By now, I’m hoping you are familiar with all that is involved in the shooting of a great commercial self-tape. It was a quick change from merely being responsible for your actor pre-work and showing up to the audition, to being in charge of everything. EVERYTHING. Let’s make sure we are all on the same page.
Here’s your current job list:
Camera Operator: Your phone is usually a great option, filming horizontally (a BIG deal) with a tripod to film at eye level. Framing is a very important thing to pay attention to. The casting director should tell you (in the video or written instructions) what they are looking for.
Sound Technician: Sometimes the phone has a sufficient mic (do a test!), or an external mic may be in order. It is important that we are able to hear you. External noise may or may not be a big deal. A plane flying by isn’t really a problem, a neighbor’s band practice, on the other hand, is.
Set design: Occasionally you are asked to be in a specific environment (in your kitchen, for example). When this is the case, declutter a bit. Your kitchen shouldn’t be more interesting than you are. Less distraction is more. Most of the time a neutral background is requested. A blank painted wall is great, or a backdrop (photographer backdrop or pressed sheet) works just as well. We may ask that you are seated at a desk or at a counter. You don’t need a real one, just something that will work as one.
Props master: When there are props in a commercial audition scenario, you’ll need to gather them. You can make a fake prop, use something that is similar but not the exact thing, or you can grab the real deal. I rarely find miming to be the best choice. Who is good at miming?
Lighting design: Lights are more important than you may think! Make sure your light source is in front of you, not behind you. Consider purchasing a box light or ring light. Natural light is fantastic if you have a set up where that conveniently works. If the natural light is on one side, make sure you have a light on the other side to avoid shadows. Do yourself a favor and work on a flattering light setup for self-tapes.
Director: Oh yes, possibly the most challenging of them all. For self tapes, you are your own DIRECTOR. Of course, you will be given direction from casting in your self tape instructions, but that’s nothing like having someone giving you direction in real-time. Self-directing is HARD, HARD, HARD. But that’s where we find ourselves. Concentrate on a few specific and smart commercial choices and having a couple of great buttons (in addition to all the good acting stuff you know and love) and you’ll be on your way. Don’t forget blocking and sightlines. Did I mention this is hard?
It’s a sizable list of stuff resting on your shoulders. Anyone telling you something different isn’t being truthful. But I’m going to add one more thing to your list of responsibilities. This one isn’t so well known and widely shared.
Commercial actors should never fail to have FUN. I’m not kidding. This is very important.
When you watch commercials, you’ll see that they are primarily filled with warm, likable, nice, relatable people. Obviously, you’ll want to come across as warm, likable, and relatable in your audition as well. While it’s possible to be annoyed with the process of self-taping or virtual auditions and still come across as likable in your audition, it’s tougher than you may think. Generally finding the fun in commercial self-taping is going to serve you well.
Find fun in the process. Everyone is different, but here are some ideas for finding the fun:
1. Have a self-tape partner. If it’s not easy to have them in person, zoom them in on your computer while taping on your phone. Two heads are better than one and misery loves company, right?
2. Try to geek out about the tech aspects. You are on a self-taping learning curve, and a small improvement is a step in the right direction (that may deserve a cookie).
3. Take a class where self-taping is involved. You’ll likely get great ideas from others and practice is a no-stress way to inch closer to being at ease. With ease comes the fun.
4. Think of self-taping as an opportunity. Mindset is big. Thinking of self-taping as a gift vs. a burden is good! Not only is it an opportunity to audition for a job, but it’s also a chance to gain new skills, stretch your knowledge, or simply be grateful you can film it at your leisure without getting into your car.
Find fun in the script. This is where you put on your director hat. The goal is to find yourself thinking, “It would be hilarious if I did it this way,” or “It’s funnier when I take a beat before I deliver the line.” Sometimes finding the fun in the copy/scenario is simply bringing yourself to the role, including your own spark or charm. Are you laughing? Smiling? When you’re having fun, we (the ones watching the auditions) are having fun. Trust me, that’s a good thing.
Laurie Records (Casting Director, CCDA) has been working in the commercial realm since 2004. In 2009, Laurie launched her own company. While she casts all types of commercials, she has broadened her horizons to include casting web content for network television, television hosts, industrials and dabbles in film from time to time. Recent commercial jobs include Fancy Feast, Dyson, Snapchat, Toyota and Mutual of Omaha. She’s worked on “This Just In…” for the Cartoon Network. Laurie also cast the Movie Surfers for seasons 16-18, as well as online content for The Muppets & Muppets Now. Laurie teaches one-day online commercial classes almost every month and will go back to attending Los Angeles theatre as soon as humanly possible.