Self-taped auditions are here to stay.

4 Tips for Self-Taped Audition Success

Self-taped auditions are here to stay, and it’s time to step up your game to take advantage of them. This is actually a double-edged sword: while the anxiety of facing the casting team in person is gone (YAY!), so is the opportunity to charm them with your great personality and awesome smile (BOO!).  So how do you craft an audition tape that rocks? What does it take to get a call from the CD, or better yet, the director? Here are four tips to help you improve your self-taped auditions.

You Are in Control

First, you are fully in control of the audition! You get to submit your self-taped auditions 100% on your terms, and you won’t have to fight many of the physical obstacles of auditioning in person.
No need to walk in irritated because of snarled traffic, non-existent parking, or another driver flipping you off.
… or frustrated from feeding the kids in the car when your Mini-Me chucks her snack all over your favorite audition t-shirt.
… or frazzled because the audition ends at 5:15pm and you arrived at 5:00pm.
… or distracted by the annoying tic (or deliberate actions!) of someone in the audition room.
Self-taping allows you to record your audition at the time that’s best for you, under conditions that you control, and in the mind frame best suited for your success.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Second, taping gives you the opportunity to hone your performance. Although you might miss the benefit of the CD’s on-the-spot adjustments, you can make adjustments and do more takes until you nail it. Take this moment to get familiar with the sides. Gather as much information as you can about the part: ask for a synopsis, watch the show, study the director’s style. Do whatever it takes to prepare yourself before you get in front of the camera, and use your research to develop the character and tailor your audition. Ask someone, preferably an acting friend, to help you practice for the audition. Don’t treat it like it’s a cold read. Remember that you control the process and you have the unique opportunity to kill the audition. So do it!

Coaches Help

Recently ranked as No. 1 in feature film productions; Georgia is the land of milk and honey for professional actors seeking their big break. So if you have the chance to audition for one of the 100 films being produced here or up to 50 TV series being shot here, you should do everything you can to make sure your performance is authentic and stands up to the competition.  Invest in your performance by getting a coach to give yourself the best chance of booking the job. A coach will help you develop the character, give you input on how to make your natural choices better, help you choose your look (hair, makeup and wardrobe), and build your confidence.  Let’s be real: you may be good on your own, but a great coach will make you better. Get one!

The Gear

With calmed nerves and a fine-tuned performance; you’re ready to self-tape or record your audition. CD’s receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of self-taped auditions, and they are looking for anything to help thin the pile. Late submissions are eliminated first, and then poor quality tapes, and you don’t want to be eliminated on a technicality! You don’t need studio quality, but your tape needs to look and sound good. Whether you hire a professional videographer or film yourself at home, there are technical elements you must execute properly—most importantly lights, video, and audio. You can set up a home studio for a range of budgets. The simplest and least expensive would be your smartphone, lamps, and a mic; the next step up would be a handycam or DSLR camera with a shotgun mic and a two-point lighting system. Whatever your setup is, here are a few tips.

Lights

Lighting allow the CD to see your face, and your goal is to get it even. Natural light is a great option, and it works best when it is behind you. If you’re using house lamps, change the bulbs to bright daylight bulbs. If you are doing lots of self-taped auditions you may want to upgrade with a small (under $100) investment in a simple 2-point lighting kit. To set your lights, think of a triangle. Use one light as your key light, and place it 30 to 45 degrees to the left or right of the place you will be standing. Put this light on your “good side” if you have one. The second light is called the fill light, which helps to rid the space of shadows. Set this light 30 to 45 degrees on the other side of your key light but just above your head. Play with this arrangement until you can see that you are evenly lit. Once you have your lights in the right position, if you this is the place where you will be doing all of your self-taped auditions, mark the spot where your lights work best. This will speed up the process for future shoots.  

Cameras

On a tight budget, your smartphone will work. Place your camera in portrait mode, close enough to you to get a clear medium or medium close up shot and use an external mic if possible. Budget permitting, invest in a handycam or DSLR camera. Ideally, use a 1080p HD camera with zoom, a remote control, a microphone jack and a headphone jack. One of our favorites is the Canon VIXIA HF R800. Keep in mind that no one wants to watch a shaky video that looks like it was filmed while the Titanic was sinking. Your shot should be steady and level, so a tripod is a must-have whether you are using a smartphone, handycam, or DSLR.

Audio

A reliable audio source is paramount because there’s no point in even going to the trouble of making and sending the tape if your voice is unclear or tinny. Even if you are using an Android or iPhone, invest in an external mic. If you want a more sophisticated setup, you can invest in a shotgun mic with proper cables and a boom arm. Place your shotgun mic about 1 foot away from you and aim the microphone at your diaphragm. Placing the mic at your diaphragm keeps the audio consistent even if you move your head from one side to another. Just make sure to frame your shot so that the mic is not visible.

Composition

Place the camera 4 to 6 feet away from you and then compose your frame, which is the view from your camera’s LCD screen. Most CD’s expect to see either a mid or medium shot, which starts just above your belly button and captures your hand gestures and other motions, or a medium close-up, which starts just below the shoulders. Set your frame and leave it; don’t zoom in or out. Your background is also important to your composition. Choose something neutral; white, tan or blue works best. Don’t use that floral comforter!

Editing Software

Now that you’ve captured a clear, well-composed take, it’s time to edit the file so that you can send it to your agent. There are plenty of easy-to-use editing programs to help you finish your file. If you are a PC user, you should have Windows Movie Maker already; Apples have iMovie. Both programs are user friendly. You can import your videos, slice them, and arrange them on the timeline. Both programs allow you to save your files in multiple formats—mp4 is the standard—and compress your final file size so that it is easy to submit via email or through a portal. If you are a smartphone user; here is a great list of the 10 Best Video Editor Apps for Androids. iPhone users can check out the 7 Best Video Editor Apps for iPhones. Make sure you follow the audition instructions when preparing your files. CD’s have different preferences as to where they want your slate to appear; some want it at the beginning; others at the end; still others may request that you send it in a separate file.

Create Great Self-Taped Auditions

Self-taping is now part of the audition process, and you need to be prepared for success in it. Remember that your greatest opportunity is to control the whole process. You can go into the audition rested and prepped.  You can practice until you feel comfortable with your delivery and hire a coach to help you get the best results. Setting up the technical tools has a learning curve, but you can do it. As Steve Richards said, “There’s nothing worse than feeling creative and ready to tackle the job and not having the right tools.” I’ve shared your tools; use them.

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Karlotta Washington

Chief Creative Officer at Mark SQuared Studios
Karlotta Washington is the Chief Creative Officer at Mark SQuared. Her background is in business management, marketing and graphic design. Her passion is for independent creatives striving to tell compelling stories through film and stage.
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