At the end of most casting days, there is approximately 2-3 hours of video of the actors’ auditions. Most of the time, the ad execs and director watch that video in thirty to forty minutes. More times than not, they make up their mind on the slate whether to watch an actor’s audition. So many actors are not thoroughly viewed or seen at all.
Your slate tells those viewing your audition if you are “cast-able." Much of that decision to watch past your slate is based on whether your physicality fits their specs and whether the viewing public will identify with you or aspire to be you. After that, then how you slate, your presence, and how you connect to the camera is really important. Your physicality for the most part is subjective, but your slate is totally up to you and can be a strong asset if done well.
Saying your name seems so simple, which is why many give it no real thought. This can be a mistake because the slate provides important information about who you are. It depicts confidence or lack of, essence, a personality, and so much more.
From years of casting and teaching, I have seen most of the ways that actors make bad first impressions with their slates. When actors are too perky or “cutesy," it appears that they are trying to be “commercial” or working too hard to be likeable, which makes them appear insincere, insecure, or poorly trained. If actors appear moody, sullen, uptight, or arrogant, it gives an impression that actor could have emotional issues. If they are slick or monotone, they appear unbelievable or unlikeable. If they don't hold eye contact with the camera, they seem afraid, shifty, or inexperienced. If actors speak too fast or too soft, it makes them appear nervous, shy, or inhibited. If they speak too slow, it often comes off as patronizing, and if they speak too loud, it suggests they have done more theater than film work or that they are trying to reach the camera with their voice.
Most actors don’t knowingly choose to do their slates any of these disempowering ways. It is usually an unconscious act, habit, or a manifestation of their nerves, which make them look inexperienced.
I suggest that you slate as if it were an introduction to someone, not as a presentation, announcement, or line reading. When auditioning, I suggest that you honestly introduce yourself to someone in the room (usually the person running the session) while looking into the camera lens. You should be positive and enjoy introducing yourself. Smile, if it feels right, but if you smile just to smile, it will look insincere. Smile because you are confident and having fun, then it will be relaxed or engaging.
Be spontaneous! Don’t lock in one way of introducing yourself. Be aware that each time you say your name the inflection is just a little different. If there isn’t some difference each time, then you have probably locked into a “line reading.” Add a “Hi, I’m" or a “Hello, my name is” and then your name. This will make it friendly and less like you are reporting for military duty.
When nervous, laugh a little bit (to relax yourself) before you “slate." It helps to release the nervousness and quickly shifts you into a positive energy. If you have been told that you are "not really you" in your slate, then you should give it some attention. There is no second chance to make a first impression. This is especially true for commercial auditions. Slating is important.
NOTE: Sometimes actors want to know if they should slate in character. I suggest if you are unsure then ask the session operator. To learn more about slating, watch a video here.