Self-taped auditions are a pivotal first step in the casting process. The latest SAG-AFTRA agreement has helped ease this process somewhat by regulating self-tape demands, but actors still need to know how to record a compelling audition tape to get their foot in the door. Follow these 10 tips from a veteran acting coach to make your self-taped auditions stand out.
1. Meet technical expectations
You’re dealing with industry professionals with extremely demanding jobs. If they click on your footage and the sound is too low or the lighting too dim, they might adjust the settings on their computer or they might just as likely click on footage of the next actor. “It’s important you’re well-lit and that I can hear you,” explained television director David Semel (“Watchmen,” “American Horror Story,” “Star Trek: Discovery”).
2. Use the right equipment
Here’s the basic equipment needed to properly self-tape an audition video:
- Smartphone or camera
- Even lighting (natural works great!)
- Tripod and smartphone tripod adapter
- Solid color background that is not distracting or shiny
- Editing software
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? Is it inviting and appropriate to the character, or unflattering and amateurish? Can you be easily heard on a laptop with the volume at a normal level?
This step may take some experimentation to get the lighting, colors of your wardrobe, and sound just right—and 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.
3. Read all instructions
Most self-tape requests come with very specific instructions from the casting office. Some even have 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. Read carefully and follow all the instructions for taping and sending. Triple-check them or you might be eliminated immediately.
4. Familiarize yourself with the script
It’s best, though not required, to memorize your lines when recording a prepared audition. But even if you have your lines down cold, be sure to keep that script in hand so your performance looks like a work in progress. Having the script in your hand lends a subtle cue to the director and producers that your performance is flexible and directable, and that you’re not married to a particular take or reading of the character.
5. Don’t slate
Unless specifically instructed to, don’t slate, or state your name and personal information. It’s an understandable error since it’s pretty much standard before every live audition in a casting office, but for a self-taped audition, it’s considered a rookie mistake.
6. Be in the center of the frame
You should be in the center of the frame. Aim to have the bottom of the frame land at the center of your chest and the top of the frame slightly above the top of your head.
7. Stay sitting or standing
Decide whether you’ll be sitting or standing throughout the scene. Ideally, the camera should remain in one position. 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.
8. Keep the reader off-camera
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 doesn’t match their character demographic; after all, you’re the one auditioning, not the reader.
9. Shoot scenes separately and take your time
Unless instructed, shoot every scene separately and edit them together afterward. It can be a pain, but self-taping also has positives, such as not having to deal with awkward transitions between scenes that you can’t escape in a live audition.
In an in-person audition, it can be tough to go from a 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.
10. Give your best performance
Strive for a performance that’s both natural and nuanced. Figure out your distinct tip, that something extra you give your performance without even trying. Make strong choices and commit to your character. You want industry professionals to see you as the character you’re auditioning for, not as an actor playing a part.
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