Increasingly I find myself watching more and more self-tapes. Commercials, TV, film, even stage and musical theatre. They’re not all, how shall I say this, of the quality one might hope for. Recently I was chatting to an actor who said it had been a bit quiet for them. When I asked what they were up to they replied “nothing, much, just a few self-tapes.” Well, that’s busy I thought, but no, “they’re not really auditions are they?” I wonder if this misconception might explain why some self-tapes are a bit…rough. Is this a common misconception? Does it only feel like a “proper” audition if you have to dress up and leave the house? If that’s the case, even if only subconsciously, let’s clear it up, shall we?
The self-tape IS the audition.
You wouldn’t roll out of bed in the morning and trot straight off to an audition without putting a great deal of thought and preparation into it, would you? It’s the same with a self-tape. EXACTLY the same rules apply – you have to think about what you’re wearing, how you present yourself, whether it fits with the character, what your body language is saying. You have to have put in exactly the same amount of preparation and work into the script, your hair, your make-up and your wardrobe. The self-tape IS the audition.
What’s great about a self-tape is you get to watch it back and try again, as many times as you like. A self-tape gives you the opportunity to practice your craft and your technique and present only the best possible version, not something you threw together in five minutes to get it out of the way. Notice your performance, notice your environment (laundry hanging on a clothes dryer in the background??), judge your movement and your intonation and your diction. Try out some bold choices, knowing that no-one has to watch the tape but you.
If you haven’t already, you need to check our your apartment and create a self-tape space. You need a plain, preferably cream/pale grey/white background, with no distracting posters or clocks, or chalkboards with the note “Buy Milk!” on them. Natural light is usually best, but you should experiment with lighting (in case you have to do a tape in the evening). You need the ability to position some lights (out of shot) so your face is lit clearly. It’s probably worth investing in a tripod stand (like this one available from Amazon for six quid) and always remember to shoot in Landscape, not Portrait mode. The camera should be set at your eyeline level. If you are on an iPhone or iPad a link to a short explanation of how to change the camera’s resolution setting is here. Set the resolution to 720p at 30fps. If you really, really want to, you could invest in some continuous light soft boxes, and maybe a screen, but there’s no need to go massively overboard.
Ideally you want a reader to read in the other lines. If you don’t have a reader, then you can either record the lines and play them back, or just leave a gap – but having a reader is the ideal. Just get them to read it neutrally – it’s you we want to see acting and reacting, not them!
Another really terrific gizmo to get hold of if you can afford it is Apple TV or ChromeCast. With either of these, you’ll be able to mirror your recording onto a large screen TV, great for watching back and seeing your face blown up huge so you can really notice the details of your performance on a big screen. I’m told the Slatable app is a fantastic help for making professional looking self-tapes.
Ultimately, it’s practice, practice, practice. If you came from a school that didn’t provide you with any on-camera training, or a showreel, well, that’s down to your school. It is not “the industry’s” place to continue your training. A TV producer needs to minimise risk and wasted time. You need to be camera-ready. Lucky then, you have a camera in your hand. You’re probably reading this on one. In fact, if an iPhone is good enough to film an entire episode of Modern Family, then it’s more than good enough for you to practice camera technique on. Just download some scripts from the internet and get going. Doing this will also help you develop a crucial skill I think all performers should have – being able to memorise at least two pages of dialogue within 24 hours. There are many, many websites where you can download film script and TV episodes, even commercials. You’ve got all the tools you need to be practicing.
The self-tape IS the audition, guys, it’s here to stay, so get used to it and get great at it.