Everything you need to know to submit a great taped audition
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Maybe you dread it… Or maybe you cheer out loud! Either way, there’s usually a lot of feelings about a “self tape audition”.
What is a self taped audition?
A self taped audition is when a casting director asks actors to record their audition at home and send it in for consideration, instead of coming into their office. Self tapes are requested for film, television, stage plays and musicals.
I’ve been a professional actor for over 20 years, and finally feel confident in my self tape skills. But I was terrified for my first submission. I was certain I would somehow mess up without realizing it, because there wasn’t a casting director in the room to tell me if I needed to make an adjustment!
I’d wonder, “Who’s going to read lines with me? Do I need an accompanist for a musical theater audition? Do I need to buy a camera?”
Now more than ever, casting directors are relying on modern technology to help with the casting process. So what can you do to make sure you submit the best self tape audition possible?
Here’s a compilation of recommendations for a stellar self tape audition. Some advice is my own, and some are from casting directors and directors. So let’s dig in!
Self tape set up
There are a lot of things to consider when you have to make your own home into an audition studio. If you take the time to look at your set up from the perspective of a casting director, you’ll know what you need to make a great impression!
- Have a well lit background, without distracting visuals: You should be the main focus of your audition! Take a moment to find a well lit space with a neutral background. Patterns or furniture can pull focus, so it’s best to stand or sit in front of a wall or backdrop with minimal distractions. Check my recommendations below for ideas on lighting, backdrops, and more.
- Have the right equipment for your audition: No, you don’t need to go out and buy a fancy camera to do a good self tape. Most smartphones will work just fine! That being said, it’s a good idea to attach a microphone to your phone (I recommend this one) so you can be clearly heard. I also recommend investing in a camera stand so you there’s no chance of submitting a shaky video.
Recruit a friend or fellow actor to help
You don’t have to do it alone. Best practice – ask a fellow actor, friend, or family member to come help you out. Then return the favor!
- Get a reader: Having been on the other side of the casting table, I can say with 100% certainty I’d rather see someone audition with a reader than without one. That being said, it can be hard to find a reader for a last minute self tape submission. So if you’re in a bind, I’d recommend asking a friend to do a video call with you for your audition, so you’re reacting in real time to the lines. I would caution against reacting to a recording the other characters lines, or just reading your lines by yourself, as this rarely produces a good audition.
- Get an accompanist for musical submissions: This is a tricky one, especially if you don’t know someone who can play piano. But it’s important to have accompaniment for musical theater auditions! If you have the resources, ask a friend or hire a professional to play for you. If this isn’t an option, you can look up karaoke tracks for your song (be sure the speaker volume doesn’t overpower your singing.) I’ve also found several accompanists on Fiverr who recorded cuts of audition songs at pretty affordable rates! Last resort is acapella.
Do the audition
You’ve got the set up, you’ve got a pal ready to read, and now it’s time to make the magic happen.
- You don’t have to be completely off book: Yes, it’s ideal for you to know your lines. But you may not have enough time to get completely off book. That’s okay! Most casting directors don’t mind if you use your script now and again as a reference during your audition. If you can get to mostly off book, just keep your script nearby, up and out of frame of the camera, for when you need to pick up a line. That way you can glance at it without looking down and disconnecting from the scene. I recommend this technique if you want to learn how to get off book quickly. (It’s been a game changer for me!)
- Be authentically you: The one thing you bring to the table that literally no one else can is your amazing self. You don’t have to be crazy, or goofy, or wear a silly costume to be noticed for your audition! Take time to learn about the character and their wants or needs of the scene, then connect the dots to what resonates with you as a person. This allows you to react honestly in the moment, which is exactly what casting directors want to see.
- Do what they ask for: To slate, or not to slate? Do an accent? Go fully nude!? The information for what the casting director needs will be in the email or notice you received. If you have questions, ask! It’s okay to want clarity for the scene. Also read submission information carefully. This includes slate (reading your name and agency info), character specifics, prop usage, etc… more on this later.
Submit your awesome self tape
Whew! Hard part is done. Now, how do you send your audition to the casting director?
- Check submission information carefully: Casting directors are usually working on more than one project at a time. So they will create a specific system to keep track of incoming auditions. These are important! Double check for notes about email subject lines (name, character, project, etc), taping instructions (slate, frame, etc), and where to submit your material (a casting portal, email, public or private links, etc). These can be easy to overlook, so take the time to do it right.
- Edit with care: There are lots of ways to edit your self tape audition. I use my smartphone (this is the app I use) or sometimes I’ll use my computer to make edits (I use this program). Before you start to edit, be sure to check if the casting director has any specific notes about how the material should be cut together. If you’re filming multiple scenes, default to making separate takes and then edit them together into one video.
- Be sensitive with audition material: You may be auditioning for something that’s currently on the air or in development, and new material has to be kept under wraps. Pay attention for any requests for NDA signatures (a non-disclosure agreement) or privacy requirements for your video. Some casting directors will ask that you make your video private or password protected, which can be done on both Vimeo and YouTube. You wouldn’t want to disqualify yourself for spilling the beans too early!
- Submit as soon as freaking possible (within reason): Your audition isn’t due for another 5 days – great! Now you have 4 days to prepare, right? Nope. Give yourself enough time to feel solid about the material, and then get to taping. Some casting directors will cast as submissions come in. This means they need to cast the project as quickly a possible! If they find a good fit in the first several submissions and you haven’t sent in yours yet, you may miss out. Take the time you need to feel good about your work, but don’t procrastinate.
At the start, self tape auditions can feel daunting and overwhelming. I’ve learned to love the process, and have a lot of fun with them! The best thing you can do for yourself is be prepared, create a good at home set up, find a few friends who can help you out along the way, and pay attention to directions from casting.
With a little preparation, you can bring your best self to the audition – no matter if it’s in a casting office, or in the corner of your kitchen.
PS – Here are some resources I recommend for solid self tape game:
- At home audition lighting – Ring Light with Stand and Cell Phone Holder
- At home audition backdrop (DIY) – Jenna Designs
- Microphone for smartphones – Dual-head Lavalier Microphone
- Accompaniment for a musical theater audition – Fiverr
- Getting off book quickly – Line? The Creative Way for Actors to Get Off Book Quickly
- Edit your audition on your smartphone (iPhone specific) – VideoShop