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How To Master The Art of the Self Tape

Self-Taping is becoming increasingly popular across every medium of performance. But how do you transform you living room into the perfect self tape studio? How do you master the art of the self tape?


The correct backdrop and framing for a self tape audition with soft box lighting
How To Master The Art of the Self Tape

Due to the rise of virtual auditions, most casting directors are having to rely on the actor’s ability to deliver high quality, professional self tapes.


In any performing arts training institution, it is now vital that this skill is acquired before entering the industry. Here are some key tips to help you nail that TV, Film and Musical Theatre Audition.


Let’s start with the self tape equipment:


1. The Camera

Some actors may want to invest in a handycam or digital camera to produce a high-quality self tape. However, using your smartphone is more than suitable and is the perfect way to record your tape on a budget.


  • Place your camera on a tripod for stability and to ensure that you have the correct eyeline. Your camera should be eye-level so that you are not looking up at or down to your reader.

  • Make sure you film you audition in landscape (horizontally) unless specified otherwise.


An actor setting up for acting in a self tape for screen acting auditions
Get the most out of your self tape set up.

2. The Sound

The tricky thing with using your smart phone is that the sound is not always ideal. Cell phone cameras are built to pick up the sound of the room. Here are some suggestions to give you the best sound quality possible.


  • Invest in an external microphone. The Sure MV88 is a great shotgun mic that can be plugged into your smartphone. It works with an app which allows you to adjust the settings according to whether you are speaking or singing. Alternatively, a lavaliere microphone would also work.

  • Make sure that the room you are in is not too echoey. Bring in some rugs or blankets to lay on the floor and the opposing wall to dampen the sound. The room you film in needs to be as quiet as possible without distracting noise.


But what about the sound for Musical Theatre audition tapes?


  • For Musical Theatre Auditions, the correct track is vital! Do not tape acapella. Ideally have someone lay down a piano recording for you. As a last resort you may need to find the karaoke track of the song. However, try and avoid this if possible as the quality is not always the best.

  • Make sure that the track fits the parameters of what casting has asked you to do. Do they want the full song, a cut of song or specifically 32 bars etc.?

  • Also, you will need two devices. One to film on (i.e. your smartphone) and one to play your music on. If using a computer, try and play the track through an external speaker to improve sound quality.

  • TOP TIP: For the BEST sound result, separate your vocal track from the accompaniment. Sing your song with the music playing through an air-bud or headphones. And then layer the track onto the video in your editing program to balance the music and your vocals effectively.


3. The Lighting

It is so important that you are correctly lit to capture your performance clearly. Because YOU are the focus and who doesn’t love a good spotlight? If you are able to invest in some LED lights and soft box lighting kits, then this would be the way to go. However this is usually costly and not within everyone’s budget. Alternatively:


  • Invest in a ring light, preferable a couple of them to side light you at a 45-degree angle.

  • If you have a third light, use it to light the back wall to minimize shadows.

  • If you only have one light, try to ensure that you place it in such a way that you avoid the rings reflecting directly in your pupil. It tends to be very distracting for casting. And have some natural light from a side window to illuminate more of the space.

  • Also be aware that overhead lighting can tend to cast shadows under the eye.

  • Make sure that you can adjust your light settings depending on the time of day you are filming. Most ring lights have warm and cool settings to enhance your specific skin tone. So experiment with which settings work the best for you as an individual.

  • If none of these options are available, a large round Chinese lantern from a China mall also produces a softer diffusion and works well.

  • Also if all else fails, shoot near a large window and make use of that natural daylight.


How to self tape and set up your at home self tape studio with ring lights.
Ring lights at a 45-degree angle work best to prevent reflection in the eyes

4. The Background

Your tape should be as free of clutter and distraction as possible. Again, this is your time to shine, not the pretty orchid hanging out in the frame behind you.


  • Make sure to film yourself against a plain muted background. Either in front of a blank wall or alternately you may want to invest in a screen or backdrop.

  • You can use a sheet as your background, however, ensure that it is pulled tight and not creased.

  • Greys, blues, whites, and creams are the best colours for your backdrop.


Ok so you have your self tape equipment all set up and ready to rock. Now what?


1. Framing

The correct framing is vital for your audition tape. And there are some differences to consider when auditioning for live theatre versus a TV or film audition.


  • For screen acting auditions, your framing is usually a medium close up from mid torso to just above the actor’s head. Because they want to see the intimacy and emotional life within your characters eyes. In the words of Michael Caine Acting in Film: “Acting for stage is like operating with a scalpel. Acting for film is like operating with a laser beam.”

  • In any self tape be sure not to look directly into camera. Place your reader just off camera to the left or right of the lens. And ensure that they are at the correct level for your eyeline.


Again, framing for Musical Theatre auditions is slightly different.


  • In Musical Theatre, the framing is a bit wider, from the waist to just above the head. As theatre is more physically expressive than TV and Film, they want to see that you can hold a stage and play to a live audience.

  • When doing a dance audition, try to shoot either on diagonal or shoot facing the mirror to get as much of the space in as possible. If possible, try to rent a dance studio.

  • Be sure to get the widest angle possible so as not to dance out of frame.

  • TOP TIP: layer music in afterwards as you would for a singing audition. This makes your audition tape even more slick, polished, and professional.


2. The Performance

Make sure you have carefully read the brief in detail. Casting directors are usually very specific as to what they want for a self tape.


  • Prepare, prepare, prepare! Do the text work. Do the emotional work. And memorize your dialogue.

  • Find a reader that you feel safe and secure with. Preferably another actor and either in person or on-line. And make sure that they aren’t too loud as they are closest to the mic.

  • If you are dealing with multiple characters within a scene, make sure you place each individual character on various sides of the camera for eyeline. Because this will give a clearer indication of who you speaking to.

  • In a theatre or musical theatre audition, be sure that you are pitching it correctly in terms of theatricality and physical expression. But also make sure that you keep the authenticity of the piece. Tricky, we know.

  • Watch yourself back. This will give you an idea of what the casting directors will see. And this will also give you an idea of any distracting performance habits you may have.

  • Remember, you need to adapt your performance depending on the medium you are auditioning for.

  • The moment after is as important as the scene itself.

  • Also stay in the scene once you have finished your dialogue to give you enough footage for editing purposes.


A self tape audition set up at home for an audition for a movie.
An example of a self tape set up at home.

3. The Dress Code

So, what does one wear for a self tape?


  • Wear comfortable clothing that you feel confident in. Remember it is about the work, not your fashion sense. So, dress in clothing that fits you well and makes you feel good.

  • Warm, solid block colours are a win. Try to avoid clothing that has distracting patterns or logos. Neutral colours are best.

  • Wear clothing that suggests the character. And that help you inhabit the role without dressing in full costume. Go for subtle references and keep it simple. Leave the Victorian dress at home.

  • Be aware of what colours work for you on camera and what suits your skin tone.

  • Also, make sure you don’t wear the same colour clothing as your background. The last thing you want to look like is a floating head in space.


4. Editing

There is a wide range of free editing software available for your device. iMovie is the most user friendly and can be edited on your phone if you can’t make it to a computer.


  • Cut out the beginning and end bits but keep the meat. They don’t want to see you hitting record and breaking character at the end of a take. A fade to black is your best friend.

  • Do not add any fancy effects or in-scene editing unless specifically requested.

  • You don’t have to do one rolling take for every scene and song, unless specified (which is unlikely). Cut it up. Record each scene and song separately.


5. Submitting

When submitting your audition tape, make sure to follow the instructions down to the letter.


  • Casting will be specific about how they want you to label your takes, and how many takes they would like of each scene. Note whether they request title cards. And if so, don’t keep the title card up for the entire duration of the scene.

  • Note whether they would like you to submit a separate slate. And what to include in that introduction.

  • Bring your own fabulous personality into your slate. This is probably the most essential part of your self tape. Don’t underestimate the importance of it. It is your first impression so don’t give them a reason to skip your audition.

  • Sometimes you will be asked to send each scene separately. However other times you will need to combine each take into one long video.

  • Be aware of the size requirements. Casting directors do not want to spend hours downloading massive files. 720p or 540p is usually acceptable. And adjust the quality to compress the file further if necessary.

  • Be aware of where to upload your audition tape. WeTransfer? Vimeo? Dropbox?

  • TOP TIP: Try to submit early. Last minute submissions are not always in your best interest. And if submitted before the due date, casting may revert back

  • with notes to give you another opportunity to nail it.


An actor from drama school showing the correct self tape framing when acting for screen.
Self taping workshops now form part of our WTS curriculum

Love it or hate it, self-taping is certainly here to stay. At WTS we make it a point to include these vital skills into our acting classes. The performing arts industry is constantly evolving, and it is so important to keep adding these tools to an ever-growing toolbox.


Come and join us to give yourself a head start in the creative industry and become the creative entrepreneur you were meant to be!


References:


https://www.stagemilk.com/self-taping-equipment/


https://www.musicexperience.co.za/products/shure-mv88-ios-digital-stereo-condenser-microphone


https://actorceo.com/7-lights-for-self-tape-auditions/


https://support.apple.com/guide/imovie/welcome/mac


https://wetransfer.com


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