Jason Sudeikis arrives for the Ted Lasso Season 2 Premiere. Photo credit: DFree / Shutterstock.com

In recent years, casting has largely transitioned from an in-person process to virtual. Actors, who were used to focusing on just the performance aspect of auditions (as well as battling traffic), quickly found themselves needing to be technicians. Suddenly, actors who’d never created self-tapes, or never auditioned online had to scramble to learn about lighting, audio, and camera options, find readers, and direct themselves while at home. How well do casting directors think actors adapted to this challenge? During a SAG-AFTRA Foundation conversation with Emmy-nominated casting directors, several of them weighed in on the topic. Here’s what they had to say:

Wendy OBrien, Abbott Elementary” 

O’Brien talked about the challenges she still encounters with self-tapes. “Oh, I think lighting is still huge. I feel like we should all know this at this point. But lighting and sound. There’s so many tapes I get, and I just can’t hear properly or I can just hear the reader, and I can’t hear the actor. So just the fundamentals still are important.”

Sherry Thomas, Barry”

“The self-tape game is like on A+ from where I sit. The people that audition quite frequently from self-tapes really have it down. There are some that maybe don’t have the opportunities as much and for whatever reason, even when they do it on their phone, it isn’t as glamorously shot. There’s a raw edge to it that quite often goes with whatever the character is, so it works. Look, I think the biggest thing is to not have a reader who is overpowering what you’re trying to do. They should help facilitate the audition; they shouldn’t be a part of it or try to outshine in any way. And volume is a key thing, too for the reader. You want to make sure you can hear the actor, and if the reader is the person who’s also filming, just make sure that there’s a little bit of distance from whatever the device they’re recording on. And keeping it grounded and not trying too hard.”

Theo Park, Ted Lasso”

“I have to say, I’m continually impressed. They just get better and better because, obviously, actors are having a lot of practice doing them. I don’t know, I’m less interested in the fancy stuff. But, yeah, the lighting and the sound is quite important. But I don’t mind if it’s on an iPhone and they’re holding it, as long as you can get it—get into the scene with them.”

Jeanie Bacharach, The Dropout” 

“I tell actors, it’s just, to me, the most important thing is really playing the scene. I don’t care if it’s [perfectly framed]. I mean, yes, you need to be seen well, you need to be heard. But play the scene if you’re playing the scene. That’s what’s going to captivate me. Walk in and out of frame, I don’t care—as long as you’re playing the reality.”

Meredith Tucker, The White Lotus” 

“Yeah, I very much agree with what Jeanie just said … Also because we’re not in the room with these people, give us a few options. I think don’t just send one. I mean, don’t send like 50 either, but two or three takes of the scene, especially if it’s just one scene that you’re taping … Especially a new show where you don’t know the tone. You know, a lot of series are very secretive about scripts, and you don’t get the whole script. So I think sometimes that’s helpful.”

Linda Lowy, Inventing Anna”

“I don’t put a lot of pressure on actors in terms of self-tapes. Actors are not technicians, and I don’t think they should spend a lot of money or worry about that part of it so much. Look, sure, you have to be able to see it and hear it, but other than that, if I need them to do it again, we just ask them to do it again quickly—just with a little more light or just if the sound really doesn’t work—but hardly ever. And I will take anything. And I agree with Jeanie. You’re just looking for them to give you something about the scene, the character, the context. So there’s a lot of rope there for me.”

Rachel Tenner, Severance”

“I’m pretty basic. I just want to be able to see and hear you, and everything else is dealer’s choice. I don’t think you have to have a big fancy light ring and all that kind of stuff. I think just as long as I can basically see you and hear you. Then if you want to do a scene outside in the woods because the scene says you’re in the woods, like godspeed. I love it. Whatever you want.”

Avy Kaufman, Succession,” “Dopesick” 

“I’m so impressed with all the self-tapes. I’m so impressed because we’re all alone. These actors are all alone to find someone to read with and to set it up. I’m so impressed with the way everyone has handled it. The most frustrating part is not being in the room. We don’t give a lot of scripts out, so when we’re not in the room with them and we can’t give them little secrets and hints about how to shape their auditions, it reflects when they do the self-tape because they haven’t read a script. They don’t really know everything that they need to know. So I’m more intrigued with how well everybody has sent in these tapes. And sometimes we ask for tapes within 24 hours … Overall, the lighting and the sound, we often have to say can you retape because we didn’t even get your slate. But overall, I’m incredibly impressed with what all the actors have done.”