Self-Tape Debate Hits U.K. as Actors Demand Regulation: ‘We’re Being Treated With Absolute Disdain’ (EXCLUSIVE)

The debate around self-taped auditions has been quietly gaining traction in the U.K., where many actors share their American counterparts’ concerns about the regulation of the popular practice.

Variety can reveal that a group of U.K. actors have now launched a set of revised self-tape guidelines in a bid to raise awareness of a model they say is broken and inequitable. The collective argues that self-taping requirements rob actors of the in-studio learning experience and feedback from directors. Under the new guidelines, actors should receive a full script rather than small excerpts; know how many other tapes are being submitted; get sufficient time to deliver their materials; and have transparency on where their tapes will end up.

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The practice of actors filming their own auditions and submitting them digitally to casting directors preceded the pandemic, but became routine during the COVID crisis when studios were shuttered. But while in-person meetings returned at least a year ago, self-taping has stuck around, and was even formalized in 2021 with guidelines issued by the U.K.’s Casting Directors Guild in partnership with actors union Equity and the Personal Managers Association. These groups have said that self-taping opens jobs to a greater diversity of candidates, and makes the industry more accessible and cost-effective for those who live outside major hubs like London.

Yet the organizers of a new drive for self-taping regulation say the 2021 framework is no longer “fit for purpose.” The actors spearheading the drive — who have requested anonymity for fear of being blacklisted — have consulted with a group of around 200 peers for more than six months. Variety understands that their proposed guidelines have been issued to various agencies, and are being circulated across the industry.

“Putting the onus on actors to effectively audition themselves is unfair, inefficient, unnecessarily time-wasting and often adversely impacts the livelihoods and wellbeing of actors,” reads the lengthy document, seen by Variety, and available in full here.

The group also argues that rigid deadlines for self-tape submissions show a “lack of consideration and respect for actors, creating an environment of exclusion and inequality.”

“We’re not saying that people need to stop self-taping,” one of the organizers, an established actor with decades of experience, tells Variety. “What we’re talking about is bad practice, which is so common now. This is about saying, ‘If we’re going to have self-tapes, they need to be done in a way that’s transparent, regulated and fair.’”

Another organizer adds: “We’re not talking about the Olivia Colmans of our world. Things are very different for those people. This is about the jobbing actors. And right now, we’re being treated with absolute disdain.”

The new criteria propose the following eight pillars:

Independent regulation: The creation of an independent body to oversee and regulate the casting process.

Safeguarding and accountability: Notification that a tape has been viewed and who it has been forwarded to.

Data protection: Tapes need to be deleted on every laptop they have been sent to and a notification sent or agreement sought if they are to be kept.

Transparency: There should be an obligation to provide the number self-tapes requested for the same part and whether or not the part is already out on offer.

Full script with clear and meaningful direction: Sending a full script to actors should be standard practice. There has to be context to make meaningful character choices.

Fair turnaround: The previously agreed four-day turnaround time for self-tapes must not include weekends.

Realistic expectation: At the first pass, the actor should not be expected to learn the script which can run to several scenes.

Yes or no: There should be a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘it is out on offer’, within a reasonable time frame. Actors are capable of holding good, bad or indifferent news; it is part of the job.

Organizers say they hope steps can be taken to update the existing framework for self-tapes, though a productive discussion has yet to happen. Sources indicate a meeting was held with the CDG in 2022, though no representative for actors was involved.

In response to the criteria, the guild told Variety: “There will sometimes be circumstances in which a fast turnaround is required, and when that happens we ask members to be clear with agents about the reasons why. We regularly remind our members of the agreed guidelines and respond to any complaints received. We cannot, unfortunately, address complaints against non-members. We are always open to conversations about the guidelines and ways they can be improved.”

Equity and the PMA did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Personal managers and casting directors say a balance is needed between digital and in-person auditions.

The regulation of self-taped auditions has been among the hot-button issues debated Stateside as the Screen Actors Guild prepares to enter bargaining with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers from June 7.

In the U.K., that same dialogue has been simmering behind the scenes between the CDG, PMA and the acting community. “There have been a lot of conversations around it, and we all know there are enormous pros and cons both ways,” says one PMA member who spoke to Variety on the condition of anonymity.

“It’s quite difficult because casting can be so last-minute,” they say. “Everyone wants as much time as they can to learn their pages, but realistically, we’re now in a business where everyone’s working remotely and wants things right now.”

Ultimately, as a manager, they “just want [their] clients working,” and to make that happen, the source takes on the more labor-intensive parts of the self-tape process, such as editing, uploading and emailing the auditions to casting directors.

Do they field complaints about self-taping from their clients on a regular basis? “It’s a mix,” says the manager. “Some people really enjoy it because it takes the pressure off, and casting directors are seeing people that they might not have otherwise auditioned.

“But women are adversely affected by self-taping,” they observe. “Anyone who’s balancing childcare and is self-taping at home finds it incredibly tricky.”

Mark Summers, a veteran casting director based in London, is an advocate of self-taping, but allows that it’s not for every actor — particularly some older actors who might be less familiar with the technological know-how required — and that there needs to be a balance.

“Clients should offer a choice for actors of doing a self-tape or coming into a casting studio,” says Summers. “You can be the best actor in the world but it’s about direction, and actors need to be directed. When you’re on your own, that can be really hard.”

Summers, whose credits include everything from indie movies to Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift music videos, also underlines that casting directors shouldn’t be scapegoated in the ongoing debate.

“A lot of casting directors are blamed for the delivery time, but we’re not to blame,” he says. “Clients have been avoiding bringing people into casting studios because they want to save money. But that doesn’t work because performers need direction. If you’re stuck outside London, that’s brilliant for a self-tape but there has to be a reasonable amount of time for performers and agents to get these tapes back, but also for the casting directors, who are burnt out.”

No one becomes a casting director for the money, says Summers, and many of his peers are increasingly feeling the squeeze, too. “This is the issue: auditioning is becoming less of a creative role, and more of an admin role.”

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