A Little Note About Creating Self Tapes for Audition Requests
A few simple steps to making an acceptable self tape, (which means you tape/record your own audition for submitting to casting directors):
Get a good reader. They do not have to act, so they can read the pages directly. They just have to give a flat performance, but if they can add to the your performance if a little inflection, use it.
Get a good location/room to film in. No external distractions like pets or neighbours, or outside sounds if it can at all be helped. If it distracts you, it will distract our performance and that is shows up like a neon sign in the recorded performance. Same can be said for props. If it adds to your performance, use it. If it distracts, lose it.
Use a plain background, preferably lighter, or off white, which will not distract the viewer from your performance. The plain background will make it easier to light as well.
Set the right lighting. Minimum of 3 lights will get the job done. Simple flood on you set up overhead and just off side from the camera. You need the slight shadows on your profile to give you more dimension to your face. One light from the back to light the background and your back slightly to give you that halo effect that pops you out from the background. You need to look 3 dimensional on a flat 2-D source, so a slight brightness from the back showing the side of your outline will distinguish you from the plain backdrop. Add one small spot to light your eyes and face. You need the sparkle to add life to your face by using the reflection of your eyes. They are the windows to the soul so they cannot be dead. Add more lights to cut harsh shadows if needed, but try to use as much natural light as possible.
Get a decent camera and position the camera on a steady mount. NO hand-held artsy-fartsy stuff. Rack it and forget it. Save it for the actual production. If you make the casting ill from watching a rollercoaster, rough sea version, they may not even finish watching it. Then, you lose. An iPhone or DV or will do in a crunch, but a proper camera is preferred. Remember that phone cameras are very wide, as in 10-30mm equivalent, so they can look very fisheye lens like in a tight focus. Do you want to look fat? If the phone camera can zoom a bit on movie mode, do it. For these phone cameras, also remember to turn it sideways! Tall skinny films only use less than 1/3 of the screen on viewing and will show no detail. Landscape mode, not portrait mode, always!
Sound. Make sure you have a good setup for sound capture. The eyes are very forgiving in lower resolution media, but the ears are not. If the camera has the ability to plug in an external microphone, use it. Set your sound levels to make sure you are clearly heard and volumes are up high enough to pick up all of your dialog, including the softer notes. It is very important to set your reader at least the same distance away from the microphone as your self, or further, so that their read of the lines does not overshadow your performance, or worse, reset the sound levels on the audio pick-up so that your performance gets muted. Like an obtuse isosolese triangle, (that is a triangle that has 2 equal sides but a very long 3rd side, get it mathies?), set the reader off to the side of the camera but back away from the line of sight to the camera, with the camera still roughly half way between you two. The reader can get closer to you without getting closer to the camera microphone. If you use an external microphone, you do not have to worry about that placement so much.
Card the read. Do a quick introduction of your self, specifically your name, and who to call for booking. Not long but very important. You can cut it as a separate scene to make it easier to sort or append if needed.
Do the read. Retake if needed. You are in control so you can redo the whole thing if necessary. If you flub a line, keep going. A perfect recitation of lines may not be the best character performance, so review later and edit out bad takes. Do not get hung up on individual words, since the flow of the character and emotional transitions are the deciding elements. Just do not mispronounce key words, or go too nuts on the adlib substitutions. Each scene should have a character transition. If you cannot see it in your lines, look at the other characters' lines. Your job is to facilitate an emotional expression of the human condition, so there must be a change in the tone of the performance as you go through the scene. You use the lines as written to vocalize that expression and moral tone and show how well you can deliver that message to the audience. If there is no transition or change, it may as well just be a still photo on a postcard. No audition required. It is that, or the writer is hack, and do you really want that kind of job anyway? Back to point 0. Make it work.
Since the read is about you, when you are finished, have the reader stop the recording. Taped auditions with the actor running at the camera at the end of their read scream "unprofessional". The same goes for starting the recording. Have your reader start it, then have them move well away from the camera to begin their lines.
Some times you will have trouble finding a reader. You can get creative in a crunch, but do make an effort. You can record the flat dialog for all of the characters on a separate phone, camera or recorder, just saying your character's lines in your head, as in silently but with your timing intact to get the supporting performance. Play that recording back for your taped read by delivering your lines live for the camera. Timing is everything so you may actually have to rerecord the supporting read with the corrected pacing once you establish the flow of your performance. You will need 2 devices to do a read this way, like an iPhone and a laptop.
Pick your best card read, and at least 2 takes of your performance of the scene. One should be as directly interpreted from the sides as read. Straight up and consider them compulsories, with lines as written. Show you know the lines and can deliver with gusto. The second should be a different approach. More happy, more sad, a little sexier, or a little more aloof. Something different and with more otherness. The second is where you show how much more you can bring to this character than anyone else, and how you can inhabit this skin as you own better than any other being because this character is in you. Be it, and show it. If the second read is over the top a bit, a good director can always bring it back down for the filmed performance on set. It is important to show that you can deliver the read of the performance both ways and give the casting more options. If the reads are identical, save your time and money and send just the one.
Label the files with your name, with the character you are reading for, and with which production to whom you are submitting. Add the names, "card", "take 1" and "take 2" to the labels on the appropriate files for submission to your agent/manager. When I have looked at casting tapes, I usually re-label them by production-character-actor-take#.mpg. That way, they can be sorted more easily for reference later. Digital files are already dated, so adding dates is not necessary in the file labeling.
Use a file transfer service to upload and send the auditions to your agent via a secure link, preferably with a password, and NOT YOUTUBE. YouTube is insecure and publicly accessible. The sides you have are confidential and you can be held liable if they are leaked to the public before they are finished final production/distribution. Only use secure file transfer services.
Do a follow up with your agent, or manager, for any feedback on your reads, but never go directly to production. Do not send gifts or flowers to try and win favour. They are very busy people so a damn good performance on tape is all that they are looking for.
Ta-da. So I lied. It is sort of simple, but all that wasn't so hard was it? Take a bow.
"Just my opinion. I could be wrong."
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