Beauty On The Fly

The Self Tape is the Future of Casting Actors-Adapting in the Age of Corona Virus

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If you can dream-and not make dreams your master; If you can think, and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two imposters just the same…” an excerpt of the enlightened poet and writer Rudyard Kipling titled, If.

Article by and Photo of Model/Actress Paula Erskine. Representation Vogue Models and Talent Agency. Photography by Alexis Lagos of Laced Up Imagery. Makeup by Artist Wilfer Torres. Hair by Duarte, of Studio Hair Design, Toronto, Canada

Lights, Camera, Action!

One feels that with the reality of the Pandemic Corona Virus, accepting our new roles in this world play, as Shakespeare has described, is in the hands of us, the players. The stage is the whole of the planet’s inhabitants, each doing our part. The drama is real. I bow to all of those who may barely be able to help themselves, and to those whose compassion and professions triage the victims of a villain that lives in all of us.

A week ago, my modelling agent requested a self tape. A casting director had seen my picture and asked via my agent to submit an acting audition tape. I had to choose between five scripts. As we are all staying at home other than going out to attain our essential services, I had to get into resourceful mode from basics to completing the submission. There is a first time for everything. In a short few days, I went from zero to daunting to anxiety to determination to revelations to self tape mission accomplished!

The only thing holding me back, was, me, until now. The mind was the enemy. I did not dare utter the fear of failure. In the wake of Corona, this challenge was unlike the danger filled challenges of the other players in this play. So with this perspective, I pushed forward my being into an uncomfortable and slightly familiar yet mysterious realm.

Modelling is a hint of acting, creating a mood. Interpreting scripts meant I had to read between the lines. Reading a script is different than reading a book, because it does not come alive until one understands where the characters come from, what is the setting, and emotions being explored and expressed.

 Armed with Second City Improvisational Acting chops, I dug in with that “yes and…” narrative we use to build scenes out of thin air. With two sheets in my hand, I pulled out my highlighter and circled my lines. First thoughts were, I don’t get it. I don’t. How does anyone see life breathing through these words? Initially, I read them fast, to get them over with. Then I read with my roommate a few times. Then I realized on the second day, it reminded me of the movie The Notebook. Although I enjoyed the movie, I had to do it my own way. Partially because I am older than Allie in her younger years, and younger than the character in her older years. Also I did not have the elaborate set, the budget and access to luxurious video equipment. 

It is literally trying to think as the character, and saying something that only hints at the essence. We do this. We try not to hurt people’s feelings, we try to tiptoe around subjects. We avoid talking directly about what is really bothering us. Then we occasionally, react in an unhealthy way. Insults, gratitude, upbringing, word explosions, emotional meltdowns, damage control, clamming up, holding our breath, holding a grudge, keeping the peace, chip on our shoulder, sighing, oppression, joy, pursing our lips, a nervous habit, furrowing our brows…it is all fodder for acting.

Emotions unfold slowly. Acting aficionados call it processing. What is our process? Expressing the thoughts on your face, in the recoiling of one’s body, a flinch, a lunge, a smirk, a sneakiness, an innocence, masking a troubled past. Acting is not literal, or should I say direct. Our actions do not always match our deeply guarded desires. 

Like life, we are thinking of one or many things, and doing and saying another thing. What is our motivation, our embedded conditioning behind the words spoken? It has made me wonder if bluntness is the quickest way to destination. So many times, negative circumstances have sparked a drive to grow, learn and overcome life’s obstacles. But the aftermath of reactions keeps us in check. A part of us reigns in the ego just before blurting out, who is anyone to judge? My approach was, I must complete a decent self tape, and I took uncharted steps in that unknown direction.

So I approach it by quarantexting my artistic friends for advice. I educated myself with youtube for acting lessons. I will share these few gems, (in the next article), that, in a short few days catapulted me to the next level of understanding my inner actor.

First, I wanted to set the stage. I bought a king size grey colored bed sheet for a background from Walmart. I also bought a 60 cm black web wireless selfie stick tripod kit to house my phone come video recorder in horizontal mode, the preferred way to submit a tape. I placed it on an ironing table covered with a white sheet, while my roommate read her audible, off camera, lines, filmed, cued, and directed.

Another handy item off the shelf at Walmart purchased was a pocket sized clip on ring light by Bower. I got this idea because all the vloggers use a large ring light with a smartphone stand. Even though it is small, this clips on around the camera lens of your phone and did a decent job. I could not get too far from the phone, because I did not have a lapel mic (also recommended by my agent), but the phone mic turned out to be sufficient. I ordered a lapel mic and adapter from Henry’s. It did not arrive in time, but I messaged the help chat my phone make, my tablet make, and they sent me a link for the exact model of mic I needed and an adapter that could also be ordered.

I did order an 18″ ring light plus an 8′ stand from www.henrys.com, suspecting it would never arrive on time. I had a deadline, and shipments are backed up everywhere. I especially chose Henry’s because dealing with a Canadian expert and supplier avoids the charges customs may tack on to an online shipment from the U.S.A. Also Henry’s has a live chat option where I asked and they sent me links to the products I was describing I needed for an acting self tape. This saved me hours of time trying to mastermind the equipment needed. My good friend and actress Patty Sullivan simplified that she just finished her self tape in her kitchen with her smartphone stacked on top of books. All this equipment can be used as tax deductions towards any income gained in modelling or acting under supplies.

My friend Alexis Lagos and photographer for modelling and acting images recommended natural light ideally on 3 sides, (like a bay window I didn’t have), and not to mix lights. She also advised to use a sheer curtain if I had it, and throw white sheets or bristol board around to reflect light. My agent gave written instructions to this effect, adding that an overhead hanging ball light, if faced with filming in the evening, would give a nice soft light. Light behind you causes shadows. 

When I completed the first script taping, I wanted to demystify another script with my friend. We read it together, and googled, and suddenly we had an inside scoop on it, and I felt compelled to try it as well. (Details to be revealed in the next article).

My second script I attempted to create an old fashioned Hollywood lighting effect with a desk task lamp and made “barn door” flaps (4 pieces/flaps) to square off the the light with black bristol board, or black foam board (and duct tape). To achieve this home made effect, I had to put dark sheets on the window to make the task light the main source of glowing light shining from overhead onto my face. Done right, it can create a shadow to sculpt the jawline. I lost a lot of daylight trying to figure this out. Day became an evening shoot with just the task light overhead. While my photographer friends may cringe at this makeshift, improvised attempt at the technique, at least I can say, I tried. It was not perfect, but these are the perils of the self taping that must be forgiven of ourselves and casting directors.

I improvised lighting and reflective equipment from a dollar store. I stumbled upon silver toned front and rear reflective car sunshade panels by ProAuto for just a few dollars. I used these double windshield sized panels secured with duct tape to reflect light from the window from the sides and just under the camera to bring some light into the eyes. I also put white sheets on the sides and white bristol board under and in front of me. I took a few test shots to see if the lighting was okay. I also had bought strong thick rope from the dollar store. I put two identical lamp stands onto night stands from my bedroom, onto stools, onto upside down canvas paintings, tied a rope between them then secured each lamp stand with furniture and duct taped the gray bedsheet (which I painstakingly ironed), and made a backdrop for my shot. This cut my living room into a quarter. So gray backdrop, myself and a chair, an ironing board with my phone secured in the tripod, and my line reading roommate draped in a white sheet behind the camera, was the stage.

I taped a small piece of paper with a circle, like an eyeball to one side of the camera lense. So when I did my lines, I looked into the circle as if it was the other character. Looking into the middle of the camera does not work. Thank you actor Michael Caine for advising us all, pick an eye of the other actor, the one that allows the lense to show most of your face. In this case, my taped paper eyeball. Do not dart your eyes or try to look at both eyes if someone is there. A movie camera picks up little details. It is layers of self awareness, but a peeling away of self consciousness.

Although the script actions required kissing, dancing, crying, screaming, running it was impossible because of microphone issues, framing issues (to not see the ceiling, the floor, the piles of furniture on both sides of the backdrop. So after trying to memorize my lines and lamenting the logistics of creating the scene that I knew from movies, I researched and brainstormed. What might I possibly do to convey intimacy, reactions, emotions and actions? I did not come to this conclusion alone. But after very much advice and research on youtube, and sleeping on it, I made the decision to perform sitting in a chair. The casting directors want to see your face plus just around your waist to see your hand and arm gestures. Big gestures for theatre, medium gestures for TV and much smaller movements and gestures for movies. This was a movie script self tape to demonstrate my acting interpretation and ability.

Let us not forget the slate. State your name, agency, height and age on video before starting your scene. Ideally you have shown them your angles by standing facing left then right. One slate I did separate because it was my first attempt, and there was very much emotion, and I did not know if I could just jump into character. Technically, it should be all one video. The second script, (which was not required, but I felt a breakthrough of inspiration), I included the slate in the body of the video. I submitted the tapes via Actor’s Access to the casting director that requested them based on my photo head shots/body shots at my agency Vogue Models and Talent. Actor’s Access also has a live chat option which talked me through downloading the tapes. I was asked to email them, and the service submitted them for me.

I proceeded to my Actor’s Access pages, profile, added two extra pictures for $20.00 to my profile which had a surprisingly dated picture of me from two years ago. So I shuffled them, and put the newest pic as the main one, and kept the old one where I had blond highlights. Then I cleaned my actor access house, adding movie and video projects from the past, my other talents, makeup artistry, Padi certified scuba diver, Fire Fighting, First Aid, Second City Improvisational Actor Training, and a few more interesting details. There is a size card, and I always make sure my photos are not too photo shopped, the absolute minimum. It will not get you the job if you look different in person.

I would love to record my new evolving acting journey in the next article. Hope you comment below, subscribe or learn from my experiences. Opportunity is knocking in the form of a casting director requesting a self tape. I simply wanted to fulfill an inner promise to complete this project. I learned so much in a few short days. Perhaps we all go through phases of growth spurts and stagnation. For those of us who are privileged to have a home or shelter and are staying safe, it is a great time to expand our skills while flattening the curve from our living quarters. And for those still on the front lines, we salute you.

33 Comments

  1. Ki

    April 19, 2020 at 7:31 am

    Wow beautiful woman inside and out

    • Jenny

      April 19, 2020 at 4:39 pm

      You are one INCREDIBLE woman & you never cease to AMAZE us!!!! Not only are you talented, but you are a BEAUTIFUL person person inside & out!!! The world needs people like you to make it a better place!!!! Thanks for being the cheerleader…the inspiration…& the role model for so many!!!! Wishing you nothing but SUCCESS in your future!!! GOOD LUCK!!! XO

      • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

        April 19, 2020 at 5:44 pm

        Jenny!

        How lovely! I want to say, this is unfolding in a very spontaneous way for me. One minute I am admiring Kyle, your son, his acting of his own screenplay CRATED, then, I am in awe of him! Then this self tape request comes in, and I am thinking of Kyle actually, then I am telling myself, if he can do it…well, maybe I can develop my skill set further…the movie inspired me! No joke!

        And because of my Improvisational Acting background, I just did not want to say “I can’t”…because a part of me needed to grow and learn and hone my skills. Acting is layers of skills and experience accumulated…and studying and executing the process has been really fascinating.

        We are all watching movies and tv at home, listening to music, and we sometimes take a good movie, all its actors, its components that make it a success, for granted. But now I am observing what I have been enjoying through the eye of a new lense.

        And it is conjuring up a new way to study and express human behaviour, enough to tell a great story. So for those who have not seen the recently released Crated movie on http://www.primecapitol.co, you are really missing a suspenseful and well acted movie that the whole family will enjoy! (I bought instead of renting, so I could watch it again, and pick you guys out!)
        Acting is a journey, as is writing, modelling, but it is all creative, and if it helps me write better, great, if something else comes of it, even better.
        It is simply professional development for my personal thirst for knowledge of acting.
        I will share more in my next blog.
        Thank you for your loving comments, you are one of the most positive people I know. Respect for you and Andrew, all the way.
        And thanks for all the entertaining posts, you guys are hilarious!

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 19, 2020 at 5:17 pm

      Kieta thank you, you know I am a fan of your beauty, your face exudes inner light!

  2. Pamela

    April 19, 2020 at 8:25 am

    Such great tips as we navigate in these times. A dot placed near the lens would help so much for photos and online chatting too. Thanks for sharing!

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 19, 2020 at 3:19 pm

      I know 3 fantastic Pamelas, unique and lovely in there own right. So, whichever Pamela you may be, thank you so much for your comments. We learn from each other!

  3. Rania

    April 19, 2020 at 9:19 am

    You are a beautiful beaming model!

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 19, 2020 at 3:17 pm

      Thank you Rainia!

      Even though we are far away, I respect and admire you from here to Egypt and back! Namaste, you are beautiful too. Take care of yourselves! Stay Safe!

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 19, 2020 at 3:21 pm

      Thank you beautiful Rania!

      I admire and respect and send you best wishes from here to Egypt and back! Stay safe and collective in the ether. Loved having you visit us just a few short months ago!

  4. Stacey Noonan

    April 19, 2020 at 10:43 am

    Fantastic and beautiful Paula!

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 19, 2020 at 3:08 pm

      Stacey!

      So nice to hear from you! Thank you for your humbling comments. We have come a long way since training together! You are my peeps! Sending you a virtual hug through the ether into that blissful place of Niagara Falls. One of my favourite places on earth. You are wonderful, I can just see those mystical green eyes of yours shining through here. Keep smiling and fighting the good fight. Stay home, and Stay safe to your bunch.

  5. Kristi

    April 19, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    Paul’s writes amazing things and she says things that make you think! ❤️Thank you for being so positive!

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 19, 2020 at 3:10 pm

      Kristie,

      I heart you too, ever positive, ever compassionate, ever beautiful. Thank you for your lovely comments…you are deep, my friend…

  6. Niti

    April 19, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    You are very beautiful Paula…inside and outside.

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 19, 2020 at 3:16 pm

      Thank you Niti for reading and commenting. Nice to hear from you here. Very sweet. Namaste.

  7. Lydia

    April 19, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    Inspiring. Thank you.

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 19, 2020 at 3:14 pm

      Thank you Lydia,

      Great to hear from you. You inspire me as well. Remember our photo shoot of you, with Alexis Lagos and myself as your makeup artist? You looked stunning. You played the part. So many photos that I loved from our day shooting secretly in condo café, the Toronto skyline, the light the energy, your inner beauty was oozing. One day, you will play a mad scientist in a Bond film or equivalent, you can do anything!

  8. Julie

    April 19, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    I love everything about your learning spirit! What a great reminder in these times that you can learn something new with a little ingenuity. Thanks for the reminder Paula! Xo

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 19, 2020 at 3:03 pm

      Hi Julie,

      We have done so much Improvisational Acting in the aisles over the years, how we have laughed together! You are a great and accomplished actor and singer yourself. Keep it up, all of it, and thank you so much for your comments. You are also a learning spirit, love your energy and zest! Very proud of all your endeavors thus far. Onwards and upwards! Share your projects with all of us!

  9. Martyn Smith

    April 19, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    Awesome writing and what a positive message. Needed to read it as it was the kick in the butt I needed to start taking advantage of this time and try doing something out of my comfort zone.

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 19, 2020 at 5:26 pm

      I am kicking you right now, Martyn! In a loving way! You are more than hilarious, the big pants, the jokes, the timing, you are my comic hero! No go inside and finish that book! If you need an editor, Brian Henry of http://www.quickbrownfox.com is a wealth of information, and if you don’t take his classes, he edits people’s works. And he has had many of his students published. I have taken a couple of his courses, and he is very nurturing and knowledgeable. There are lots of writing contests in his rich blog of resources for writers. I did the makeup for one his students for a book cover. Anita Robinson, who wrote, Broken Worlds. She was the one who told me about him. Alexis my photographer shot her too. So when you need a book cover photo, she is your gal. Very kind of you, very thoughtful of you, now let’s be productive writers! Let’s change the world! With humor, irony and insight!

  10. Nadine McCoy

    April 19, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    Great blog with useful tips, adding a new word to my vocabulary “ quarantexting”!!!! Paula you’re not only gorgeous but super talented as well!!!

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 19, 2020 at 5:20 pm

      Nadine,

      You are literally an angel…you are hilarious, yes, aren’t we all quarantexting?!! Glad you picked that out, you picked it up like a gold miner. Hopefully, there are royalties on making it up…I think I did…it makes perfect sense! You are doll, thanks beautiful!!

      • Eva

        April 19, 2020 at 11:31 pm

        Awesome to see you bringing this new light, or as you called it a new exposure. You are beautiful Paula, shining like a star in the midst of self isolation. Always brilliant and inspiring, you never stop to amaze me. Best of luck!

        • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

          April 20, 2020 at 2:33 pm

          Eva!

          You are my good friend, my Garden Flower, my arranger of reflective thoughts, my confidant. You are like a sister to me. And I love your big beautiful peeps. You are a hostess with the mostess, and not just in the air! Your love and passion for flowers and exceptional decorative taste are inspiring! When this giant hiccup in life subsides and restarts a new, sustainable existence, please, come rearrange my furniture again and again, help me to see your artistic vision of how to decorate our lives with the things we already own, with an accent of glorious flowers from you. I am sure your flower garden is also coming along this spring, please share your images with us! Thank you so much. This means a lot.

  11. Haig Bedrossian

    April 19, 2020 at 6:50 pm

    Hi Paula, This was great reading your process and journey. Smiles, H

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 20, 2020 at 2:35 pm

      Haig,

      Thank you! Very nice to hear from you after such a long time! One day we will meet again, perhaps at your parent’s cottage I remember from childhood. Give your parents my warmest greetings. Wish you all good health in these trying times.

  12. Leonor

    April 20, 2020 at 2:53 am

    From the day I first met you, over 20 years ago, your infectious laugh and sense of adventure taught me that this aviation job of ours was going to introduce me to some truly exceptional people! Yourself, of course, being one of them! I wish to see you again very soon, my friend and have more of our long chats and belly laughs! You have endured many depths, and still you fly high! Stay safe and healthy and I pray we will see each other soon, on the wings of our blue star ✈️

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 20, 2020 at 2:25 pm

      Len!

      I mutually admire you, what a wonderful comment! I also wish to see you, somewhere in Europe as is our habit, criss crossing the globe with our airline selves!
      So lucky we were in airline training together, and I got to enjoy this familial bond with you…1998 till now! Yes we work with exceptional humans, great material for acting! I can always count on you to read my hand signals in the air for “C” (coffee), “T” (tea), hand twist in the air for the tossing of a pizza, and the ever controversial “milking the cow” in air, for milk. Wherever our trolleys take us, we will die from laughing before we die from anything else. Big hug Len, you are precious and beautiful, I love you, girl.

  13. Pam Cooper

    April 21, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    Wow!! What a process and you’ve been so thorough. I love the depth you’ve gone into around emotions and how “our actions do not always match our deeply guarded desires”And…. Yes and!!!!! Oh how that brought back such a flood of memories. Wishing you much success. Hugs!

    • Stylish Stewy/Ask A Flight Attendant

      April 21, 2020 at 6:36 pm

      Yes! And…Pam!!! You were there, we were in classes together, with Patty too! It changed the course of my life! Second City Improvisational Acting can shape they way one navigates their life! We had so much fun, sweetie dahling! All the best to your lovely family, and you, Pam, unforgettable and talented! I know that you have the acting bug as well. So much fun.

  14. Gangsta

    May 12, 2020 at 5:14 am

    You amazed me seriously. I still couldn’t imagine how you turned the living room upside down turning it into a functioning studio. How you stayed up every night researching and learning new information. How you memorized and practiced your lines amidst all the emotions of self doubt and determination. All these in less than a week. And now writing about it. Still amazes me.

    • Catwalk to Runway

      May 12, 2020 at 10:22 pm

      Thank you my enlightened line reader, you were an integral piece of the creative puzzle. Could not have the same result without all your input! Very grateful to you, thank you.

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