And thanks for reading! This is week 4 in the series relating to the psychology of the business, particularly as it relates to auditions and booking work. This week we’ll explore Self-Tape Auditions.
I told you I’d warn you, and here it is. While VO uses, and has been using for a long time, “self-tape” (or remote) auditions, this has only become popular for stage and on-screen actors recently as a function of the COVID 19 pandemic. While my VO subscribers may find something useful here, this week’s blog relates MOSTLY to stage and on-screen actors.
OK, so you’ve submitted and been asked to audition. That’s GREAT news! The thing to remember here is: The audition IS the job! As Bryan Cranston says: If you are going into the audition trying to get a job, you are going for the wrong reason. You go to the audition to perform. Since the odds of you booking a given job are small, it helps to remember that this is very likely the only chance you’ll have to play this character, so relax and have fun. Although there ARE some things you can control that may give you a better shot at booking the job.
Way back in 2019 a typical audition was done in-person. This meant travelling to the location that the casting director (CD) and probably the producer and director have arranged to hold auditions in. Then waiting in the room with all the other actors auditioning until you are called in to perform in front of the production team. Production provided a “reader” for the characters you were reading against. All you had to do was prepare, show up, wait your turn, and then perform. (HA HA…”ALL”)
These days, at least for the initial audition, actors are required to self-tape their audition and submit them to casting. What this has done is forced actors to develop some new skills AND purchase some new equipment, in order to be competitive. Now you not only need to prepare and learn your role, you need to provide your own reader, have (and understand how to use) your camera (a smart phone could work), have an appropriate background, good sound/lighting and know how to edit video.
You NEED to be competitive
At the end of the day, you are going to need to have good enough quality self-tapes that you are competitive in the market. No matter how GREAT an actor you are, or how perfectly you portray the character, if your setup and technology are not awesome, you reduce dramatically your chances of booking the job. Next week we’ll discuss the numbers but know that since your odds of booking any given job are pretty small anyway, anything you can do to improve your odds are worth it. This is my “home studio” setup:
The first thing to know about a self-tape is that anything in the background is going to pull the viewers eyes away from you and will be distracting. No matter how good your performance is, if the person watching is distracted your odds of booking the role go way down. You want to be the MAIN feature in the audition, so make sure you are filming in front of a plain background, so the viewer is not distracted.
In addition to being plain, make sure your background is a neutral color. A quick google search will tell you that neutral colors are “muted shades that appear to lack color but often have underlying hues that change with different lighting”. Examples of neutral colors include beige, taupe, gray, cream, brown, black, and white. Now, for a self-tape you should stay away from black and white as backgrounds. Black will absorb light and make your tape look dark, while white may wash out the video and make it difficult to watch. Most CD’s recommend either grey or a muted blue as a background (Yeah I know blue is not on the list).
Lighting is very important as shadows on your face or moving around on the background will also be distracting. You can use a ring light in a pinch but using JUST a ring light is not optimal. A single ring light will leave shadows on your face, the background and give a weird reflection in your eyes. Remember that your eyes are what the CD is looking at. At a minimum you should use 2 lights on either side of the camera at 45-degree angle to your face.
It is also a good idea to have a couple lights that illuminate the background to remove shadows and perhaps a light behind and above your head to give depth. Personally, I use 5 lights in my setup. Two lights at 45 degrees either side of the camera, two behind me and at 45 degrees to the background to remove shadows, and one above my head and behind me to provide depth and separation from the background (see pjoto of my setup above) . At a minimum three point lighting (2 in front at 45 degrees and one to illuminate the background) should be used.
These days your smartphone is a great camera for taping auditions at home. Make sure you are taping with the camera horizontal (unless the directions state otherwise). You can also find a relatively inexpensive digital camera if you want to use your cell phone for a reader (more on that later).
Make sure whatever camera you are using is mounted to a sturdy tripod. You don’t want a shaky video distracting the CD from your performance. I suggest you invest in a good tripod, because many of the less expensive ones will shake or shudder when you are moving around in front of them. It should be tall enough that the lens of the camera is at eye level when you are in front of the camera. Here is how it looks in an audition:
It is imperative that your dialog can be heard well in your audition. The built-in microphone on your phone will work in a pinch, but I suggest you invest in a separate mic that can be attached to whatever camera you are using. Your sound can have an enormous impact on your self-tape so make sure you have a decent mic in your setup.
No matter what equipment you are using you will need software for editing. There are a number of free options or you can opt to buy software to get a bit more functionality. Either way, you’ll need to find, and learn how to use, some software suite to edit your videos before sending them off to casting. Personally, I use Davinci Resolve which provides a free version for download that is sufficient for editing self-tapes. Because sound is also very important, I also use iZotope RX9 for audio editing/mastering. If you are also a VO artist, you’ll find RX9 very useful for that as well.
If there is dialog with another character in your audition, you’ll need someone to read against you for the audition. The absolute BEST way is to have someone (preferably another actor) in the room with you who is behind and to the side of the camera. If that’s not possible, then having a virtual reader is the next best thing. Using your smartphone for a reader is a reason to have a dedicated digital camera in your setup. You can use Zoom, Skype, or MS Teams to connect with your reader…or you can use one of several self-tape apps like ActorTrade. The good thing about many of these apps is you can connect with your reader while still using your phones camera to record the audition.
Important things to remember about your reader are:
- They are not ever seen on camera
- Their dialog is clear and can be heard, but is not as prevalent as YOUR dialog
- They have enough acting ability to give you something to “play against” in the audition. A monotone reading is going to detract from your audition and make it seem inauthentic.
And there you have it!
At the end of the day, do the best you can within your budget to provide a self-tape that increases your chances of booking the role. Anything you can do to improve the things you CAN control help to remove obstacles to booking work. But remember, have fun, relax and get comfortable with the fact that his is probably the only chance you’ll ever have to play this character because; You’re not getting the f*&^ing job anyway!
Tune in next week
When we’ll discuss booking work “By The Numbers”.