A Casting Director’s Tips for Improving Your Self-Tape

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Photo Source: Photo by Reafon Gates from Pexels

With everyone staying at home right now, casting directors are turning to self-tape auditions as opposed to in-person auditions. Casting director Robert B. Martin of Digital Dogs has been working in casting for years and knows exactly what a strong self-tape audition needs. During a YouTube Live for Backstage’s new digital video series The Slate, Martin offered tips for how you can improve your self-tape.

Make sure your environment is professional. 
“One thing that’s very important is that you have some good lighting. I have two key lights right now. These are Lowel Omni minis, one on each side so that way I’m getting a nice hit. There’s not a lot of shadows...Another good thing to do is when you’re at home and you’re looking for a backdrop, you want to get a background that isn’t too distracting. You don’t want to shoot it where you can see your living room. Otherwise, the attention for the viewer is going to go off in the background. They’re going to start looking at stuff that’s in your background rather than focusing on you and what your scene is. You can utilize curtains in your house or you can go online and they sell backdrops that we use in the casting studios. Those probably run about $100. You can probably get some for a little cheaper between $50–$100. It’s really how much you want to invest to make sure your self-tape looks professional. You want to look as professional as possible.”

Understand the concept of the project and who you’re auditioning for.
“The most important thing that I look for is ‘Does the performer understand the concept of the project we’re casting?’ Meaning, ‘Does he or she understand the material?’ That is the most important technique. That’s the most important audition aspect that I look for. For instance, say you’ve been in a class and see somebody and they do an awesome scene or you’re watching auditions and say ‘Gosh, they were so amazing but, they just didn’t get it.’ The question is: What didn’t they get? It was a great audition, they had great technique, their choices were great. But they just didn’t get it. So what are they saying when they say they didn’t get it? 

Well, they didn’t get the concept. They didn’t get the type of project we were doing. They didn’t get what the character was supposed to be doing or the true meaning. In other words, say you have a scene and Christopher Guest is directing it. Now, what if I told you it is [the] same scene but it’s not Christopher Guest, it’s Steven Spielberg who’s directing it. OK, let’s change it up. What if I said it was Michael Bay directing it? Each one of those directors is going to be a different tone. You’re going to approach the audition differently because each of those directors has a certain style and technique and because you’ve seen a majority of their movies, you already have a general idea of what they’re looking for or the style of performer that they’re looking for or, most importantly, their concepts. The types of concepts and movies they make. That’s my point. You really want to understand who you’re auditioning for so that way you can make the appropriate choices.”

Provide a simple full-length body view.
“If you’re doing it by yourself, do the slate. Stop or cut, pull out to a wide, do the wide shot, cut, and then go back in. So you just insert it in as simple as that. I’m not looking for ‘Hey. What’s up? I’m Robby Jr.’ pulling all the way out to a full body looking [and] looking, spanning up and down and right in. All I would need is ‘Hey what’s up? I’m Robby Jr.’ Cut to the full body. Boom. Cut. Now we’re into the scene. It’s totally fine.” 

Make sure you have a reader and feel free to use an app as one.
“There are several apps out there that you can get. You do the reading yourself and then you play it back. I’ve tried it once and it was super easy. It might seem a little weird for some people, but I didn’t think it was weird at all and it was super easy.”

Send just two takes unless they give you a specific number.
“I’m going to tell you what I like and each casting director is going to be different. Sometimes they’ll say ‘Hey it’s OK to send in three takes.’ Or ‘It’s OK to send in two takes.’ Or ‘We only want one take.’ Usually, they’ll tell you how many they want. If they don’t, just send in two takes. That’s the best option that you can do. Two takes and have it be the best two takes of whatever version you’re doing. It doesn’t have to be completely opposite but, the key is as long as you’re staying in concept. As long as you’re performing the concept of what I’m looking for. In other words, what are we selling? Or what’s the movie about and then how does the actor fit in? That’s the most important. I really want to see that you understand our project and you understand what your role in our project is.” 

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