Bernard Bygott | Self-Tapes: The New Frontier
Bernard Bygott | Self-Tapes: The New Frontier
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Self-Tapes: The New Frontier

11 Jun 2021 Bernard Writing

The business of acting has been profoundly altered by COVID, and the ubiquity of the self-tape may be the biggest alteration of all. Instead of traveling to casting offices weekly, actors are taping themselves in their homes and sending their video files directly to casting directors in hopes of booking roles remotely. I’ve no idea how long it stays this way, but the fact is today self-tapes are around every corner, and around anything even remotely resembling a corner… and then… just… MORE SELF-TAPES! MORE! MORE! 😊 Even assignments in which actors film the final project at home have become common place. Wow, quite an undertaking!

Folks in the biz have had a pretty large, divergent response to this development–at least from what I have seen. Honestly, most reactions seem justified. Not every actor has the resources to pull this off in the most flattering way–nor the depth of knowledge, technical interest, etc. A studio of some sort in your home is not a common luxury for an actor. A near silent environment at all can be positively impossible. The list goes on. And still, at the end of the day, the self-tape has become part of the job, so we preserver.

Now what the job of self-taping actually IS can get pretty tricky to identify pretty fast. Or perhaps I should say there are a lot of potential contradictions that come into play. So even if this is only to help me on the journey, I am going to lay out what I believe.

Your job in a self-tape is to share with casting and the director that you can be a vital part of their story; you not only know what that story is, you can DO IT, and when YOU do it, it’s even better than they imagined. In fact, they will need you if they want that story to be rad as shit the way you made it rad as shit.

How easy is that?

Not. Very much not.

There are a billion reasons it’s challenging, but rather than focus on that, let’s focus on the fact it can be wildly fun. Sure booking jobs and working in dream productions is the actual dream, but so is… telling great stories, being a great storyteller. And you have every freedom to tell great stories with self-tapes. 100%!

Self-taping is an opportunity to be a little filmmaker on a very limited budget with a stationary camera setup, most likely some questionable audio, maybe some decent lighting, and almost certainly a scene partner who is just a voice in the background (and the dog next-door barking because that is GARAUNTEED)… now tell your great story like THAT. Have fun, and inspire, and elevate the story like THAT!

Ok, it’s not all sunshine and roses; it can be a ton of work for no money. It can be mind-numbing when your best storytelling is utterly ignored, and your worst gets you the callback or job. But in the meantime, make some art FOR YOURSELF. Learn some more about script-analysis, building a character, finding your power, camera angles, eye-line, lighting, cameras, lenses, audio, color theory, light theory, dressing for the screen, hair, makeup… whatever! Pour your creativity into it and have some damn fun. You and your creativity are worth it!

Screenshot from a recent callback for a director whose films have garnered Oscars and such.
Screenshot from a submission for some Shakespeare comedy.
Screenshot from a TV movie self-tape.

TELL GREAT STORIES.

BELIEVE.

TELL MORE GREAT STORIES.

BELIEVE MORE.

Love,
B

P.S. I recently watched Thelma & Louise for maybe the fifth time in my life. That movie is something gorgeous. It seems a shame to point out one actor in a movie with so many amazing performances, but Geena Davis is as great as there has ever been at this job. Holy wow. Every. Damn. Time.

Bernard Bygott