WHAT IS A SELF-TAPE?
A lot of you will be wondering ‘what is a self-tape?’ but fear not people, all will become clear! A self-tape is usually a self-recorded audition piece that you deliver straight to camera and are usually requested by agents or casting directors in order for you to remotely audition for adverts, television programmes, film or theatre. You will normally be provided with sides (a script) for you to learn and perform. When completed, the self-tape will be sent onto the casting team for them to decide whether or not to employ you for the job. Self-tapes can be filmed with whatever you have at your disposal i.e., camera phone, camera, computer etc. You DO NOT need an expensive camera or fancy lighting to create a great self-tape. Whilst expensive equipment is a nice luxury to have, you can make yours look as good with basic equipment and natural light if you follow our guidelines. There are many elements to get right for your self-tape to be a success. Nailing the performance is obviously the main objective, but there is no point in doing that if the casting director cannot hear or see you properly. In this guide we will be teaching you all the tricks of the trade in order to achieve a well-polished, professional self-tape that will help you deliver the very best audition you can. Remember, casting directors will see hundreds of self-tapes for each casting, so try to make yours stand out for the right reasons. Follow their instructions as best as you can and stick to our guide to make sure your self-tape comes across slick and professional.
THE BENEFITS OF SELF TAPES
There are so many benefits to self-tapes. In the current climate it has become increasingly difficult to attend auditions in person, so the importance of self-tape is continually growing and now account for over 95% of all first auditions! Here are some of the benefits of self-tape:
- You can practise and record as many times as you like until you are happy you’ve nailed it!
- You can ask friends, family or an agent for honest feedback before submitting.
- You don’t have to leave home. Self-tapes can literally be shot from anywhere, but there are some practical elements you will have to be mindful of when choosing a place to shoot…we will teach you the ways!
- It will save you and the casting director time and money. No travel fees, no taking time off work, no studios to hire out.
In most auditions, especially for commercials, TV and Film, you will be filmed anyway, so self-tapes are just removing the middleman. Learning the self-tape process will also give you some basic experience of how the filming set up and process is undertaken.
Now, although this may seem straight forward at first, there is much to think about when it comes to framing your shot properly. Some frequently asked questions are:
How close to the camera should I stand?
Do you want to see my whole body in the picture?
Should I zoom in?
Should I use a selfie stick?
How much head room should I leave?
Let’s clear up some of these questions and offer up some advice that will ensure your framing is on point.
You can see that the cut off point in the framing size is just below the shoulders and just over the top of the head. If you look at the picture again, you can see that there is also minimal headroom. By this, we mean that there is not a lot of space between the top of your head and the top of frame. As attractive as your wall and ceiling may be, I can assure you that nobody wants to see them!
Keep the camera lens at eye level. This is super important, so whether you have an expensive tripod or you are balancing the camera on 50 books, make sure you set the camera height correctly.
Unless specifically requested otherwise, always shoot in landscape! This means that if you are shooting on your smart phone, it needs to be on its side (see picture A). If shooting on a normal camera, keep it the right way up (see picture B). This is the industry standard and not a TikTok or Insta Reel, so always, always, always shoot in landscape when using a smart phone.
There are many ways that you can light to achieve a great self-tape, but we are going to keep it simple!
If you are in a position to be able to buy lighting, (one light is plenty for a self-tape set up) then great. Whether it be an LED or a nice soft lamp (that you can pick up online for a very reasonable price these days) make sure it is set it up at a 45-degree angle away from the camera, lift it up on the stand so it’s just above head height and angle it towards where you are going to be stood. You do not want it to be so bright that you squint, it just needs to be bright enough to give your face a nice soft glow.
Halo/ring lights have become extremely popular for self-tape shoots and vlogging in general. This is because they usually come with smart phone holders, are cheap to buy and are extremely simple to use and achieve great results. Our advice would be not to burn the light too brightly, as smart phones do not always have the built-in sensors to be able to cope with such bright light. Also, try not to stand too close to any wall behind you as due to these lights being positioned around the camera and at eye level, they will cause shadows that might be distracting for the viewer.
Natural light is a great way to achieve beautiful self-tapes and can often be better than powered lighting sources, and the best thing about it is it’s free! Simply set yourself up so you are facing the window and obviously make sure the curtains are open! If it’s a bright sunny day and the sunlight is coming directly through the window, it may be better to wait for the sun to pass a bit or find a different window. Believe it or not, the best lighting conditions for filming in natural light are when it is overcast outside. So, if the clouds are out in force, take advantage! The one thing to be aware of when using natural light is to make sure you are not casting a camera shadow onto yourself. Just position the camera a little to the side of the window to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Like lighting, capturing good quality sound can be extremely complicated and technical. You can throw a lot of money buying microphones, radio mics and separate recording equipment, but let’s keep it very simple, because with a few easy tips, the built-in microphones on your smart phone or camera are usually more than good enough for a self-tape and by using the built-in equipment, you will also save yourself having to sync (match up) pictures and sound on an editing suite when you’ve finished your tape.
SIMPLE BUT EFFECTIVE TIPS
So, let’s assume that you are using the built-in microphones on whatever equipment you are using, with a few extremely effective considerations, you will improve the quality of your sound to no end. First of all, and most obviously, try to find a quiet room to record in. Having a room that is far away from the TV, a partner on a business call or a kettle boiling in the kitchen will make the sound so much better. If you can find a room that isn’t huge then that would also be beneficial. The bigger the room, the more the sound will be diluted into the space and the higher the chance of your self-tape sounding like it was recorded in a cave. There is a reason that most musicians record their music in a small, sound insulated box…it just sounds better! Next, make sure your windows are closed. As lovely as the birds or traffic noise is outside, we’re only interested in hearing you and what you’ve got to say. Finally, try not to stand too far from the camera. Whilst its lovely to get depth of field, we are not shooting a movie and the further away from the microphone/camera you are, the worse it will sound, so try not to use the zoom and get as close to the camera as you can in order to achieve the correct shot size (medium close up) and best possible sound.
Depending on what equipment you are using to film with, you may be able to attach an external microphone to the camera to improve your sound quality. We won’t go into detail on external mics because there are so many options, but we would recommend that if you have a smaller budget, ‘Rhode’ do a great selection of microphones that attach to cameras and smart phones and they are pretty good quality. If you are feeling flush and have a few more pennies to spend, Sennheiser are very good microphones that are used industry wide.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”
This is a saying that rings very true, especially in our industry. Never underestimate the power of going into an audition fully prepared. We can guarantee you it will pay dividends and even if you do not get the job you are auditioning for at the time, your preparation will not go un-noticed by the people taking the casting and you may get a future role because of the good impression you have given of yourself. Here are a few tips on how to get ahead.
LEARN YOUR LINES
Whilst this is not always essential, we strongly recommend that you do for the following reasons:
- It looks good. Simple. If you are off the book (if you’ve learnt your lines) you can focus fully on your performance.
- It will make you more relaxed. Not knowing your script means you are at risk of losing where you are, which in turn will jeopardise the fluidity of your delivery.
- It lifts your eye line. Nobody wants to see the top of your head (unless you’re auditioning for a shampoo commercial!) and when you are off book you can keep your eye line up so the casting directors can see your lovely faces.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
A lot of the time you will probably only get to see a small section of the script with a simple character description, but this doesn’t mean you can’t draw information from the small details you’ve been given to create your own backstory and build a character. Become a bit of a detective and get creative! Here are some things to think about when building a character:
- Create a back story. Where has you character come from to get to where they are now?
- What has happened just before this scene and what happens right after it?
- What are your characters objectives? What do they want? What kind of person is your character? How do they interact with the other characters?
You might find that the director or casting director asks you some questions about your character. This actually happens more often than you think. How amazing will it feel after having done all this research and preparation, absolutely nail the performance without needing the script and when questioned about the character you have researched so heavily, you can provide all the answers to their questions! We would say that it would put you in a very strong position to get the part.
Now you’ve nailed the framing, got the lighting sorted, have beautiful sound, learnt your lines and done your research, we can begin to polish!Here are a few final pointers to really make your self-tape stand out.
Before you get stuck into your amazing performance, you will probably be asked to ident/slate yourself, this basically means introduce yourself and provide basic information about yourself, like name, age, agency, height etc. You may also be asked to provide profile shots of yourself, which basically means turning on the spot 90 degrees, showing the left side and then the right side of your face. A few key points when introducing yourself:
- Be polite and try to speak in your natural speaking voice.
- Keep it brief. The purpose of these idents is to gather your basic information, not your life story.
- Do exactly what is asked and nothing more. Another thing casting directors look out for is your ability to take instruction, so don’t get carried away.
EYELINES AND READERS
Eyelines are a very important element of nailing your self-tape. Try to keep your eyeline (where you look when performing) to one side of the camera and as close to the lens as possible, but do not barrel the lens (look straight down the camera lens). Looking straight down the lens is absolutely fine when identing/slating at the beginning of the self-tape, but when you perform, it looks much more professional if your eyeline is just off to one side of the camera.
When using a reader (a person who reads the other characters lines off camera), position them to one side of the camera with their eyes at the same level of the camera. This will ensure the casting director can really see your face and eyes when you perform. Something else to keep in mind is that your reader will be much closer to the camera than you and therefore much louder. Ask them to deliver their lines as softly as possible to ensure your voice doesn’t become overwhelmed by theirs. It will also stop the camera’s audio from becoming distorted.
Hopefully this guide has given you enough knowledge to feel super confident for the next time you are asked to submit a self-tape.
Why don’t you try a mock self-tape audition? You can use any script for your performance or get involved with one of our self-tape challenges. Go through the process of preparing, getting set up and nailing your performance so you are fully confident if and when you are asked to self-tape. Matt Harrison’s ‘Building Blocks of Acting Part 2’ course and Mara Philippou’s ‘Developing a Character’ course will help you work through the process of unpicking a script and building character. It will also be super useful to know in advance where the best room in your home is for a self-tape and you can only find that out by trying out different locations and going through the process of trial and error. You can then upload your self-tape to our ‘iampro community’ for feedback and support.
Best of luck and we can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Team iampro x