• Beatrice John

Self Tapes? Here’s 10 Need To Knows

As you have probably already discovered, self tapes are becoming a more frequent way to audition actors. Before my final year was abruptly cut short (the pandemic!) 

I had the privilege of listening to actor and writer, Elizabeth Healey, who starred in Doctor Strange and Mum's List. During her visit she graced us with these 10 top tips for filming an impactful self tape.

1. Invest in a Tripod 

Elizabeth advises you invest in a tripod (click here for the best tripods). Like everything else it doesn't have to break the bank, but you must always use a tripod for easy manipulation and to get the best angle. Please never hold your phone to take a self tape, because you do not want the unappealing camera shakes. I am no expert but I do believe this is a sure way to have your audition thrown onto the “no” pile. Side note; my tripod broke right before I filmed a self tape so if push comes to shove place your phone on the mantelpiece and record, record, record.  

2. Plain Background

It is important you have a plain background with a pale coloured wall - Please no funky patterns or objects as this can be extremely distracting! You want the casting director to be only solely focused on you. Don't be afraid to take down that interesting painting on the wall and move that coffee table if need be to create a perfect background before you start.

3. A Quiet Space

Yes, I know this is an obvious tip, but your chosen room must be quiet and without an echo. Make sure you tell your noisy family members or housemates to keep it down for an hour or two. The last thing you need when trying to perform is music blasting from the room next door or someone unexpectedly barging in.

4. Frame Correctly --> Landscape 

It is okay to use your smartphone, but make sure you always film landscape. Place the camera at your eye-line and keep your head and the top of your shoulders in shot. Don’t be nervous if the camera feels way too close to your face, I promise once you rehearse you will get used to it.

5. Lighting

Natural light has always been and will always be your best friend. Feel free to experiment when finding the right lighting for you, just make sure there are no shadows in the shot.

6. Things to remember when you are filming 

  • Don't rush through the monologue or scene you are performing.

  • If the audition piece is a scene with another character, get a friend to read in the lines for you. 

  • If you are techy you can voice record the lines, then play them while you are performing. But be aware of the added danger of saying a line too fast and creating an unnatural pause while waiting for the pre-recorded response. If all else fails don’t be afraid to just leave a gap. 

  • Remember, don't look directly into the camera. In a live audition you wouldn’t look directly at the panel unless specifically asked, the same goes with a self tape.

7. How to edit the footage 

If you have an iPhone you will be able to use iMovie to edit your tape. This is a very easy application that allows you to cut, insert text, add transitions and many more options.

If you have an Android you can use Androvid, which is just as straightforward and simple to use.

If you are using a computer:

On a Mac you can use iMovie again or on a PC Windows Movie Maker is available. 

What to edit: 

  • Crop out the beginning and the end of your tape so that the video just starts with you in front of the camera.

  • Depending on the audition requirements you may have to splice a few scenes together.

  • Include a basic title card with a white font on a black background; name, agent (if you have one) and the name of the role and project you are auditioning for. This should last no longer than 4-5 seconds.

8. Compressing your video

By compressing your self tape file you will make it considerably smaller, thus making it easier to share. However, be aware that compressing a video file comes at a cost - the quality will be greatly reduced. Don’t compress if video quality is paramount for your self tape. 

How to compress is again dictated by what device you are using and there is a plethora of applications available for android and ios users.

If you are using a PC or Mac, Handbrake is a free and easy software to use. 

9. Labeling 

Did you know how important labeling is? Me neither! But Elizabeth stressed, “all your hard work can be undone if you don’t get this bit right”. She follows this convention: 

CHARACTER NAME - Firstname Surname

10. Sending the File 

There are of course lots of platforms you could use to send your self tape, such as WeTransfer, or you could upload them to free video platform Vimeo.  

Elizabeth urged, “Don't ever send it as an email attachment, it won't be watched!” 

In the words of Elizabeth Healey, “Take a deep breath, relax and work your magic”. 

And in the words of I, Beatrice John, “You got this!”

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