Self taping has increasingly become the primary way to audition. Many callbacks are even shifting to virtual. With that in mind, producing a professional-looking self tape is crucial to boosting your chances of getting seen and booking. But when you’re just starting out, it can feel a little overwhelming. Here are some tips and tricks to set you on the right track.
1. Setup is key.
Having the right setup makes a huge difference in the look of your self tape. Space can be hard to come by, especially on a new actor’s budget. A blank wall in your home (or a friend’s home, or whatever space you can borrow) can work great as a backdrop. Soft blues, or increasingly grays, are going to be the easiest to work with. If that’s not an option, there are backdrop kit options online that come with stands that can be broken down and put up wherever you like. Make sure to keep them clean and wrinkle-free for the most professional look. Remember—however you set up, you’ll want enough room for a wider shot and a full-body shot, as most self tape auditions require the latter.
2. Assemble the right equipment.
For any self tape, you’ll need a camera, tripod and lights. Especially for shorter tapes, the newer iPhones or smartphones may have good enough cameras.
3. Don’t forget software.
When you’re assembling equipment, it’s easy to forget about the editing phase, but editing is hugely important to creating a professional product. While you may be able to do some edits directly on your phone, getting comfortable with some basic editing software, such as iMovie, can be a game changer.
4. Read everything.
Self tapes are not standardized. Different casting professionals will ask for different things. Be sure to read absolutely everything in the breakdown and follow every single direction, from taping to labeling tapes. Missing something could make the difference between getting seen or not.
5. Find a good reader.
Having a good reader is more important than you might think. A good reader will support without overshadowing, work with you on pace and cue pickups, and sound natural and comfortable reading behind the camera. A reader who is unfamiliar with acting may be loud, stumbling or stiff, which could provide distractions.
6. Work on your slate.
Almost every self tape will require a slate. Often this is the only moment you’ll get to show off the real you, so getting comfortable with your slate is important. Practice finding a good connection with the camera. Do several slates in a row to shake off any stiffness. You want to be relaxed, concise, and genuine. Most breakdowns will tell you what information they want included, usually some variation of name, height and location. Don’t add a lot of extra stuff here unless asked for it. While you don’t want to perform your slate, it’s alright to be conscious of what you’re auditioning for. For example, a slate for a commercial might be the sunniest version of your slate, while an audition for a dark drama might be more understated. But these differences should be subtle and natural.
7. Learn best practices.
While there is no real standardization, there are many unspoken “rules” to self taping. Many are technical—cut down excessive movement, choose sight lines close to the camera so they can see your face, don’t spike the camera (accidentally looking directly at camera), suggest, rather than dress up as the character, etc. And some are more intuitive—finding your rhythm, learning to have fun and be vulnerable, building confidence. Keep an open heart and student’s mind when you are taping—each one is a learning experience. The more you do, the more you’ll pick up what works and what doesn’t.
Especially if you’re just starting out, this can feel like a lot. Remember, you don’t have to do everything right at once. I had my camera propped up on a tower of books when I couldn’t afford a tripod. If you can’t get top-of-the-line equipment right away, it’s better to have a cheaper version than nothing! Other actors are your greatest resource. Connect with other actors in your area and see what equipment, space, and reading services you can borrow, trade or rent. If you don’t have a good reader in your area (perhaps you just moved), Zoom can be a workable option. The more you self tape, the more you’ll learn about what works for you.