What is a Self Test?
A self test, or self tape as it’s often called, is simply a filmed audition (a screen test), but instead of going into a casting director to audition you have to film the scene or monologue on your own. Most self tests are usually filmed at home or at businesses set up to record self tests. They are a fairly new development and they have really changed the way the industry functions. I know countless actors that have booked major TV, Film and Theatre gigs off the back of self tapes, so mastering how to self tape is very important for the modern actor. This is our extensive guide on how to film a self test, enjoy!
Why do people use self tests?
Casting Directors are limited by time and money when it comes to how many people they can see for any given production. By getting actors to film their own self tests at home and sending them in via the internet, they can see a greater number of people for a role. It also means casting directors can receive auditions from actors that may not have been their first preference to audition.
Self tests are also useful when auditioning for roles in different states or countries. Many Australian and English actors frequently audition for American roles using self tests.
So what do you need to do a good self test?
I have listed a few of the essential elements you need to film your own self tests, as well as some hints on how to make sure you are sending off great tests.
A camera is obviously essential. Don’t freak out if you don’t have a really expensive camera. I have done a lot of self tests using my iPhone and iPad, and the quality is pretty good. I know many friends who have landed roles using these devices. Of course if you have a good camera, or some spare cash to buy a one, it is definitely a worthwhile investment. DSLR cameras like the Canon Rebel are great, or if you have a little more to spend the Blackmagic Cinema Cameras are awesome.
Always make sure whatever background you use it is very simple. Ideally a plain blue background is great, if not a plain white wall works well. You can buy blue screens, or hang a blue sheet on a wall, which I think works better than a plain white background. It will give your tests a more professional feel and make you look better. White can be a bit intense.
What to Wear
Make sure you aren’t wearing intensely patterned clothes, this can distort on camera. Also ensure that what you wear complements your features. Tip: blue works well for people with blue eyes; not sure about brown eyes, sorry. Whatever you wear ensure that it isn’t the same as your background. If in doubt about what you’re wearing have a look at yourself on screen and use some common sense.
It’s also a good idea to hint towards the character you are auditioning for. You don’t need to get fully dressed up like the character, but making a suggestion is good. For example if you are auditioning for a corporate banker wear a nice shirt or a suit jacket.
Do I need a tripod?
I have balanced my iPhone on chairs, books and built many elaborate tripods out of the furniture, and you can get away with it, but if you are serious about putting down self tests you need a basic tripod and iPhone adapter. It doesn’t need to be anything special just make sure it’s tall enough. Shooting from below won’t help the look of your test.
How high should I have the camera?
Try to keep the camera at eye level or just above. Never shoot up, it isn’t flattering.
Do I need a reader?
You do need a reader. I have a friend who records the other character’s lines and plays it back on her iPad, and that really works for her. However, I recommend always having a reader, and it’s preferable if they are an actor. Though it’s only you being filmed, acting is reacting and working with a good actor will really help your audition.
Should the reader be the gender of the other character?
Ideally yes. However, I have helped people out with auditions and read a female character and it isn’t a big deal. If it is a very important audition it may be worth getting a reader who is the right gender, just so it doesn’t distract when the casting director is watching your audition. Also, if you are doing a romantic scene you may feel more comfortable and connect better with the scene if you are reading with someone of the opposite sex.
How many takes should I do?
The advantage of a selftest is you have time. You can do as many takes as you like, a luxury rarely afforded to you in a casting room. That being said, I recommend doing 2-4 takes of each scene. If you do more than four it means you are going to spend a lot of time watching takes and nitpicking. You can get easily become over-critical when looking at your own work so it’s good to limit the amount of takes you film. It is sometimes a good idea to film a few takes, watch them back and see what’s working, and then film a few more of that scene implementing the necessary changes.
Eye Lines (Where to look)?
The big no-no in a self test is looking down the barrel (looking into the camera lens), unless it is specified that you do so. Sometimes monologues or songs may be down the barrel, but in normal audition scenes never look into the camera.
Get your readers to sit or stand as close to the camera as possible. If you are referencing other things in the scene set up before hand where they are in relation to the camera. In general aim to keep your eye line close to the camera at all times. A good idea is to find your ideas (things you think about in the scene) on the other side of the camera to the reader.
Editing and Editing Software?
Self tests are really easy to edit. You typically just need to cut off the start and end of each scene, add a slate (a blank slide that says your name, agent, and the role you are auditioning for), and a few fades up and down. This can easily be done in iMovie, which comes with every Mac. If you want something more extensive Premiere Pro is great or else Final Cut Pro is very good. But if it’s just for self tests your basic movie editing program is more than enough.
How do I edit my self test?
- Choose your best takes.
- Drag them into your video editing program.
- Add a slate (a blank slide with your name, agent, role and production) or
Add an introduction and full body shot (film an up and down shot of you standing). In this introduction include your name, agent, role and production, and height.
- Add a fade up into to the first scene, as well as in-between all scenes and then at the end add a fade to black.
- Render the video to the specs your agent or casting director asked for. See below.
How big a file should you send?
Always check with your agent or casting agent as this can vary a lot depending on the length of the scene. We render ours between 100mb – 200mb. Some places request under 50mb. On all movie programs you should be able to render the file off at different sizes.
How to send a self test?
A self test file is very big, so you can’t send it via email. Three main options:
I recommend Hightail. This is a program where you can send big files to people. There is a monthly fee, but if you are dedicated to acting and putting down self tests it is a more than worthwhile investment.
Getting a self test is a great opportunity to do an audition on your terms. You get to do as many takes as you like without the pressure of trying to impress anyone. Try to get all the elements that are unrelated to your acting sorted: what you’re wearing, the picture quality, sound quality and so on, so that you can focus on your acting and give yourself the best shot at doing a great audition. If you want some more tips on how to get your audition scene up to scratch take a look at our how to prepare for an audition page, or our more comprehensive acting guide.
VIDEO GUIDE [ HOW TO FILM A SELF TAPE AUDITION]
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