have its drawbacks.
As an agent, Temple explains that it is hard to get a sense of who this person is through tapes.
“There are some people that don’t audition well in person. And there are those who are marvelous in the room and they dazzle the client. That’s the downfall,” she says.
Many actors agree. While self-taping might seem easier, without the personal interaction it can make an actor’s job more challenging.
“I think it takes more confidence than it used to, because you’re not getting to feed off the reactions of the casting director,” says Aaron Smalls, another Atlanta actor. “Now it’s like acting in a sci-fi film. It’s you almost acting to a tennis ball, having to bring all that emotion and creativity and environment to it.”
Furthermore, to make the self-tape fully effective, the working actor needs a few more skills in their repertoire. “You have to learn all the different aspects of this industry -- from how the camera looks, to how the lighting works. The biggest change is that you really do have to know all those other aspects,” says Smalls.
Actors Turned Entrepreneurs
“It started with us doing self-tapes ourselves. We could always go to our agency, but they started saying, ‘Your tapes are better than ours!’ And they started sending people over here, and it kept growing. Now we are lucky enough that all the top agents in the Atlanta market recommend us as a reliable taping service.”
Despite the challenges, self-tapes are creating a larger pool of talent for casting directors to choose from. Many industry professionals predict this technological movement will takeover the majority of auditions in the next five to ten years.
“If you don’t take the seriousness of how important a self-tape is nowadays, then you are going to lose,” concludes Callender.
Read Karli's "back story" blog post on her first experience as a student contributor here
About the Author
Karli Barnett is a