Actor “Self-Tapes” are bringing about the end of the Casting Director and ushering in the era of the “casting clerk”

There used to be a reason the term “Director” was always an essential component of the title, “Casting Director.” During my apprenticeship at the seminal firm of Anderson, McCook & White Casting, the “direction” part of the skill set was always stressed as extremely important. We considered it the entirely crucial interface between the project/part and the actor. The right actor for the part, might end up being rejected if there was a misunderstanding of their requirements to fill the role…… or of our inability to recognize where a new and better characterization could emerge from that actor’s unique take on the part. Either way, the removal of those barriers almost ALWAYS took place in the casting room with our either adding the right direction at the right time, or knowing when to withhold it to preserve the purity of what the actor could bring to the part in the audition WITHOUT that direction. As an example, I remember many director clients coming in for callbacks who ended up “over-directing” the actor and confusing them in the bargain. When I first started in casting, I could see it happening and I felt frustrated watching an actor leave the room without the part…… but wondering what might have been, had they been given better direction. In the last ten years of my career, there were many times I stopped the “goodbye and thank you” pleasantries at what would have been the end of an audition and stepped in to direct one more attempt myself, when I sensed the actor was confused by the previous direction. While I wouldn’t say those last attempts always ended up with the actor coming up with the right take to get the part, I can safely say that it happened enough times to warrant the attempts! By necessity, casting directors  have routinely developed a very efficient direction style because of the constraints of the time demands, coupled with the need for creating a day’s worth of effective auditions. Two things that would otherwise be mutually exclusive since rushing actors through their auditions just to make deadlines, won’t produce anything but a lot of bad reads. There’s something that happens when a good CD is auditioning multiple people over and over again on the same parts and watching the takes to see when one of those takes is right enough to show a client. Or, to erase and try again. You have to keep track of the “tells” in their read that show how they interpreted what you said, so you can address them on the next read. It requires a kind of “sonar” where you essentially “ping” an actor after directing them to see what they interpreted from what you said. And it lets you know what course-correction is necessary in trying the next one. You become better at intuiting what words and inflections are necessary on a actor-by-actor basis, to help each actor understand what is required of them. And because we do it literally thousands of times in our careers, we usually get better and more efficient at it than even our director clients do. My total number of auditions over the 31 years I was in casting, are somewhere in the neighborhood of just under half a million which is not an exaggeration!

The digital revolution of technology has ushered in many incredible benefits to the casting profession. ESPECIALLY now that less and less time is allotted to the casting process. And the time crunch that ensues, usually and inescapably, brings down the quality of the work. I remember hearing the old adage: “You can have it good? Cheap? or Quick! Pick any two!” Nowadays, clients are demanding all three! And if you don’t want to take the project on under those impossible constraints? There’s someone right behind you with little training and awareness of what’s REALLY required to do it right, who’s hungry and willing to take it! So in order to compete, those genuine casting directors who have committed their careers and training to professional casting, often end up knuckling under and capitulating to fairly outrageous demands from ignorant producers. And one of the worst effects of the crunch this time lack has created, is seen in the now pervasive, actor “self-tapes.” I can’t tell you how often I’ve either been asked to film an actor’s audition to try to help them avoid wasting their time entirely, sending a digital audition to a “CD” who’s either unwilling or unable to be in the same room with that actor and roll up their sleeves to read them, the way we did for decades. And the process is getting more entrenched as more as more casting people come up through the ranks thinking that merely sitting at their computer and watching self-tape after self-tape, is actual casting direction. And in the process, the practice of actually reading an actor in real time in the same room, is going the way of the dodo bird. And that isn’t even addressing those casting people who think having actors record their own theater monologues instead of reading actual sides from the project, is a fit way to cast which is ALSO regularly now going on! (I’m also NOT talking about situations in which the actor is in another state and the audition that is being requested is considered more of a one-off rather than the norm for everyone.)

And is the work better for it all? Not a chance! How could it be! The entire art form of telling stories IS communication! So avoiding direct communication in the casting process, can’t possibly have any impact other than a negative one! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read postings on social media besides fielding calls from actors about their confusion about what to do or NOT do in self-tape situations. And each one is potentially fraught with possible miss-steps as no two CD’s end up usually wanting the same things! Some want you off-book, others not. (I always discouraged memorization for auditions for these reasons) Some want specific slates and framings and all these preferences can change from job to job or even from part to part. And the potential for miscommunication of those requirements, increases in direct proportion to the number of actors and their agents you include to coordinate these tapings. And second take course-corrections are virtually impossible unless you reach out and ask for another subsequent taping. But since the self-taping was supposed to save time and a second taping takes more of it,  there’s little chance of it happening since this process is actually a symptom or less time being allotted to the casting process than before.

What I’m saying here is probably going to be understood and accepted by actors as obvious. But it’s not them I’m trying to reach here. It’s casting people and ESPECIALLY their clients for whom this blog is created. I’m not so naive as to engage in the hope that such a blog posting is enough to turn things back to a more sane process like we had in the past. But maybe the conversation can increase about whether to let this odious process expand to the point where the “director” part of the title: Casting Director, disappears entirely. As it is, the Directors Guild of America has been gunning to have that part of the title removed everywhere as they’ve already succeeded in requiring casting directors to use the “Casting By…” in our credits specifically forbidding the word “director” be used. As it is, that old adage still holds true. Self-taping is decidedly “Cheap and Quick!” But it’s seldom going to result in “Good” compared with actual real-time presence and  actual casting direction. Omitting that? Casting almost entirely by way of actor self-tapes, is just casting “coordination.” And we should stop referring to those people as casting “directors” to be accurate …..and to honor the difference between casting coordinators, and those casting directors who actually work with and direct actors in honoring the casting process!

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