The only good thing about self taped auditions is you don’t have to wear pants. (Okay, I'm kidding!) Part of our job description as actors is constantly being able to adapt, whether it’s being given some direction, evolving with casting trends, or technology. After almost 30 years in front of the camera, it’s been a challenging adjustment for me also being behind it. Now we can do some auditions from the peace and comfort of our own home. And, even audition for directors while they are in other parts of the country. I’ve been getting more and more of these self tapers over the last 2 years so I thought I would share a few of my thoughts, tips, and feelings about them.
I can tell you this, they get a lot of video submissions for each role, so you have to grab them in that first 10 seconds. Just like when you go to an audition, many casting directors have sized you up by the way you carry yourself when you enter the room, and already made up their minds on you before you’ve even said anything.
No doubt you have heard of the guy who self taped an audition on his iPhone at a soda fountain, and got a lead in a film. But seriously, I do like the convenience of not having to pay for gas, slog through traffic, ignore mind games in a noisy holding room, and all the rest of that fun stuff we do for free at an audition.
I have 2 real issues with self taped auditions though. One is that it’s hard to be objective about my best takes. Just like it’s hard to be objective about picking my own headshots. Each year I pick what I think are the best, and my agent sees something in other ones. They are the experts, and the ones who send them out to casting directors to get me auditions. I never seem to pick what is right, and chances are you don’t either.
I run into that same quandary with my self taped audition takes. I can only send one, and it needs to be the best one I can possibly do. Sure getting a second opinion from someone else helps, my wife, or a non actor friend, I’d grab a hobo off the street if I thought he could help me choose my best. You can’t ask your agent, that’s not a great way to move up their favored clients’ list.
The other problem I have is the meet and greet at auditions. I believe it increases my odds if they get to meet me as me, and then I go into character for the audition. I like the, “Hi how are you” and a handshake if they are one of those “not afraid to touch the actors” types. I like to meet them and show some confidence and experience. Sure some of that registers with self taped auditions, but not nearly as well. Usually the direction is slate and audition. It’s kind of hard to show your glowing personality and how easy you will be to work with, not to mention do “risk assessment” on you as an actor. That’s a big part of what casting directors do.
When I’m in a casting director’s office I either read with them, or they might have another person there as a “reader”. Even if they aren’t giving me that much - reading just slightly above the energy of a corpse, I would rather have someone to look in the glazed over eyes and react to. I like that rush of trying to get the reader’s embalming fluid flowing through their veins, so my audition is more authentic and genuine.
Having so little experience behind the camera, I spoke to a few of my industry friends, director’s of photography, AD’s, CD’s, soundmen, and web techies about how to get the best possible quality for these self tape auditions. So here’s what I have to share:
I’ve found that I have got to memorize the material so I can go completely off book. Reading the sides, or a pdf on your laptop just doesn’t look convincing. If you do use the sides, don’t let the camera see them. Practice doing it if you need to. I have to use someone to read to, or there’s just a bad disconnect. My friends want money, so my wife is usually the reader victim. Who ever your reader is, have them stand right next to the camera so it simulates a casting session. Ignore the camera, and focus on the reader. I like to stand, so my reader stands right next to the camera. I suppose you could be seated, if the reader is seated and camera set properly. I find that I have better energy if I’m standing.
Whatever the instructions for the self taped audition are, think of it like taking direction from a director. If they want a full body slate, medium shot, from shoulders up, ECU, etc. Make sure to do it however they want it both artfully, and technically. We’re not reality show morons that say well, “I know better, I’m just going to do it the way I want to.”
I prefer to use a video camera, as the resolution is much better, and the editing is easier for me. They are relatively cheap these days now anyway. It's a tool we actors need, just like a good headshot. A webcam works in a pinch, but most of them are barely 2 MP in quality, and the audio kind of sucks. Phones and tablets just don't cut it for me either. Again, we want to look and sound as good as we possibly can. If you send a 10 MB emailed audition it looks like a pixilated butt cheek, and you’re not getting that job, let alone even get it looked at. It has to be good quality resolution, HD if possible, and set it for the highest quality setting you can. A few minute audition can be 200MB in HQ. We end up needing a file sharing service like “wetransfer.com” because we're sending very large files. There are a number of other ones, I like that one because it’s free.
This is something they all said, find a steady surface to set the camera on, if you have a tripod, great, use it. If not, pile up a bunch of stuff to set it on if you need to. Don’t go for handheld, there’s already too much shakey-cam in the world.
The camera angle and lighting are almost as critical. If it’s looking up at you with upward lighting – the “Dexter” angle is interesting, but probably not what we want for an audition. Looking down at you is even worse. Try to get that camera looking directly straight at you, just like we see it at a regular audition. Camera to eyeline.
Unless I’m instructed otherwise, I use a medium shot about 5 feet from the camera. I always use a plain white (or very light colored plain wall) with nothing on it to distract from the viewers eyes. Hang up a big sheet if you need to. Create a studio space wall for yourself that you can easily set up quickly. Performing is enough to deal with, so having a ready to go set-up is a big part of doing these. We need to get all this technical stuff figured out so when the audition happens, we can slap it together, and just focus on that. You know about wardrobe, so I'm not going into it.
I try to use natural lighting facing toward me whenever I can. (Even an angled piece of it can look interesting.) I had to locate a wall I could clear out that gets lots of sunlight coming in all day. We don’t want to end up being a silhouette. Do a few tests against your audition wall, get that lighting angle right, and picture looking clean. The “auto setting” does not look good on my camera, and I need to adjust the white balance setting. Once it’s set, I’m good to go, and I leave it set.
Sometimes it’s a rush submission, and there’s no sunlight. Or I might need to do it at night with artificial lighting. Most of the time I have a day or 2 for a self taped audition, so at least I can take my time with these. In both situations I use the common 3 point lighting set up. If you work on cars, it’s just some shop lights. They aren’t very expensive. Google 3 point lighting if you aren’t familiar with how it works. Think about how they had the lighting set up at a few of your past auditions...those bedazzled silver umbrellas reflecting light on you, and so on.
Before you start taping, remember to tell everyone in the house you have the home studio going and you will let them know when you’re done or taking a break. (Don’t forget to do that!) Put the pets outside or somewhere else. Bribe people to shut up if you need to. Turn off your phone! Like a bonehead, I forgot one time, and my best take had a stupid ringtone going off right in the middle of it. What a dope.
When I started doing these I would just bang out 5 reads, then try and pick the best one. Over time, I found out that mindset is all wrong (for me anyway) for self taped auditions. Now, what I do is a couple of takes at 3 or 4 different times during the day. I’ll try things to set a different mood for myself prior to my audition sessions. Read part of a book with a similar theme...listen to some instrumental music...or just go for a walk outside. Anything that will get my head in different places. Then I get back in there and fire off a few takes. To mix it up, sometimes I do a session sitting, (with reader sitting and cam eye line set properly.) Then when I'm all done I take a break, and revisit all the reads I did. I choose the top 5 out of the bunch. That’s always fun. Then narrow it to 3. Then I pick that final choice.
For many of us, we have gotten so conditioned that an audition is usually only 2 – 5 minutes long, we are used to it. We forget that we usually have a full day to tape an audition now. We are home and have all damn day to record this sucker and get the best we can. So we might as well take advantage of all that time we never had before.
Once I started spacing my auditions out over a few different times during the day, (and with different mindsets) I started seeing that one of my sessions was always better than the others. But more importantly, I started booking some of these things. Granted, it’s kind of hard to judge ourselves making a choice on ourselves, after all, we aren’t casting directors. But you can usually tell your strongest read. So with self taped, and voiceovers auditions I record them a few times during the day.
The editing is pretty straightforward. I just trim the video so there is about 3 seconds before the slate, another 3 second pause, and then into the audition. 2 seconds of silence at the end, (unless otherwise instructed) and that’s it.
When I record each audition session I usually slate only once. If I choose an audition that doesn’t have one before it, it’s pretty easy to cut and paste it before the one I chose to send out. That’s just my style, I like to bang out 3 or 4 reads after my slate, and then take a break. For self tapes usually my 3rd or 4th is my strongest. With in person auditions my first take is usually the best. Go figure.
When I’m done making my choice and editing it up, I review all the submission instructions to make sure I have it all correct. I’ve been focused on the reads, not the tech. Often they want the video file named a very particular way, (your name – project – role - agent (sometimes all of that) and if that’s messed up it doesn’t look good. I say a quick prayer and send that thing off to my agent or where they want it sent, and put my pants back on.
I’ve been getting more and more online auditions live via programs like Skype also. Mostly though, it’s more of a live video interview, (or even video conference) so if you aren’t already familiar with it, get familiar. Be sure to also work on your home studio, as well as you home camera stage presence. Even after decades of taped auditions, all the technical stuff got in the way for me at first. Then I had to find ways to be comfortable and relaxed in that setting. It’s a whole new animal.
Self taped auditions, live video auditions, and interviews are the future. The good thing is if you live somewhere away from Hollywood like I do now, projects out of LA that are going to be shooting here, cast some of the guest roles, and day player via self taped auditions. Sometimes they want to use local talent, but don’t have the time or resources to travel there to do it. This way they can see dozens of actors they like much more quickly and at their leisure.
More and more casting is actually happening from sites like YouTube and Vimeo also. Just be sure you are putting some quality work, and quality production out there. I know a few success stories about actors who started a monthly web series, someone saw it, their talent was recognized, and they got hired. You can make your own breaks now, and the cameras cost less. Yay.
A lot of us are getting more voiceover auditions these days thanks to less expensive audio recording equipment costs, and the access to more v/o auditions online. I do my self taped auditions, webcam interviews, and voiceover work, all with the same room set up. I have this one well lit room that gets lots of sun from the West. I guess you could call it a home studio that also doubles as a padded cell on bad days. I ended up springing for a decent microphone once I got a few jobs. I started auditioning, and recording them with just my laptop, and it grew from there.
“At some point in my life I went from loser look to marketable.”
I hope some of this helps you. Please visit my page: shannonratigan.com or dig for my IMDb page. It’s buried here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0711781/
Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.