In an increasingly digital world, in which we’re able to live and work anywhere, self tapes are a fact of the industry now. If you’re not able to get into the room with casting, it’s important to show them the best version of yourself. Some actors find them preferable, because they’re able to do the scene at their own pace, and tinker until they get the scene just as they like. Self tapes can be a useful tool for you, especially if you’re able to turn them around quickly and do them well.
- If you’re taping on your phone, GO HORIZONTAL. Yes, I know a vertical shot gets more of you in the frame. But that’s not how it’s going to be shot if you get the job, nor does it ever look good. Not only is the quality of the video better (something about turning your phone horizontal for a video makes it HD, I don’t know?) but vertical videos are a bitch to edit. Most websites we post them to for our producers automatically rotate the video, and we have to edit and compress the video to some weird version in which you look like an oompa loompa before it plays correctly.
- The frame should be from your chest to about three inches above your head.
- You need to be well-lit, and I shouldn’t struggle to hear what you’re saying.
- Have as little in the background as possible. You don’t want me contemplating where to get that cool poster or sofa you have in the background, or if you’ve watered your plants. You want me focusing on you – so make sure you’re all that’s in the frame.
- If casting has asked you to look directly into the camera – cool. But if they haven’t specified, DON’T. Put your reader right next to the camera, and look a few inches to the side. If you look directly into the camera, it feels like you’re trying to see into my soul and I get uncomfortable with that. Conversely – if you’re looking too far away from the camera, all I can see is your profile, and I want to see your whole, pretty face.
- It’s a good idea to include a ‘slate’ or body shot – meaning a quick, five-to-ten second shot with your whole body in the frame, in which you state your name, your height, where you’re based, and any other elements we may have asked for. Yes, you can look directly into camera for this.
- Please, please, PLEASE, start with the scene, not that flub you and your reader thought was hilarious right before you started. Also – give yourself a beat at the end of the scene to properly finish the emotion, before you cut. Not to say you can’t ad-lib a line at the end – sometimes that’s a bright part of my day while I’m watching self tapes.
- On the topic of readers – it really doesn’t matter that you get specifically an actor to read with you. Just make sure they’re not distracting, and they give you a good foundation to work from. It’s never a good idea to read with Siri. If you absolutely can’t get a reader – that’s fine, but make sure you’re giving space and time to react to the other lines. I want your reactions as much as your words.
- The more off-book you can be, the better. Yes, sometimes you have to turn a tape around in a matter of hours and it’s impossible to memorize that much material. But try not to let me see the script in the shot, and make sure you’re looking up and connecting with your reader as much as possible.
- If you don’t get the first beat right, do it again. Sometimes I have to go through 50 self tapes in half an hour along with everything else I need to do, and I can perceive a lot from fifteen seconds. Start the scene exactly as you want to. Every beat is important, don’t get me wrong, but the first beat is non-negotiable – I need a reason to keep watching you.
- If you’re uncomfortable, I can tell. This is true any time you do a scene, but particularly in self tapes. You’ve got the advantage of doing this on your own turf, so make sure you’re physically comfortable, and I’m concentrating on you instead of mentally begging you to get out of those high heels or undo that top button that’s choking you.
- If there is action in the scene – feel free to get creative, if your friend taping you is a director. BUT ONLY IF YOU’RE SURE THEY’RE COMPLETELY AWESOME AS A DIRECTOR. Otherwise, mark all the action. I want the beat, the emotion, and the reaction – I don’t need to know you actually threw a chair across the room.
- Stay in it the entire scene. This is just like being in the audition room – if you fall out of the scene, I can see that. And if I like you, I’ll watch the whole tape through. THE WHOLE THING. So make sure you like it too.
So you’re done with your self tape, and you are ready to send– the most ideal way to receive a self tape is a clickable version that’s also downloadable. Label the file with your name, the project and the role (surprisingly no, IMG047997BLAH is not a good file name) and send it through. Vimeo is a good source for this, or Dropbox – only use YouTube if you can make the video downloadable. I tend to like .mp4 or .mov, those are the most universal video formats.
*Also – I’ll speak to this point more in a later post, but if in doubt – make the video password protected.
Now. The biggest (and sometimes only) disadvantage to self tapes is that you can’t get direction from casting in the room. And sometimes, even though I know you’re brilliant and insightful, there’s a note that we in casting have, or have found after auditioning a lot of people for this role, that you don’t have. Be very clear that you’re willing to re-tape with notes. If we like you, you may need to do this again, possibly a few times, before you get a part. Your first tape may get you the test deal, or even the part, but if we want you to tape again – it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. It’s a good thing. It means we’re willing to wait for you to turn around another tape, because we want to see what else you can do.
Self tapes are handy, in our geographically spreading industry – make sure they’re your ally.