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The Art of the Self-Tape 

Monty Jones gives an exposé on the psyche of a struggling actor.

The self-tape: the bread and butter of every budding actor, each holding the potential to lift you from obscurity and financial destitution to having something you can force your friends to watch and enough money to buy a half-pint in Soho. It inevitably starts with an email containinga description of a character you’d be perfect for. They look like you, they sound like you (after a borderline offensive attempt at an Australian accent it was decided you would only be reading in RP), and you’ve got a whole week to prepare and perfect your performance. You subsequently procrastinate for the rest of the week until the night before it’s due. 

The set-up is all important. The desired lighting should resemble the blinding glare of a police interrogation only achievable by pointing every available light source directly at your face. Potential costuming should be assembled in a heap of vaguely relevant clothes on the floor. It should be noted that the use of props, whilst preferable to miming, does present its own dangers. The accidental lighting of cigarettes, for example, can lead to several small carpet fires. If anyone does notice any burns in university carpeting,  those weren’t me,   it must have been some other idiot flicking cigarettes away to dramatically punctuate monologues. You prepare yourself for the first take by making final adjustments. You find your mark in front of your precariously balanced phone, fiddle with your hair, then try and get it back to how it was before, give up, and begin.  

It feels like it went well. You watch it back and it’s pretty good. But your shirt is wrong. You select a new one from the pile and go again. Almost immediately you look directly into the camera. You berate yourself at length, reset, start again and do exactly the same thing. You take a moment. You’re too tense, in your own head. You need to loosen up. You grab a beer from the fridge, just a couple of slugs to relax. But you’re thirsty and you down it. You grab another one, take a sip, set up, start again and look straight back into the camera. You down the beer in frustration. Post-beer you feel a lot better and knock out several takes in a row that you’re absolutely certain are incredible, but upon rewatching find that they are both filled with mistakes, and your voice in them sounds far too loud. At this point it’s probably around two in the morning and you’ve disturbed a long-suffering neighbour who knocks on your door to let you know they’re trying to sleep. You apologise profusely and tell them you’re just finishing up. You aren’t. 

At this point you’re feeling pretty exhausted and decide to caffeinate yourself with whatever’s at hand, typically Diet Coke and, rejuvenated, you launch into another attempt. You optimistically anticipate this to be the one, finally completed. However, assessing the footage, you’re disturbed to find yourself blinking intensely throughout. Concerned, you have another go only to find yourself once again doing an imitation of a hostage desperately trying to communicate in morse code. Finally, you decide to concentrate only on blinking as little as possible and after observing how you’d look as a deranged serial killer, succumb to the caffeine crash and fall asleep. You wake up the next morning fifteen minutes before the submission deadline and after swiping through attempt after attempt of varying degrees of failure eventually arrive at the very first take. The shirt is wrong but it’s pretty good. You send it off.  

Image Credit: Gracie Oddie-James.

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