Wisdom for a Winning Self Tape

There are 3 critical factors that go into making an audition tape & you can’t have one without the other...

As an acting coach, talent manager, and founder of a successful acting school I have made my share of self-tapes for actors. It is an art and a science to make one that will catch a Casting Director’s eye. Without being the in room and having the advantage of wowing them with your dazzling personality, the tape you make is everything.

There are 3 critical factors that go into making an audition tape and you can’t have one without the other. I have coached and taped auditions in my studio just outside Chicago for countless actors who -- have gone on to book films with directors whose names you would know off the bat, for off Broadway shows co-starring actors that are household names, and countless guest star roles in Chicago and New York -- and in all these circumstances, these are the 3 factors of a good audition tape that have always been tried and true:

CRITICAL FACTOR NUMBER ONE: The set up needs to be pro.

  1. Shoot in a quiet room with no background noise.

  2. Stand in front of a blank wall, no one wants to see your bedroom wallpaper or Beanie Baby collection!

  3. Lighting is critical. It needs to be evenly balanced on both sides of your face but doesn’t wash you out. You want the main source of your lighting to come at you from behind the camera. Use natural lighting from windows and fill in with shade-less lamps set behind the camera. Soft light boxes are fairly inexpensive and worth the investment.

  4. Be sure you use a tripod for your camera or iPhone. they are super affordable and you can’t do a self tape without one. Hand held phones or cameras will not do.

CRITICAL FACTOR NUMBER TWO: The person off camera counts!

  1. Be choosy when picking your reader. You don’t need a professional actor to read off camera with you, but it needs to be someone who is willing to interact with you. Having a monotone, flat read off camera is not good for you or the casting director. Your reader should be placed just left or right of the camera. Play off of them - do not play to camera unless specified.

  2. Do a test run. See what casting is going to see and hear. You can see quality auditions tapes by doing a simple Google search. On your test run make sure the reader’s voice isn’t overpowering yours or is so soft we can’t hear what they are saying. Make sure YOUR tape is competitive and impressive.

CRITICAL FACTOR NUMBER THREE: Give them something to see…be bold, get the right shot, dress like a pro, & be loose.

  1. Make Choices. You have anywhere from one or two lines to a few pages to make an impression and show what you can do. MAKE CHOICES. Generality is the kiss of death while actors who make specific choices get noticed. Doing nothing or playing it safe is boring and wont showcase your talent.

  2. Get the right shot. The shot should be chest up unless otherwise specified. You can sit or stand just be sure it fits the scene, If it takes place at bus stop, obviously you stand, at a restaurant, sit.

  3. Dress to suggest the character and keep props to an absolute minimum.

  4. Don’t lock eyes with your reader the whole time. It is unnatural and creates a camera stare. Which leads us to...

  5. Be loose. In real life our body reacts to what we are hearing. In your test run see how much leeway you have to lean in, turn away or pivot.

SOME OTHER TIPS: Just a few more ideas to keep you on the right track...

  • You need only send one take of each scene unless otherwise requested.

  • To edit, I use iMovie to edit on my Mac. If you are a PC user, make sure to look into quality iMove alternatives. When editing, I put in title cards, and transitional fades. >>>>It's super simple to learn (I even taught myself) and Google search/YouTube videos offer a lot of different self-help options!

  • Consider practicing with another actor, (you can grab TV/Film sides on line) so that when you have a chance to make a “reel” self tape you are ready to go.

It's a lot. I know - BUT with practice you will become more and more comfortable with the process. And who knows? One great tape can get you noticed - then you are really on your way.

-By ATC Founder, Carole Dibo

Based on your interest in this article, we suggest the following workshops:

NO AGENT, NO PROBLEM - With self-tapes becoming more & more commonplace & casting notices being just a Google search away, there is no reason for an actor not to be auditioning. The ATC staff will teach you how to navigate audition sites & how to tape & edit a studio-quality audition from home. For 9th Graders - Adults.

Get registered HERE.

BREAKING INTO THE BUSINESS - This 1-day seminar is full of information that could otherwise take years to learn. A must for every actor - perfect for the new actor or parent & a necessity for returning actors looking to brush on the ever-changing expectations of the industry. For ages 12+. Get registered HERE.

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