Your reel is so, SO important. Often times, it’s the very first taste we have of your abilities as an actor. Sometimes, it serves as a reminder of who you are, and occasionally, it proves that you’re capable of handling a specific role. Your reel is meant to sell you; to agents, to casting directors, […]
Casting Directors don’t love receiving unsolicited self-tapes. My first instinct when I receive an unsolicited self-tape is to sigh and shake my head in frustration. I value an actor’s time and effort, ESPECIALLY the effort involved in self-taping. And to receive a tape from someone who is often not right, (which is why I didn’t […]
Auditions: When Excuses Take Over Your Read… “I just got the material.” “My reps didn’t send me the full script.” “I have three auditions today, so I’m not off-book.” “Normally I coach, but this appointment was too last minute, so…” “I was camping and didn’t have internet, so I just looked at this for the […]
Two of the most important technical elements to your self-tape are lighting and sound. If Casting can’t see or hear you, then the entire endeavor is moot.
Lighting can be unbelievably tricky. Until you find a set-up that works, this is one aspect of self-taping that can truly drive you crazy.
COMMON SELF-TAPE LIGHTING ISSUES:
- Lighting that creates shadows across your face. We’re not looking for dramatic ambience; we want to see you.
- Too MUCH light. It will blow out your skin tone and any facial feature that makes you interesting.
- Not ENOUGH light. We can’t see a lot of your subtle nuances.
- Forgetting to white-balance your camera after setting up your lighting scheme. Unless you’re shooting with the exact same light at the exact same time of day, (or in the same windowless room,) you need to white-balance your camera for every audition to avoid looking blue/yellow/orange.
- Lighting yourself in front of a very dark backdrop or a light-filled backdrop (see previous blog post.)
- ONLY using overhead lights. They will create shadows and bags on anyone, no matter how youthful you are.
- Trying to fix the exposure in post. This COULD work if you’re quite savvy with editing software, but more often than not, it’s too one-size-fits-all and could affect your file size and quality. You’re better off dealing with the issue at the source.
SIMPLE SELF-TAPE LIGHTING SOLUTIONS (PROS AND CONS):
1. NATURAL DAYLIGHT.
- PRO: Daylight really is your best friend. (Think of photos that are shot in daylight versus those with a flash… natural light is exactly that: natural.) As long as you can find a shadow-free spot, you can almost never go wrong with daylight. (And PLEASE don’t make the mistake of shooting your scene outdoors to get good light. You’ll end up with a nightmare of ambient sound.)
- CON: Daylight is constantly shifting. If you spend an hour doing your self-tape, you will have different light in every take. Use it wisely, and quickly.
- CON #2: If shooting your self-tape at night, daylight is obviously not an option.
2. LAMPS/LIGHTING YOU HAVE IN YOUR HOME.
- PRO: A combination of the light from your (MANY) lamps can work, if diffused and appropriately positioned. Overhead lighting doesn’t look good on anybody, but overhead lighting in combination with directional lamps can get the job done.
- CON: Lamps often use different wattage, so you could end up with one side of your face darker than the other. Low-wattage also means you’ll need a LOT of lamps to light yourself properly.
- CON #2: Light bulb colors can range from blue to white to yellow. If your lamps all use different colored light bulbs, it will be hard to get a result that you’re happy with.
3. BUY A LIGHT/LIGHTING KIT.
- PRO: You can find affordable photography lighting kits at camera stores or online. They’ll quickly take the guess-work out of lighting your self-tape. Some are even compact enough to travel with! (Bonus! Never miss an audition because you went out of town!)
- SOFT-BOX CON: They tend to be bulky so you probably won’t want them in your living room all of the time. They can also be a bit annoying to disassemble and reassemble constantly.
- RING LIGHT CON: They’re beauty lights… they run HOT (meaning: at best, you glow from your t-zone. At worst, you look like you’re dripping sweat.) Buy a dimmable ring light or divert the light by aiming it (at full brightness) at your white (or light-colored) ceiling.
Next self-tape topic… SOUND!
When self-taping, BACKGROUND / BACKDROPS are the easiest technical aspect to figure out, but also the simplest thing to mess up.
As you saw from my previous post, in our office, we like to use a bright blue backdrop for our auditions. It’s a fairly standard color for Casting – pretty much everyone, no matter their skin color/tone looks good in front of it when lit properly. However, you likely don’t have a wall that color in your home, so…
HOW TO MIMIC A PROFESSIONAL-LOOKING BACKDROP FOR YOUR SELF-TAPES:
1. You could buy a kraft paper roll (color of your choosing*) at any office supply store. Word of warning: it’s a major pain in the butt to put up/take down without wrinkling or tearing it. If you use paper, you’ll want to tape it in a place where you don’t have to keep putting it up/taking it down.
2. You could use a plain-colored bed sheet or black out curtains. Hot tip: wrinkly bed sheets don’t look like backdrops. They look like wrinkly bed sheets. Bust out that iron if you decide to use a non-traditional cloth backdrop.
3. You could go whole-hog and paint one of your walls a usable, matte color. But ya know, that’s a real commitment…
4. Or you could go the economical route and use whatever plain-colored wall you already have. People often think their white or cream walls are just too light, but they will work far better than some of the pitfalls listed below.
5. There are now a number of pop-up backdrops online. They’re light-weight, nylon and true-colored. Search “photography pop up backdrop” and the world is your oyster.
*I say “color of your choosing” because people often opt for a shade of gray that works well and is a more “livable” color. For example:
We see all kinds of background choices from self-tapes.
Often times, people even go so far as to self-tape outside (good light, I’m guessing?) or stage their scene as if we were just putting their audition directly into the film. All of that is unnecessary (and often distracting.)
As I mentioned before, your self-tape is a regular AUDITION and should look akin to anything that is taped in a casting office.
SELF-TAPE BACKGROUNDS/BACKDROPS TO AVOID:
1. A DARK BACKROP. You don’t have an empty wall at your disposal, but you DO have some midnight blue curtains you could stand in front of!
Here is what happens when you try to film in front of a dark background without proper lighting:
Either the entire frame will be too dark for casting to see you properly (TOP IMAGE,) or the reverse will happen and you’ll literally glow, because a dark backdrop soaks up too much light, (BOTTOM IMAGE.)
2. A GREEN/ORANGE/RED/PURPLE WALL. No matter how often you white balance, it’s far too easy to end up looking slightly green/orange/red/purple.
3. A CLUTTERED BACKGROUND. We often see tapes where actors are standing in front of a bookshelf/piece of art or sitting at their kitchen table with a magnet-covered fridge/bar/cook book selection behind them. Clear out whatever is directly behind you so that we can focus on YOU, not what you’re currently reading/eating/drinking.
4. ANYTHING WHERE A MAJOR LIGHT-SOURCE IS BEHIND YOU. Filming in front of curtains during day-light hours will create this effect. You know how you shouldn’t take a photograph with the sun behind you because you’ll end up too dark? Same rule goes for video. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to more lighting tips very soon!)
Again, a blank white or cream-colored wall will likely serve your self-taping needs well.
Here are a few examples:
Next up in this self-tape series… LIGHTING!
Actors know: self-tape auditions can be a blessing and a curse.
On the plus side: self-taping provides so much flexibility, (auditioning at midnight, after your shift is over and the kids have gone to bed? Hallelujah!) It alleviates some audition anxiety, (no intimidating waiting room stares,) and allows you to really take some time with the character, (I can do as many takes as I want? DREAM. COME. TRUE.)
On the other hand, self-taping can be a technical nightmare, (lighting, sound, UPLOADING?!) It can also be a MAJOR time suck because you end up taking TOO much time with the character. (15 takes of the same scene, is 12 takes too many.)
I began tweeting out some self-tape tips in an attempt to help simplify things and provide enough information that you can avoid some of the major traps. But there is so much more than 140 characters can cover. So, in this series of blog posts, I’ll consolidate and expand upon those tips and provide examples, wherever possible. (In all examples, actors faces have been whited-out to maintain anonymity – it’s not a series of weird, masked auditions.)
**DISCLAIMER: These tips pertain to when you are taping at home. If you don’t want to worry about any of these technical issues, there are a number of wonderful self-tape companies, as well as fabulous audition coaches (ahem) who will coach AND tape you.
The Self-Taping Technical Basics: Sound, Lighting, Frame and Backdrop.
This is what a normal audition looks like in our office:
You can see that our frame is fairly tight – from about the mid-bust/chest to just above the head. We use a softbox lights and plain blue paper as our backdrop. We also mic all of our actors with lavaliers.
This is a fairly standard casting set-up. There will, of course, be variations in every casting office, but this gives you a general idea.
The TECHNICAL goal of self-tapes is to make them look like they were done in a casting office.
(ANY casting/professional office – you don’t need to copy the photo above.)
This way, they won’t look markedly different than someone who came in to read live.
This is where your biggest hurdle lies when self-taping at home. Finding a blank wall, corralling all of your lamps to light you properly, dealing with sound, etc. The good news is that once you find a set-up that works, you won’t have to think about it every time. But it will take some tweaking to get there.
In my next blog post, I will give you some tips for working with what you’ve got at your disposal.
A whole bunch more self-tape tips comin’!
Welcome to the inaugural [Erica S.] Bream Blog-post!
Finally a place where I can give use more than 140 characters! (Massive relief. Brevity is DIFFICULT.)
I’ll be blogging (and tweeting!) about audition tips and tricks for actors, as well as general advice and anecdotes derived from years of casting.