Actors have been “putting themselves on tape” for years. Born out of necessity when a casting office couldn’t get a known actor in house to see the producers, grainy, hollow-sounding video could still be procured and overnighted on a disk. It wasn't ideal, but it was a big step forward.
Today, of course, it’s not just known actors who are asked to “self-tape.” Technology has advanced to enable actors to audition from anywhere, at any time. What could be easier? You have an HD video camera on your phone, you can send the video in an email, for free. What’s not to love?
As a result, casting calls go out from on-line services soliciting auditions from anyone who’s interested. And many are. That’s the beginning of the headache that often builds on both sides of the table. While we continue to shake out the efficiencies of the online audition process, here are five pitfalls to watch out for.
1. Auditioning on video is different than auditioning in person in more ways than just the technical considerations. You don’t get to have that brief interaction with the casting people in the room, and they don’t get to gauge your demeanor as you saunter in. (Both of these things could work in your favor!) More importantly, you are expected to submit a stumble-free video audition, since you have the opportunity to record several takes. In person, if you blow a line or lose your place, everyone has to witness it, and suffer along with you.
2. Video auditions should be shot in close-up. Most casting directors will tell you that they’re looking to see the life in your eyes when you read for a part. On a video that will be played back in a small rectangle on a computer screen this is best demonstrated by shooting, as I like to call it, from the clavicle up. Why does that matter to you, the actor? Because you must be unnaturally still! Any head movement in a tight frame will look like you’ve just mainlined caffeine, or worse. Not pretty. Even wildly emotional, action scenes must be shoehorned into that small frame, with very little physicality.
3. Shoot the audition from a seated position. It doesn’t matter what the character is doing. You will perform better (i.e., be more still) if you have both feet solidly on the floor and your butt on a chair. No one watching the video will know whether you were seated or not.
4. Do not fall into the trap of recording your audio on the built-in mic on the camera. There are many inexpensive solutions to this problem, and you are not to be forgiven for not taking advantage of them. Recording your voice to the on-board mic, even from just a few feet away, is the equivalent of submitting a faded black and white headshot – with jelly smudges on it.
5. Make sure your contact information is part of the video itself. Sure, you name the file the way the agency requests it, your name, project, character, etc., but the file name can be easily changed after it has left your computer. You should have your name and contact info on the video itself to make sure you’ll never be the answer to the producer’s question: “Who is this actor that we almost called in for our last project, but who would be great for our next one? I’ve got her audition right here, but the file name is Rejected_JT_Untitled.mov.”
When possible, let the pros shoot and deliver your audition. The caveat is that not everyone who says they are skilled at shooting and delivering a video audition really is. Get references, ask questions, and look at samples. Once you’re satisfied that you’re in the right hands, you can concentrate on the audition rather than the technical stuff, which is, of course, your best bet.
Brad Holbrook is the founder, chief cook, and bottle washer of www.ActorIntro.com, a Manhattan studio that creates video marketing tools for actors. He also trains and coaches actors in the skills required for performing on camera, privately and in group classes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brad has spent his entire adult life in front of the camera. After getting degrees in theater arts and journalism, he first worked as a reporter in a small Midwestern TV station. That led to a 20+ year career as a reporter, anchor, and host at stations across the country. For the past several years, he has had the chance to scratch that acting itch again, and has worked as an actor on NYC stages, as well as in network TV shows and studio films. Currently he plays a TV host in The Onion News Network’s continuing parody series “Today NOW!”