Earlier this year, I issued a Self-Tape Challenge based on something brewing in one of my ongoing mastermind groups. It was an inspiring time for those masterminders and — turns out — for Sarah Demeestere as well. At the time of the challenge, Sarah was based in Paris, readying herself for a move back to the States, where she’s currently working. And throughout 30 days of travel, work, packing up, studying, and living a very full life, Sarah not only accepted the Self-Tape Challenge, she conquered it. And now she’s sharing everything she learned with you!
As an actress, one of my all time favorite things is making love to the camera. And so when Bonnie Gillespie launched the 30-day self-tape challenge, I got all excited! Making love to my Cammie every single day for a whole month?! Yes please!
When you’re a virgin at self-taping, going for it can seem very daunting. Nobody taught you how to do it and yet everybody seems to be doing it nowadays! Tons of questions arise: If I’m not equipped with the right gear, will the experience fail? Can I do it with a cell phone without it looking amateurish? Do I look good enough without a professional makeup artist at my side? Will I be able to direct myself? Will I find out I’m not a great actor? Will I look ridiculous and sound fake? These are all completely understandable factors of resistance.
But if you’re anything like me and you’re up for an intimidating challenge that you know you’ll grow from, then you jump in the sack without a second thought!
You’ll realize very early on that a good setting is key. Making love with Cammie can’t be done just anywhere and any which way! Minimal lighting needs to be present so that your face is well-lit and your eyes sparkle (place the lighting source on the camera side and use natural lighting whenever possible), a certain amount of prep work needs to be done so that you are ready to give your best (on-brand) you, and a daily commitment should be made to Cammie so that you can have a most freeing and beneficial experience.
Because the mind is very good at getting you out of challenges and because you have a life to attend to, I don’t recommend spending your whole entire day fixated on the moment you will be filming. Keep it in your heart that you will meet with Cammie at some point in the day and give yourself a sweet amount of time to get ready for her but continue on with your life, your business, your sleep, etc. I chose to dedicate between 60 and 90 minutes every day to self-taping and that was plenty sufficient. After all, that’s often how much time you have to prepare for an audition, so might as well train yourself now!
The first recorded footage may very well be catastrophic, awful or, at best embarrassing. Cammie is unapologetic. She will show you just how naked you are. Your masks will show up and your fears will rise up; all your fabrications and inauthenticities will jump out at you. There will no longer be any covers to hide under. This is the true gift of the experience! You will learn to get familiar with your quirks, spot your lies, and see where you are off-brand. You will find out how you move, where your tensions are, and if you’re still breathing during takes. You will discover what of you shows up on the screen and what doesn’t.
Your lovemaking with Cammie will define, refine, and improve you, and change your view of yourself as an actor and a person.
And just like in relationships, times get tough, and some days you’re just not in the mood for any play. But then you remember your commitment. You may wait until the very last moment — minutes before midnight — to find a script and shoot a scene. I did that once and ended up finding a dialogue scene from one of my target filmmakers that was conveniently set in bed at night.
Because to make it through a 30-day challenge like this — with all the technical demands and the growing pains — you must help yourself along the way. Make it easy for yourself: Pair up with a buddy, stay simple in your choice of settings and props, choose material that’s on-brand, choose material that is asking for a mood in which you are or close to, and use what you have in the present moment. For me, the scene would literally show up in my face at some point in the day. As if the universe was the director handing me the role I am to play that day, which of course is always spot on: either it’s an emotion that I need to express, or a situation that I can really identify with that particular day — art reflecting life, life feeding art.
This flow may not always be evident. Resistance will cover it up.
Some days you just don’t have the time to fool around! Some days are packed with things to do and you’re running around trying to get them all done. So how do you not let your Cammie down? Choose the most on-brand activity of the day, set up the camera, and press record. I taped myself in a singing class, taking a walk on the beach, and doing a make-believe interview. Filming yourself doing anything will teach you something!
And I promise, after you do it, it feels orgasmic! Freedom and satisfaction run through you with the long-lasting effect of self-empowerment.
Day by day, as the lifespan of the challenge progresses, so do you. You become a master at lovemaking. You start loving the act and the experience of taping yourself. You start loving what you see that wasn’t visible to you before. In the beginning, all I could see were the faults, the shallow acting, the bad lighting, the tension through my face and body and the dark rings under my eyes. Then I started seeing something that I wasn’t sensitive to before: a distinctive essence, a particular brand, a gift in motion — my unique signature was unveiling itself on screen! Very exciting!
Here are some of the immediate benefits I reaped from self-taping every single day for a month:
- Growth: stretching beyond my comfort zone and strengthening my on- camera work so that when I have an audition or shoot I am so much more comfortable and at ease with the process.
- Mastering the Craft: trying out different characters in different scenes everyday made me more confident in choosing objectives, intentions, back-story, and improved my understanding of scene structure, subtext, story arc, etc. In fact, by then end of the month, that skill was constantly running in the background without me needing to overthink it. I also became more open and flexible with improvisation.
- Memorization: working the memory muscle every day allowed me to memorize lines more and more easily. In ten days, my lines were magically and effortlessly imprinted in my short-term memory the instant I read them off the page.
- Branding: as I watched my footage, it became very clear to me what I am good at and how I come across. You get to understand how the world sees you and so you can better create your brand and serve the industry in the best way. I became more aware of the big picture as well as the details.
- Targeting: self-taping with material from my favorite writers and targeted TV shows and filmmakers brought me one step closer to them. It gave me a chance to practice their particular pacing, rhythm, and style. So when I land that audition, familiarity with the writing and the story will already be present.
- Knowing Myself: having visual feedback on how I look on camera, I can now determine which colors suit me and which don’t, how much makeup I need or don’t, what kind of hairdos are to my advantage or not, where to set my eyes and how to frame myself, where my tension resides, if I articulate enough or too much, etc. Now I know exactly what my assets are and what I wish to improve. That way, I can target the right class or skill to engage in.
- Facing Fears: this seemingly simple challenge brought up all of my shadows and so gave me the opportunity to confront them and break through them. This is crucial if you want to become a “better you,” an A-list actor, to get to the next tier, or just expand as a human being.
- Acceptance and Belonging: the self-taping experience invited me to truly embody the working actor and to feel what it’s like to be the star on a feature film set. And, most importantly, to become my number one fan!
- Love: ultimately, what the 30-day self-tape challenge gave me is a lot of self-love; love for the artist that I came here to embody, acceptance of what I am here to give via the art of film, and a whole lot of confidence to let go and just be.
It’s just you and Cammie, no one is looking, no one has to see your footage, and you’ll quickly realize how fun and enriching it is once you start. You’re an actor: your element is the film set; your lover is the camera! Go make love!
Truly inspiring, Sarah. Thank you so much for sharing your journey through the Self-Tape Challenge! This was really exciting to read, as I knew there would be benefits to engaging in this challenge, but you experienced so many more than the intended ones. Of course, that’s exactly the power of these challenges I like to ignite! There are so many wonderful things to discover, uncover, and recover through the creative process, and I love that you’ve shared these points with the readers of The Actors Voice: POV! Hooray!
About Sarah Demeestere
Sarah Demeestere is a Paris-based and Los Angeles-based French-American actor-director. As a master manifester, Sarah’s passion lies in bringing ideas and visions to life for the screen. She has trained both in Paris and Los Angeles as a filmmaker and an actor, obtaining a masters degree in film from the Sorbonne and receiving festival recognition in Cannes and San Francisco. She is currently working with French-American producers on a feature film called Connected.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/plus/pov/2015/04/selftape_challenge.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the managing editor’s personal archive.