Self-Tape auditions are becoming more and more prevalent. In order to submit as many options as possible, casting agents and directors rely on an actor’s ability to produce high-quality audition tapes at home. Self-taping at a professional level from home has its challenges. That’s why we have put together three budget aware options for actors who need to submit auditions from home.
The three key elements, other than the humans, that will affect your self-tape audition are lighting, sound, and of course video. Don’t forget, if you invest intelligently in self-tape gear, you will also be able to use it for making your own short films or other content as well.
Self-Taping Equipment Guide (Step by Step)
We are going to break down all the elements of a great self-tape setup and hopefully give a bunch of tangible tips, gear recommendations and ideas to take your self-taping to the next level.
Working with a specific budget?
For some more in-depth and specific guides for different budgets, check out these:
Best Lighting for Self-Taping
Lighting is really important when you’re self taping. If the casting director can’t see your face, you’ll never get the job; regardless of how good your acting is! Check out this video for a quick run through on three point lighting.
If you don’t have any spare cash to spend on lighting, it is possible to use the sun (natural lighting) and household lamps. The greatest challenge that you will have using this option is white balance. When you combine sunlight with lamplight the light temperatures will vary. That means some parts of the video may look abnormally yellow. Try all natural lighting first, and if that doesn’t work, try all lamp light. You might find using all unnatural lighting is easier.
Tip: swap out ‘Warm Light’ Globes for ‘White light’ globes in household lamps for a purer light source.
Mid Level Budget
If you have a little bit of money to spend, there are a few simple things you can do to improve your self-taping technique. The first thing you should try is a reflector. If you use natural light as your key light and reflect that same light as your fill, your self-tapes will look heaps better. If natural light isn’t an option get yourself some basic LED film lights. Try and get some that have a dimmer so that you can find that perfect balance.
Tip: if you are using cheaper LEDs they can sometimes be a little harsh. You may want to get something to soften the lights a little.
If you are putting down self tape auditions every week, you need a professional lighting set up. You should get a lighting kit that is super easy to set up, and last all day. Professionals will often use natural light as their key light and use natural light temperature lamps as their fill and hair light. If your studio has big windows, try putting shutter blinds on the windows so that you can control the amount of light getting in. Alternatively you should try using three film lights with light boxes to evenly distribute the light to give even skin tone and a more flattering image.
Tip: if you are really getting serious I highly recommend looking at Aputure lights, they are the gold standard. I own the Aputure 672 and it’s awesome.
Best Sound/Audio for Self-Taping
Sound is the most undervalued element in most actors self tape auditions. It’s strange that actors spend lots of money making sure they look good, but no money on improving how they sound.
The most important part of producing high-quality sound on a low budget is a quiet room. If your house has a loud echo or you have noisy neighbours, try recording your self-tape auditions at a friends house, with less noise. The built in microphones in cameras are okay for cute puppy videos, but they aren’t great for self-tape auditions. They will work in a pinch but if you spend money on one thing, make it audio equipment. Poor sound quality can be incredibly distracting for casting directors, so it’s worth making sure you’ve got some equipment that can really improve the quality of your sound. If you shoot your self tape auditions on an iPhone try one of these.
Mid Level Budget
There are loads of budget friendly microphones that suit most cameras. Even if you are shooting on an iPhone, most microphones that are built for handycams or DSLR’s are compatible. I highly recommend the Rode Videomic shotgun microphone. It doesn’t require any phantom power (it runs on batteries) so you can just plug it in and go for it. I bought a film audio bundle rather than buying individual items, which saved me about $100.
The good news is, in order to achieve quality audio, you don’t need to spend an insane amount of money. Most casting agents that I audition for use some form of remote microphone allowing the mic to be nice and close to the actor, so that their voice is crisp and clear. Depending on your location and budget try using the Rode Videomic Pro with an extension cable or the Rode Link. You can also look at lavalier microphones, which are very high quality but can make your editing a little more tricky. The two brands I would focus on are Rode and Sennheiser.
The other option is a high-quality shotgun microphone. Take a look at the Rode NTG or if you want to go all out, you could look at the Sennheiser 416 (also a great VO microphone). Both of these are a little overkill for a self tape setup, but if you are making shortfilms and doing other creative projects, definitely a worthwhile investment.
Best Camera for Self-Taping
You are well lit and you sound great, now you have to make sure that your camera is going to be able to capture all of that beauty and more. Regardless of which option you go for, always use a rock-solid tripod and film against a simple backdrop(more on this later).
Obviously the lowest budget option is using a friends camera, and I am serious! Why spend a fortune on a new setup if you can work as a community and pool resources? If you have a friend with
Alternatively using your own smartphone will be the lowest budget option possible. But that will come with complications. In particular, the amount of memory that you have available on your phone at any given time. If you don’t have a smartphone, your best option is to get a cheap handycam. The quality is okay and they use SD cards so it’s easy to upload the footage to your computer. Having a digital zoom often comes in handy too. If your budget is tight, you can pick up a super cheap second-hand camera here. Otherwise if you are using a smartphone, make sure you really get to know the camera and the settings available, so you can get the most out of that pocket-sized camera!
If you are prepared to spend a little bit of money on your self tapes, you can get insanely high quality video. There are now digital cameras that are capable of shooting television, if not cinema quality video. The best options in this space are the Canon 90D or Canon Rebel, Sony Handycam, or at a stretch a Panasonic g7. Kit lenses (the affordable lenses that come sold in a package with the camera body) will absolutely be good enough to shoot self tapes on. More importantly, with these cameras, you will be able to shoot a web series and some other fun stuff in your down time. I personally use the G7 and I have been very happy with it.
Most professional casting agents use a really high quality camera which is easy to use and will shoot all day long without breaking down. If you are interested in creating the highest quality self tape auditions I would recommend getting yourself either a Panasonic GH4, Panasonic GH5, a Canon 5D, or Sony A7 (if you want to get really serious). You could also look at something like the Sony 4k Handycam or a Sony NEX VG-900. These options will give you the capability to shoot professional self tape auditions at home, and to make professional level film and television content.
That’s our comprehensive self tape audition equipment guide. If you have any recommendations please leave them below! Thanks and good luck! For more on filming a good self test.
As far as a tripod goes – it’s essentially a glorified stool. And you can absolutely use a stool, or a stack of books if you need to! Many times have I found myself in hotel rooms, stacking side tables and lamps and toasters in order to film a last minute self-tape whilst on holidays! You can grab a tripod for under 30 bucks, or a more professional grade tripod with a fluid head and all kinds of capabilities for up to $1000! So you choose whatever you would like to invest in, just make sure it extends to at least your height, or more. It’s not worth getting a mini tripod that only extends as high as your waist!
When it comes to self-tape backdrops – we have a few essential rules:
- Must be plain
- Must be flattering
- Must have no crinkles/scratches or other distractions
Your backdrop could be a paper roll, or a pop-out muslin backdrop, or a bed sheet. As long as it’s crease and crinkle free and a flattering colour. As a general rule, white is relatively unflattering, so we don’t encourage you to use walls in your house for this reason. But if you’ve got no other option, a plain wall will suffice in the meantime. Blue is a very flattering colour, as is grey and sometimes green. Choose a backdrop solution based on your budget and the space you have available.
Best backdrop colours (in order)
- Dark Grey
- Light Grey
- Dark Blue
- Everything else.
- Green (boy I hate green)
For editing your self tapes the easiest option is without a doubt iMovie. This comes free with all Mac computers. If you want to take your editing to the next level I recommend using Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro (my preference is Premiere). A final suggestion is the free editing software, DaVinci Resolve. This is a great program and used a lot by the industry, so definitely a solid alternative.
Best free software:
- iMovie [Mac]
- Video Editor (or Windows Movie Maker) [PC]
- Davinci Resolve [Mac or PC]
You don’t need to spend a fortune to have a great self-tape setup. With the quality of a modern smartphone and the generous gift of the sun, you can record great self-tapes without breaking the bank. But you can definitely make some clever investments that can up the ante and make your self-tapes shine. And if you are serious about becoming an actor, why not have a great setup!