Equity guide to self-taping

Self-taping has become an essential part of an actor’s toolkit. So how do you get good at it? It’s all about preparation: preparing your home studio, preparing your filming equipment and uploading workflow, and preparing for the role.

Preparing your studio

If you are self-taping from home spend a little time figuring out the best place for your make-shift studio and then you can use it again and again. If you are on location or in a hotel room you will have to think on your feet a little but the same principles apply.

There are three main factors you have to consider:

1. Background – as plain as possible, grey is best but any neutral colour will do.

2. Light – natural light is great but never sit in front of a window otherwise you will appear as a silhouette. Artificial lights are fine too but do a short test to see what you look like on camera and
if it feels too harsh or too dark make adjustments. Clever placing of lamps
can work wonders.

3. Sound – you need a quiet spot, hopefully away from external sounds and with reasonably good acoustics – beware of echoes. Remember to test the sound before recording.

Preparing your filming equipment and uploading workflow

Next up you will have to think about how you are going to film and then share your self-tape.

The chances are that your mobile phone or tablet will be able to take care of both of these tasks perfectly well. The picture and sound quality is generally excellent, you will always have it with you and there are free apps that make editing and uploading as simple as possible. It’s a studio in your pocket.

If you are comfortable using a stand-alone camera, external lights, microphone equipment and a computer- based editing system then by all means do so, but it’s not at all essential.

When setting up your camera:

1. Always use landscape mode if using a phone or tablet.

2. Steady your device by using some kind of tripod or by leaning it against something solid (a stack of books is common) – you want to eliminate camera shake.

3. Do not shoot with maximum resolution – your file will be too big.

Editing-wise there are only a few procedures that you need to be able to do:

1. Trim the beginning and end of a take. Join different takes together if you have been asked to tape multiple scenes.

2. Add a simple title card if requested.

3. Export your taped file in a compressed format, ideally MP4. This can save time and stress especially if a hard submission deadline is looming.

There are free, easy-to-use programmes available for all devices and computers, and countless YouTube videos that will show you how to perform these steps.

Conduct a test run uploading different length audition files and keep a record of how long each takes – factor time in if there is a submission deadline.

Spend a little time familiarising yourself with your system and practise, practise and practise again so it become second nature. Try to do this without the added pressure of having an actual self-taped audition to deliver. Once you have your workflow perfected either write down the steps or just keep doing them every few days so the steps remain fresh.

Preparing your audition

The actual acting preparation for the self-tape should be no different from a face-to-face audition. Do the same amount of script and character preparation that you would do if you were meeting the director.

Schedule a time for you to do your self-tape – this will keep you focused and give you something to aim for.

When it comes to filming it’s crucial that you follow whatever instructions you have been given. If you have not been given any directions then these general tips might be useful:

⁌ Framing – quite close in, with your head and shoulders central or just off centre – try not to have too much ‘dead space’ on each side of the frame. Make sure your whole face including the top of your head are in shot.

⁌ Unless otherwise requested it is fine to jump straight into your scene as the character.

⁌ Ideally, you will find someone to read in the other roles, but if that is not possible then you can either record those lines yourself or leave gaps where another character’s line goes. But remember to react to whatever is being said by the other character in the scene. Casting directors do make allowances for these situations.

⁌ Only send one take of any scene - that is the entire scene from start to finish with no edits.

⁌ Look just off-camera, not into the lens, and not too much in profile.

⁌ If it takes more than 10 or 15 minutes to actually film your self-tape you probably have not prepared well enough – take a break, do a little more work, and then revisit it.

Finally, once you have finished, please take a moment to quickly check that everything worked - that the sound and image are in sync, that there are no glitches.

And that’s it - do not fret over endless tiny differences - do the scene a couple of times, pick the best one and move on.

If you have been asked to label the self-tape in a particular way then please follow those instructions, otherwise please do label your file with something logical - you cannot go wrong if you label it with your name, the role name and the project.

And then all you have to do is submit your file – make sure you follow any submission instructions.

If there are no instructions use Vimeo – it is compatible with phones, tablets or computers, and it allows the recipient to download your material in a variety of formats and sizes. Do not forget to enable downloads in your account settings.

And that’s it – I hope you have found this useful and are ready to embrace the opportunities presented by self-taping.

Find out more about Manuel Puro at www.purocasting.com

Top five self-tape tips

1. Have your filming set-up ready and tested before an audition comes in.

2. Keep practising the technological side – editing, compressing, uploading – and be familiar with how long each step takes.

3. Schedule your audition, including prep, filming and post-production time – so that you complete and submit successfully well before any deadline.

4. Learn your lines – resist the temptation to read them just off-screen. It’s very obvious and looks terrible on camera.

5. Do not cut your scene halfway through filming – it might be better than you think.

Equity's video guide to self-taping

Self-taping should not be an automatic substitute for face-to-face casting. However, it is becoming a more widespread technique and it can provide the opportunity to widen access to the casting process. Equity has created a video with casting director Manuel Puro and actress Emily Burnett to help members with self-taping.

Photography by David Cotter