Putting down an audition tape for film can be tough if you are trained or practiced in theatre. You get planted on your mark in front of the camera, a close up frame is focused, and your eyeline is set distractingly close to the lens. There’s a whole different set of rules, and don’t even start worrying what to do when a hug or a kiss is directed. The one thing that is guaranteed to be the same is your prep work as an actor.
Casting directors see endless numbers of these tapes, and they know what they are looking for. If you are wrong for the role, there is no amount of Method or Meisner that will get you that role. What a tape can do, however, is put you in the minds of casting directors for future projects. So your job is to make an impression!
Not just any impression, though. Go easy on the props, costumes and makeup. Keep it real, keep it simple, and keep the quality. Mine your sides for moments that you can really shine in, and as always with film, let the camera come to you. The audience and casting directors know what they are looking for, so instead of going out of your way to show them who you are, let yourself be seen. As always, let your homework speak for itself without becoming demonstrative.
One moment is important in particular, and that is the opening shot. Not only for your own sense of the scene, but for the initial image that you create. When the camera starts rolling, you should already be in character. This eases you into the scene, and creates more visual interest. Maybe your character was looking in a different direction to the reader, fiddling with a button, scratching their nose. Whatever action comes to you, it will be more natural and more dynamic than sitting straight on, staring down your eyeline. If a hundred tapes begin static, and yours begins with a turn of the head, you have immediately made a more interesting choice. Never underestimate the impact of subtle choices on film.
Getting in the room with a casting director for film can feel much more intimate than large theatre auditions. Before you head in, calm yourself down. The more normal and relaxed you are, the more authentic your performance will be. The camera is far more sensitive than the auditorium, so let this inform your hype level. There is less performance energy in the room, and the tight framing of your audition tape holds you back from being as overtly physical as you might want. Prepare for any physical directions. Some notable ones are the aforementioned hugs and kisses, as well as shaking hands, driving a car, any fight sequences, giving a gift, taking a coat, or my personal favourite, an exorcism. Find natural, creative ways to either sidestep these, or carry them out in a comfortable mime.
If you have no previous experience with self tapes or auditioning for film, calm your nerves by heading to Youtube and have a look at some famous audition tapes. This will reveal that an audition tape performance looks very different to a finished film. Keep in mind that auditioning is a separate skill to acting, so this takes a whole lot of pressure off of you from the start. As always, the best vaccination against nerves is preparation. If you have an iPhone, you can shoot your own tapes and get used to what looks good and what you don’t like. Trust your taste and your instincts, keep it real, and you’ll be well on your way to nailing those auditions for film and television.