The Secret Art of Self-Taping
Australian Actor Sam Delich offers his advice on Self-Taping…
Self-taping is a pretty weird thing. Baring your soul for a little camera in the spare room of your house in the hopes it garners you a day, a week, or in the dream scenario months of employment. I feel sorry for my neighbours. I recall shooting a tape when my neighbours were having lunch in their backyard. My scream’s of “You killed her! You killed her!” did not exactly go down well. Going into an audition room, meeting the casting directors, understanding exactly the vibe of the project tends to be the best bet. However for some people, nerves and small talk in uncomfortable waiting rooms “Hey what agent are you with?” “Did you get the updated sides? No? Oh man, they gave us another scene to learn” – can hinder the best of them.
Auditioning is an art in of itself but now with the current climate, the number of international projects and the insanely fast turnarounds, self-taping is proving to be a beneficial tool not only for casting and producers but Actors too. They allow you greater freedom, as many takes as you like and no waiting room nerves. Tapes have gotten me test deals for US Pilots, tv gigs, commercials and simply been an asset in helping casting directors learn what I am about.
Here are my top 10 tips to nail your next tape!
Sam’s Self-Tape Tips
#1 Remind yourself you do stand a chance.
We all know the chances of booking the job are slim. That’s just the game. But remember SOMEONE HAS TO PLAY THE PART! Sure, maybe there are people more famous than you auditioning. But sometimes things don’t always go their way. The director might not be able to get the star they want, they might want to find a fresh face, they might actually need to cast someone who can act really well or has a particular skill. That person could be you…
#2 Even if you don’t get the part it is never a waste of time.
People watch tapes and people talk. Sometimes they may only watch 5 seconds of the tape if they are busy but more times than you think if the work is strong enough they will get through it. Casting will have other projects in mind and although you might be wrong for one thing you might be right for something else down the line. They remember true talent. Myself and friends have been given straight offers for parts because a casting director has seen us nail tape after tape. Believe it or not, casting directors are your allies, not your enemies.
#3 Invest in a decent Camera
Simple mirrorless cameras like the Sony a6000 series work really well. Canon makes great DSLRs too. Autofocus, external audio capabilities and easy interface are a must. Save the focus pullers for when you are on set. I can’t tell you how many times my favourite take has been ruined because the focus drops out halfway through. Taking the time to learn about white balance and basic settings can go a long way. If you are travelling or perhaps can’t afford a new camera, iPhones do a pretty decent job. Invest in an app such as Filmic Pro which gives you more control over exposure and shutter speed.
Check out this article on the Best Cameras for Self-Tapes.
#4 Decent Lighting.
The better the lighting (and your set-up in general) the better your self-tape will be. Yes, the focus should be on your acting – but having a beautiful looking shot, with some flattering lighting is going to serve you well. Particularly if the lighting is off and you too ‘orange’ or ‘blown out’, or there are lots of shadows! Buy some cheap softboxes from Amazon or eBay if that’s all you can afford.
Check out our equipment guides here – on a budget, or the pro standards…
#5 Invest in Sound
So we’ve spoken about looking good, now we need to make sure you SOUND good too! Again, if the casting director cannot hear you and hear you clearly – your chances at booking that job are severely diminished. So, invest in an external microphone – there are a few different products out there, generally RODE is a great brand. Again check out our guides above, we mention some of our favourite audio gear.
#6 Find a reader you are comfortable being a fool around
I would rather work with someone I trust and can have fun with than the best actor. Great acting is reacting, but amazing acting is when you are completely free and playful. Find the least judgmental most energetic person you can find and shoot it with them. It will go a long way when stuck on a complicated part in a scene
#7 Take a bloody risk.
If you are comfortable with yourself as an actor and a person than you will know that no matter what you do, there will be an element of truth. Go bold or go home. you can always delete the take. A long pause might feel weird but could read as dangerous or unsettling, drinking a beer in a scene or eating some chips might come across as reckless, etc. Casting Directors watch a lot of tapes. Don’t cry for attention, just grab it. Improvisation is fine just don’t go overboard. Work with the script and enjoy the freedom.
#8 It is YOUR Tape.
Showcase the best of your abilities. If your gut instinct is to go down a certain road then go down that road. Maybe make it more vulnerable than it reads. Maybe you have excellent energy as an actor, bring it to the table, there is no right or wrong. Forget the stage direction. The script might say “he screams to the heavens” but maybe you feel inclined to do the opposite. Most scripts are rewritten well up to the shoot. It is about the essence of the person, not who can recite everything perfectly. Who knows they might even get inspired by YOUR interpretation?!
#9 Respect the text
Although taking risks and making it your own is important, that does not mean you disregard the writer’s intentions completely. You can still muck around and play whilst working with the script, just be careful not to rewrite an entire scene in an effort to stand out. That is probably not going to go down well. And you know what? Sometimes all you need to do is say the words.
#10 Let it go.
Don’t hold out hope. At the end of the day, it’s not rocket science. It’s just make-believe. If you do your best then that’s all you can do. Send the tape off, celebrate and acknowledge the hard work you put in but don’t dwell on the outcome. I recently got offered a large film opposite an idol of mine two months after sending a tape. I forgot about the outcome, lived my life and it came as a joyous surprise. It is fine to want something but more often than not, great things come when we least expect it. Go on that holiday, do that play. The amazing thing is that there will always be films and tv series getting produced. You will always have another shot.
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