Has this happened to you recently? You see a breakdown (or your agent or manager does), you submit yourself (or your agent or manager does), you receive contact from the casting office (directly or via your agent or manager), and are told you’re going to need to put yourself on tape doing this set of sides for this character and then upload the footage for the casting team to review.

This is a pre-preread. And it’s becoming popular.

I, for one, am thrilled. I’ve been asking actors to go on tape for roles far in advance of holding any sessions for several years now and I think it rocks. But not everyone agrees. Some actors (and, actually, a whole lot more agents and managers, it seems) complain that it takes away the human element; it favors the technologically-savvy; and it’s just not how casting works.

Well, I’ve got news for you: It’s a part of how casting is working lately. And it’s only going to get more prevalent in your auditioning process, so get ready to embrace the opportunity and make the most out of it.

How to do that? Let’s start by looking at why this is happening.

Say we don’t know your work. Okay, that covers a large part of the actor population when it comes to most casting offices. It’s just a numbers thing. We only know a fraction of the actors in town at any given time and we’re more likely to bring in those “known commodities” than “unknowns” when we’re doing risk assessment (which is our job, of course). So, you submit on a role and we think you might be right, but we’re not sure. If we can get you to go on tape for us (and of course, I don’t really mean “on tape” because it’s all digital now and you’ll probably be uploading a file to YouTube or any of the online submission services’ sites or the casting director’s private server for the team to review, but you get the point), we can assess whether you’re the right type for the role. Sure, we can also assess whether you’re the right type for the role via your headshot, but headshots can be misleading and your taped audition gives us so much more information about you!

It answers questions about your type (for sure), how you sound, how you deliver the lines we need to hear you doing for this particular role in this particular project, and what your interpretation of the material is. That’s a lot of good info to get with just a click of a mouse! And if we didn’t already know your work and trust that you might be a good match for the role, the odds are pretty good that you weren’t going to get a slot at prereads anyway (again, just playing the numbers here), so if you’re invited to do a taped read, you’re actually getting a pre-preread. You’re getting a shot you may not have gotten, since you may have never even been invited to get in front of us in the room, based on headshot alone.

So, for offices in which your talent is not a known commodity, you can bet the invitation to do a taped read of the material is a fabulous opportunity!

People who complain about this sort of thing say it takes away the “human element” of casting. Well, sure, it takes away that first impression being an in-person one, but that’s assuming you were ever going to be invited into the room anyway. So, if you weren’t likely to be given the shot to read for this role in person, this is potentially one step closer to the role. Just by putting your read online! And we’re going to call you in for callbacks or producer sessions based on knowing you’ve made that first cut with that audition you submitted. You’re going to get that “human element” opportunity TOO. Just not first. (And really, that means when you DO get that in-person session, we already know you’re a match for the role, vs. all of those auditions for which you show up and it’s clear right away you’re the totally wrong type for the role and shouldn’t have even been called in, since you won’t book it no matter how talented you are, just based on type.)

People who complain about taped auditions also say it favors those who are down with technology. Yup. You betcha. And anyone who — as we’re knocking on 2009, here — doesn’t at least have a friend with a $200 camera and a USB cable is gonna be left behind in lots of ways, I’m afraid. One of my favorite uploaded-to-YouTube auditions came from a guy who used his cell phone’s camera! It had enough juice to record a full minute of video content, the sound was fine, and the picture wasn’t even that bad, considering I was watching it on a laptop in a fourth of the screen. It was enough to let me know whether he could do the job I needed him to do. It got him a callback. Mission accomplished.

And that brings me to the most interesting trend I’ve noticed, in my own casting business and in conversations with my casting colleagues about how things work in their offices. To call this week’s column (and this “taped audition” trend) a “Pre-Preread” is actually not quite accurate. More and more, we’re bypassing prereads altogether. We’re going straight from the taped audition to our top five choices and bringing those folks in front of producers.

Think about it. To hold a casting session — especially as so many of us are working multiple jobs for multiple clients in multiple offices — requires coordinating the space, the personnel, the equipment, the sides, the supplies, and the TIME to get everyone there at the same session (often the most crazymaking part of the scheduling process). To ask you to do a taped read of the material we want to see you do requires us to upload sides to Showfax, let you know what pages we want you to do, provide a space for you to upload the footage when you’re ready (but before our deadline), watch it at whatever moment is best for our schedule and optimum focus (like at 2am when the phones stop ringing), and then we just share that link with the team if we think the work was strong enough to merit sharing!

Does this put the burden, the cost, the hassle on the shoulders of the actor? Sure, somewhat. But let me line it up side-by-side with the burden, the cost, the hassle of attending a preread for a role you may not even be the right type for from the very beginning. You have to work within a rigid schedule. You can’t do too much monkeying with our schedule because we’ve already had to go through a lot to get the day put together as it is. So maybe you have to get off work or go in late or reschedule another audition or something. You get the sides, same process either way. You prep the material, same deal. But in live auditions, you’re driving to the casting office, finding parking, finding your way to the session room, signing in, WAITING, seeing all of the other actors there, playing with all of that Actor Mind Taffy, and then you get that one shot in the room. One. Maybe a second opportunity if you’re offered a redirect.

Or you can set up your video camera on a tripod or desk at your apartment in the wee hours when your creativity is flowing at its strongest, shoot several takes, watch your work in playback, determine which read is your best take, and provide us with something that you feel really good about — and in control of — all because you actually DID control so much of it.

That rocks!

No getting off work. No driving, parking, signing in, waiting, comparing yourself to others, getting nervous and blowing your one shot at it in the room and hoping they forget about your audition because it was SO not what you wanted to show them.

And then when you do get the callback, it’s because you are the right type, you nailed the read, we liked what you did with the material and how you interpreted the character, and now we want to meet you in person to be sure the “human element” lines up with how you came across on the wee screen. I really like the idea of callbacks being the next step after a taped read. Which means what we’re kind of doing is eliminating the preread altogether!

Now, obviously, this works best in film and pilot casting because we have so much dang time compared to episodic and commercial casting, but it’s happening and if you haven’t yet been asked to tape your first audition, be ready. It’s coming! Two of the roles I cast on Another Harvest Moon relied heavily on our YouTube sessions. One was for the boy who would play Ernest Borgnine’s grandson. We looked at dozens of taped auditions from actors on both coasts (this film shot in Pennsylvania this summer) and narrowed it down to the four actors the director wanted to meet in person. And that was it! No sessions. NONE. Actors uploaded audition footage, our team reviewed every bit of it, our director met with four actors over lemonade, and I got the official word to make the formal offer. Done. Just like that.

The other role was one for which our top three candidates were a friend of the director, a friend of the producer, and a friend of mine. We all knew their work (each of us to a more intimate degree, of course, but we had each made sure to get aware of each of the three actors’ work before making decisions) and there were still something like 1800 submissions on this role and a bunch of eager actors wanting to show us their stuff. “Show us what you’ve got,” I replied! Anyone who wanted to put something up for us, we’d look at it. (And they could put it up at their own site and shoot us a link, deliver it using YouSendIt, post it on YouTube, add it to their casting profile at any of the online services, or have Breakdowns put it up for me on a private casting channel — more on this option in a future column.) We then expanded our list of potential candidates to beyond the three we had discussed previously. Every actor who submitted video “had an audition” with us, basically. They had our attention for that read and we watched ’em all!

Now, the role did end up going to one of the three actors we had been considering originally, so that may not seem too encouraging, but the point is that each of these other few dozen actors who went to the trouble to put up audition footage for us DID get seen. And since we weren’t even considering holding sessions for this role, that’s a better deal than an actor sitting around waiting for prereads would get in this situation, right? Bonus: Now we know these actors’ work and that reduces risk the next we see their submissions in the mix!

Oh, and that takes me to the last point I want to make on this. Proportionally VERY few actors are taking advantage of this opportunity. It’s still “new” enough that actors are either afraid of it or not bothering with doing it. One agent actually said to me, when I called her to ask that she have three of her clients go on tape for the grandson role I mentioned above, “I refuse to do your job for you. If you want to see my clients, bring them in for auditions.”

Fair enough. But that’s three actors who had the exact same shot to play Ernie’s grandson in what’s shaping up to be an incredible little film I can’t wait to see next year simply because their agent saw no upside to having them go on tape. Better odds for those who did go on tape. Better odds for those who didn’t fear or resent it but instead embraced the opportunity and showed us their WORK! Because isn’t that the majority of an actor’s job anyway? Take the shot! Show us what you’ve come up with. And be prepared for that to happen less and less often in session rooms for the first round of the process. Work it to your advantage!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000939.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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  1. Nick Biskupek July 24, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Hi Bonnie,

    Thanks for another great article and I love the idea of Pre-Reads!

    Regarding the last part of your article that mentions how agents didn`t agree with this idea, my question is do think you it is acceptable to record yourself doing the sides and sending it in to the folks doing the casting even though you may not have been invited to audition?

    Thanks Bonnie!
    Nick Biskupek

  2. Bonnie Gillespie July 31, 2013 at 12:53 am

    Hiya Nick! This article was written in 2008 and definitely, there have been shifts in how the industry feels about taped auditions since then. (In the GOOD direction!)

    That said, it’s still a pretty bold move to self-tape when NOT asked to do so, and then trying to get yourself seen.

    When actors are ASKED to self-tape, you *know* the recipients are receptive. Heck, they ASKED you to do it! 😉 But when actors just DO it, they’re *sort of* crashing an audition. Now, sometimes that can work… sometimes there’s a drop-off at exactly the right time, they haven’t found the right actor, your footage comes in, it WORKS, and they get a problem solved because of your boldness.

    But you can’t know what’s going on THERE when you decide to self-tape, uninvited.

    What I’d suggest is a convo with your reps to be sure that if you were to provide THEM with footage, they’d be comfy with sending it over to casting. Or at least they’d look at it and then decide if it’s worth relaying.

    Also, it’s a GREAT habit to get into, self-taping, just because it teaches you what the sides look like for your target projects and it gets you NINJA with your self-taping abilities, so when you *are* asked, you know what to do and how to do it (very well).

    I’d say the best next step is a chat with your rep about whether THEY are receptive to your self-taping, to check out and possibly pass along.

    Hope that helps! Rock on with your proactive self! 😀


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