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  • Clare Lopez

Self-Taped Acting Clips & When to Use Them

What do you do when a casting director/ director asks for a reel with a submission and you don’t have one yet? We get this question a lot: Can’t I just send an edited self-tape of some strong acting moments? This is a complex question with varying answers, depending on the project in question. But the short answer? No.


If you send a 3 min 'reel' of self-taped footage, you might have just burned a bridge with that office. It makes you look green. You appear to be someone one so new to the industry that you don’t seem to understand what a reel actually is.

There is a process to this and there is a right (albeit long) way to go about this. Let' break it down.



WHAT IS AN ACTING REEL?

Completed footage of Film/TV productions you auditioned for, booked, and shot. Ideally it’s all completed footage that aired and was distributed somewhere. It’s been produced by a studio, edited, with foley, and color graded... and then all of that footage is then edited by your reel editor to showcase your strongest moments. It is a trailer of only your best work and it shows us the type of roles that are in your wheelhouse.



WHEN NOT TO SEND SELF-TAPED CLIPS:


Do not use self-taped clips if you are submitting to a larger scale union project. If it's for a major Network TV gig, or otherwise a larger scale indie film: these projects need to cast actors who've been in a film before. Those casting directors need to see completed footage. At this level, they need to know the actor has that on-set experience and that they can handle being in the high-pressure conditions of a union set.


If you know this is in that upper tier of project, and they ask for a demo reel, and you don' t have one: don't submit at all.



AN ALTERNATIVE:


If, however, the project is a smaller, non-union, student or indie short film, you can probably guess that they might be amenable to getting self-taped clips. But it's always good to be sure. In this scenario, a smaller indie or student film might be asking for email submissions and request a reel. Again: if you then send a bunch of self-taped monologues, you’ve just put yourself into a category of inexperience, as someone who doesn't understand what a demo reel is. (Even if you are inexperienced, the casting directors don't need that telegraphed to them.) ;)


In this case, here’s what I’d recommend: Still submit, and make a note in your cover letter/ submission notes saying —


“I’m currently awaiting footage from a few projects and so don’t currently have a demo reel available but, if you’d like to see some of my current work, I’ve got a few self-taped pieces up on my website here {link}.”

This way, the director can think: “Okay, this actor understands what a reel is and isn’t hiding or ashamed to be where they are with it. AND can point me towards footage that I can look at right now if I want.”


Some folks might not want look at 10 individual links to 10 self tapes, so I personally like dropping your Actor Website or Actors Access link. That way, if they are inspired to check out your work they can, and if they don’t want to, you haven’t just bombarded them. If you get ruled out from consideration because you didn’t have a reel, move on. (Just make a note for your audition journal before submitting to that office again). If you get asked to submit a self-taped audition, great! Either way, that’s a win.


WHERE TO START WITH FOOTAGE


Okay! So you are at that tier where you know you don't have a reel, but want to get some good self-tapes up on your website or Actors Access in order to submit to those lower tier independent projects. Awesome! Before you just throw up any old self-tape online, start with these steps to help maximize your time and be smart on your wallet.

GET HELP WITH SELECTION


Actors overlook this far too often, but having a high quality self-tape does no good if the pieces themselves don't showcase both you as an actor (it shows your strongest work) as well as fit your most castable type (the sorts of characters you were born to play). If you are early on in your career, you might not actually be the best judge of what scripts are a good fit for you. Reach out to a teacher, coach, or agent for advice on what sorts of scenes or monologues might serve you. Scenes tend to be better than monologues, as they allow us to see you actively engaging, listening, and reacting. But it’s crucial that your pieces feature you, are age appropriate, and are roles that suit your instrument as a storyteller.


NOTE: Do not use previous self-taped auditions unless the project has already aired. Regardless of signing an NDA, you do not actually own the rights to the text of your audition. And filmmakers have the right to assure that their film's content and script remain private until they themselves have released that film. Sharing auditions violates that productions privacy and could have negative ramifications.

GET PREPARED


This means that you've taken the time to do your homework. The first time you record a self-tape should NOT be the first time you've rehearsed this scene out loud with another human being. Do your script analysis, explore the text fully, rehearse, and know this puppy inside and out. Which means: you are off book, and fluent with exploring the journey of this piece. The text is alive and in your body and you are ready to just exist in the world and play.



GET COACHED


There are so many folks who record themselves working on a piece, and share on social media for fun or for feedback. And don’t get us wrong, getting that self-tape practice is always a good idea. BUT this is a tool in your Actor Marketing package. If you want this to be the primary product an agent submits you with and that gets sent to casting directors, you need to explore this content thoroughly. You need to get some outside coaching and guidance before you pay the $22/ min and upload to Actors Access. If you are still new to the industry, or simply new to the on-camera aspect of this work, the only way to get a feel for how well this piece is serving you, is to get coached on the material. A good coach, will also tell you if you aren't performing your best work and give honest recommendations as to whether or not the tape is useable. Coaches can also nudge you into finding stronger content that will suit your purpose.

FOLLOW INDUSTRY STANDARDS


Make sure your self-tape is following industry standards, and shot with high quality gear. This means having an off camera reader for any other characters, and high quality audio and video with clear light, correct framing, and compressed to the correct size without losing quality. The editing also will allow us to see a moment before and an end button.



UPLOAD TO ACTORS ACCESS & LABEL CORRECTLY


In general, clips should be under 1 min, and should include detailed descriptions so casting knows what they are seeing before they click play. An example might be:


Dramatic: Gone Girl – “Unhinged wife gets back at cheating husband”.


These clips can absolutely be uploaded to your Actor Website too (remember: as long as the project has already aired).

BONUS: SELECT SKILLS


Apart from self-taping scenes and monologues, it can be a good idea to get some alternate skills recorded for your Actors Access page. If you are fluent in another language, or are proficient in a dialect, play an instrument, or sing, these all might be skills that you choose to get professionally taped for your casting profiles. If you don't have any footage at all yet, don't worry about this just yet. Focus on getting those most castable types and genres of sides to get on tape for your profiles. If, however, you've had a lot of requests to demonstrate your language proficiency or skill in a sport, or instrument, it might be time to get some well-selected, high-quality clips of your select skills. Note: some skills clips might require different framing or be in a non-traditional setting and require a more intensive filming process (like horseback riding, dance, stunts, and martial arts).



KNOW WHEN TO USE THESE CLIPS


Understand that these clips aren't equivalent to a reel. These videos aren't something that should be combined together into a ’reel.’ This is just your placeholder of content you can point folks towards who want to see your work. It's also important to notice what genres and qualities each clip serves so you know which clip to attach to which audition submission on Actors Access. These clips can also be used to submit to an #agent and hopefully book a meeting. If you already have an agent, you can have a conversation about what clips will/ won’t serve you in your career. It’s always wise to re-evaluate every 6 months and determine if clips no longer are serving you or may need to be removed from your casting profiles.


FINAL THOUGHTS


It's always okay to be wherever you are in your career. If you have completed footage for a demo reel, awesome! You won't really need to upload self-taped clips to your casting profiles at all (outside of some special skills clips). But, if you don't yet have a reel, this is a great first step into being able to submit to those smaller, lower-tier student films and shorts. Self-taped clips can absolutely help you get seen for those independent projects.

Just remember, at the SAG Films and Network TV level, these clips won't cut it. By the time you are submitting for higher-tier projects, when they require a demo reel, they mean it. But if you are submitting to an unpaid indie project that you found on FaceBook? Go for it! Keep in mind how and when to use these clips, and be sure to keep updating as you grow in the craft and you will be golden!


--C



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Clare Lopez is an Actress and Director of Education and Outreach at Book From Tape Acting Studios in Orlando, FL. She is deeply passionate about supporting fellow actors in their craft, and loves using storytelling to educate, elevate, and empower others. Email Clare

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