The Dreaded Actor Slate

The thing about the dreaded actor slate is that, from what I’ve seen, they are dreadful.

What is an actor’s slate? An actor’s slates is a 3-d, motion version of a headshot – so they say.

But, if you peel back the corner of that industry just a little bit, what you find is a whole lot of drek and yet another way for actors to be both ripped off and made to look stupid – laughable, even.

So why bother?

Well, I’ve done some extensive research on this, and it seems like Casting directors are beginning to want to see actors in person… without actually meeting them. And the best way to do this is to see a short video of them. We do it all the time before on-camera auditions when we slate our names and say what role we are reading for. It’s there to remind whoever is casting what our name is, but it’s also there to give them a clue about us. Namely, can we perform the simple task of saying our own name? It’s the verbal version of a written test where failing to write your name on the paper can actually cost you the whole thing.

Another reason to bother with a slate is that if you are on Actor’s Access the rumor is that they will favor accounts that feature video. Especially slates. Now, I haven’t heard this directly, and I don’t imagine they’d ever come out and say it – seems a little exploitative – but, if this is the case, then slates are becoming crucial to our ability to book ourselves work.

Our reel won’t do alone – we’re playing a character, our work is edited and it can be hard to define our personality solely through our work. And most casting directors don’t have the time to scour through hours of reels. So, someone, somewhere along the way, decided that it would be cool to put an actor on camera, have them slate their name, and talk about themselves. It’s’ a great idea in theory, but I challenge you to google search “actor slate” and see what a horror show it is.

Ironically, actors are not generally taught, or even know how to talk about themselves. And, even slating seems to be a tricky task for about 80% of actors, so the last thing we need to do is spend 2 minutes trying to seem cool, and interesting, and deep, and funny, and whatever it is that actors think they’re supposed to be. But, as the industry slowly begins to absorb the idea of slates into the everyday vernacular, we have to consider what it is we actors want our slates to actually do for us.

And for me, less is more. I don’t feel comfortable nattering away about myself for any length of time, and after looking at about 20 actor slates online, I can guarantee no one else want to see it either. I’d rather have something short and sweet and something I can feel proud of.

So. As an actor myself, I’ve had a good long think about what it is I’d want my slate to look like.

I decided to experiment. Through WakeyWakey Studio – a space that I run in NYC with my husband, filmmaker Seamus McNally –  I started to play with some ideas.

What’s important?

  • Name
  • The ability to introduce yourself naturally
  • Brevity
  • Entertainment

I decided that simply slating an actors name and some sort of candid outtake at the end would be enough video. Intercut that with a few editorial photos (something I already do out of WakeyWakey Studio) and we might have something. As the work and the brainstorming went on I realized that there were other fun ways to capture the spirit of an actor. I’ve included three versions of what I came up with in this post.

What do you think? What would you like your slate to look like? Do you think less is more? Do you know about slates and have you been asked for one already?

Rather than let a group of people – who are not even in our industry – dictate to us what a slate should be, let’s tell them.

No matter what, I’m interested in representing myself and my actor friends in the best light possible. And the current slate format is not working. But, considering it’s now a fundamental part of our toolkit (I might have to update The NYC Actor book!) we should make sure we have access to quality. Our careers are on the line with every single piece of information we share with the industry. We can’t afford to look bad at any moment.

Here’s to making ourselves decent actor slates and here’s to booking the work we deserve!


[UPDATE: Actors Access slate-uploads have a 7 second limit, so make sure whomever you hire to shoot yours gives you a couple of different lengths/versions]


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