To find success, every actor must master the art of auditioning. While prior to the pandemic auditions were often held in person, at-home auditions have now gone from a possibility to the definitive norm. Audition tapes, or self-tapes, are incredibly important in the film and television industry. However, post-COVID, even theatre productions will often hold at least around of virtual auditions before moving to in-person callbacks.
Since self-tapes are done on your own time and can be re-recorded as many times as you need, casting directors expect to see your best possible work. Your audition should be as high quality as it can be to showcase what you have to offer. Take a look at the list below for tips on creating your most successful audition tape.
1. Shoot Horizontally
While vertical photos might be great for Instagram, your audition tape should always be shot horizontally. If the casting director requests a full-body slate, place your camera far enough away to get your entire body in frame. If you don’t have enough space to do so but have a partner to work the camera, you can frame yourself in a medium close up for the slate then have your partner pan down to your feet.
2. Stay in Frame
Unless otherwise directed, frame yourself chest up, being sure not to cut off the top of your head or leave too much empty space above you. This framing is called a medium close-up. Be careful not to move around too much during your scene and accidentally step out of focus or out of frame.
Your camera should be placed at eye level. If you are working with a reader in person, have them stand directly to the left or right of the camera to set your eye line. If you are working with a reader over the phone or FaceTime, mentally set your eye line and keep it consistent. Except when you slate, you should never be looking directly into the camera. Bonus tip – if your scene partner is reading for multiple characters, set your eye line at a slightly different place for each one, the way you would look between multiple actors on set.
3. Keep Your Background Clear
You should always film in front of a blank, neutral background. A plain wall in white, grey, blue, or another neutral color works perfectly. There should be no furniture or objects – and certainly no clutter – visible behind you. The aim is to keep your audition looking clean and professional and to avoid drawing focus away from the subject: you!
If you don’t have a blank wall available or live in a tight space, backdrops kits are available in various colors and are easy to collapse and store away. When ordering yourself a kit, keep in mind your complexion, hair, and the colors you usually wear to choose a backdrop color that will make you pop.
4. Pay Attention to Your Environment
If you’re recording in natural light, try to position yourself with the window in front of you to avoid back lighting or casting strong shadows across your face. If you’re using lamps or other light sources, record some test shots to make sure the lights aren’t too hot or creating harsh shadows on your face or the wall behind you. When it comes to audio quality, try to avoid distracting background noises such as loud traffic or a barking dog.
Many actors will, at some point in their careers, invest in equipment to use during audition tapes. This can include lavaliers or other external microphones, soft boxes, work lights, even bounce boards. But, regardless of your equipment, always pay attention to your environment to make sure your lighting and sound quality is as good as it can be.
5. Know Your Lines
As with any audition, you should always strive to be fully memorized for your self-tape. Sometimes a production will allow or even encourage actors to paraphrase lines or incorporate improv. However, unless the casting call indicates to do so, you should aim to have the lines word perfect. Remember, the beauty of a self-tape is that you can always record another take if you drop a line.
If an audition comes in at the last minute and you need to keep your script in hand, be sure to hold the papers as still as possible. Rustling sounds or the paper popping up into frame can be very distracting.
6. Dress for Success
Much like choosing attire for headshots, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to dressing for your self-tape. Choose clothing that is flattering and will make your hair and skin stand out again your background. If you are particularly fair, for example, and taping against a white wall, a white top may not be the best choice. In general, shirts with logos, graphics, or bold patterns can be distracting and solid colors work best.
Dressing in full costume is unnecessary for a self-tape – and can even be detrimental if your costume is distracting or you misinterpret the role. With that said, you can still wear clothing that is stylistically appropriate for your character. If the role you’re auditioning for is a lawyer or business executive, opt for a button down over a casual t-shirt. If you’re trying out for a high school student, opt for a tee paired with a denim jacket rather than a blazer. In any case, avoid wearing distracting jewelry, hats, accessories, or overly heavy makeup. The focus of the tape should always be on you and your performance, not your outfit.
7. Choose Your Reader Wisely
Unless you are submitting a monologue, you will need a fellow actor to read the other characters’ dialogue. Remember that if you can’t find someone to work with in person, you can always have an actor read lines for you over the phone. While some actors worry about their readers outshining them, in reality, your scene partner can only aid your own performance. During in-person auditions, the reader’s performance is beyond your control. At home, however, you can call the shots. Don’t be afraid to ask your reader to give you more time for certain beats or alter their pacing.
More than anything, make sure your reader has good diction. This helps prevent any distractions for the CD due to lack of clarity. After recording your first take, always check back to see if your reader needs to adjust their volume or step further from the camera.
8. Remember the Medium
Remember that acting for film & television is different than acting for theatre. Stage actors, for example, must project to be heard from the last row in the theatre. In film & tv, however, the camera can be just feet away from the actor. In this same vein, bold facial expressions can be perfect for theatre but feel like extreme over-acting on camera.
Subtlety is a weapon wielded by the greatest of actors, especially on screen. Anyone can yell, scream, or throw things. Subtle indications of your wants and motivations can actually be far more interesting to watch. A performance is often more compelling when the actor exercises restraint and the audience can sense unexpressed tension beneath the surface.
9. Submit a Single Video
After you’re happy with your takes, be sure to edit all your clips together. In addition to your slate, you may be asked to prepare more than one scene. Unless otherwise directed, you should stitch your slate and all scenes together so the clips play back-to-back in a single, seamless video.
All Apple computers come with iMovie, a free video editing software. Microsoft users, on the other hand, can use Windows Movie Maker. For those looking to up their editing game or tackle larger projects, Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro are top-tier editing programs.
10. Practice, Practice, Practice
Like anything else, self-taping is a particular skill. Especially if you are filming by yourself or in a limiting environment, getting your frame set up can be a challenge by itself – and you still have to nail the acting! Take the time to practice your audition set up and make changes to the lighting, background, and equipment as necessary. And, if you’re looking for further guidance, consider taking class. The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute offers courses in both Audition Technique and Mastering the Self-Tape to help actors prepare for and thrive in this exact situation.