How to Build a Self-Tape Studio At Home
Updated: Jun 23, 2020
In today’s Film, TV, and Theatre industry, having a self-tape studio in your own space is crucial. Not only for self-taping auditions, but also for commercial auditions and callbacks held over Skype and Zoom. To accompany this post, you can reference our downloadable (and free) Gear Guide to see the tech we recommend and also pop over to our pre-recorded Facebook Live walking through our ideal setup in real time.
There are 3 goals to aim for when it comes to your self tape set up.
That we can see you clearly
That we can hear you clearly (and your reader)
That nothing in your setup distracts us from YOU and the work
So let's forge ahead and unpack how each element of your setup can serve these purposes.
The Ideal: A solid color, usually light blue or light grey. If you don’t have a wall that will serve you, you can consider seamless paper or a backdrop. Find a color that contrasts with your skin, but isn’t loud or distracting. (Chromakey Green or Blue should not be considered.)
In your home studio: Find a blank wall that has some width to it (so you have room to move or to widen out the framing). It's best if this wall is in a room with a closeable/lockable door and across from natural light. Remove any pictures or decorations that might be on the wall. Ideally, paint a wall of your home in a shade of grey or lighter shade of blue. (White/beige can work in a pinch). If you don't have a usable wall, hang a curtain or bedsheet in a neutral, solid color. Make sure the fabric is ironed and pulled tight, to smooth out wrinkles.
Wrinkles in fabric and distractions on walls.
Windows in your background (windows behind you will put the subject in shadow).
Sitting in an open room where we can see furniture.
Cramped corners/hallways where you don't have room to move.
Chromakey Green, Plain White, or distracting colored or patterned walls.
Wearing the same color wardrobe as your backdrop.
ACTOR FRAMING & CAMERA POSITION:
The Ideal: Camera lens is at actor’s eye level, tilted slightly down. Your framing is a medium close-up (from just above the top of the head, to about armpit level). While keeping this framing, the camera is about 3-6 feet away from the actor, so that you’ve got room to step toward or away from the lens. If you’re filming on a smartphone, it should always be in landscape (horizontal) and never portrait. Your eye line should be 2-3 inches directly to the side of the lens.
In your home studio: If you don’t have access to a tripod, be sure to set your phone or camera up on a sturdy shelf or bookcase that is as close to your eye level as possible. If you can’t quite get the right framing, step closer to your camera, or be prepared to crop the frame in post.
Having your phone in vertical (portrait) mode.
Having too wide of a frame (seeing too much space above your head, or framing that shows your arms, hands, waist, or below).
Being backed up right against the wall. Allow 2-3 feet of space.
Being so close to the camera you don't have room to move.
Using zoom to get your framing on a cell phone. It’s always better to physically move yourself or camera. (& your camera's zoom will distort the image & resolution)
Using automatic mode on your phone camera. To shoot in manual, you’ll need to download an app for your phone.
SOUND & ROOM TONE:
The Ideal: A quiet, and private space that has no sounds to distract us from the scene. To reduce room noise, the best is a unidirectional (one direction) microphone that only picks up your voice and won’t be sensitive to ambient noise. A smaller sized room that is carpeted and doesn’t have a lot of bare wall space is usually best, since flat surfaces create echoes.
In your home studio: Choose a room that has carpet or a rug (wood floors tend to create an echo chamber). Or feel free to lay down a blanket on the ground or over doors and other parts of the room to absorb sound from other rooms. Turn off the air conditioner and overhead fan, as we will hear them on the microphone. Silence your phones and other devices. Lock up pets and let your cohabitation know you are taping, to avoid interruptions.
Using your phone’s built-in microphone unless your space is naturally echo-free.
Large rooms with tile or hardwood flooring.
Bathrooms or other spaces that echo.
Taping in a shared space with another person doing other activities.
Using a Podcasting Mic (as it requires it to be closer to the subject in order to pick up good sound).
Having your microphone visible in your frame.
The Ideal: 3-point lighting or natural light that: A) keeps you well lit so no part of your face is in shadow, B) separates you from your background (so you don't blend in and there isn't a shadow), and C) doesn't wash you out, discolor your skin, or otherwise distort your features. Lights should be at eye-level. If they're too high, you'll look younger. If they're too low, you'll look older or sickly.
In your home studio: Use natural light from windows, or use whatever lamps you have in your home to make sure your face is fully lit. As you troubleshoot, make sure that there aren’t any shadows on your face or harsh shadows on your wall. Ideally, your lights will be set to your eye height and will be hitting you at different angles so that each light fills in shadows and feels consistent. Be sure to check out the in-depth breakdown for #lighting on our blog post here.
Having light too far underneath or above your eye level
Using just 1 light source (unless it's a nice large window of soft light)
Major shadows on any part of your face
Major shadows on the wall/background
Lights that are too bright. If it's distracting the actor, it's not serving the scene.
BODY & EYE LINE:
The Ideal: Your eye line should be just to the right or left of the lens. You've allowed 2-5 feet of space from your background to allow for movement and entrances/exits. You are standing 3-5 feet away from your camera for movement, proper framing, and to reduce shadows on your background. Your body should be placed in the center of the frame. Your body is open and available to the camera. Both eyes can be seen in the frame. Your body has a balance of relaxed openness, and energized readiness to be a vessel for impulse and reactions and responses. If you are speaking to 2 different people, put each character on opposite sides of the camera.
In your home studio: Even if you don't have 6 feet to play with, try to step away from your wall. Even if you have limited mobility, you’ve given yourself permission to move and have wide enough framing to step forward and back comfortably. Whether you are sitting or standing, your body is open and available. Your eye line should be consistent. You can use a post-it note or a picture from a magazine to establish your eye line, if you don't have someone to look at.
Crossing your arms or leaning back in your chair.
Speaking in profile or looking too high or low for your eye line.
Being backed up against your background.
Having your body/ face too far off center of the frame.
Looking at the same spot for 2 different characters.
The Ideal: Ideally, your reader will be a professional actor who has a strong working knowledge of scripts, auditioning, and the industry. There's a fine line between a reader adding to and taking away from your audition. Your reader will be just to the side of the camera and about 18-24 inches back from the camera. They will be open and available for you and will allow you to bring your interpretation to life. They will not overpower you vocally and they will not steamroll over your moments.
In your home studio: A family member or roommate can help you. Technically, they will run the camera so make sure they know to leave space at the beginning of the audition and plenty of space at the end to see your thought process continue even after the scene is over. You can always edit it later. Vocally, they should not overpower you and acting-wise, they should not be making choices for you. If they are doing either, find a way to delicately ask them to make adjustments. Remember, you are both working to make your audition as good as possible.
Your Reader Should Avoid:
Being louder than you.
Being too far too the side or too close to the camera.
Giving you notes unless they are trained professionals (or unless you trust them, fully, and ask for feedback).
Staring at the script and not giving you a connection during the scene.
Stopping the camera as soon as your scene is over.
Your self-tape setup should evolve just as much as your acting process evolves. Each time you learn something new, make adjustments and keep moving forward. We've seen people book professional projects on a cell-phone in selfie mode but that's a rarity. Build your space to reduce distractions, spawn creativity, and put all focus on you. Once you've done that, all you have to do is show up and play.
Clare Lopez is an Actress and Director of Education and Outreach at Book From Tape Acting Studios in Orlando, FL. She is deeply passionate about supporting fellow actors in their craft, and loves using storytelling to educate, elevate, and empower others. Email Clare