Shara Ashley Zeiger
How Do I Make a Good Self Tape Audition? It's Been a Journey!
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Before the pandemic hit, occasionally actors would have to send a tape they’d record themselves instead of going to a live audition. This practice has been going on for many years, but only in the recent years has it become more popular, and now with coronavirus we all have to do it regularly. I remember in the beginning of self tapes (or the beginning of my self tape journey for that matter) when you’d record on a camcorder and send the little cassette off (if you were lucky) or transpose the thing to a VHS or a DVD. There’s a place on Madison Ave in NYC called Doi Camera that was my go to for transposing footage. (Now I also use Rainbow Video for these kinds of things). I’ll never forget when I got scouted by Cirque du Soleil and went on a long callback process with them (that resulted in being put on a replacement list) and thinking they were kidding when they asked me to mail them a tape…. Until they sent me their FedEx # to pay for it. (I thought this was VERY fancy.)
Ahhh the days before sending tapes through the internet. I have a few DVDs lying around of those early auditions (because you always made more than 1 for back up!) for films that wound up making other people’s careers. This was when I was a member of TVI Actors Studio. Do you remember them? You used to pay $200 to take all the casting director workshops you wanted, access to free rehearsal space, and you got a career consultant who you could make appointments with for guidance. I used to think I was so slick when I’d book rehearsal space AND a career consultation at the same time and show up with sides and say “Hi! I need to send a tape. I have a room, your ‘consulting’ is reading with me and taping me!” (Thanks Cynthia for never being bothered by this!)
I was grateful when self taping started being sent through the web. It’s so much easier! The important thing when doing a self tape is having a blank background, a quiet room, a camera that shoots in a descent quality to capture you, and good lighting.
A lot of people like using a blue screen because a ton of casting directors’ offices have blue walls, but it’s also a pretty neutral color. Gray or any taupe color works well too. White bounces light poorly, so you look odd against it, and you don’t want anything that will over power you (red or orange), or something you’ll get lost in (brown if you have brown hair, etc.) It’s also good to keep the wall blank so nothing on the wall is pulling focus. The casting director should be only focused on you and your performance. I’m a big fan of these portable pop up screens you can get, so you don’t have to full transform you space, and can take it out when you need it.
A quiet room can be hard if you live in a city or have kids, but you eventually learn what times are best for your taping, or you go to a self tape studio who has a set-up, or to SAG-AFTRA if you are a member. I used to tape for a lot of people and coach in my home studio before COVID hit. (Now I’m coaching via Zoom, but I hope to get people back in here when it’s safe to!)
A good camera is the easy part. Cellphones have come a LONG way, and most cameras today shoot in 4K (4K is code for awesome quality!). Your cellphone is all you need. No need to spend for a crazy high end DSLR camera. It’ll be obsolete in a few years anyways and unless you’re looking to be a cinematographer, it’s not worth it. A tripod is an easy way to stabilize your phone and set up your frame to shoot. You can get them online for so cheap.
Lighting is one of those things a lot of people have a lot of opinions about. Like everything else I’m talking about, this also doesn’t have to be anything nuts. The main thing is to have light bounce off your face (So you shine!). The easiest way to do this is to put your set up so you are facing a window that has light pouring in, then the light will pour on you and BOOM, natural light. Easy peasy. But Shara, what if I want to shoot at night or it is overcast? This is where lights come into play. A simple system of two points of light is a good choice. You get two light sources that shine light on you from opposite sides so the lights are two angles and you make the point of the triangle. If you want less lights, you can go with a ring light.
Ring lights can be pretty powerful and some people don’t like them, because they can shine a ring in your eyes and if you are wearing glasses they will show the ring in your frame. Some people don’t mind this. Some find it distracting. I often supplement natural lighting with a ring light and turn it on slightly, but rarely fully rely on it. A trick with glasses is get a pair you can pop the lenses out and use those to audition with. If you wind up wear your glasses on set, they will either make you a pair or their lighting system is very high tech that it can handle them. (I wore my own glasses when I shot “Bull”.)
Whether you’re intimidated by self taping or have been doing it awhile like me, I think it’s pretty clear this way of auditioning is here to stay. Don’t sweat the technical stuff. Just get what you need and dive in. Just put yourself on camera for fun to get used to it. It’s also fun to help pretend you are somewhere else! With myself tape set up I’ve been doing a lot for “The Homemade Sketch Show” and pretending I’m on a roller coaster, in outer-space, and all sorts of places. So play, and get the perfect look for your close up!
Great Places that Transpose Footage (for auditions, film festivals, home movies):
Simple Tools to make your Self tape Set up Rock:
*Wireless Lav Mic for your Phone
Shameless Promotion (that is actually kinda educational so dive in!):
*Watch me on "Bull" on CBS wearing my own glasses (Season 2, Episode 4!)
*Watch "The Homemade Sketch Show" and see my self-tape set up in action
*Book me to Coach Your Next Self-tape Audition via Zoom
*A Video of me Demonstrating a Simple Self tape set up
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(These are all auditions from my self tape studio at home)