If you haven’t been asked to do a self-taped audition yet, just wait. Once upon a time actors only had to worry about acting. But in this new era of self-taping, we’re frequently asked to send a good-looking and -sounding audition video to casting directors instead of reading for a role live and in person. These auditions are produced on our own, wherever we happen to be at the time, meaning we have to know how to do location scouting, lighting, sound, and camera work in addition to acting.
This brings up questions. What are some best practices for making a video that shows your acting in the best light (literally and figuratively) possible, while staying true to the industry’s expectations and technical requirements?
While your main priority should always be your acting prep, there are a handful of rules to producing a solid self-taped audition. Not following these rules is a great way to pull focus away from your acting no matter how great it is, which is the last thing you want to do.
Whether you’re using your phone or an actual camera to record, here are my top five most important things to make sure your self-tape looks and sounds as good as your acting.*
Ensure Good Audio
A lot of actors focus on making their audition look good, but it’s just as important that it sounds good. Whether you’re using your phone or a camera to tape, you shouldn’t rely on the microphone in your device. They’re not the greatest quality and are notorious for picking up the closest sound source, which is probably the person closest to the camera. In our case, that’s our reader, the person reading the lines of the other characters in the scene(s) and also tapping the “record” button. It’s your audition, not theirs, so make sure your voice is the one best heard by using a lavalier (or lapel) mic. That’ll ensure your reader’s voice is muted, as is any room noise. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on this, a $15 lav mic will isolate your voice just fine. I’ve recommended this one in the past, but also think this one’s a good choice. If your phone doesn’t have a headphone jack, don’t forget an adapter. You can also try a shotgun style mic, but they’re best suited to very quiet rooms and more elaborate recording rigs.
Keep The Image Steady
Now that your sound is handled, make sure your video is stable. A tripod, or anything that will hold a camera still, is a must. If you submit a video with handheld camera work, instead of watching your acting, casting directors will just say, “Why did they send us shaky video?” and move on. I use a travel tripod like this one, but honestly, you can pick one up for much less and it’ll do the same thing as long as you have the correct adapter to attach your recording device. Try this adapter if you’re shooting with a phone. If you’re using a camera with a threaded hole in the bottom of it, the tripod likely comes with the correct threaded shoe to lock it down. If you don’t have a tripod handy, at least balance your device on something stable like a bookshelf.
Keep The Background Simple
The best place to shoot is in front of a blank wall. Find one that will allow you to stand 1-2 feet in front of it and remove any posters or hanging pictures. Stay away from wallpaper or walls with textured patterns. If that’s not doable, you can always thumbtack a plain blue or white sheet to a wall and shoot in front of that. Don’t position yourself right up against the wall. You want to have some separation to avoid weird shadows that can pop up behind you. Whatever you do, make sure your light source is not behind you as you shoot. No standing in front of a window. Taping in front of a light source means your audition will be in silhouette and we won’t be able to see your face. Instead, position yourself so that your light source is off to the side or behind the camera. Ask your reader (who will likely be standing right next to your camera) to be still while you shoot, so they don’t inadvertently cause shadows to creep around the shot. Shooting in natural light is fine in a pinch, but it’s good to have an artificial light source if you anticipate doing a lot of self-taping. You can use household lamps, but there are plenty of affordable lighting options out there. I use this light kit. Take a look at this one, or this one, too.
Speaking of setting up your shot, always shoot in landscape orientation unless you’re told otherwise. I know we’re all used to shooting vertically because of Instagram, but most CD’s and producers are making content for wide screens, not tall narrow ones. Give them an audition that matches their project. When framing your position in the shot, make sure we see you from at least the belly up. You can get closer if you like, where we see you from your chest or shoulders up. This will ensure the frame is filled with your lovely acting, and we’re not paying attention to anything else. It’s probably best to avoid an extreme closeup where we’re filling the entire frame with your face, as well as wide shots where we see your entire body. If the directions have specifically asked for those shots, obviously use them. But you can’t go wrong with a chest-up shot.
After you’ve taped your audition, you need to save, export and send it off. The file format that provides the best quality while keeping the file size relatively low is mp4. Depending on the software you’re using to capture and/or edit your file, it might export the video in this file type by default. If you’re given the option to select a file type, go with mp4. For sending, you never want to attach your file to an email. It’s probably too large for anyone’s inbox and will be rejected. You might be able to transfer it through the service that sent you the audition, like Actors Access. But when I need to send another way, I send files with a free service called WeTransfer. It allows you to send up to 2GB, which is plenty big for most auditions.
These tips line up with the entertainment industry’s best practices. As always, read everything that comes with your audition and follow the directions. If you’re told to shoot vertically or to text your audition to someone, go for it. If not, follow these tips and you’ll be presenting a video that says you not only know how to act, but how to do a proper self-taped audition, too.
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