We’ve all been there. Maybe you’re on tour, maybe you’re in a regional shoot location, or maybe you’ve just left for a holiday, when suddenly, out of the clear blue sky comes an audition. While this can be inconvenient (spoiler alert, the life of an actor is never convenient), it doesn’t haven’t have to mean a lost audition! Today we’re gonna outline some tips, tricks and tools to help you out of this all too familiar pickle, the next time you get an audition far from home.
Your Self-Tape Kit:
- Your Phone
- Smartphone Tripod
- Pop-up Backdrop
- Desktop Ring Light
- Your Laptop
- Your Reader
- Bonus: Tips and Tricks
Using Your Phone to Self-Tape
While this may seem obvious to some, we often overlook just how helpful our smartphones can be for us as actors. There used to be quite a significant difference in the general quality of footage captured on a phone versus that of a DSLR or mirrorless camera, but these day’s that difference is not going to be that big of a deal in the big picture. Casting directors really are only after one thing, and that’s to see and hear you clearly, and modern smartphones can most certainly do that, and then some.
These bad boys are a game changer when it comes to shooting auditions on the go, and the best part is they’re relatively cheap. All you’ll need is maybe a table or a stack of books to get it to the right height, and from there it’s smooth sailing. You can pick one of these up at most big office stores and sometimes even your local grocery store.
This can be one of the hardest things to manage when doing a self tape on the road. The background. Enter Stage Left: the pop up backdrop! Easily fitting into almost any piece of luggage you can imagine, once you’ve packed this in your suitcase, you’ll hardly even know it’s there. These can come in a number of different colours and are almost always double sided. The only thing we suggest you don’t do is use the colour green. While this used to be quite common in recent years it has fallen out of fashion. A more versatile colour combo would be blue or grey.
Desktop Ring Light for Lighting a Self-Tape
We at StageMilk have spent a lot of our careers across our varying continents in hotel rooms for work. We are well aware of what a privilege it is to be able to travel for work. But one of the downsides of staying in sometimes less than ideal living arrangements is the lighting. Lighting will change from room to room, hotel to hotel which can make the job of auditioning on the go even more tricky. But we can counteract that with the help of a handy dandy Desktop Ring Light. Still relatively small but by no means invisible, the Desktop Ring Light will fit into most carry-on luggage and certainly into your check in. Most of the time you’ll be able to get some decent natural light, but on the odd occasion you can’t, these little guys can really come in handy.
Using Your Laptop to Edit and Upload a Self-Tape
A lot of people may want to leave their personal computer at home, particularly if they’re going on holiday, but when it comes time to edit your self tapes, having your laptop by your side can be extremely helpful. I’ve certainly spent a lot of my precious time trying to edit tapes on my phone with my clumsy fingers, and I can tell you, it ain’t fun. Most modern laptops are going to come off the factory floor with some sort of basic editing software already built in, so you won’t even have to download any of the more advanced stuff. Added bonus: If it rains, you’ll at least have something to watch Netflix on.
Your Reader/Scene Partner
Now finding a reader can be one of the trickiest things to navigate. In an ideal situation someone on your journey with you will be able to lend a helping hand. But what can you do if no ones around to help? Luckily for you we live in the 21st century and can welcome our friends, family and colleagues into our homes and hotel rooms through the wonderful world of video chat! Your best port of call is to ask another actor friend to be your reader via zoom. And when you do, make sure that where you place their face is roughly the same height and angle you’d like to have them at, were they in the room with you. You can achieve this by stacking a few books up and placing your laptop right near the ‘camera’ to achieve that in room affect. But if even that’s not possible, your final port of call is to do your own roadside ADR. Record the other characters lines, and play them as you record the scene. This really should be reserved for emergencies, but when it’s crunch time, it can get you out of a pinch.
Bonus: Self-Tape Tips & Tricks
- Bedsheet Background: If you don’t have access to a pop up background, a hotel bed sheet can really come in handy. Hand it from a couple of door frames, or even from the curtain rail and hey presto, you’ve got yourself a backdrop.
- Leaning Tower of Tripod: Perhaps you left your teeny weeny tripod at home. Fret not my friends. You’ve probably got a table, some boxes of cereal or other food items, and maybe even some books. Put your civil engineering skills to the test and craft yourself a tower to cradle your phone on and hey hey you’ve got a tripod.
- Lamps, Camera, Action! If you’re struggling to get any natural light, or maybe even shooting your tape at night, consider shuffling a few of the lamps in your room around. Hotels certainly do love lamps and we thank them for it. Keep moving them around until you’ve found yourself a decent lighting setup and Bob’s your uncle! Just make sure to return them when you’re done.
So now you’ve got yourself your own little travelling self-tape kit! By no means is this an ideal set up for any audition tapes, but it will at the very least garner you a decent looking tape. So while these tips, tricks and tools probably won’t win you an Oscar for cinematography, they may just get you out of a pickle the next time you’re on the road.