Increasingly nowadays casting directors are asking actors to submit self taped auditions. Here are a few pointers for how to improve your chances of being called in for a face to face audition.
There are numerous examples of actors making the break into big budget films by sending in footage of themselves performing sides from a script in character. Check out Colin Farrell filming scenes from Tigerland or Gerry Butler in very scary makeup filming himself auditioning for the part of Dracula.
More and more often casting directors, in an effort to cut costs and streamline the casting process, are relying on actors to film themselves auditioning for a part before they get to the stage where they look at actors in person. It makes a lot of sense, and will become increasingly popular in the future.
So it is in your interest to have the facility to record and deliver an audition tape that is professional and conforms to certain standards. Luckily the technology to do so is relatively inexpensive. You may even have it to hand already, but if you do not then you need to get your hands on it, or at least be able to borrow it at short notice.
So you will need the following:
1. A camera.
You can record an audition on any number of devices, from the built in webcam on your laptop to an iPhone or a video camera.
The quality of the equipment you use to record your audition will not determine whether you get called in (that’s down to your performance and suitability) but it doesn’t hurt to have a decent image with good sound in your clip.
For that reason I always recommend actors get their hands on a decent video camera. It doesn’t have to be massively expensive, but reasonable quality will lead to better results and the investment will pay off if you book a single gig from using it. Aside from having the camera to record auditions for uploading I also recommend that actors use their video cameras to record and review rehearsals of scenes before they go in for face to face auditions.
Its best to buy yourself a memory card recorder rather than a tape system camera, you’ll save on stock and it will be a lot easier to transfer the footage from the camera to your computer.
As for the sound, most video cameras have built in microphones. Make sure you deliver the performance with enough volume that your voice is clear. Bear in mind that your video may not be watched in a quiet environment, or on headphones, so you will need to make sure your voice is clearly audible.
2. A light source
This is one area neglected by a lot of actors who submit tapes online. It is vital you are well lit and properly exposed in order for a casting director or director to be able to see your performance.
If you have access to a studio with lights well and good, but it is not essential to have a professional lighting set up. What you do need is a good strong source of light off to one side that is balanced out by a weaker source of light or reflected light on the opposite side.
The simplest way to achieve this is to sit near a bright window to your left or right with light reflected back from the other side by white walls or white card. You can also use domestic lamps to either side, but try to avoid using naked bulbs, as they create very harsh shadows. Instead use a lampshade or drape some white material over the bulb (without setting it on fire obviously!).
Be careful not to have the background too bright or your camera might automatically expose that area of the screen, meaning you will be silhouetted and barely visible.
3. A scene partner
The right scene partner can make or break an audition. They need to be discreet enough not to interfere with your performance, but animated enough so that they don’t leech the scene of all life.
Your scene partner should be the correct gender for the character they are reading. They should deliver the lines clearly and with meaning, but should avoid dramatic pauses or overdoing the emotion.
They should remain off screen, close to the camera so your eyeline is close to the lens.
4. A computer with editing software
You will need to title your audition clip and have a rough fade in and out at either end of the clip. In order to do this you will need some form of editing software.
Most new computers come with a free editing tool. On Macs it is called iMovie, on PCs its called Windows Free Media Editor (you may have to use Internet Explorer to download this if you don’t already have it, some browsers won’t download microsoft products). Alternatively there are a number of other video editing packages available for free download. Just google “freeware video editing” and you’ll get plenty of options.
You’ll need to get a handle on using the software. There are plenty of tutorials on youtube and other video sites, and most software packages come with links to online manuals and help databases.
Create a title card with your name, the role you are auditioning for and either your contact details or your agent’s. Use a simple font, white text on a black background. Put a fade in at the start of the clip, just before your audition starts and fade out at the end before you break character. Export the footage to a format that your video hosting site will accept (Mpeg, Mov, Mp4, M4v, Flv, whatever the best option is from your editing software).
One thing to be very careful about is the aspect ratio of your footage. Depending on the camera you use and the settings in your editing software the footage may come out stretched when you export it. You’ll have to change the export settings if this is happening.
5. An account with a video hosting site.
Youtube and Vimeo are the most popular. Youtube is more widely spread and more recognisable. Vimeo tends to be used by professionals more often.
Upload the footage in high resolution and password protect it, or restrict access. Don’t put it up so anyone can see it. This way only the relevant industry professionals can view it and you avoid leaving yourself exposed to internet trolls.
A few more tips for creating audition tapes to send online:
- Frame yourself in a medium close up (chest up) or close up (collar bone up) and position your scene partner just to one side of the camera for eyeline.
- Don’t edit your performance, even if you prefer different parts of different takes. Its obvious when you do it and the director will think you are incapable of delivering a performance straight through. Bear in mind you have to deliver in one take in a regular audition, so you will be expected to do the same in a pre-recorded audition.
- Something that can put a director off an actor immediately is when they play an audition tape and the actor begins slouched in their chair looking disinterested. Avoid scowling, slouching or staring off bored. Show a bit of enthusiasm, its important to be focused in the moments before the audition kicks off. The same goes for the end of the audition. Stay in character and focused on your scene partner until the camera stops recording.
- If there are props involved in the scene and you can get your hands on them then do so. If not don’t worry, just mime the actions with commitment. As long as the props don’t interfere with your performance you should be fine. One thing to avoid is dropping out of frame to pick up props or to hand something to your scene partner. It happens a lot and it doesn’t look good!
- Dress appropriately for the role, but in a suggestive way rather than going all out and hiring a costume. If the piece is contemporary then go ahead and dress in something the character may wear, but if the audition is for a period piece then just wear something that suggests the era (lace collars, ruffles, military style shirts, waistcoats, whatever you have that looks right in the neckline/shoulder area). Hiring a costume will not help you get the part. Your acting talent is being tested, not your ability to hire a costume.
- By the same token I would suggest you avoid filming your audition in an exterior location like the forest or a castle or up a mountain. Many people think it can help the director to picture you in the film, but unless you have a professional crew, makeup, lighting, camera equipment and sound recording equipment it will just look like a low budget version and more often than not will just distract from the important thing, which is your performance.
- The key to an online audition is commitment. Look at any audition from an actor who successfully booked the role and you’ll see they all have one thing in common: commitment to the reality of the piece. Put aside your insecurities and don’t worry about looking foolish. If Gerard Butler had worried how he looked pretending to strangle an imaginary Van Helsing while sporting black eyeliner and hair like Russell Brand gone mad he’d never have launched his career in Wes Craven’s Dracula 2001. So just go for it!
- Don’t start recording your audition until you have rehearsed it a few times and you are happy with the performance, then film a few takes and review them. Make adjustments if necessary, then record a few more until you are happy. Don’t record too many takes though, or you will overload yourself with too many options and you will end up second guessing yourself.
- Try to make choices about the material that allow you to personalise the content. Connect to the text or subtext in some way so that you are bringing something of yourself to the part. Try to think how most people will play the part, the obvious choice, and instead bring something unique of yourself to your interpretation. You want to stand out, not blend in.
- Don’t allow the camera to lose your eyes. If you look down or look away for too long the viewer (the director or casting director) will lose any emotional connection to your performance. There is no point giving a great performance if we can’t see it.
- Try to speak naturally, even when you are doing an accent. Directors can spot a movie voice a mile away.
- Grooming is important. Try to style yourself appropriately to the character. Makeup is important, but don’t apply too much, unless the role calls for it. Guys need to consider powder or subtle foundation, and it is always a good idea to be well maintained. Always look professional.
For the more technically minded here are a couple of extra tips:
- If the quality of the audio you record is particularly bad and you have access to audio editing software or professional editing software run a high pass filter and a low pass filter on the sound. This will eliminate hiss and rumble respectively.
- Depending on the quality of the light you use and the settings and quality of the camera you have it might be worthwhile doing a quick grade on the picture if you have the right software. Particular attention should be paid to colour balance, brightness and contrast.