5 Tips for Actors Looking to Ace Their Next Self-Tape Audition

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

Lately, All my clients have been asking me the same questions: “When will this self-taping thing stop? When will auditions be held in person again? When will life get back to normal?” My response is always the same: Now that the self-tape genie is out of the bottle, it ain’t going back in. This is the new paradigm, so every actor must do their best to master this important skill. 

The good folks at Backstage published an in-depth piece on self-taping that’s worth a read. I’d like to add a few more pearls of wisdom based on recent experiences and discussions I’ve had with casting directors.

Let’s start with the best piece of advice you’ll ever receive about self-taping: If you’re reading more than one scene, change your look and clothes for each. Casting directors watch tons of self-tapes, so taking this step will make you stand out. That said, this approach won’t work if you’re reading two scenes that happen at the same time and in the same place. 

RELATED: A Casting Director’s 12 Rules for the Perfect Self-Tape

Now, let’s talk about framing. How you compose the shot is important. You want it to be tight, but not too tight. You also want it to be wide, but not too wide. Is that confusing? Well, those are the notes a casting director once sent me, so welcome to my world. My advice is to frame the shot from the top of your head down to the middle of your chest. But don’t be afraid to experiment with alternating the composition. A wider shot in the first scene followed by a close-up in the second will capture the casting director’s attention. 

If the scenes are short because you’re reading for a minor role, most casting directors will accept two takes—that’s two, not three or four. But if you’re auditioning for a substantial part, go with a single take. 

Actors always focus on getting the best possible image, but they tend to forget about the sound. I often receive self-tapes in which the reader is louder than my client. That’s a nonstarter; your voice has to be front and center. A lavalier or shotgun mic might be the solution here.

Finally, three quick words about props: Don’t use them.

Now that you’re done creating your masterpiece, you need to consider how you’re going to put this material together. Start by checking the notes your agent forwarded from the casting team. They will specify whether the scenes and slate should be together or in separate files, as well as how everything should be labeled. If the casting director has no stated preference, assemble everything into one file that starts with the first scene. Your slate is the curtain bow, so always place it at the end.

Before you send the finished product off to your agent, make sure the file size is under 500 MB. No one has time to resize it for you. Your best bet is to use Dropbox or WeTransfer to share the file. Do not, under any circumstances, post your audition tape onto a public site like Vimeo or YouTube. 

There was a time when people dismissed talkies and color films as passing fads. They were wrong—and actors who think self-tapes are just a phase are wrong, too. Be a smart thespian and always look forward. Change is the most natural thing in the world. 

This story originally appeared in the Nov. 3 issue of Backstage Magazine.

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Secret Agent Man
Secret Agent Man is a Los Angeles–based talent agent and our resident tell-all columnist. Writing anonymously, he dishes out the candid and honest industry insight all actors need to hear.
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