EXCLUSIVE: After several actresses expressed frustration on Twitter this week about the cost of self-tape auditions, SAG-AFTRA released a statement lambasting casting offices for cashing in on the process by offering rental facilities for actors.
“Casting offices charging actors for the creation and production of audition tapes is taking our industry in the wrong direction,” according to the statement. “It is an optical and ethical disaster. Actors are already faced with undue financial pressures in their pursuit of work. Casting offices running production and audition services runs counter to the principles of fairness and equity in our industry and the practice should be discouraged.”
“In addition, an evolution of the practice that involved direct charging for self-tapes by the same hiring entity would be illegal. We know that most of the casting community love and support actors, and we must find a better way to move forward with the shared goal of safe, fair, and reasonable audition practices. As a union, we will continue to work to find ways to alleviate unfair practices and mitigate financial burdens for actors, including the new limitations on self-tapes in our commercial contract, a new 5-page requirement limit in our low budget contracts, our work establishing the CA Talent Scam Prevention Act, and our championing the federal Performing Artists Tax Parity Act.”
SAG rules state that it’s a violation of membership Rule 11 “to give casting anything of value, as it could be seen as bribing employees and their representatives for jobs.” The Casting Society of America Code of Conduct also states that it expects members to “to behave ethically by upholding CSA’s values of respect for human dignity, equity, inclusion, equality, and the creation of a supportive environment that fosters creativity.”
On Thursday, Deadline wrote how actresses like Ever Carradine (The Handmaid’s Tale), Merrin Dungey (Big Little Lies) and Sprague Grayden (Hightown) turned to Twitter to protest the pandemic-era trend of (costly) tape auditions and whether in-person tryouts are truly a thing of the past. Carradine noted how an ad popped up on her Instagram account recently for a “respected casting director’s office offering self tape opportunities for a fee. If we can go to casting and tape, can’t we just go to casting and actually read without paying $50 an audition?”
Carradine’s tweets were shared by Dungey, who replied, “This is some real bullsh– right here. It’s bad enough we can’t go in, and to get a great tape you have to use a service because you need a reader/lighting/editing. We are paying to get jobs now. With no notes. No communication. Lengthy sides. It’s not ideal.” Grayden also weighed in on the trend by saying “self taping has given my family and I the room to move to a city that is much healthier for us. I think of the young/ unknown actor who desperately wants a chance to show said casting office what they can do. Who protects them?”
“Twitter has become a supportive community of fellow working actors trying to navigate the industry shift to full self tape,” Grayden tells Deadline. “We don’t chat in audition waiting rooms anymore, but we’ve found each other on Twitter. The majority of the responses to Ever’s post were that … actors talking to other actors about the situation and its implications. I also feel a responsibility to speak for actors who can’t. I’m not famous, I’m a working actor, but I have had the privilege of working with some of the greatest pros in the business from representation to auditions to working on set and I hoped that some of them were listening. I hoped there would be a conversation.”
Other actors weighed in on the rise of rental rooms for self-tapes. Michael Gaston (Five Days at Memorial) wrote on Instagram that “if you’re an actor paying a casting office to help you self-tape an audition, you are not self-taping your audition … you’re being preyed upon.” Actress Claire Coffee (Grimm) thanked Carradine and, Dungey and Sprague for speaking about this “worn-out-its welcome dysfunction.”
Unfortunately for actors, the dream of returning to in-person auditions probably won’t come true — at least for first round. It’s become too convenient for casting directors to review tapes, and it’s certainly a boon for agents who can send a tape to a studio and then tell their clients, “hey, you’re getting a shot” — whether the tape is actually seen or not.
“I have no proof that casting offices watch my tapes. Actors feel like they are sending our work into the void,” says Sprague. “The relationship between casting and actors used to be special. We were a team. Most jobs I ever got were because of a note and my ability to interpret it. A note was an opportunity to demonstrate what kind of actor I am and my versatility. Those relationships with casting also floated many working actors during the lean times. You may not be right for the role you auditioned for, but you knew the read was good and it was appreciated. You were seen. That communication is lost for most of us, and we miss it.”
SAG-AFTRA’s Executive VP Ben Whitehair can’t promise a return to the good old days, but insists that the union is not deaf to its membership’s concerns.
“There is absolutely a population of performers who say there should be no self-tapes whatsoever, that we should demand that we go fully back in person,” Whitehair tells Deadline. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. There are market forces shaping a very different reality in today’s economy. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no way to shape and control this. In fact, that’s the purpose of a union. We exist to help shape that future, and we mustn’t let productions push the cost of casting onto the backs of actors.”
“I do think there’s a strong desire from all performers to at the very least have guidelines against egregious self-tape requests, as we have already achieved with our Commercials and Low Budget contracts,” he continues. “And further, to find a balance where there are opportunities—especially for our senior members, performers with disabilities, and others who face unique challenges with self-taping—to audition in person; or even remotely, but live with casting. The union is very committed to doing everything it can—via our contracts, legislation, member education and more. Most casting professionals are on our side and doing their best, but I think what we’re hearing from members is, ‘hey, there’s got to be a better way.’”