Self tapes aren’t a new way to audition, but in today’s pandemic world it has become the norm. Actors have quickly had to adapt and become more than just a face on the screen. They’ve had to become their own lighting person, cameraman, editor, and, if they can’t find a friend to read the scene with them, sometimes their own reader.
Casting directors want your tapes to look good but aren’t expecting them to be perfect. Not everyone has a full studio in their home. But you can still make your space look presentable and your tape look professional, even on a budget. Here are some tips and tricks to make your next self tape look like you shot it in a studio.
Every casting email about a self tape will typically start with “No white or busy background.”
Basically, a white background can make tapes look washed out, and you also shouldn’t be able to see your laundry in the back of the shot.
If you can, find a plain wall you can stand in front of to do your scene. Sometimes making a wall plain requires taking a couple of pictures off of your wall. If that isn’t possible, pinning a bed sheet to the wall for a makeshift background works too.
If you’re looking to get a background that isn’t expensive, you can try what my husband and I did in our home. We hung a curtain rod above the closet doors in our office and bought a cheap gray curtain that covers the doors. When it’s not being used, we push the curtain to the side so it’s out of the way.
And it feels like I shouldn’t have to say this but you’d be surprised: do your tape inside. Please don’t go outside to film your self tape. Please.
In the second line of almost every casting email about a self tape, you’ll find “Please make sure you have good lighting so that we can see your face.”
If you have a bright room in your home that doesn’t make you look washed out on camera, you’re in luck! If your self tape room happens to be somewhere that gets bright, natural light, you’re also in luck!
However, most of us live in apartments that don’t get very much light. That’s when a ring light comes in handy.
The one we use is here. I like a ring light as opposed to box lights because it’s easier to set up, and you don’t have to buy a tripod because it’s already there.
We don’t use it at full brightness and it still gives us great light. You can toy around with the coldness/warmth of the lights. Do what looks best for you.
Unless otherwise stated in the email or breakdown, most casting offices want a medium shot. A medium shot is just a little above your head at the top of the frame, and around the bottom of your rib cage for the bottom of the frame.
Also, I personally like to be off-book for my self tapes but it’s not completely necessary. I think it looks nicer on camera if I’m not looking down at my lines, and I figure I can film it as many times as I need to so why not memorize it? However, if you want to hold your lines, that’s totally fine. Make sure the papers aren’t distracting from your performance — just as you would in an in-person audition!
If you’re using an iPhone or something like it, your sound should be fine. Make sure that there’s no background noise: turn off the TV in the other room, make sure the dog isn’t barking, ask everyone in the house to be quiet for a little while as you film your tape. Check if you can hear your air conditioning in the shot.
It’s not necessary, but if you’re looking to spruce up your sound a bit and have the budget for it, we use this Rode Lavelier Microphone, hook it up to our phone, and attach it somewhere in the middle of the reader and the actor so it picks up both voices. This mic has helped with getting rid of some background and room noises.
Sometimes casting asks for separate takes of each scene, but other times they’ll ask for all the scenes to be put into one big tape.
You don’t need to get incredible software to do any of this. If you have a Mac, iMovie works great. You can even use iMovie on your phone.
Speaking of your phone, there are some great (free!) apps out there that can assist with video editing.
It might seem daunting to some who aren’t technologically savvy, but all they really need you to do is snip the beginning and end of the tape (especially if you’re filming alone and you need to come up to the camera to turn it on and off) and put it all together. You don’t need to do anything fancy or elaborate. Promise.
Also, some casting offices don’t want files that are too big. You don’t have to save it in 4K. We save our tapes in smaller resolutions so that it can fit under 500MB.
Uploading Your Tape
You’ve finished your tape. Congratulations! Now how do you get it to where it needs to go?
If it’s not being uploaded straight to Actors Access or LA Casting, you can send it to where it needs to go via wetransfer.com. Create a free account and send it to up to three people. They’ll also email you a link after it’s uploaded so that you can send it to more people if need be. The file will stay on WeTransfer for a few days before it goes away, so you don’t have to worry about taking up space on something like Google Drive or Dropbox.
And that’s it!
Congratulations! You’ve submitted your self tape.
Self-tapes are the way of the entertainment world right now. They were around before the pandemic and will be around long after it as well! Having to think of everything going on behind the scenes in addition to giving your best performance can be overwhelming, but once you get the hang of it you’ll be on your way.
Break a leg!