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Are you well practised in having to do last minute self-tape auditions? Do you struggle to find the time alongside working your other job/s? Is We Transfer your arch nemesis? Mirren Wilson is here for you and has some stories to tell.
Ding. You get an email from your agent – you have less than 24 hours to learn a script, present a character and film your scene as best as you can. But uh oh, you have 10 million other things to do today! And where will you get a scene partner from at such short notice, in the middle of a pandemic? Welcome to the world of self-tape induced stress.
Now, I understand the advantages of self-taping: you can do as many takes as you like, you can perform comfortably from your own home, at a time that suits you, and casting directors can see a wider selection of performers in a shorter space of time. So why am I often filled with an all-consuming dread and panic every time I see a self-tape audition pop into my inbox?
Let me share a recent experience of mine. I finished my full-time job, went for a run and took an evening to myself to relax – something that I rarely do. Just before I was about to wind down and jump into bed, I checked my emails. Crap. There was one from my agent marked ‘URGENT SELF TAPE’ and my scenes were due at 10am the next day.
Nine times out of ten, because I’ve either been at work, been too busy or taken a break from my phone, I’ve not been able to regularly check my emails, which has then, inadvertently, reduced the amount of time I have available to complete my audition tape. Are actors really expected to be on call 24/7 for a possible last-minute audition?
The actual tape probably takes no longer than an hour to set up and film. However, the preparation of learning a sometimes-lengthy script and finding someone to read, then planning when they’re available to help you, can take away a few hours of your taping time. I also don’t work well with those recording apps where you can say the lines yourself and be your own scene partner… if I’m to get the best performance out of myself, I need someone to be there reading in, so I can react live. Even if that scene partner ends up being my mum and she laughs every time I must pretend to die.
My gut instinct told me, “I don’t want to do this, I don’t have the time and that unrealistic deadline is never getting made.” (I actually got the email around 4.16pm, which is still less than 24 hours’ notice. Frustrating.) The obvious thing to say would’ve been, “no, sorry. On this occasion it won’t be possible for me to make that deadline.” However, there’s always a feeling of guilt in saying no to an opportunity, especially when auditions can be so rare. What if this role is perfect for me? What if the casting director wants me for something else? What if this is the ‘big break’? Plus, the last time I declined a self-tape offer, my agent wouldn’t take no for an answer, and the text battle concluded with a panic attack. So, I’d rather avoid all that to be honest.
I asked for a deadline extension and was allowed until the end of the day. I filmed the tape in my lunch break (with my mum) and felt pretty accomplished and pleased with my own determination and efficiency. I had done it! All that was left was to send it.
Time to face the old enemy – WeTransfer. I don’t know what it is about me and WeTransfer but sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, which is a last-minute stressor in itself. Since my lunch break was now over, and I still needed to get my tapes sent by the end of the day, I attempted to multi-task. In hindsight, this was a huge mistake.
I needed to be on a call at work, but since our cameras didn’t have to be on, I tried to edit, rename then send my tape, all whilst half-listening to the call. It’s worth mentioning that I had four devices on my desk: a work laptop, a work computer, my personal computer and my phone. Pretty overwhelming, right? But I was desperate to do what I needed to do to get this tape sent.
My files were sending at last! 5% sent, 10% sent, 20% sent. It got to 30% and my personal laptop fell and crashed to the ground, due to lack of desk space. This stopped the transfer, broke my laptop hard drive and battery and, yet again, caused an emotional meltdown.
I’m always one to try my best and complete a self-tape in the time that I have available. So much so, that I have taped in ice-cream rooms between shifts at my job in a theatre and recorded in clothes store changing rooms after a shift in retail.
Although these are extreme, but unfortunately real-life examples, it’s important to normalise that self-tapes are not always convenient and exciting experiences. Nor, can actors always be expected to drop everything the second an email comes through – sometimes it’s just not possible. I cannot be the only one who feels like this and I also can’t keep putting myself through all of this stress for nothing.
What do I propose? There needs to be the opportunity for discussion about whether each self-tape is actually achievable and realistic regarding an individual’s circumstances. And if it’s not achievable, there needs to be a genuine level of understanding and empathy with regards to why. What else is going on in your life? Does anyone else realise what you’re juggling or sacrificing to get this tape done? Or is there something that the agent or casting director can do in order to help you get material in?
And finally, the age-old argument: it would be great to get some feedback, even if it’s just a sentence. We’re at a point in the history of theatre where we can re-write how we do things post-pandemic. The excuse of ‘there isn’t enough time’ doesn’t cut it. Some actors do not have the time to tape, but it gets done. On behalf of all actors, I’m asking for a little bit more support, so we’re not doing all of this for nothing.