How To Self Tape

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We love self-taping, we think it’s win-win for all parties involved.

For actors it gives them an opportunity to audition if they are on location or away. There are no travel costs involved, you can schedule your self-tape to suit you, and if you do a terrible audition you can simply do it again.

For casting directors it enables us to take more chances with actors we don’t know or who we aren’t sure are capable of the role. It gives us a head start in showing different types and options to a director even if they are not in town.

For directors and producers it streamlines the face-to-face casting process and makes it more efficient – if you’re invited into the room it’s because we already like what you did. And when an actor gets into the room, they are now more prepared because they have already performed the role – there’s no better way for you to judge your own on-camera audition technique than to watch it back.

To be clear –a face-to-face audition are still essential – but self-taping has opened up a world of opportunities, especially as the first step in the casting process.

So it’s another tool the modern actor has to master.

This guide will go through each step in detail – it may look complicated, but if you run through the technical procedures several times when you’re not up against a deadline – all the way from start to finish – you’ll be ready to focus on the most important aspect of a self-tape – your performance.


What kind of camera to use?

Technology is moving at such a pace that the quality of home shot footage is rarely an issue these days. Most smartphones have fantastic cameras that are more than capable, or you can use a camcorder, a stills camera with the ability to record moving images or even a built-in webcam on your computer. As long as you have the capability of transferring your images into some software that enables you to edit the footage and then export it to a more compressed and manageable format (more on that later) then you should be fine.


Where to shoot, lighting and how to frame?

Ideally you would replicate a standard audition room with a plain background, preferably with pale coloured walls – gray is a good choice. No distracting patterns if possible, or clocks or posters or other items hung on the wall behind you – they can appear to grow out of your head.

[Click here to see a wonderful video created by actor James Chalmers to show the simplicity of his home Self-Tape Studio.]

The room should be quiet and have reasonable acoustics – try to avoid echoes. You don’t usually need to use a special microphone – the built-in ones should be up to the job. The camera will be quite close to you after all.

If using a smartphone please use it in landscape mode – everyone is used to watching footage on tv/monitors in this orientation.

the-right-way-to-take-videos-orientationThe bulk of your audition should be focused quite closely on your face, maybe with just the tops of your shoulders and all of your head being visible.

Whatever device you are using to film your audition, please keep it held steady with a tripod or lay it on a secure solid surface. No handheld footage please.

The camera should be placed at your eye-line – any higher or lower can be unflattering. Please do take note of this point – many people place their camera far too low, or use a built-in webcam on their laptops – so their entire performance is directed downwards. It just doesn’t look right.

Lighting is something that people fret about and you should take some care, but remember you can do a quick test shoot to see what it looks like and make any adjustments necessary before taping your full audition. The optical sensors in most modern devices can be quite forgiving.

Most of the time all you need is the natural light coming from a window, but watch out for shadows.

For those of you who really want to go to town, the classic configuration would be one reasonably strong light source off to one side, counteracted by another smaller diffuse light on the opposite side. Sometimes this second light is just the reflection from a pale coloured wall, but sometimes you have to place a lamp in a strategic position. The second light needs to be diffuse – i.e. not from a naked bulb, but one that is filtered through a light shade or fire-resistant material. But honestly – these days almost any lighting set up will work – except try to avoid any light source directly above (or below). Plus make sure you are not backlit otherwise you will appear in silhouette.

If your camera has a white balance make sure it is set correctly, otherwise check to see if there are presets for various locations, especially shooting indoors.

Experiment until you get lighting conditions and an image you are happy with – it shouldn’t take too long.

Use autofocus on your camera but again do a test shoot to make sure that the lighting is of a high enough level to enable it to function, and that the background is not confusing the sensors causing them to repeatedly focus on the wrong part of the frame.

There may be a temptation to ‘go on location’ and film your audition outside a castle or in a shopping centre or somewhere that is relevant to the piece, but in much the same way that wearing a costume to an audition is frowned upon you should resist the temptation. If you don’t get distracted then we the viewer certainly will, and you will have less control over the sound and lighting.

Once you have your ideal set up you can use it again and again – like having your very own audition studio.


Preparing for the audition

Just because you are self-taping doesn’t mean you can skip the preparation required for a face-to-face audition – learn your lines (no kidding – please don’t simply read them off screen and think we can’t notice – we can and it looks terrible!), make bold choices and create compelling characters, dress appropriately, avoid props. Of course, you have the benefit of being selective with which takes you end up submitting, but don’t let that make you become complacent. You really don’t want to be doing thirty or forty takes.

It’s very useful for you to schedule your home audition – set a time, and work towards it. This will keep you focused. Work backwards from any deadlines, and make sure you leave lots of wiggle-room for editing, compressing and uploading. There’s nothing worse than stressing over technology and a poor internet connection after you’ve made a great self-tape.


Filming Resolution

Most modern phones/tablets/cameras shoot footage with an incredibly high quality resolution – good enough for it to be displayed on massive screens without any degradation of image. Self-tapes don’t need to be this quality so the first thing you want to do is reduce the resolution of your camera. You definitely don’t need to be shooting any higher resolution than 720p HD – so please no 1080p HD or heaven forbid 4K filming!

Using an iPhone/iPad?
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. Basically you have to:

  • click Settings
  • go to Photos & Camera
  • then go to Record Video
  • then choose the resolution – the highest resolution you should choose is 720p at 30fps.

Using an Android phone or tablet?

Each Android device is different, but you can usually change the setting from within the Video Camera app itself – open the camera and there is usually a ‘cog’ that will take you to settings, then choose Video Resolution or Recording Format and opting for something like simple HD will be more than good enough.

Using a stand-alone camera or video-camera?  

It is slightly easier for you because you will be using a computer to manipulate your image but to save yourself some time don’t choose the highest resolution setting if you camera supports 1080p HD, 2K or 4K – standard HD is more than enough.


Filming the audition

It’s really helpful if you have an actor friend to read opposite you, preferably of the correct gender for the role. Have them sit/stand next to the camera so that your eyeline is in the right place close to the lens. If there is no-one at hand to read with you then just leave gaps where the other dialogue should be. We have received self-tapes where the actor themselves have recorded the other dialogue and then they play opposite themselves – this works pretty well, although there can be some issues with timing if a line is delivered too quickly and then there is an unnatural gap whilst waiting for the pre-recorded response.

Don’t look into the camera yourself – just like in a live audition – unless specifically asked to do so. Don’t forget – have the camera at eye level.

And then take a deep breath, relax, and work your magic.

If you have done your preparation then it should only take three or four takes, if that. Any more then you are either being too finickity, or you haven’t prepared enough. Remember that your self-tape is likely to lead to a live audition (or God forbid, the actual role) and if it takes you all day to warm up to do a usable take, you will soon be found out.

Ultimately, what you are after is one decent interpretation of the role from start to finish in one unbroken take. Just one – not lots of different versions, and not cut together from a variety of takes. In effect your self-tape takes the place of your first read when you enter an audition room – without any direction from the director or a casting director. If we like what we see we’ll call you in and give you a thorough workout.

One last thing – either before or after your main audition film a full length body shot of yourself – just a few seconds – so we can see your shape and size. If you like you can simply state your name, the name of your agent if you have one and the name of the role your are auditioning for, but this isn’t strictly necessary. And don’t make any jokes – stay professional.


Editing

If you are using a smartphone / tablet then it’s very likely that you’ll be able to edit the footage directly on the device itself using an editing app.

Using an iPhone/iPad?

Most people use iMovie to trim and edit the file, join different takes together and add a title card, but other editing apps are available – search on iTunes.

Using an Android phone or tablet?

On Android, there are a good choice of editing apps – we like the simplicity of AndroVid and it’s free – but again, search on the Play Store for alternatives.

 Using A Computer?

The software you use doesn’t have to be terribly sophisticated and it is usually bundled free with your computer – on a Mac you can use iMovie or on a PC you can use Windows Movie Maker. If you don’t have either of those a quick Google of “freeware editing software” will give you a plethora of options.

Once you’ve decided on your software these are the following edits you’ll need to know how to make:

  1. how to to trim the beginning and end of a take especially if you are self-operating the camera – dashing in and out of the frame to start and stop the camera recording. Pick your best take of each scene – again, we normally only want to see one take of each scene unless we expressly ask otherwise
  2. how to join several takes together if you have been asked to self-tape different scenes.
  3. how to include a simple title card – centered white letters on a black background, with your name, agent if you have one and name of the role and project you are auditioning for. The card should last about 4 or 5 seconds. Don’t use any gimmicky effects – whirling titles, zooming letters, Star Wars scrolling text. Keep it simple and classy.

And that’s it – once you have your edited self-tape then this is the next – and perhaps most important stage if you want a stress free submission experience – compression.


Compressing

Even if you reduced your camera’s resolution, your self-tape file will probably still be unnecessarily too big. Compressing your file is one of the most important steps of the self-taping process so please don’t skip this stage. It can lead to all sorts of benefits:

  • you will be less stressed out especially when deadlines are approaching because your upload times will be greatly reduced.
  • you will save space on your device.
  • casting directors will love you when you submit small but perfectly formed files – it saves them time and hard drive space.
  • directors will love you if they are in some remote part of the world without high speed internet access, because your self-tape will start streaming immediately and won’t buffer.

How to compress is again determined by the device you are using:

Using an iPhone/iPad?

Video Compressor Sizer is a remarkable free iOS app that elegantly compresses your file to whatever size you want. You can play around with the settings but generally a two minute self-tape can be compressed to a mere 10MB with barely any resulting loss in quality. We beg you to use this for any iOS self-tapes – it will save you, and us, lots of time and frustration.

Using an Android phone or tablet?

Use the excellent free app VidCompact – it has the most incredible compression algorithm. To use it:

  • Open the app
  • Press Trim & Compress
  • Select your clip
  • Drag the sliders to trim the beginning and end if you need to
  • At the bottom left hand side click Resolution and various options pop up
  • You can test some of these your self, but generally you can go down to 480P and your image will still look great – this usually reduces the file size by a massive 80%
  • then go to the share icon in the top right corner and hit Save To Gallery
  • Marvel at how small it makes your file.
  • You’re read to upload.

Using a computer?

A computer based editing app will definitely have a simple way of Exporting or Sharing your file in a compressed format, but you can also convert your file using the fantastic free software Handbrake (this works on Mac and Windows).

To do this:

  • Select Source (your original video file)
  • Select your destination by clicking Browse and tell Handbrake where you want to store the new MP4 file and what you want to call it.
  • Click Output settings – on my version the default is MP4.
  • You can also check the box for Web Optimised.
  • Then go to the top of the screen and hit Start.

And then Handbrake will work it’s magic and convert and compress your file.


Labelling

This part is critical – all your hard work can be undone if you don’t get this bit right. Once you have a lovely edited, compressed self-tape file then please label it properly. When we ask for self-tapes we are very specific about how it should be labelled and we follow this convention:

CHARACTER NAME – Firstname Surname

Other casting directors may request a different label and please follow whatever instructions you are given, but if you are not given specific guidance then we would suggest using our system above. If not, your editing software will label your file in it’s own way and usually this is numerical, so your self-tape will be called something like:

IMG2032.mov

or

MOV_231.mov

or

My Great Movie 2

We sometimes receive between 200-300 self-tapes in a day (especially on ‘deadline day’) for many different roles in different projects. If your self-tape is not labelled correctly (and if you haven’t added a title card) then it is very difficult for us to find out who you are – and that means we can’t show your self-tape to the director. All that effort goes to waste!

And by labelling with the character name first (and in capitals) we immediately know which project the self-tape is for and we are able to move it quickly to the correct folder. Simple!


Sending it to us

We mostly use an excellent service provided by Casting Networks – they accept the self-tapes on our behalf, process them, and upload them to our account on their site. Instructions are provided when we send an invitation to self-tape.

But there are other methods of sending a self-tape – you should follow whatever directions you are given. Some people use a service like HighTail or Mail Big File to send exported files, or you can upload them to a site like Vimeo as long as you have Downloads enabled on your account – unfortunately Vimeo have recently changed their subscription model and this feature is only available with paid accounts – worth it if you do a lot of self-tapes.

As an aside, please never ever send us the file as an email attachment! More often than not either your or our email programme won’t accept it anyway, but please don’t clog up our system with a massive file.

So that’s it – you should be ready to go!

Don’t forget to practice these steps so that they become second nature before you get the self-tape that could change your life.

If you really want to get to grips with self-taping in a fun and practical environment then check out our interactive online courses on The Acting Habit, plus here is a short Self-Tape Video Guide we made with actors’ union Equity.


 

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