The call comes in: it’s your agent asking you to lay down a self-tape and you need to get it in right away. Even if it’s a self-submission, it’s an audition and it needs to be great!
With all of the advancements in cell phone technology, shooting quality video is now easier than ever. However, we’re not making YouTube videos here; self-tapes are part of your job interview and the results must be quality. So what do you do? Shoot them yourself? Ask a friend for help? Use a self-tape company? Hire an acting coach to work with you and have them shoot the self-tape?
While there is a lot of great advice on the mechanics of a great self-tape—lighting, audio, angles, etc.—I’m instead going to focus on what needs to happen in front of the camera, from you, and what it takes to give a powerful performance. To keep things simple and as replicable as possible, let’s focus on what I consider the three major aspects of a great self-taped audition:
Your talent and ability to get up underneath character and story to make yourself shine.
You’ve got to deliver an outstanding read. This is key for a self-tape or live audition! Whether you’re shooting with your phone or a professional camera, if your performance isn’t there, it’s not going to matter who shoots you.
When making the decision to shoot it yourself or to work with an industry professional, think about where you’re going to be able to deliver your best work. Even though you may feel comfortable with your friend at the helm, they may not be giving you the best input to help your performance.
Every read is different. While you may feel confident knocking out a page and a half co-star on your own, a seven-page guest star may require professional coaching. Know what your capabilities and shortcomings are.
The specific details and methodology required to effectively do something well.
Throughout my years working in the industry, I’ve seen more and more emphasis than ever before being placed on the quality of the deliverables: name, role, height, close-up...whatever they’re asking for. Between meeting the approval of your representation and that of casting (if they’re going to actually show your tape to the director), self-tapes need to be more accurate and look more like actual movie scenes then self-tapes. Know exactly what they’re asking for and deliver it, keeping in mind allowance of personality and openness to camera.
Ultimate skill resulting from your ability to combine both art and technicalities.
Making it personal, believable, and interesting—that’s your craft! So take the time to understand the project you’re auditioning for, develop the character to the best of your ability, and know the story your character is telling. Learn the material, don’t just memorize the lines (although good memorization skills are a huge plus).
The seeming advantage of submitting a self-tape over a live audition is that with self-tapes, you can shoot 50 takes in your efforts to get it “just right.” And while that may make you feel good, if and when you do get the called back to audition live, you’re not going to be granted that same liberty.
The answer? Always be working! Whether you’re on a project or in class, keep working. Work scenes, tape yourself performing monologues, read out loud, do voice, articulation, and breathing exercises, create characters, play! A working actor is the easiest actor to hire. And it’s not difficult for casting to differentiate between the two. The more you work, the more experienced you become, and with that comes confidence, strength, and presence. Then when the camera is on you, it won’t seem like such a big deal and you certainly won’t need endless takes to get it right.
*This post was originally published on March 5, 2019. It has since been updated.
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.