Gear up For Your Self-Taped Audition (2020 Update)
Updated: May 17, 2020
As more and more Film and TV projects book from tape, it is a necessary evolution for an actor to have their own self-taping studio. There are many points to consider when putting your audition space together but, once you get it dialed in, your tapes will quickly be in the casting directors' top picks. Here are some tips you should consider as you build your space for audition taping.
Edit: Hey! This post is 3 years old and, as is want to be, technology and our taping process have both evolved! So the links and tech elements listed below are updates as of March, 2o2o. -Jordan
Camera and Lighting Setup
Camera: You'll need an HD camera with a great focusing system (after all, you don't want your eyes to go fuzzy when you lean in for that really intense moment.) I use the Canon 90D and I love it. (Full disclosure: these links are Affiliate Links and we do get a percentage of the sale. But it's the same price to you and we don't recommend anything we don't use.) There are many more cameras you can consider, depending on price point (consider buying refurbished or slightly used), but the 90D (and the more-budget-friendly 80D) has a dual-focus system which is constantly keeping your eyes in laser focus so you can move all around in your audition. There's nothing worse than getting 5 takes and the best one has a case of blurry face.
NOTE: Some casting directors have tucked their tail between their legs and will now accept smartphone videos filmed in landscape mode ONLY. I recommend you do this in EXTREME situations only (i.e. you're in your grandparents' kitchen and there are no taping services nearby, etc...). IF you are going to record an audition using a smartphone, you need to invest in the Filmic Pro app to better control your focus, exposure, etc... It's just a few bucks on iTunes and Google Play.
Mic: Ideally, your room will be quiet and not too echo-y so you won't need to use a mic other than what comes on the camera. If you do need a shotgun mic to draw focus to you rather than exterior sounds, check out the Sennheiser MKE 440 Stereo Shotgun Mic. As the title says, it records in stereo (a separate Left and Right channel) so that, when you move around, the camera adjusts the sound side to side to match your video. I'm also using the Rode VideoMic NTG and I'm enjoying the ability to manually adjust audio gain right on the mic itself. (I would not recommend the cheaper Rode VideoMic GO, as it brings quite a bit of hiss and extra noise.)
Lighting: I recommend a lighting kit with 3 softboxes. Here's the one I use. I've played with multiple configurations but the version I love and use currently is 1 softbox above the camera, pointing straight on your face, with 2 softboxes facing the actor's face at 45-degree angles. It gives you great definition and allows you to pop out from the background. I also like having a light shining on the back wall for 2 reasons: 1) it diffuses any shadows that the actor may cast on the wall and 2) it allows for the actor to be even more separated from the wall and, thus, more featured.
I've also recently added a ring light to my collection and it makes a HUGE difference in quality and providing a natural skin tone. I still have the softbox above the ring light but keep both at their lowest brightness. Together, they create a beautiful picture. (Hint: if you're going the ring light route, get a diffuser and a metal tripod as well.)
Background: A bare wall is essential for submitting auditions. Any clutter or decoration behind you is distracting and seen as unprofessional. If you don't have a bare wall in a room that works for your setup, consider buying seamless photo paper from a photography store (not from Amazon; it wrinkles) or a collapsible backdrop and hanging that in front of the wall to start with a blank slate.
Depth is your friend. If you have space to allow 4-8 feet between the camera/actor and the back wall, the actor will really pop out and take control of the tape. (Remember the trick to shine a light on the back wall, as well.)
For wall color, I've spoken with casting directors who say a light, eggshell blue is perfect for wall color. It's not totally white and it works well with all skin tones. We now also use a light grey as an option.
Your Reader Matters
Unless you're filming a monologue, you'll need a reader to run lines with you off camera and help operate the camera. Your reader should stand 12-18 inches behind the camera, just off camera (meaning when you watch your audition back, you should look like you're not staring into the lens, but just to the side of the lens). Feel free to ask your reader to stand where you need them. They are working for you.
Even if you're using a mic, your reader should speak softly, so as not to distract. This is not their audition, it's yours.
Framing: your reader is also your camera operator so they will need to know how to set up the shot to be pleasing to the eye. Check the instructions on each submission to see what the casting director has been requested. If nothing is specified, keep the frame top at 1/2" above your head to mid-shoulders at the bottom with the actor centered in the shot.
If you're setting up a home studio, you're probably already a seasoned actor and don't need any general acting tips. If you're looking for some tips for preparing an audition, however, check out my article here. Otherwise, here are thoughts specifically about self-taping.
What to remember when self-taping: You need to imagine the whole world for the casting directors, directors, and producers who are watching your audition. They are seeing you and a blank blue wall so it is up to you to create the world you're in. Know where the other people are in the scene, where the doors are (if any), where the windows are (if any), and use all of it for your scene. We don't just look one person directly in the eye while we're talking to them in our conversation... our eyes wander. Allow that to happen by painting the setting for yourself before you even begin.
You are afforded the opportunity to tape your scene as many times as you want and send in the best audition. And those people who will be watching your tape later know that, too. They are going to cast the performance that is best for their project and they expect to see that exact performance when you arrive on set. So put in your work, make something you can replicate, and send off the best version of that.
Editing: Don't cut too much off from the beginning or end of the audition. The casting director expects to see a beginning beat and an ending beat so let the camera capture that. For editing, you don't need any fancy software. I have tried multiple programs but I have come back to iMovie. It is free, simple, and makes it very easy to compress and share files.
Slating: Again, follow the instructions. Almost every casting director asks for different information. As an actor, you don't have to stay in character through your slate but, if you're playing a psycho criminal, maybe don't go back to your smiley, giggly natural self for the slate. Keep it neutral.
I use a service called WeTransfer. It's completely free, you don't have to sign up for anything, and you can send up to 2GB at a time with an email receipt when your files have been downloaded. It's perfect!
NEVER use YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, or any other online video site to send your file unless it is specifically instructed by the casting director. That is a quick way to stop receiving auditions.
Lastly, but most importantly, auditioning is your job. This is where you put in your sweat equity and anything that comes after that is just icing on the cake. So treat yourself after every audition... Go out to lunch, go on a hike, buy that shirt you've been wanting... because a reward now will make you less likely to refresh your inbox every 47 seconds from now to Thursday waiting for that magic email.
Jordan Woods-Robinson is an Actor and Head Honcho at Book From Tape Acting Studios in Orlando, FL. He challenges his actors to harness impulse as a tool, to trust their guts, to work on their feet, to break rules, and, overall, to make bold choices that make a lasting impression through tape. Email Jordan