In this week’s episode of Casting Frontier’s Bring It! video series, casting veteran James Levine and actor and session director Charles Carpenter discuss tags, also known as buttons, which occur at the tail end of a performance.

First of all, what exactly is a tag? Levine explains, “It’s the next thing this character says in character in this situation after there’s no more dialogue. After the script is fulfilled and achieved—the camera is still rolling—this is the next thing the character says.”

Tags can occur at the end of a monologue or scene and are often added in commercials, so the performance ties up neatly and with personality.

For example, you’ve just finished your lines, but casting or the director has not yet called “cut.” There’s a brief and awkward moment when your facial expression indicates you’re no longer in character—and that moment is captured on tape. When playing back the audition or scene, that quick moment zaps the momentum of the performance in its tracks. This is easily avoided by simply adding a tag.

A tag can show up as an expression such as a smile, smirk, wince, sigh, nod, or knitted brows. It can be an expressive interjection like “Ahem,” “Argh,” “Huh,” or “Mm-hmm.” Or it can be a remark, but Carpenter suggests it be limited to five words tops. “It’s a button—not a zipper,” he insists.

“You are showing us a fully realized character,” he continues. “You owe us the second before and after the scene. So this is a great way for you to keep that energy and momentum going.”

It’s important that a tag advances the situation. It’s not about adding a joke out of the blue at the end of the scene. The tag must complement the material. “The idea is to keep the energy, the pace, and the timing of [the scene] moving,” Levine says. That includes reflecting a change that happened within the scene. Indeed, while reading a script and breaking it down, something new is revealed to the character(s). A button expresses a finishing touch to that turning point.

And make sure not to offend your scene partner with your tag. After all, snarky remarks have a way of killing a scene. Levine sums it up by saying, “Don’t make negative choices.”

Tags are a great way to play it when casting asks you to take the material and “make it your own,” or “play with it.” They are opportunities to show your flare, be distinctive, and be creative. In this way, audiences remain engaged with the character and want to keep watching the performance. And buttons can inspire a response from a scene partner, further enriching the interaction. And finally, tags bring closure to the scene, make a terrific impression, and increase your chances of landing a gig. So have fun with them!

Determined to help actors cut through the mystery associated with the casting process, James Levine authored an enlightening book entitled Bring It!, along with Charles Carpenter and Jim Martyka, which will be released digitally in the near future. In the book, Levine shares helpful audition information from the vantage point of a casting director as it relates to commercial, film and television acting. The book’s chapters correspond to the Bring It! YouTube series.

Casting Frontier’s YouTube channel publishes weekly video tips, tricks, best practices, interviews with industry professionals and more. Stay tuned next week to watch the ninth episode of the Bring It! series with James and Charles. Or better yet, subscribe to Casting Frontier’s channel so you know as soon as the next episode is out!

 

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