Have you ever pondered the question: what the heck is a “bold choice” and how do I make one in a self-tape? If this question sounds familiar, you’re in the right place. Teachers and casting directors often give actors this feedback about self-taping: “just make a bold choice!” This feedback can be confusing as it is so abstract and difficult to apply. You wish they’d just tell you what this mysterious “bold choice” is so you can finally get back to sleeping at night. The problem is that the phrase can apply to so many choices and it is our job as actors to discover them. Luckily, this can also be the fun part.
What You’ll Learn
By the end of this article, you will understand how to lay the foundations of a self-tape, giving yourself the freedom to play. You will learn what a “bold choice” is and you’ll have the ability to start making them in your self-tapes.
Know the Lines So You’re Free to Play
Before you can make these bold choices, you need to be across your self-tape script. This means learning the lines to the point where you don’t need to focus on remembering them and they just flow naturally. When an actor is still trying to remember their lines while taping, the viewer can see the “cogs turning” in their brains. Actors end up devoting all their creative energy to remembering the lines, rather than making choices.
The tricky part is making sure you aren’t getting into verbal habits with the script. This is where you speak the lines in the same way every time and it can sound quite robotic. You can avoid getting into these verbal habits in a few different ways. One way of doing this is memorising the lines in a deadpan voice, so you don’t practice them with repeated inflections. It is also possible to memorise the thought instead of the line. For example, if the line is “I didn’t see you at Tony’s wedding”, the thought behind that line might be “You didn’t show up for me” or “Why weren’t you there?”. Practising saying the thought behind the line also gives it a stronger intention.
If your character mentions the name of another character in the script, even in passing, be sure to know who this person is to you. What relationship does your character have to this name? If you don’t know the relationship, it becomes apparent that these are just characters and not actual people.
Getting to a point where the lines flow naturally puts you in the right position to be playful with the scene and make bold choices.
Understand the Given Circumstances and Relationships
To be present in the scene and give yourself the freedom to play, you also need to be across the given circumstances and relationships in the scene.
This means asking questions such as:
- Who am I?
- Where am I?
- When is it? When am I?
- Who am I talking to?
- What just happened?
These questions all inform the scene. A scene set in a library will play differently from a scene set in a nightclub. It will also play differently if a character has just won the lottery compared to if they have just lost a pet.
Especially for a self-tape, it is necessary to know the relationship between your character and the character they are speaking to. What is the history of these characters? What do they want from one another?
Once you are conscious of the given circumstances and relationships, you can experiment with these elements. But you’ve got to know them first!
Being Bold = Experimenting
To make bold choices, you need to be comfortable making lots of different choices. Free yourself from the idea that any way of playing a scene is “right” or “wrong”. This also means if you need to submit a self-tape and you record yourself three times, those tapes should show three distinctly different choices. If you get into a vocal or physical habit with a take, challenge yourself to break the habit and do something new. The more you experiment and make different choices, the easier it becomes.
Have a Moment Before
Your “moment before” is the point in the script before the dialogue begins. If possible, in a self-tape, it’s great to give your character a moment where they are alone. The stage directions might provide a guideline for action, but you still have room to play during this moment. For example, if your scene involves two characters sitting in a cafe, you can give yourself a moment alone before the other character arrives. Maybe you are fixing your makeup, signalling to the waiter to come over or nervously sipping a coffee. This is your opportunity to be seen alone by the camera. This is also where the given circumstance of “what just happened” comes in, as it will influence how your character behaves in the moment.
The environment should also influence your “moment before”. If your character is in a desert, you could use your “moment before” to swat away some imaginary flies. Or if they are in the snow, you could shiver from the cold or put on gloves.
… And a Moment After
Your “moment after” occurs after the dialogue ends. Again, the script may give you a guideline but this isn’t a golden rule. If the other character leaves the space at the end of the scene, give yourself time to react to their departure and to what they said. This “moment after” is an opportunity to show your character alone, and it only needs to last a few seconds. The internal world of your character needs to be changed by what happens during the scene. So giving yourself a few seconds before you call “cut” allows you to show this shift.
Don’t Play the Ending
Actors are often told not to “play the ending” of a scene. This means playing the emotion of the scene’s ending before your character reaches that emotion. If a character is told something that makes them angry by the end of the scene, it’s a waste to play them angry at the beginning. It’s far more interesting to see a character experience an emotional change than to watch them yelling for two whole minutes. The same advice applies if your character is being rejected in a scene. At the beginning of a rejection scene, you could give the character a sense of hope that their offer will be accepted. Try to play with opposing emotions throughout the scene, rather than playing a “wash” of an emotion like anger. The varying emotions will all come from the other actor and your character’s objective.
Experiment With “Flipping the Scene”
With every scene you are given, there will be a standard way of interpreting it, as well as a hundred other ways. There isn’t anything wrong with the standard interpretation. Actors will base this interpretation on the given circumstances of the scene and it will often reflect the writer’s intentions. But you don’t need to limit yourself to the “correct” interpretation.
“Flipping the scene” is where you change the given circumstances of a scene to help you make a different choice. If you simply try to “play it angry” or “play it sad”, the scene might come across as forced or two-dimensional. Instead, you can play with changing the given circumstances. This could involve giving your character a secret, for example, they’re having an affair, they’re pregnant, they committed a crime or they cheated on a test. It could also involve reimagining the character they’re speaking to, for example playing it as though they’re speaking to a child or an enemy instead of their partner.
Another way to flip the scene is to reimagine the setting you’re in. Especially if you’re doing an angry scene, it can be tempting to get loud. To make a “bold choice” you could play the scene as though your character is in a setting where they need to be quiet, for example, a crowded restaurant or a library. Then you could give them one line in the entire scene where they forget to be quiet. You also shouldn’t feel restricted if the script says your character is in a car or another confined space. A “bold choice” could involve changing the setting (to a place that fits the scene) and moving freely.
To make an exciting choice, you might need to get yourself into the energy of the scene. It’s difficult to play high-stakes circumstances and find the right energy when you’re self-taping in your living room. “Carbonating yourself” is about creating fizzy energy inside of you. If it’s an angry scene, you could find this energy by screaming into a pillow. If it is a high-energy scene, run around, do some star jumps or pushups. For a happy scene, you could jump up and down a few times. After you do this, go straight into filming the self-tape. Generating this energy will help you be emotionally present in the scene and make choices that fit the circumstances.
Use a Prop
While props are not necessary for self-tapes, having one can ground you in the scene and make you feel less physically awkward. If the stage directions specify a small prop such as a notebook, a pair of glasses, or a cup of tea, then actually use that prop. As well as giving you something to do, it will help the person watching the scene to visualise you in the setting. The way a character interacts with a prop can also reveal their emotional state. For example, if your character is wearing a necklace and keeps fiddling with it, this could show nervousness. Incorporating a prop can also solve the actor’s ongoing dilemma of… what do I do with my hands?
Listen and Be Present
The phrase “bold choices” might seem overwhelming, but what often stands out as “bold” acting is when the actor fully listens and responds to the other person. This means focusing your energy on the other person, rather than on how you are acting. If you view some of the most famous audition tapes by celebrities, the actors are listening, responding and truly playing.
“Being present” can also mean finding the words as you say them. When people speak, they don’t speak in perfectly thought-out sentences all the time. Instead, we find our thoughts as we speak. Try to experiment with chunking down the lines and finding the thoughts phrase by phrase. You can use the energy of the other person to help you find these thoughts.
With self-taping, it can be tricky to build off the reader’s energy, as actors often have to self-tape with others who may not be actors. Try to still thrive off the other person’s energy as much as you can, even if you don’t see them as the strongest actor.
The idea of “making a bold choice” in a self-tape can overwhelm and lead actors to spiral. But it’s exciting to think that there are no right or wrong choices, only more and less exciting ones. To find these choices, you can flip the circumstances of a scene, bring in a prop, scream into a pillow or experiment with your “moment before” and “moment after”. The instruction “make bold choices” is ultimately permission to play, experiment and make mistakes. That’s where exciting things happen.