Self-taping…love it or loathe it, it seems to be here to stay!
I have to say, I love it. Much as it can be squeeze to fit in around other life commitments, and drag my non-acting partner into saying lines off-camera with me, at least it is at the time of my choosing rather than the expense of travelling from Manchester to London for a 5 minute one-shot chance of being considered for a commercial.
Prior to the pandemic I would only get maybe one self-tape a year, whereas I’ve been having increasingly more and more every month over the past two years. I know that there are a million articles about how to do a self-tape so I thought I’d throw mine into the mix:
You can use your phone. You don’t need a fancy camera. If you do have a fancy camera, then by all means use it. But I always use my phone.
Be aware that sometimes the quality of your phone’s camera is not as good on selfie mode, and will work better with the front facing camera.
Shoot it horizontally
Put the camera at eye level (unless specified otherwise in your self-tape instructions)
Invest in a tripod. It’ll make your life much less stressful – trust me, balancing your phone on top of two side tables and a few books is not the best start to an audition.
Framing – go for a medium frame with only a bit of space above your head and visible from your sternum up. You want your eyes to be the focus and visible to the casting director, and preferably both sides of your face (ie not in profile).
Lighting – if you are able to shoot it in daylight then this will give the best lighting. If not, invest in a good ring light, or even upgrade to a diffused light box. Warning: overhead lighting can create strong shadows and make you look like you have bags under your eyes!
Setting – neutral/white backdrop. If you have a suitable wall in your house, then use it. Make sure you move anything confusing out of the frame ie. mirrors/artwork/make-up. If you don’t have this, then don’t panic and put a clean crisp white sheet suspended between two wardrobes or similar to create your backdrop. Lastly, consider investing in a simple white collapsible backdrop (about £20 or so from Amazon)
Check your acoustics! You might think that you have everything set up perfectly and then you watch your clips back and it’s echoing like crazy. Try not to choose a space in your house which has high ceilings which’ll bounce the sound, for example I’ve discovered my hallway is not the right place despite it’s white walls.
Get camera-ready – do your hair and make-up, and choose a top and jewellery which is suitable to the role/show. Avoid tight stripes or patterns which might blur on the screen.
Double-check the self-tape instructions. They’ll usually give you an idea of framing, character traits or look, and whether they want a full-length shot or different options of the same scene.
Could you film it in situ? This doesn’t work for everything but someone from our agency landed a role after giving a great performance as an angry Northern landlord by filming the self-tape with him opening his front door in his boxers and dressing gown. Sometimes, reducing the amount of imagination required by the casting director/client can help.
Don’t rely on props, but sometimes it’s worth popping to the shops and buying a pasty to eat during your self-tape for that pasty company rather than trying to mime it, or insulting them by eating a packet of crisps as if it is a pasty.
Triple-check the self-tape instructions(!) There’s nothing worse than finishing editing your tape and then realising there was an extra line of instruction that required you to do or say a specific thing, and now you have to re-film the whole thing.
Rehearse if you can.
Don’t settle for your first takes, you’ll usually find that you settle into the self-tape after the first few takes and become more natural, confident and at-ease.
Don’t overthink it. Set yourself a time limit which you can afford…no more an hour if possible.
Use the power of your agency – we’re a co-operative so sometimes I will share my favourite couple of clips on our co-op WhatsApp chat and ask which one would they submit. Or they can advise me that I should submit both as alternative options for the casting director. There’s nothing wrong with providing options, as long as they actually do offer something different; different interpretation, nuance etc.
If the casting requires another person to speak, then it’s helpful to have someone read in these lines so that the casting team can see how you hear and react to the lines. Although the reader is not being considered the role, here’s a couple of tips for them:
If you live with someone, and they’re willing to help out, get them to read in the lines and do the scene with you. Or if you have the time to plan ahead then invite an actor friend round to help you out.
Get your reader to stand close to the camera/microphone preferably behind the camera so that you can use them for your eyeline.
Don’t be afraid to direct your friend/family member even if they are helping you out. You want to make sure that they help you give the best performance possible, and that might involve asking them not to put on silly accents or use an odd intonation. Make sure that they’re not too quiet or too monotone.
I don’t have anyone to read in with me
Put a call out on your local actors Facebook group or similar, and someone may be able to Zoom video call in and you can still use their actions/reactions/vocals.
You can find other actors to read in with you via websites such as WeAudition.com or actortrade.com
Worst case scenario: You could record the dialogue of the other character on your phone’s voice recorder and play it in the background whilst you’re filming.
In amidst all of this faff and being your own production crew, don’t lose sight of what you’re selling – you. Try to show some of your personality and spark during your slate at the beginning, and try to provide a casting which shows what you can bring to the show/commercial/character.