I tape a lot of auditions. Some involve going to my Houston agent’s office. Some involve going to an acting coach. The last category is the self-taped audition. Oddly enough, this type is both my favorite and my least favorite.
Part of the challenge of self-taping is doing everything. I choose the space, create an environment, set up the camera, light it, and do everything else that’s related to the taping. It’s all this extra work that makes it my least favorite option of taping because my focus is all over the place. It’s more challenging to work on the performance itself, which may explain why it took me 43 takes to get it done, including test takes, false starts and strange ad-libs.
The rewards of self-taping become evident on days like today when my Houston agent, Pastorini Bosby Talent, tells me that I booked an industrial gig as a narrator for a training video. The video for Jiffy Lube shoots next week. Jiffy Lube and I actually have a little history too. Not only have I worked on camera for a company video, I wrote a commercial in 2008 for Jiffy Lube along with creating a manual for one of its fleet services.
This shoot will involve use of a teleprompter. I didn’t have one and I don’t have an audio prompter either so I memorized the short script instead. I didn’t memorize it in advance. I learned the lines right before I taped. After many takes, I delivered them even smoother. Some actors swear by the audio prompter. It’s really a great tool for many occasions and you can easily find someone experienced with it who is willing to help you learn how to use one.
For inexperienced actors who need to put themselves on tape, it’s always best to go to a professional. Casting directors, coaches, fellow actors and others who put people on tape regularly can help you. Expect to pay a fee but it’s worth it for helpful feedback and guidance.
When money is tight or your schedule doesn’t allow for taping time with someone else, self-taping becomes your only option. For me, the Jiffy Lube taping happened close to midnight on a Saturday. That may be late for you but all the variables worked for me at that particular time so I made it happen. With all that in mind, let’s take a look at 10 self-taping strategies for the new actor.
10 Self-Taping Strategies
1. Know thy camera. I used an iPad for the first time to tape the Jiffy Lube audition. I liked how to helped me make sure I was staying in frame the whole time. When I use my Android phone, I adjust the video settings so I am shooting at a lower resolution so the file isn’t crazy-large after a sixty-second or two-minute audition.
2. Create your space carefully. I taped this audition in a garage. Having lots of space helps, even you only need a little on camera. You have a need for other things, including lights, a place to set up the camera, any props you may use, and the background. I used a light blue background on this one. Stick with solid colors that help you stand out, and avoid colors that make you seem to disappear. Wearing a green shirt that looks like your green background is just plain foolish.
3. Dress appropriately. I wore a blue button down shirt and a dark blue sport coat. It seemed like the right thing for a narrator who takes his job seriously but stays casual enough to be relatable.
4. Light the space well. I don’t own a light kit so I used two lamps and left the overhead fluorescent lights on. It allowed me to look evenly lit with no dark shadows.
5. Make sure you can be heard clearly. Sound playback on the iPad is superior to my Android phone. On a related note, I made sure no other sounds, including the whirring noise of a fan, were present during taping.
6. Do a few test takes first. I did more than a few tests. After setting up, I did no less than 5 test takes to make sure the lighting and sound were right and everything else was more than adequate. I did notice my eyes tended to drift down a bit during these early takes. That came from seeing myself on a iPad screen.
7. Monitor your takes. I like to watch each take immediately after it’s done. You may want to do a few takes in a row then check. But making the same mistake over and over without realizing it keeps you from recording usable takes.
8. Stay hydrated. Even with a short script, repeated takes can dry your mouth and throat. Keep a beverage close by and take sips in between takes.
9. Give yourself “good take” options. A “good take” is one you’re 99.9% ready to submit. There may be a slight issue but it’s barely noticeable and doesn’t take away from the overall performance. I like to get about 3 good takes then look at them once I can relax in a separate space.
10. Share your top picks with a respected friend. If you’re undecided about which take to submit, ask for some help. It doesn’t need to be posted anywhere with a request for people to vote. Simply find one person you trust and send him or her the 2-3 options. Ask for candid feedback, not automatic praise. If taping again is not an option, make sure your friend knows that detail right away.