Become a “Self Tape Pro!

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Taryn O'Neill“Do you mind putting yourself on tape for this project?”

As an actor, you will start hearing this question more and more. We work in a fast paced and changing industry that is becoming more DIY everyday. Movies and shows shoot all over North America, schedules are tight, directors are on location and casting directors don’t have time to pre-read people.

In the past, self taping would have meant driving to a taping studio, shelling out $50 – $100, having a small allotted time within to film and pick your takes, but now, with a small investment, you can have your own ‘home studio’ that can be ready on a moments notice.  Here are the key elements that you will need:

Tools:

1. CAMERA.

Obviously. I used to shoot on a big old Sony Handycam that I swear cost a thousand dollars  — what well priced options we now have! Your easiest bet would be your iPhone — especially if you have the newest version. It shoots in HD 1080p — ie. High Definition. If you have a good Panasomic or Sony point and click camera, it will have a decent video feature. If you want to get really fancy you can dive into the DLSR cameras from Sony, Panasonic or Canon — like the 7D — but you really don’t need it for simple audition shoots (but if you’re looking to shoot your own web content, investing in one of these could be a good idea).

*TIP: With any type of camera other than a camera phone you will need a memory card – either an SD (Secure Digital) card or a CF (Compact Flash) card. SD cards usually plug directly into your computer while CF cards need a ‘reader’.

2. TRIPOD.

Your camera needs to be steady; someone holding a phone should be a last resort. Amazon or Samy’s Cameras have a ton of different tripods to fit your budget. *NOTE — if you are shooting on your iPhone you need an adapter to be able to mount it. My favorite is the GLIF. — it is both a stand and a tripod adapter. This product started out on Kickstarter and now you can buy it on Amazon.

3. LIGHT. 

Being well lit can make an at home audition look like an in studio one. The worst thing you can do is to only use your overhead lights. You need light hitting your face, not hitting it from above thus creating shadows. I’ve experimented with countless different practical light sources, ie. all my lamps — but the problem with lamps is 2 fold. The temperature of the light is usually very ‘yellow’ and the light isn’t directional — i.e. it’s diffused 360 by the shade.

The best solution? Invest in a set of soft box studio lights. These are collapsible light stands with daylight compact fluorescent light bulbs that are encased by a black fabric box except for a white side that is directed at your face. The beauty of these are that they are not expensive, you can get a pair for less than a 100 bucks — plus they are a tax right off towards your acting income. Here is a great post that can teach you how to properly set up your lights.

*TIP: If there is not enough light on your face or all you have is overhead lighting — find a piece of white cardboard and put it on the floor in front of you, propped up on an angle to act as a ‘bounce board’.

4.  AUDIO. 

Sound is always tricky with auditions because the readers’ voice is closer to the camera mic than yours. You have a few options. 1) Tell the reader to speak quietly and don’t stand too far away from the camera. 2) Invest in an external microphone. There are quite a few options: from a directional shotgun mic that mounts on top of your camera, to a plug in mic that can just run along the floor to your feet.  Many of the consumer cameras and phone cameras don’t have an external microphone jack however. A more cost and labor intensive solution is to invest in a Zoom mic. You record your audio separately and then sync in post. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds!

*TIP: – be aware of the space that you are shooting in for sound. Is it high ceilings and cement floors? The sounds will be really tinny. You can add throw rugs to dampen the echo.

5. EDITING SOFTWARE

If you have a Mac, it already comes with the iMovie app. I always preferred iMovie HD — I found it more intuitive — easier to edit transitions between scenes, add titles and adjust the audio track, but with the new OSX Mavericks update it crashes a lot. If you are stuck with iMovie, there a ton of online tutorials (I just personally don’t like it). Other popular editing software is Final Cut Pro (there is a 30 Day Trial you can run), and Adobe Premier Elements.

photoTIPS and TRICKS:

Now you have all the gear and software, what’s next? Well if you followed my last post, you already have your key camera friendly audition outfits ready and a handful of actor friends at the ready to help you. So it’s time to tape right?

Slow down for just a second! Just because you can mess up your lines to your heart’s delight (or until your card runs out and battery dies) doesn’t mean that you can go right to camera. You have a lot of prep and work to do. Here are some things to think about:

1. You don’t have the opportunity to ‘connect’ with the casting director/ director / producer in the room. There is no moment of walking in the room, saying hello, making an impression — your first impression is on camera, as the character. So give the camera a moment to settle on you before you start the scene, don’t look ready to start ‘an audition’ — already be in the scene, in a moment.

2. Your character’s inner life is just as important as the scene that is occurring. In watching all my ‘takes’ over the years, I always am most intrigued by the moments where I am thinking and behaving like the character in moments where I am not speaking. How does the character hold themselves, what are their ticks, how can you give the audience a glimpse into the soul of the character while still achieving the objective of the scene?

3. Just because you are in a small frame doesn’t mean that you need to be perfectly still. You don’t want to distract by moving out of frame but you don’t want to look like ‘an auditioner’. Just like in a casting office, create your space. Where are you? How does the room make you feel? How would your character react physically to both where they are and the person they are with.

4. Have the conflict and emotion bits play to camera. We have a tendency as people to drop our head and our eyes when we get emotional — but then the camera won’t see it! You don’t have to lock eyes with your reader but if there is an emotional beat that is playing, play it out, not down. Otherwise it’s lost.

5. If you have a tablet use it instead of paper sides. Paper sides rustle and are bright and distracting. An iPad is sleek and can even be incorporated into the scene. Just make sure to adjust your setting so the screen doesn’t go dark while you are acting and then you scramble to open it and find your place (I just had that happen).

6. Run a quick lighting and wardrobe makeup test before you shoot. What looks great in a mirror doesn’t always look great on camera.  I always find that I need to wear more eye makeup than I think I need, and fitted tops always work better than the modern loose tops I love in real life.

You finished shooting, it was awesome, what now?:

1. IMPORT your footage. Connect your camera or card and watch the scenes. Pick your favorites. Then open up your editing software, create a new project and import your chosen scenes.

2. Drag your chosen scenes into the project time line. Trim the beginning and end moments where you are not in character.

3. Add Titles and Transitions. At the beginning of your time line add a title over black that includes your name and project info. If you have two or more scenes to the audition add a ‘fade’ between scenes. A fade to black at the end is also a nice touch.

4. Save project and then EXPORT. Exporting is compressing and saving the file into a format that video players can read.  What are the options? Your rep may just like the file emailed to them. They will tell you if they want a .mov, .m4v, or .mp4 file. These will be relatively large files that you can then send via a large transfer system like We Transfer or Dropbox. I’ve also been asked to upload my auditions to Vimeo. Vimeo is a great site that allows you to password protect videos as well as allows others to download your videos. Plus the player is gorgeous. Vimeo has specific setting they like you to use to upload but have  excellent tutorials for every type of editing software.

And that’s it! Phew— I’m not going to lie, self taping is a lot of work. But the more you do it, the more efficient you become. Or you could just do it selfie style and upload from your phone. Vine that audition! (But I wouldn’t suggest it.)

TIP? Get it done then move on. I’m speaking from experience where it is easy to fixate on what you have shot of yourself, tear yourself apart from a looks and performance standpoint. Don’t. Save the file, delete the rest of the footage, file away or recycle your sides. And get excited for the next time you have a chance to put a little acting magic on tape as you’re now a pro.