Audition Self-Tapes, Like it or not, are not going away anytime soon. In the wake of Covid-19, casting directors for film and television projects have moved towards using self-tape auditions as a means to find the right actor for a particular role.
The biggest reason for the demand in audition self-tapes is it allows the casting director to immediately see an actor for a role without having to meet face to face.
In the past, an actor would only be considered for a project if they sent in a headshot, received an audition notice, and then asked to show up in person to read for the role.
But with the recent increase in self-tape auditions, it allows actors to have more freedom over their work, and it gives them more access to be considered for a role than ever before.
This new switch in the audition process is a huge time saver for the casting director and the actor auditioning.
You are probably thinking, “That’s great, but what makes a great audition self-tape?”
I have asked myself that exact question in the past few months for self-tape audition requests I have had for roles I wanted, as well as, casting for short films I have produced or directed.
This guide covers everything an actor needs to know about self-taped auditions including advice from casting directors, acting coaches, and other industry experts.
Are you ready to learn how to make the best audition self-tape that will get you noticed? Then let’s begin.
10+ Best Tips For Self-Tape Auditions | Your Guide to a Perfect Self-Tape
What is an Audition Self-tape?
An audition self-tape is a pre-recorded video audition that an actor to a casting director. Actors film themselves reading sides(select portions of the script) then edit the footage and send it in electronically.
Some actors find self-tapes more stressful than in-person auditions because it demands a certain amount of planning and technical know-how to get the job done right.
Other actors, like myself, love self-tape auditions because of the lack of pressure and audition jitters knowing you can keep filming until you are happy with the final product.
The one good thing about Self-tapes is they are the same whether they are for TV, film, or theater auditions. The only difference is the content of the audition.
For theater auditions specifically, the casting director might be paying a bit more attention to your physicality and vocal quality to see if you can reach the back of the house.
Want to Learn More About Filmmaking?
Become a better filmmaker with the MasterClass Annual Membership. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by film masters, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Spike Lee, Jodie Foster, James Cameron and more.
Related Article: Top 7+ Best Online Acting Classes, Courses + Training
When do I you submit a self-tape?
Actors will have the opportunity to submit a self-tape audition when a casting director specifically requests one. This usually happens after the casting director has seen your demo reel, headshot, and resume that either you or your agent has sent to them.
When the audition tape is requested, the casting director will send the actor sides, possible instructions on filming the audition tape, and the deadline for submission.
Also, when it comes to auditions, leave your ego at the door, because every famous actor past and present have submitted taped audition at one point in their career.
See below the audition tapes for the hit television series The Office, and watch the level of acting that casting directors are looking for in an audition tape.
The most important part of a self-tape is to provide truthful and engaging acting. Just remember that visuals and sounds are also an important part of the audition tape. You don’t want casting directors being distracted from your performance because of poor audio or picture.
What are casting directors looking for in a self-tape?
One of the first things that were important to me with the audition tapes was that they looked good and sounded good. While I was not looking for professional-level quality, I wanted to make sure the actor’s face is well-lit, and the audio is clear and free of background noise.
I will discuss further in this article, the technical aspects of a self-tape audition, but there are some things besides the technical side that actors need to stand out from the crowd.
The most important thing with an audition tape is to make sure an actor is believable in the role.
How do you look believable on tape?
It’s when an actor is in character throughout the audition, and even if lines are unsaid, the actor is still in character.
While an actor may not get any feedback compared to in-person auditions, an actor should commit to the character with whatever choice they make and live with that decision.
Because if an actor makes a strong choice, casting directors can see that the actor has done the prep for the audition and knows the actor is intelligent enough to understand the material.
My next suggestion, and it differs from other casting directors, is to try not to use many props, costumes, sound effects, or video filters as it takes away from the performance on tape.
But that is my opinion, and always ask your agent beforehand, if adding extra props and costumes will improve your chances of getting a second audition.
What equipment do I need for a self-tape?
Sure you need a great performance on your self-tape, but you will need audition tape equipment to help you get the job done right.
What an actor will need is four pieces of equipment to shoot a quality self-tape: a camera(Smartphone or a DSLR), a tripod and rig, a microphone, and lights.
These are the basics of an at-home film studio and will help ensure professional-grade audio and video for self-tapes as well as content creation for social media (Tiktok or Instagram).
When it comes to a camera for self-taped auditions, the latest smartphones today can help you produce incredible-looking videos for audition tapes.
The only suggestion I would make is to add an external lens attachment to the smartphone to improve the video quality. The best external lenses in my opinion for iPhones are the Moment lenses.
If you are looking for a camera that offers a better resolution of photos/videos compared to a smartphone, then you should invest in a DSLR and Mirrorless camera.
One thing I want to add, in regards to cameras for audition tapes, is never use your laptop camera for recording. The video quality is sub-par and will take away from your performance.
Related Article: Smartphone Camera Accessories – 10+ Best for Video Creators
Tripod and Rig
You will need to attach your phone or camera to a tripod to get a stable, high-quality shot for your self-tape audition.
What tripod should you get depends on the camera device you will be working with, and the location you plan to shoot.
- JOBY GripTight ONE GorillaPod Stand – This is an economical and easy-to-carry tripod system for smartphone photography or video. Its GripTight ONE Mount and ball head make it possible to achieve creative and unusual picture angles with a smartphone.
- Magnus VT-400 Aluminum Tripod System – This tripod is an adjustable full-length tripod that’s compatible with both cameras and phones (rig not included).
Some tripods come with rigs, which help attach your phone or camera to the tripod itself. But if you need to purchase a rig separately, I recommend these options:
- Magnus Universal Smartphone Adapter – The Magnus Smartphone Tripod Adapter holds your smartphone for hands-free viewing and shooting on a tripod. It features a 360° swivel head which allows you to position your phone into the optimal horizontal or vertical viewing position.
- Beastgrip Pro Smartphone Lens Adapter and Camera Rig System – Improve your smartphone videography with the Beastgrip Pro Smartphone Lens Adapter and Camera Rig System.
This ergonomic rig grips onto your smartphone and provides a 37mm threaded lens/filter mount, a cold shoe, and five 1/4″-20 standard threaded holes for an (optional) tripod and other accessories.
It is compatible with most smartphones, with or without protective cases, and allows easy access to ports and buttons.
Related Article: Gimbals / Stabilizers: Best Smartphone Filmmaking Accessory
Lighting is key for a high-quality self-tape. Casting directors need to see your face in the shot, but the lighting shouldn’t be so intense that it washes you out.
Using natural light by itself is not recommended because the source of light can change depending on weather conditions. When it comes to lighting to audition tape, it’s best to use two light sources: a key light (from the front) and a fill light (from the side).
You will have to play around with setting your lights up to avoid distracting shadows in the back and ensure that your face is evenly lit.
Here are some lighting options, depending on your budget:
- Neewer Dimmable Ultra High-Power LED Light – With cold shoe mounting the affordable CN-160 Dimmable Ultra High-Power LED Light from Neewer is the perfect on-camera lighting to add key or fill lighting to your on-camera talent.
- Fovitec 600XB Bi-Color LED Panel 2-Light Kit – This lighting kit offers professional-level lighting that normally comes with a higher price tag, and allows lighting to seamlessly blend with any ambient light situation.
- Ring lights are another popular option for self-tapes because they offer a flattering, soft shadowless quality of light that is especially kind to skin tones.
Related Article: 5+ Best Portable LED Lights For Smartphone Filmmaking
Next to lighting, sound is extremely important for creating a high-quality self-tape. You should never use a phone’s built-in microphone to record audio for your audition tape as it will pick up all sorts of distracting ambient noise.
Here are some microphone attachments that will help improve the quality of sound in your audition videos:
Rode VideoMic Pro – Offering lower noise and higher sensitivity than a camera’s built-in microphone the Rode VideoMic Pro camera-mount shotgun microphone is ideal for mobile journalists, vloggers, budget filmmakers, and run-and-gun shooters looking for a cost-effective way to step up audio quality for self-tapes.
Shure MV88 – The Shure MV88 plugs directly into the charging port of a smartphone, and it can be optimized for any type of audio like speech, singing, and acoustic instrumentals. This type of microphone is a reliable option for actors using a smartphone for video recording purposes.
For self-tapes, please avoid using a hand-held mic or AirPods, since they’ll distract from your on-screen presence.
Related Article: Ultimate Guide to the Best RODE Microphones For Content Creation
What is the best backdrop for a self-tape?
For video audition backgrounds, they should be a solid neutral color like white or gray. I have heard from industry experts that a blue background is also recommended.
If you are going to be using a blank wall in your home for recording, avoid filming in front of patterned wallpaper or bright painted walls as they will distract from your performance.
If you choose to use a professional backdrop screen, here are some screen options to consider:
- Studio Essentials Pop-Up Reversible Background Kit – This backdrop kit looks great! The blue color, it’s not too bright and not too dark, and the grey is a nice neutral to compliment.
- Andoer Photography Studio Softbox Lighting Kit – includes three backdrops, the backdrop support stand, and three softbox lights in one package.
Should an actor be off-book for a self-tape?
Technically, you should be completely off-book by the time you are ready to film your audition tape. But that’s in an ideal world when you have more than two days to prepare.
Most of the time, requests to submit a video audition come just a day or two before the deadline, so try to do your best to memorize as many of the lines as possible with the time you’re given.
If you can memorize all of your lines before taping, casting directors will appreciate this.
But in tight deadline situations, casting understands that it can be very difficult to memorize a scene on such short notice, and what they are looking for is how you understand the character whether you are holding the sides or not.
If you do plan to use your sides during the self-tape, try to figure out a way of incorporating them seamlessly into your self-tape.
Think about posting your sides on a nearby wall instead of holding them in your hand, because if your eyes drop down to the page to search for a line it distracts the casting director’s attention.
Does an actor need a reader for a self-tape?
When an actor does an in-person audition, they are assigned a reader to perform a scene with. But with a self-tape, you will be stuck in a situation where you may or may not have the option of a reader.
If you are stuck in a situation where you don’t have a reader, you can pre-record the other lines yourself and play them back while you are performing for your audition tape.
What I like about auditioning at home, is being able to find someone that I have chemistry with, someone who knows what they’re doing and won’t distract from my performance.
Don’t worry about gender, though as it doesn’t matter to casting directors if your reader doesn’t match the character they’re playing.
Things to look out for when finding an audition reader is to avoid these common reader mistakes:
- Speaking in a monotone – While you may think that having a monotone performance by the reader keeps attention on the actor auditioning, in reality, it creates an imbalanced scene.
- Whispering the lines – You may think the reader’s voice should fade into the background, but the problem with this is the casting directors have to struggle hearing half of the scene.
If your reader is positioned right next to the camera, have them lower the volume a bit, but make sure the lines are still audible.
- Using a different voice for each character – This is not the Simpsons where one actor is playing several characters in the same show.
If you have a reader, they should use the same voice for the entire scene, even if there are multiple characters involved. Never have the attention taken away from your audition.
Also, this should be self-explanatory, but make sure your reader doesn’t read the stage directions!!!!
What should an actor wear for a self-tape?
Since your shot will be framed tight, wear a form-fitting top that is a solid color. Avoid colors that blend in with the background as you can wash out.
Casting directors I have talked to recommend jewel tones like emerald green, purple, and burgundy. Also, wear collared tops or V-necks because they are the most flattering on camera.
Color to stay away from is red, white, or black for a self-tape. White tends to create a green halo effect, black looks like a shadow, and red tones are often distorted by the camera.
Also, pay attention to the instructions provided in the audition call regarding what you should wear in the self-tape.
Finally, be sure to heed any direction that is provided regarding what to wear for your audition. The casting director may or may not supply this information with the instructions, but if they do, be sure to follow them exactly.
How does an actor shoot a self-tape audition?
When you are shooting a self-tape, you should do a medium close-up shot that goes from your chest to just over the top of your head.
If you have a reader, make sure they stand close to the camera to create the correct eyeline. Plus, make sure the camera is at eye level!
Because your framing will be tight, try to keep the movement to a minimum, save the movement for dance auditions. Too much movement is distracting from the performance. Think about taping a mark on the floor to ensure you’re centered in all of your takes.
Lastly, make sure your camera is at a proper height. If you set the camera too low, it will create an unflattering angle that nobody wants.
Position your tripod is at eye level or just above.
How to edit a self-tape
If you have an Apple Macbook or iMac then the easiest way to edit your self-tape audition is to use iMovie. If you film on your phone, you can edit your entire audition without even having to transfer it to your computer.
You can cut the scenes, add text, photos, music, and transitions, all with iMovie.
These programs offer more advanced editing techniques, but when it comes to self-tape auditions, it’s not needed.
How to submit a self-tape
When submitting a self-tape audition, make sure you follow the casting director’s instructions exactly and don’t send hard copies along with your electronic submission.
You’d be amazed at how many actors don’t read or follow instructions when submitting self-tapes.
Things to look out for in the casting directors instructions:
- What needs to be included in the slate
- The length of the piece
- The number of takes to include
- What to wear
- When the audition is due
- If the different scenes should be sent as separate files or all scenes in one file
- What type of file to send
Want a checklist to help guide you through a self-tape audition?
This indie-film submission for new actors self-tape checklist and tips is the perfect go-to when you need to take some of the guesswork out, and allow youself to focus on the number 1 thing – doing your job of being a great actor.