Want to know what a professional self-tape audition really looks like? In this video, I’m going to show you some self-tape audition examples, as well as talk you through what you need and how to shoot a self-tape audition that makes you look like an absolute pro.
Hello, and welcome back to the channel. Or if this is your first time here, welcome. My name is Kat Elizabeth, I’m a professional actor and video creator, living in Vancouver. And, if you’re an actor who knows that you need to up your self-tape game, or you’ve never even shot one and don’t know where to start, you’re definitely in the right place.
So by the end of this video I will have shown you some real life, self-tape audition examples. Professional ones that have been submitted for big productions all around the world. Plus, I’m going to tell you exactly the kind of gear that you’re going to need, and what you need to do to shoot a self-tape, so that you will be shooting self-tapes like a pro, creating stuff that your agent is going to be proud of. So, are you ready for this? Let’s dive in.
Let’s start by talking about what a self-tape even is. So a self-tape, is basically just an audition tape that you have to shoot on your own. So you don’t actually go and shoot it with a casting director present. And while it is possible to go and get a coach or go to a self-taping studio to do it, over time that can add up to a lot of money. And that’s why it is such an amazing thing to be able to shoot self-tapes from home, with your own gear, and just getting a friend to help you out.
So just like an audition self-tape, the actor is going to be the only person on screen, with a plain background behind them, and then you’ll have the reader that is off-screen reading the other lines for you, and probably operating the camera as well, if you only have one person to help you out.
Just like a regular audition, they’ll be a slate that they need from you, which is generally just when you introduce yourself to the camera, say how tall you are, maybe your agent or where you live, and a full-body pan, so they can just see what you look like. And my main tip is that I like to do these at the end of this self-tape, so that the first thing they see on camera, is me as the character, as opposed to seeing me as Kat, and then having to switch into the character.
All right, so I’m just about to show you a few different little clips of some self-tapes that I recorded. Some were at a professional studio or a home studio, some were shot from home, but all of these were used to either get submitted for really big productions, or to help me land an agent.
But my hearing is tomorrow.
Why are you coming to me?
Because Donna says you have the best researcher in the firm.
Let me see the motion.
Wait. Oh my God. So you’re doing it in front of a room full of strangers?
Yeah, I am. What’s wrong with that?
No. Nothing. I think it shows confidence. What are you going to say?
I’m just going to walk in there. I don’t know.
You should work on it with me. Practice with me. I’m really good at this kind of thing.
I smell a floral scent.
Must be a type of cologne.
Uh-huh (affirmative). An aftershave.
Ah, yes, it is ruminating from his chin, neck area.
Somebody to lean on.
Why are you singing that right now?
Because I love this song, and it feels good to sing it.
Oh, so you weren’t singing that to me specifically?
What? Why would I be singing to you? You don’t even like me.
So the standard format starts with your name, the character name, the project you’re auditioning for, and your agent details, or your contact details, starting at the very beginning of the screen. And then you’ll do the exact same thing at the end, just so that they’ve got immediate access to your contact details if they should need it.
Question of the day, have you ever filmed a self-tape and if so, how often do you have to do them? Let me know in the comments below.
So to set up the self-tape studio in your home, isn’t really that complicated. I do have some links for you guys, to some videos that I’ve put together on the gear you’ll need to just go into a little bit more detail. But, in a nutshell, you’re going to need some sort of camera, and that could be anything from a smart phone, right up to a professional DSLR camera.
You’re going to need a microphone, which often the built in microphones aren’t quite up to scratch. So, even if you’re using your phone, it can be a really good idea to get a separate microphone, either a lapel microphone or a directional microphone that connects directly to your phone or camera. As this will really take the audio quality to the next level.
You’re going to need a blank wall behind you, or a backdrop. Now I prefer using either blue or gray behind me. I think on one hand that it looks more professional, but it also is more flattering on the skin, as opposed to having some sort of white or off-white behind you. And definitely don’t go any really harsh colors, and make sure the color behind you does actually contrast with your skin and your clothing, or you could just disappear and what’s the point in that?
Lighting is one of the most important things for a self-tape. If you don’t have enough natural light, then you’re going to need to invest in some artificial lighting. You can check my video out on that, but I personally love using a ring light. That’s what I use for my YouTube videos, but I also have some soft boxes that I set up when I have my full studio set up, because it allows for three point lighting, which looks really professional, allows for a high quality picture, and is also going to help you pop out on screen, which is really important.
You’re also going to need some sort of editing software. I much prefer to do this on my computer, it’s just so much easier. But there is plenty of editing apps and software on phones and iPads. So if you don’t have the option, and you need something affordable and easy, then absolutely do it on your phone. The main thing is you just need to be able to edit your self-tape as quickly as possible, and be able to add in that text at the beginning and the end, so that you can just get it off and look like a pro.
Now again, the instructions will generally come from your agent, or from the casting director, about how they want to receive the file. But the most common thing, is for you to upload it to a service like Dropbox, or WeTransfer, so that the file can be downloaded at their end. And, because obviously the files are generally fairly large, although you don’t want them too large, it’s a lot easier than sending an email.
And the other thing is a lot of people will ignore these instructions, and put it on somewhere like Vimeo publicly, which is often against the policy of the production company and the network. Because obviously, if they’re auditioning for something, it’s generally going to be confidential. So don’t risk it by uploading your self-tape to one of those platforms, only to look really unprofessional, and potentially damage you and your agent’s reputation.
Now let’s talk about how to shoot your self-tape. And it’s really not that complicated once you’ve got the studio set up. You’re going to approach this exactly as you would any other audition. So, you’re going to get the script, you’re going to break it down, you’re going to create the character brief for yourself. Really understand the purpose of the scenes you’ve been given. You’re going to learn and practice and practice and practice your lines.
Don’t think that because you’re shooting it in your own home, you can be more relaxed on this, because when we don’t know our lines 100%, our performance always suffers. So I really want you to pretend, I want you to set a time for yourself that you’re going to be shooting this. No different to when you block out the time to go to your booked audition. And I want you to be off book, unless you’ve had an hour or so and you need to hold your lines, that’s one thing.
But there is just something about seeing a self-tape, that you know someone has only had a little bit of time to prepare for, but then still looking like a total professional in it. You’re going to stand out above the crowd. And that is always the key with this industry, is that the competition is tough, tough, tough. So everything you can do to look that a little bit more prepared, that a little bit more just amazing than the next person, is going to get you a better chance of being seen and remembered.
Then you’re going to choose your hair and your wardrobe look, as you would for any audition. And you’re going to do your makeup if necessary, and you’re going to need to book in a time for someone to come and read for you, and to operate the camera. I much prefer doing this with someone who is confident in reading lines. If you have someone that feels very stiff and can’t act at all and gets a bit awkward, it’s going to let you down. So if possible, ask one of your actor friends to help you out. It can be great to find a buddy, so that you can both help each other out anytime you get a self-tape. Otherwise, if you’ve got some friends or family, who at least are confident enough to read out the lines in a way that’s believable, then use them instead.
Now, aside from being well lit, and obviously making sure you’ve got the camera set up right, and the audio working, it’s really important to what’s your eye line’s with self-tapes, the same way as you would in an audition. So, you do not want to be doing the audition in profile. It’s really important to try and give them as much as your face as possible.
Generally you want to set the so that the the guidelines to be one and 11 o’clock, and that is as far as you’re going to be looking, unless you have to look down briefly, and then come back up. And one really great little trick, is to angle yourself slightly away from the reader, so that they’re on the other side of camera from where your body is facing, because you’re just going to give them more interest. It’s going to open up your eyes more, as opposed to closing yourself off and facing the same direction as them.
And then obviously if there’s more than one character in the scene, it’s a really good idea to place contrasting characters on different sides of the screen. So, the good cop and the bad cop on different sides, is going to make it look so much more interesting, because you turn this way and you give them a certain energy, and then when you turn back you’re able to change your energy. Whereas if they’re in the same point, it can be confusing to you, and the person watching, because they won’t even know who’s talking, and your performance can get a little bit muddied.
Try not to shoot too many takes, which obviously can happen if you haven’t learned your lines properly and you’re not confident. You can really get stale very quickly. And if you think about it, when you normally go into an audition room, there’s a good chance you’re going to do the audition one to three times, tops. I mean, yes, it’s great to have the advantage of time when you’re shooting your self-tape, but doing it more and more and more, doesn’t necessarily improve the performance.
I’ve had some experiences before where I got really stressed out about an audition. It meant so much to me, it was a really big deal role, and I ended up shooting it about 40 times. And let me tell you, nearly every single take was identical. So the extra practice didn’t help. It just meant that I fell into a rhythm really quickly, which made the performance a bit more contrived.
So instead, what I want you to do, is go in there and do it once. Go big, don’t stress about it, knowing you do have more opportunities. Try it another time differently. Try it another time, completely wrong, almost. Push yourself in another direction just to shake it up, and then maybe on a fourth take, just relax and throw it all away, and just see what comes out.
What you’ll often find, is it’s the first or second take that you’ll probably use. By the fourth one, you start to already feel like, “Ah, I was anticipating that line. It didn’t feel right.” So, please set yourself a limit. But don’t put that pressure on yourself, because obviously if it’s not working, you can go back and do it. But don’t think that repeating it 30 times until it’s perfect, is the answer, because it’s acting. There’s no such thing as perfection. It’s just about being fresh and real and in the moment.
And then finally, once you’ve got a take that you’re happy with, now I do recommend watching the first tape back, by the way. Watch it so that you can see if anything’s not working technically, or if anything’s really not believable in your performance. And you can then make a few adjustments to the technical stuff, before you shoot another take. But once you pick the one that you’re happy with, you’re just going to need to upload it to your computer, or you’ll do it on your phone, edit it, add the top and the tail, and send it off to your agent, or directly to the contact, depending on the job. And you’re good to go.
All right, so, that was your self-tape crash course. You’ve now seen your self-tape audition examples, and you should know what to do. If you are wanting more information on what gear to use and what I recommend, I do have a free download for you with all of my video gear recommendations. So check that link out below.
So, if you like this video, please give it a thumbs up. Subscribe, so you don’t miss out on future videos. Share it with your actor friends. And if you found it really helpful, please type self-tape pro in the comments below so I know I’m doing a good job.
All right, well thanks as always for watching. And I’ll see you next time. Bye for now.
Kat is an actor and personal branding coach as well as the host of The Personal Branding Project Podcast and her self-titled YouTube channel. She started her career off by playing Marilyn at Warner Bros Movie World, went on to perform in the original Australian casts of Jersey Boys & Hairspray and eventually found herself writing/producing her own work before becoming a self-employed copywriter and marketing strategist. She now offers 1:1 Coaching and Online Courses for entrepreneurs, freelancers + multi-passionate creatives.