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How to Kill Your Self-Taped Auditions in One Easy Step

There's a right way to rehearse. And then there's the way to treat your creative spontaneity to a slow, painful death.

Trying to master something difficult? Wanting to create something special?

"Practice makes perfect."

Yeah, mom always said so. Work hard, exercise those mental, emotional, or artistic muscles and it'll all fall in place.

True for a lot of things, but as an artist ... you want to be careful. The last thing you want to do is over-practice something until you wring the life out of it. As an actor, that translates to rehearsing so much that you fall into the pattern of doing things just one way - and have a hard time breaking free of the muscle memory or vocal habits that you've drilled into yourself.

Practicing until you're "perfect" - whatever that means to you - is a surefire way of killing the very spontaneity and innate creativity that makes your performance stand out.

Perfectionistic thinking can lead to creative paralysis. Not so helpful to the auditioning actor.

The trap of the self-taped audition

If you've been an on-camera actor during Covid, then you are probably well-acquainted with self-taping your auditions. If you live and work in the southeastern US market, then you're probably an old hand at it.

(For those unfamiliar with the process, auditions have traditionally been conducted in-person at the casting director's offices. During Covid, actors either had to go to a video taping service or have had to set up a small video recording space in their home or apartment, complete with a plain backdrop, lights, camera or phone on a tripod, and an external microphone.

Self-tapes are made by the actor performing the scene on camera, while a friend reads the other character(s)' lines, either in person or remotely via Zoom. The actor operates the camera, later edits the scene, and finally submits it online to the casting director before the specified deadline. Yes, it's a lot more work than just showing up for an in-person audition!)

Self-taped auditions became popular in the Southeast several years ago as an answer to the large distances actors often had to travel to auditions and callbacks. Atlanta, Wilmington NC, Florida, and New Orleans have all been busy centers of film and TV production at one time or another, with Savannah, Birmingham, Knoxville, and Nashville not far behind. That's a lot of time on the road.

There are quite a few advantages to self-taped auditions. They allow casting directors to see many more actors for a role than they would have been able to accommodate with traditional in-person auditions. Click on an audition, hit play, watch as long as you wish, then on to the next candidate.

Actors save the considerable time and expense of traveling long distances for a short audition or callback. Self-tapes also allow actors plenty of "do-overs" or multiple tries at the script until they feel like they "got it right." Actors can watch their performances after each take, self-assess, and adjust as needed, as many times as they want. Casting directors can't know if they're watching an actor's first and only take on the scene or the 20th.

There's a downside to using self-tapes, though, for both casting directors and actors.

  1. First and foremost is the lack of human interaction, which can be the most enjoyable aspect of the auditioning process.

  2. It's much harder for a casting director to get a feel for the person they might be hiring when they're not standing in the same room. Does this individual seem like they'd be easy to work with on set? Will they mesh well with the other cast and crew?

  3. Unless they're in a live Zoom session together, they can't test an unknown actor's skills and ability to take direction, either. They can only go by what's on the taped audition, which may include one or two interpretations of the script. And since they don't know if the audition they're watching is the actor's first or 20th attempt, they risk hiring an inexperienced actor who may or may not be able to perform well under pressure on set.

From the actor's perspective,

  1. There's no way to "read" casting or gauge their reactions and no second chance at "trying it a different way," like they would have had with an in-person audition. Rarely is an actor given feedback and asked to redo a self-taped audition.

  2. Their audition may not even be watched. While casting directors can view more online auditions more quickly than those in person, they can also abruptly cut an audition short if they think a performance misses its mark. No one will ever know that they only watched an audition for 6 seconds or less, if at all. And sometimes roles are cast before the deadline for self-tapes comes due. It literally pays to submit them early!

  3. Bad habits can develop that become hard to break, such as relying too much on the "do over" aspect of self-taping. It can become a crutch and make it that much harder to perform in person - once - in front of a casting director.

In person audition? One and done

Actors have to be ready to perform. Do it once when you're called to audition in person. Say thank you afterwards for the opportunity to audition. And walk away.

That's the reality of it. You give your best interpretation of the role, channeling the real you into your character. There's no right. There's no wrong. There's just the question if your interpretation is the one that resonates with the decision-makers. Or if your physicality meshes with the overall story, such as older and younger versions of a character played by different actors, or as part of a family group. It's totally subjective, which is why most actors are advised to audition and then forget about it. If casting wants to book you, they know how to find you.

The best performances are those that show, as coach Margie Haber puts it, "a slice of life." A real person experiencing something in the moment. There is a feeling of spontaneity, with the character reacting to the people and events going around them, discovering something new with each interaction.

What works against realizing a great performance? Rehearsing a scene over and over again the same way until YOU GET IT RIGHT. Or so you think ... because what you may get is a stilted performance instead. Nothing right about that.

We DO need to rehearse - a lot - when it comes to learning lines. But there's much more to it than memorization. There's script analysis:

  • Understanding the story inside and out

  • Breaking it down to pivotal actions within each scene

  • Examining the relationships between the characters and seeing how those relationships develop, change, and grow

  • Responding in the moment to what's happening in the scene

We DON'T want to rehearse in the same exact way, such that we are unable to apply a fresh, new perspective. Forget about saying things just the right way, focusing on the right expression at the right moment, and so on. It will LOOK rehearsed.

So what do you do about it? How much is too much rehearsing? And how do you know if you're ready?

Practicing until you're "perfect" - whatever that means to you - is a surefire way of killing the very spontaneity and innate creativity that makes your performance stand out.

Three strikes and you're out ... of the taping studio

The key is in the preparation. If you do the necessary homework, you're ready to go. That is:

  • Research the show, the director, the producer - everything you can to understand the genre of the project you're auditioning for.

  • Do your script analysis, as described above. Truly understand who your character is, the environment and how your character got to that point, and what your character is trying to achieve.

  • Many auditions ask for two different interpretations or "takes." Decide what they are - choose two different emotions, perspectives, or purposes for your character.

Then ...

  • Do no more than three tries for each take.

That's it. Three times. If you prepare properly, you know what you're doing. If you keep trying to perfect every nuance of a scene, you'll tire quickly and the spontaneity, creativity, and "life" of your performance will significantly wane. Besides, you'll often find that after so many tries at it, you'll end up choosing one of the first takes anyways.

Learn to trust yourself and your creativity, intuition, and personal interpretation of the material. We are our harshest critics, but self-doubt and the tendency to nitpick are counter-productive. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that just because you CAN keep self-taping until you fall from exhaustion, that you should. Taping studios often give you a time limit, like 20 minutes, so you won't have time for endless repetitions. But if you're working from home, the perfectionist mindset will eat away large chunks of time that won't necessarily get you anywhere. And repetitive tweaking will only eat away at your self-confidence, too.

Laura's Quick Tips

  1. Thoroughly prepare your scene BEFORE you step in front of the camera

  2. Do your best, immerse yourself in your audition, and enjoy yourself.

  3. Limit yourself to three takes per scene - any more than that, and you'll drive yourself crazy (and to exhaustion).

  4. Embrace imperfections that creep into your performance. Sometimes these make for the very best auditions because they seem REAL. Searching for the right word, pausing, reacting before speaking ... these are part of everyday life.

  5. Value yourself. Kick negative thinking to the curb. Casting directors wants to see the unique YOU in the role, not whatever you think they're looking to find. Sometimes they don't know it until they see it. (Sound familiar? We sometimes make decisions that way, too.)

And finally ... HAVE FUN! Otherwise, what's the point? Auditioning is the actor's job. If nothing else, it's your chance to perform before an audience. How sweet is that?!

Acting is harder than it looks! How do you create unique, authentic characters that draw audiences to you? Read more about it here >

Laura Doman smiling

I'm Laura Doman, a former tech industry sales executive, hands-on mom, voice & TV/film actress, and improv performer. I create memorable characters that tell my client's stories, from the friendly CEO touting new upgrades to your sassy best gal pal dispensing some necessary, real-world advice...Let's Talk!


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