Self-tapes are rapidly growing in popularity within the casting industry and have, in fact, revolutionized the way actors audition. After all, a performer living in, say, Tennessee can audition just as easily for a gig in California as the locals can. And self-tapes keep talent in the game even when they’re on vacation or busy working a regular job; but if all goes well, actors need to be ready to drop everything should they receive a callback. Modern-day performers must adapt to this digitized form of auditioning by learning some basic technical skills–skills that might not be altogether instinctual at first. Most importantly, your first impression must be that of a professional. With that in mind, here are some self-taping essentials to improve your chances of landing auditions. In a nutshell, every tip is designed to make sure you can be seen and heard with clarity by the viewer.

The ever-important background

To showcase you and your talent, every single visual distraction must be eliminated. So chose a background with a solid color whether it be a painted wall or a backdrop. White, black, gray, or blue make good choices. Avoid surfaces that are shiny or have patterns, and if you use a sheet, make sure to iron it first. And, whatever you do, make sure the viewer cannot see the actual space from which you’re filming. Casting director Anne Chapman is adamant, “I don’t want to see your pantry. I don’t want to see your cat. I don’t want to see your bed.” Failing to follow this protocol seems to be among the most annoying self-tape practices that casting professionals encounter. Don’t give them any reason to immediately delete your audition.

Wardrobe

Avoid wearing any logos, words, patterns, or jewelry. Rather, wear a top that’s a solid color. However, don’t wear the same color clothing as your background because doing so can give the appearance of a floating head. Make sure your clothes match the character in both essence and time period.

Framing

Position yourself so your whole head is in the shot along with your shoulders, down to about your armpits. Whether you chose to sit or stand, the camera should be at eye level. Lay your camera flat or invest in a tripod to keep it still, as moving the camera will distract from your performance.

Camera

Use a quality digital camera or a cell phone. Today’s cell phones offer very good quality as well as sound. When using a phone, make sure to shoot the audition horizontally. Apps such as Splice or iMovie can be used to edit and send videos straight from your phone too.  Also, in the quest for quality, some actors opt to use HD, but this is not advisable because the hyper-detail HD offers is rather unforgiving.

Lighting

Proper lighting is essential for self-taping and needs to be approached with care. Avoid using overhead lights as they can give a harsh, unflattering look. And avoid sitting with a light source emanating from behind because it will give an unacceptable silhouette effect. The goal is to achieve a soft, balanced light that eliminates any shadows on your face. Natural light is a great option, or you can purchase lights. Either way, do a test run to make sure the shot is not too dark, is not blown out, and especially that the shot is in focus.

Sound

It’s crucial that your voice be able to be heard with ease. A built-in, quality microphone should do the trick, but do a soundcheck to make sure you can be heard when playing back the footage on a computer at a normal volume. Also, choose a quiet room free from distracting air conditioners or sounds of city traffic.

Line reader

If the role for which you’re auditioning requires a line reader, position that person off camera but nearby. The line reader should speak relatively softly as the volume of his or her voice should not dominate your own. It’s okay if your reader happens to be the opposite gender of the character being performed. Most importantly, listen to the reader and react naturally.

The performance

Finally, you’re ready to do what you love to do most: Act! One of the advantages of self-taping is you can take your time and do as many takes as you want. So enjoy and be bold! As casting director Erica Arvold notes, “I’ve found when hiring off of a tape, if someone makes the wrong choice, but they made a really strong choice, and you can tell they’re a fabulous actor, they will still get the part over someone who makes the right choice but maybe it’s a little looser or maybe it doesn’t really feel like they’re that committed.”

Following instructions

Make sure you follow casting’s instructions precisely whether it deals with exactly how to slate, label your file, frame your shot, or where to look when saying your lines. Many commercial auditions require the actor to speak directly at the camera, but sometimes they’re asked to look off to the side. By following each of the details, you keep yourself in the running.

It’s surprising to hear how many actors pass on invitations to submit self-tapes. But getting a handle on the process and submitting self-tapes can open up an endless stream of opportunities. So make sure to submit your videos as often as possible.  

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