I remember when casting would be hesitant to even look at a self tape. However, since I represented young actors, many of whom did not live in LA full time, I would have my clients put themselves on tape so casting might consider them for a role. I'd let them know that if they liked what they saw, the client would be willing to come to LA for an in person callback. Something caught on and casting eventually warmed to the idea of self-tapes, especially for kids, and it soon started to become the norm.
Too much so, in fact. Today many casting offices don't even do in-person sessions. Certainly not for pre-reads. But they will look at self-tapes. I find that at least half of the theatrical appointments I receive from casting are now are self-tapes. As such, it's never been more important to make your taped audition stand out.
Let's be honest. Casting isn't watching every tape from beginning to end. If you don't grab their attention right away, they may not stick around to see that wonderful moment later in the audition. And while there's no opportunity for a casting director to re-direct the actor on a pre-taped audition, the actor certainly has ample opportunity to put their best foot (or take) forward and showcase their best work. Which is why I am often baffled when I receive tapes that are just OK. It's sort of a wake up call. Is this the same quality of work you're putting forward in the audition room? No wonder you're not getting callbacks. At the same time, if clients get their tapes back to me ahead of the deadline, I might be able to help them tweak their read to better showcase themselves.
So what makes a great audition tape?
1. Propper Framing
Top of the head to middle of the chest. Essentially, a close up. We need to see your face and facial expression. That's what it's all about. Don't leave four inches of wall space above your head. Except for the slate which is typically shot head to toe, I don't need to see your full body.
2. Steady Camera
You MUST invest in a tripod. Otherwise you risk making the casting director nauseous with your hand held Blair Witch shooting style. No one wants to see that. You can shoot with any camera. I use my iPhone to shoot self tapes. iPhone attachments are available to work with any tripod. And speaking of phone cameras, please position the phone horizontally giving it a widescreen look. No one wants to look at a self tape shot in a vertical rectangle.
3. Good Lighting
The best audition in the world can be hampered if the light is too dim, and we can't see you very well. You can invest in a simple light kit on Amazon.com for under $200. There are multiple videos on YouTube that will show you how to properly light the room to get rid of those pesky shadows.
4. Clear Audio
All that hard work and preparation is out the door if I can't hear what you're saying. Please make sure the audio is audible. And not just for the actor. Readers should also be heard, but not scene. They should stand behind and just to the side of the camera and their voice should not overpower the actor's voice. And while the reader doesn't have to be a pro, they should be able to read. Anything distracting about their delivery will shift the focus away from the performer so choose a reader carefully. I also advise, whenever possible, that the reader be someone separate from the camera operator. That way, you stay in frame and your reader keeps up with the dialogue.
5. Great Performance
This one should seem obvious, yet I've seen so many self-tapes that just weren't great. This is likely the only time in your career where you will have final cut, so make sure you send in a tape that is amazing. If you think it's just OK, then keep working on it until it's great. Dacre Montgomery's self tape for the role of Billy Hargrove on Stranger Things has recently been circulating the internet. It's really amazing and I include it here so you can see an example of what all self-tapes should aspire to be. He is so focused, extremely connected to the material and the reader, and not afraid to take risks, His audition is simply great and he was ultimately cast in the role. How do your self tapes stack up against his?