Are you there?
Yes. I’m here. I can hear you, but I can’t see you.
Oh, let me check. There, can you see me now?
No, not yet.
Ok hang on. Now?
Yes, just a little—there we go.
Ah! Great! Hi!
I can see you now.
Looking into a little black dot, you wonder if anyone is truly seeing you. You are staring down the eye of a machine hoping to find another something real on the other side. You are connected, yet removed. Filtering across space and time in millions of waves.
What sounds like sci-fi movie material is the glorious invention of Voice Over IP services. In common speak, this internet telephony means Skype, FaceTime and the like. I know you know what this is, and probably use it every other day. But get ready—it is the new media wave for auditions, chats, and interviews. You will be looking into that little black hole a lot.
So much focus is on money and timesaving measures in the entertainment world, both for big budget and independent projects, that it is hardly surprising such a tool is being utilized on a regular basis. One can get the aliveness of having a face-to-face meeting mashed together with the flexibility of the internet. Most casting directors still seem to prefer meeting in person, but this is a handy go to for those in different locations.
When the idea is to save time and money, don’t waste someone else’s with problems that could have been sorted beforehand.
Now, this is probably not huge news to most of the industry. Jennifer Lawrence got her role in Silver Linings Playbook through a Skype audition. Director David O. Russell said in an interview with Gregory Ellwood, “They [Jennifer and Bradley Cooper] spoke on the phone for a very long time, [and] then I Skyped my audition with her. That was my first time I ever did that and she dressed up in character for the role and stole it right at the last second from three other very big actresses….” Of course, he had noticed her first from Winter’s Bone, but still, that cinched it for her.
And Jared Leto famously flirted with Dallas Buyer’s Club director, Jean-Marc Vallee, over a Skype test chat while he was in Berlin. This uncomfortable encounter, along with Leto putting on lipstick and wearing a pink fluffy sweater, convinced him he was his “Rayon.”
Other than the potential for winning an Oscar, it seems these online meetings/chats/auditions are key to securing work in today’s environment. I’ve spoken to indie directors who are using it as a “weed-down” tool. See all reasonable applicants for a ten-minute, no-cost chat, and use that to figure out those you would like to see in person. It also means possibly being struck by someone who wouldn’t have initially been strongly considered. As with most things in this world, practice and throwing caution to the wind make perfect. In the meantime, here’s the nitty-gritty.
1. Don’t you dare wear pajama pants.
I will come over there and not-nice-and-charity-supportive-ice-diet-coke-bucket you. Yep. Sticky.
Dress as if you were going to a live audition or meeting. Exactly the same, no corners cut. If you were going to go all out and wear special wardrobe, do it. If in blacks, do that. If it is just an informal chat, still look nice and put together. These types of conversations are now becoming a useful business tool, so treat it as one. You might reason that the person on the other end sees only your shoulders and pretty face. What happens if you need to get up and get something? What if the director decides he wants to hear you like a voice from above and asks you to stand on a chair? Anything is possible in this crazy, wonderful industry. Do not look like you just rolled out of bed (unless that is the look you are going for), even on the bottom half.
I challenge all the ladies, and men too, to put on a pair of heels vs. slipper socks and see how that changes the way you feel and sit.
2. All systems go.
Check your computer. Test drive it. Test drive your audio levels, your camera and your chat systems. Try it out on friends, lovers, mom and dad, anyone first. Charge your battery, or have it on the charger. Make sure you have the other person’s login or phone number, and they yours, before the meeting. Log on to the tool ten minutes before the scheduled call. I have received messages right before a call over Skype that ask if we can push the call back a bit—the director is running late. You want to seem flexible and on top of things.
When the idea is to save time and money, don’t waste someone else’s with problems that could have been sorted beforehand. That said, accidents happen, and technology sometimes fails. Most people are pretty understanding. Don’t panic. Handle it with grace. Sometimes self-deprecation and comedy work too. Have a back-up plan in mind.
3. Put the work in.
A video chat is like any other audition or meeting. You have to prepare. There is the added camera element to think about. You need to rehearse with your computer. Yes, get nice and cozy talking to it. Yes, cry in front of it.
Unless it is an informal read-through, be very familiar with your script or notes. Every time you look down at them, you will lower your eyes. It can sometimes be appropriate for character, but it can also be very distracting for the viewer. Don’t think they can’t see it, or that you can hide the script because it’s a video chat. If you need to use it, do. Just be aware of how it will look.
4. Do I look into the camera or not?
This is a very specific thing to consider for a video chat. Most directors or casting professionals don’t care. Record a test both ways and see which you like better. As with most elements of auditions, make a definite choice. They will tell you if they want differently.
5. I see me.
Another thing special to video chats: you can see the image of yourself. Now, this is not just for the narcissists or the self-conscious. This can be very, very distracting. “Is that a nice angle for my face? Is my hair okay? Wow, I look good! Oh crap, I’m so pale.” These things will all go through your mind. It is the mirror complex. It is near impossible to be staring into one and not look at yourself, or even pass one without a glance. It is also very weird and distracting to be in character, seeing yourself in character, talking in a conversation with your character that you are.
Solution: take away your video. If you can’t do that, tape a piece of paper to the screen to cover it up. If you can’t do that, move the box out of direct eyesight.
All in all, live long and prosper—and roam free over the internet waves of creativity.
Photo by Gabe Contreras.