The self-taped audition, asking the actors to tape themselves and send the audition electronically, is now a Hollywood staple. We’ve had YouTube and the publicity stunt open calls for a few years, but mainstream casting now involves self-taping as well. A couple of factors are pushing the trend, even before COVID sealed the deal, so we believe self-taping is here to stay:
- The migration of production to states around the US and Canada due to filming incentives. This means that casting directors may be hired in NY or LA, but since the film is shooting in Detroit, they will audition actors from all those locations. The least expensive way to do pre-reads in these situations is to ask for taped auditions.
- The advent of high band-width services to easily transmit auditions that are easily viewed and organized by casting directors. Examples of this are Eco-Cast, Breakdown Services’ system for sending auditions electronically, and the Casting Networks Inc. (the 2018 merger of Casting Networks and CastIt). Systems like these allow Casting Directors and agents to work within the software they already know, request tapes from particular talent, and view the auditions by role. Self-taping used to be done only for self-submissions and was often utilized only as a last resort–the actor was working, out of town, or for some other reason just couldn’t get to an in person audition. Today, even actors with agents will need to submit their audition online, because it has become easier for Casting Directors to do their jobs that way.
That means parents need to become “casting assistants” and learn to effectively tape their own child’s auditions. Yes, you can ask an acting coach to do it, but that gets pricey if done on a regular basis. Here are some tips to help you overcome your technophobia (yes, we understand!) and produce a great audition tape on your own:
- video camera or smartphone: pretty much any camera on the market will work, but don’t use a web cam. iPhones now shoot HD video and have image stabilzation, making for amazing quality. Just make sure your camera has a function to transfer the movie to your computer. Flip Video cameras have some basic editing software included and run about $40 these days.
- tripod for the camera: Don’t try to hold it. Even the steadiest hands will jiggle a bit. Tripods are only about $25.
- background: solid color wall or a subtle background sheet. Don’t use white or black-too harsh. Do not use chroma backgrounds — these are meant for green screen work and CDs find them really annoying. You might want to consider the mood of the scene in choosing your color, along with what color looks best with your child’s skin tone. You don’t want the attention to be taken away from the actor. Again, this doesn’t have to be a pro level backdrop–a bed sheet will work just fine. There are some great pop backdrops on Amazon where the frame pulls out the wrinkles.
- lighting: unless your location has really nice natural light, you will probably need to make sure that the viewer can see skin tones, hair and eye color. It should be light, but not blinding. You want light that is flattering and has depth. That also means you will want your child to stand about 3-5 feet in front of the background (if they stand up against it, it looks like a prison photo).
The ideal is 3-point lighting where one is overhead, and two lights are at 45 degree angles. Google “3 point lighting technique” for more details. You can buy a lighting kit for as little as $75 online, or go the super-cheap way…shop lights from your local hardware store: a 500 watt halogen shop light for your “key” and two 150 watt fill lights. Another option? Buy a ring light. These are about $50 on Amazing and they usually have a tripod and a holder for your phone included. They can be a bit tricky though–the reflection from the ring can be too strong and cause creepy reflections in your eyes. For some tips on how to avoid that, check out Kurt Yue’s Ring Light Hacks video on Youtube. Another option is to use a two soft box lights, one on each side of your phone, rather than a ring light. You can buy these on Amazon as well. An example is here.
- location, location, location. Think quiet. No dogs, no airplanes. Since most of us will be using a microphone within the video camera, you need to be sure the sound is loud enough.
- a basic understanding of how to transfer your finished product to the recipient. You’ll want some very basic editing software as well. Don’t bother with Final Cut Pro, but there are some basic software programs that will allow you to put a title page, and cut and paste different takes.
- a reader: an actor reading the lines off camera. You can do this yourself, but it’s hard to do this AND tape at the same time.
- a file sharing website to upload and send the video. Since movie files are very large, they usually can’t be just attached to an email. You will need to upload the video to a 3rd party site, they compress the file, and then you send a link to the casting director. Check the CD’s requested specifications, but some options are Hightail you can purchase a viewing option where you can tell if the file has been opened and viewed–handy!), Dropbox (also has a file event tracking if you pay for a high subscription for about $20/month), WeTransfer, and YouTube (with a password protection only). Make sure you follow the Casting Director’s instructions! If you get your audition notice through EcoCast, they want to see the video ON EcoCast because it allows the CD to organize the submissions. Make sure to follow their directions for how to submit. Make sure to check the specs for each site, and see how long you will be able to view it (hightail and wetransfer, for example, only make the video available for 2 weeks unless you change your settings).
- Read all the instructions that came with the breakdown and follow them to the letter. No one is trying to trick you here. Don’t over think it. Just do what they tell you to do.
- Do a quick “audit” about distractions: no animals, sounds, wrinkled backgrounds, odd clothing. Make sure to frame your shot well, focusing on the actor, keeping in mind that the viewer may be watching this on a cell phone. You want the viewer to stay in the scene and not be distracted by things that don’t belong there.
- Rehearse and discuss the scene, but try very hard not to over-coach your child. It may require a few “takes” to feel like you got a good one, but don’t do 20 takes. At some point, your child will just “hit the wall” and the scenes won’t get better–they’ll get worse.
- Start your video with a full body shot, and zoom in to a close up. Then begin the scene.
- Slate at the end of your video (Thank you for watching. My name is James reading for the role of Luther. I’m represented by ABC agency.)
- Shoot close enough that the viewer can see facial expressions of your child and that they are the true focus of the scene. Usually, this means the actor’s chest to the top of their head are in the frame. Shoot at a slight angle, with one shoulder forward. Most people have a favorite “side”– now is the time to use that.
- Close the tape with a quick full body shot if you didn’t do that in the beginning slate.
- Transfer the video from your camera to your computer (this usually involves plugging in a USB cable, but your camera/phone should have instructions).
- Name the video file with “Project_Name_Role_Agent” (although some CDs will have specific instructions for this) . Make sure to provide contact information!!
- Make sure to save a copy on your computer, just in case something happens and you have to resend it.
- Log on to a transfer site and upload the video. They will generate a custom link for you.
- Send a link to the casting director.
- Don’t upload your video to a public site like Youtube for all to see. Not only is it exposing your child to criticism, it is often a violation of the NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) for the film in production.
- Make sure they can see you and hear you! Don’t send a video with poor lighting or sound.
- Never send a video without watching it and making sure it works.
- Never send unsolicited taped auditions to a CDs email box.
I will always forgive you for less-than-perfect production value; you will not be forgiven for a mediocre performance — Billy Damota, Casting Director (God”s Not Dead)
Specifically About Eco Cast
In this upgrade to Breakdown Services, a Casting Director releases a breakdown and agents submit photos and resumes electronically, just as they do for in-person auditions. The CD looks at those submissions and chooses who to “audition”. Those selected few will get sent (via their agent) an electronic request for video submission, along with sides and possibly, a short video of the CD giving specific direction.
Then the actor tapes their audition and it will go back to the CD, sometimes via the agent, sometimes not, depending on the CD instructions. Why is this different than Hightail or just sending a Youtube link? Because the video is now part of an organizational system already used by the CD. It will arrive in their computer organized by role, and it will already come attached to your headshots and resumes. All viewable on one screen. All secure.
The CD can sit down and view all the videos at one sitting, as if they were doing auditions (only now they can do it at 2AM if they want). Then they can systematically go through and send callbacks out to the agents (also electronically). The Breakdown system also produces lists for the CDs with agency contacts, etc. Your auditions stay attached to your Breakdown Services profile, so your agents and CDs can look at them in the future as well.
Download other tips directly from EcoCast: How-To EcoCast for Actors (PDF)
Resources for How to Tape Auditions
Slatable AI — Self Tape Yourself! (an app that allows you to record both sets of lines (like a reader) and self-tape yourself
How to Self Tape Your Audition Like a Rock Star by CD Marci Liroff (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Spiderwick Chronicles, Disney’s Magic Camp)
Lights, Camera, ACTION!! Wishing you lots of success!