The last three years have seen a landslide shift in the casting process. Actors are being asked, with greater frequency, to “self-tape” their auditions and e-mail them directly to the casting office or production team. Every other private coaching session I run is now an audition on tape, where I help my clients capture their absolute best performances.
What’s so thrilling about this trend is the ability to still compete for roles when you’re out of town. You can be enjoying your life anywhere in the world, outside the bubble of the “industry,” and not miss an audition opportunity. Taped auditions minimize the worry of pissing off your agent/manager because the moment you arrived in Cabo, you get an audition for a coveted Q-tip-initiated-eardrum-rupturing scene on “Girls.”
However, it is true that occasionally offices will still insist to see you in person so you must be prepared to jump on a plane to compete for that role!
Here are some tips to make your taped auditions soar!
1. Technical Expectations. During a recent Q&A with my students, the renowned television director David Semel (“Homeland,” “American Horror Story,” “House M.D.”) described what he expects technically from a taped audition (aside from great acting). He said, “It’s important you’re well-lit and that I can hear you.” We’re dealing with industry professionals with extremely demanding jobs. If they click on your footage, and the sound is too low or they can’t see you well, they might adjust the settings on their computer or they might just as likely click to the footage of the next actor.
2. What You Need. Here’s the basic equipment needed to properly self-tape and audition: A quality camera (a no-frills digital camera with a good built-in microphone is all you need), basic tripod, even lighting (natural works great!), a solid color background that is not distracting or shiny, and a reader. Before you begin your performance, do a test to check the lighting and sound. Say a few lines for the camera, record, and then review the footage. Does the lighting look blown out? If so, adjust. How does your shirt look against the background? Inviting and appropriate to the character or unflattering and amateurish? Can you be easily heard on a laptop computer with the volume at a normal level?
This step may take some experimentation to get the lighting, the colors of your wardrobe, and the sound just right. That’s OK. This first step is crucial in creating a solid foundation for you to record your audition and to ensure that industry professionals don’t click away in the first three seconds.
4. Keep that script in your hands. Those lines must be as down-cold as the alphabet when walking into any prepared audition scenario. Though fully memorized, you must keep that script in one hand for two reasons. The first (only applies to in-person auditions), so a casting director never needs to worry if they have to feed you a line. Second, and most important, is that your performance looks like a “work in progress.” Having the script in your hand lends a subtle cue to the director and producers that you’re still flexible, adaptable and more importantly directable with your performance and that you’re not married to a particular take or reading of the character.
5. Don’t slate! Unless specifically instructed to, a rookie mistake is to always slate for a self-taped audition. It’s an understandable error as it’s pretty much standard before every live audition in a casting office. When the frequency of video auditions started taking off last year, my celebrity clients always refused to attach a slate to their tapes. When I asked why, the reason was always the same, “I don’t want this to look like every other audition they receive.”
6. Follow all instructions. Most self-tape requests come with very specific, seemingly anal, instructions from the casting office—some with very strong warnings that if even one small step is overlooked the tape will be automatically rejected. These instructions pertain to: lighting, framing, sound, file names, and your reader. It’s extremely important you read and follow all instructions for taping and sending. Triple check them. You don’t want your audition to be eliminated for a silly reason like not following some office’s fantasy of precision and competency.
7. Your reader. Your reader should be as close to you as possible while being off-camera, positioned just right or just left of the camera. It’s perfectly fine if your reader is the opposite gender to the character he/she is playing. It has never made a difference in an actor booking the role off the tape.
8. Framing. You should be in the center of the frame with the bottom of the frame at the center of your chest and the top of the frame slightly above the top of your head.
9. Sitting or Standing. Ideally, the camera should remain in one position throughout the scene otherwise you risk distracting your viewer (producer or casting director) from the main event: you. Don’t let the person behind the camera try any artsy or fancy camera movements. Chances are, it will just look off-putting and clumsy.
Listen carefully to the start of the piece and make a choice whether you’re sitting or standing throughout the scene.
10. Shoot every scene individually. Unless instructed, shoot every scene separately—they can all be edited together afterwards. Getting to put your best performance on tape is an awesome opportunity! You no longer have to deal with those awkward transitions between scenes that you can’t escape in a live audition. It can be tough in an in-person audition to go from the scene where you’re begging for your life from the lunatic gunman to rattling off highly technical data as an engineer for robots in space.
Taped auditions allow you to shut off the camera and take as much time as you need to jump into a new scene, allowing you to truly capture and record examples of your best work ever.
Joseph Pearlman is a private and on-set coach for Hollywood’s top actors, musicians, and comedians. He works with clients like Zooey Deschanel, and also coaches presenters for all the major award ceremonies including the Oscars, Grammys, and Emmys. Joseph Pearlman Coaching was voted Best Acting Studio in Los Angeles by Backstage’s 2011 and 2012 Readers’ Choice Awards. Joseph Pearlman Coaching is also located in New York. Joseph Pearlman Coaching offers private coaching and classes from beginner to working professional.