Self-tape Stories

Once upon a time there was an actress…and then the global pandemic hit.

Once upon a time there was an actress. She spent her days popping in and out of the city, attending auditions and meeting other actors and creatives. Sometimes, she would even book those meetings she attended and wouldn’t have to audition for months on end. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close. Then the year 2020 happened…

What no one knows is that I have a huge spot on the other side of my chin and pyjama bottoms on below my “nice” top

Oh, it’s been a funny one, hasn’t it? What I am grateful for is all the new skills I’ve gained thanks to this pandemic which now include sound engineer, director of photography, editor, creative director, camera operator, broadcast producer and lighting technician. This is all thanks to the rise of the dreaded “self-tape”, my least favourite “s” word.

A “self-tape”, for any readers who aren’t familiar with the term, is essentially a filmed audition that we actors create and then submit to a creative team for their consideration. Now there are plenty of benefits to this style of audition. Firstly, we don’t have to commute into town which saves everyone money and helps us not catch Corona – or something worse – on the Tube. We can also do as many “takes” or attempts to get the performance we want. In my case, this is absolutely a blessing and a curse. Being able to watch an audition back means I obsess over the smallest detail, a hair out of place, a distorted shadow in the background, one note that was held longer in the previous seven takes. Therein lies the danger: my inner perfectionist takes over and I lose all sense of authenticity with infinite takes of the same material. It also sucks the life out of both my phone memory and battery.

Since March, nearly all the auditions I’ve been submitted for have transitioned to self-tapes and let me tell you, it’s been a journey. There was an excellent occasion when I had less than 24 hours to get a tape filmed, edited and successfully dispatched via “We Transfer” and all on the hottest day of the year. When filming, it’s important that no extraneous noise is picked up by the microphone and, obviously, to achieve this I normally close all the windows and doors. This is very much less than ideal in the middle of a heatwave. Estimate how quickly the prickle of SULA (sweaty upper lip alert) began in this airless room once I’d added a ring light, a face full of make-up and a healthy shot of audition adrenalin to the mix. I grabbed a towel to dab my shiny face between takes, but completely forgot about my neck. It wasn’t until later, when I was editing the footage, that I realised that my neck and entire décolletage were slick with shiny perspiration. To quote the old adage, I was simply glowing!

I also noticed on the re-watch that my hair gradually got bigger and bigger, just like Monica’s in The One In Barbados episode of Friends

Another fun memory was the day that my tripod broke during the middle of shooting. I was already in a terrible mood as the brief I’d been given was really complicated and involved lots of scenes where I had to mime the action, which is always tricky to make look convincing. I’d banished poor Vince to working from home in our bedroom so I could have full access to our lounge and all was going well until I heard the crash of my tripod hitting the floor. Miraculously my phone was intact, it was actually still filming but the tripod had completely shattered, meaning I had no way of stabilising my camera. In a wave of panic, I phoned E, seeing if she had anything that could work as a replacement. Although she wasn’t able to lend me anything, she did manage to calm me down sufficiently to allow me to get my thinking cap on and I created a Jenga-like tower of coffee tables, piano stools and cook books. I balanced one of my Stan Smith’s at the top of the makeshift mountain, like an angel atop a Christmas tree, and nestled my phone into its new bed. All this Blue-Petering was worth it as I booked the job.

I wish I could say things were less comical once I moved and had a whole house to use as a studio. Sadly this is not the case. Just this week I had to film several scenes for a big commercial campaign but they were all set outside. I grabbed my phone as I only had a few hours before the sun set and rushed out to film. I can now add location scout to my list of skills! All was going well until my new neighbours caught me filming one scene in my car where I had to cry on cue. They rapped on my passenger window to see if I was ok…”no, no, I’m fine – I’m just filming something”; “yes, I’m an actress”; “oh, no, I haven’t got the job yet, this is the audition”; “yes, it will be on TV…if I get it”; “yep-I have been on TV before”; “I don’t know if I’ve been in anything you’ve seen”. I really do hope I get this job now, if only to validate my explanation!

I’ll leave you with a sneaky snippet of this day. I was hunting for a background which was pretty and scenic, but far enough away from any road so I avoided vehicle noises in the background. I stumbled across this field and began filming, just before a local farmer and his dogs arrived to hasten my departure. Oh, the glamorous life! ~L.

The farmer didn’t mind once I’d explained, just in case you’re wondering!

For more theatrical insights and horror stories, connect with me on Instagram!

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