A Casting Director Spills the Tea on Auditions… In person? Virtual? Self-Tape? What’s Best?

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

Contributed by O’Connor Casting Company

These past couple years have naturally affected all aspects of production, and casting is no different. All involved, from ad creatives to directors to the actors and their talent agents, have adjusted and compromised due to the circumstances of the pandemic, with health and safety taking priority over all else. As Casting Directors, we’ve been major players in this, pivoting and navigating the currents, and we’d like to offer our unique perspective as we move into calmer waters.   

Experienced Casting Directors are relied upon for two things: the knowledge of how to find the best suited, willing, and available actors for any project, as well as the knowledge and ability to get the best performance out of them. It’s the secret sauce we bring to the project. Auditions are the fundamental way we gauge talent’s suitability for a project. We utilize three basic audition methods to deliver for our clients:

  • In Person: This was the “norm” for us pre-pandemic as talent delivers the best performances one-on-one in studio. Being able to provide immediate feedback and redirection, we set the baseline for all – putting everyone on an even playing field in terms of technical aspects (sound, lighting, setting, framing) so focus is solely on performance.
  • Self-Tape: This method can be wonderful for certain auditions, and at other times confusing, messy, time-consuming, and stressful for talent. While it’s been around for a long time, this turned into the norm at the beginning of pandemic. It turned the actor into a jack-of-all-trades. The responsibility of understanding and executing everything lies on the performer, start to finish.
  • Virtual:K.A. Zoom, Skype, etc. While this was mostly done for callbacks prior to the pandemic (mainly through video conferencing or other programs), it made an appearance on first round auditions so talent could still be directed one on one. Still an option for callbacks, it’s a game changer for clients to not have to travel and still be fully involved. 

There are pluses and minuses to all these methods. When the pandemic started, there was no other choice - virtual and self-tapes were the immediate band-aid on casting… but came with their fair share of headaches. Most actors quickly got creative - some even preferred them for the ease and DIY of it all. Others shied away from the technical aspects and loathed spending hours doing what would take minutes in a studio. Either way – auditions needed to get done – and we all collectively understood the assignment: get through the pandemic doing our jobs as best we can. 

Right away there was a clear takeaway: the bar was lowered. It was rough to watch actors try to improvise on their own or do an MOS scene and interact with invisible people. The performances were weakened. Seeing a skilled actor underperform is painfully noticeable to a seasoned Casting Director. While the technical quality of these options has grown leaps and bounds since 2020, the quality of performance has not. Because of this reason, our office has led a major push in getting back in person because we see the clear advantages in most situations. 

We say, “most situations,” because not all auditions are equal. There are avenues that self-tapes are completely warranted. For example, Film & TV initial auditions lend themselves very nicely to a self-tape, when character and copy are clear and rely heavily on an actor’s interpretation of a role. Commercials, on the other hand, are a unique type of casting process because they deal with an extreme amount of detail coming together from many sides: working with mere seconds as opposed to minutes, targeting specific audiences, working subtle MOS moments, figuring out comedic timing and banter in a :06 spot, grouping all kinds of talent together for a quick but magical interaction, guiding a spokesperson in the tone and pacing required for driving a campaign, etc. Commercial casting moves at such a fast, focused pace and the details are so nuanced (based on the combined input of the ad creatives, clients, and directors) that finding the balance to cover performances perfectly can be challenging. Working all that out in an audition room makes a massive difference on time and quality.

Being back in the studio with talent has been a welcome breath of fresh air. There is no fast-forwarding, no skipping, no chance to NOT pay attention to all the details when auditioning a person right in front of you. Additionally, it levels the playing field for everyone, mimics an actual set and gauges the comfortability of the actor’s performance in front of people. The time, care, focus, and relationship building that comes with auditions is what makes strong objective suggestions and provide insight to our clients. 

Overall, the opinion of our team is that in-person auditions outshine the self-tape. There are certainly times that still warrant a self-tape: those unable to come in person, roles that are simple or based purely on personality, etc. The self-tape is thankfully here to stay – another tool in the belt, another casting option for the client. But these days, the talent who make the choice to come in to “play” with a Casting Director present themselves to clients as better overall performers in terms of skills, character, material, interpretation, performance, etc. While we know many actors would rather take the option to self-tape when offered the chance, the difference between the two options is significant. So even though every market varies on what is current and acceptable, trust that you’ll get a Casting Director who puts educated thought into what method will net you the best results. We obviously don’t speak for everyone, but for ourselves in our market. 

Take it from a team of Casting Directors who love to work their magic: we wish you continued success on all your casting endeavors!


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About the Author

O’Connor Casting Company
With over thirty years in the casting business, we’ve been meeting our clients' creative demands for decades. Constantly keeping things fresh and innovative. Our excellent reputation is built on integrity, valuing our clients, a meticulous attention to detail, and our unique ability to deliver the best talent while saving productions money and headaches. We are experts in finding needles in haystacks and answering Hail Mary calls. Whether you’re a Creative or Producer who is familiar with casting or just starting out, give us a call. We’re always happy to walk you through the process, provide advice and do whatever we can to make your job easier.

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