Professional advice and guidance for aspiring actors.
In the pre-2020 world, acting auditions for movie, television and commercial roles took place in person at a casting office at a specified time. The actor would have to travel to the casting office, pay for parking, take time off from your other job, perhaps hire child care, and sit in a waiting room, battling nerves.
You would have to nail your audition performance in one or two takes and never see the footage of your work; leaving you to base whether or not you did well on the tone of the “Thank you very much” you got from the casting assistant or how you felt leaving the room.
These days, almost all first round auditions for film, tv and commercials happen via self tape. Casting sends all the information the actor needs, and you prepare the audition tape and submit it to your agent or the casting site by a deadline. You can make your audition tape on your own time, in your own space and at your own leisure. You get to control what you send to casting! AND you get to monitor your progress over time.
Along with Self Taping came Zoom auditions and callbacks! The actor gets a specified audition time and zoom link and you set yourself up in your self tape set up to work with directors and producers via zoom.
There are two big challenges with auditioning via self tape and zoom:
Luckily, you can solve for both those problems long before your self tape or zoom audition request even hits your inbox!
There are 5 key components to a great self tape audition set up. You don’t have to invest a ton of money right out of the gate. Instead, focus on building your set up one piece at a time.
To keep the viewer’s focus on your audition performance and not your surroundings, choose a solid neutral or blue colored backdrop. Studios will have photography backdrops, but a solid colored wall, or clean wrinkle free sheet or light fleece blanket taped to the wall, does the job just as well.
Hot tip: Keep in mind that the backdrop does more than just provide a solid color behind you, it also absorbs light so that your camera’s focus will stay on your face.
If you are shooting on a solid color wall, make sure you stand as far away from the wall as possible, so the light doesn’t bounce off it and pull your camera’s focus away from your face.
Many professional working actors shoot all their auditions on their iPhones. You can also shoot on a camcorder or camera if you prefer. The quality of the picture is what matters and any phone, tablet or computer camera made after 2015 will likely be sufficient.
If you choose to shoot with your phone, make sure you shoot your tapes with your phone positioned horizontally; in landscape mode. Not vertical; in portrait mode. (Although you can shoot your full body slates in portrait, more on that in Editing Your Self tapes below)
Auditions DO NOT need to be shot in crystal clear 1080p in fact, most casting studios will ask you explicitly not to. File sizes get out of control really fast and all casting, directors and producers need to see are your acting choices, not your pores.
A good, easy to use, sturdy tripod for your camera, phone or tablet is an essential piece of your self tape setup. While you can purchase a myriad of tripods inexpensively, investing a bit more into a good one will serve you well long term.
If you’re strapped for cash, try reaching out to other actors in your area via acting community message boards. Actors are often upgrading their setups and will have older equipment they can either sell to you for cheap or give to you for free.
Without light, there is no picture, and good lighting is worth its weight in gold. Luckily, the best lighting in the world is the sun! So if you don’t have studio lighting yet, set yourself up in front of a bright window and let the sun do all the heavy lifting.
Pro tip: If your brightest window isn’t opposite a solid wall, tape the edge of a solid colored sheet or fleece blanket to the ceiling right behind where you want to stand facing the window and create the perfect false backdrop.
As you build your acting self tape set up, you will want to invest in getting one or more studio lights. Here are the Main types:
Now that you’ve created your self tape set up, it’s time to shoot your audition tape! Here are the key points to keep in mind:
As mentioned above, always film your audition tapes horizontally (in landscape) and never vertically (in portrait mode). This bears repeating only because of the number of actors who submit self tape auditions filmed vertically on their phone. Casting can’t pass audition tapes filmed vertically onto directors and producers.
Frame your auditions horizontally, with the actor in a medium close up shot; from just below your chest to just above your head. This allows you to punch in to the perfect shot size in editing.
If you have someone reading the scene with you, place them next to the camera on one side so that your eye line lands right to the side of the frame. Don’t place them too far from the camera lens, otherwise your eye line will be too far to the side.
A rule of thumb is to make sure you “have eyes” in the frame. That’s a filming turn of phrase that means that you can see BOTH of the actor’s eyes in the frame. If you are turned too far away from the camera, you’ll only be able to see one of your eyes.
Never deliver your acting audition directly into the lens of the camera - or “down the barrel” as we say in filming, unless specifically directed too. Looking into the lens makes the person watching your audition feel like you are looking at them, and in your audition scenes, we want to see you looking at your scene partner(s).
PRO TIP: If you’re working with a reader via zoom and can’t place the device you’re zooming from in the perfect place for your eye line, OR if there are multiple eye lines in your scene; try putting sticky notes on the wall behind the camera for you to connect with.
Acting with a sticky note isn’t as easy as acting with a person, but at least it helps keep your eye lines consistent throughout your audition tape and it’s a great skill to develop for working on set.
It’s common for actors to have to look at a piece of tape on the camera’s matte box or a tennis ball on a tripod when filming scenes on professional sets.
Minimize ambient noise as much as possible; unplug loud refrigerators or fans and kindly ask family or roommates to keep it down while you’re taping. The goal is for your space to be as quiet as possible for your audition.
As mentioned above, an external microphone can really help if you have a lot of ambient noise that’s outside of your control; like heavy traffic sounds or loud neighbors.
The next step is to make sure that your reader isn’t placed too close to the mic. You don’t want them to be louder than you are in your audition tape.
Remember the rule to never film with your phone vertically (in portrait mode)? Well, it’s time to break that rule. Often casting will ask the actor to provide a full body slate to get a sense of your physicality.
An audition slate is a short video at the end of an acting audition tape with the actor looking right down the barrel and saying their name, height and location. Different casting houses have different slate requirements, so always follow the directions on your audition breakdown.
Very few actors have the luxury of enough space to film a full wide shot in their home self tape set ups, and filming with your phone vertically is a great solution. It allows you to film your full body against your self tape backdrop, but cuts off everything that is beside your audition space (ie: your furniture and the rest of your apartment).
Scroll down to the next section to see what a vertical full body acting slate looks like in your audition tape.
Once your audition tape is shot, the next step is to edit it all together. Any basic video editing software that comes standard on your computer works great for this task. You can also try self tape editing apps and edit your tape right from your phone.
Upload your chosen takes into a New Project
Trim your clips to start right before your opening moment and end right after your end beat.
Punch in to between a medium close up and a close up shot: Head and Shoulders
Fade into your first scene, add cross dissolves from one scene to the next and fade to black at the end
End with a full body slate. As mentioned above, you can film your full body slate with your phone vertically in portrait mode.
PRO TIP: You can even use the “ken burns” effect to start your slate in full body and punch into a medium close up.
*IMPORTANT NOTE: Every Casting house will have different specifications for how they want you to prepare your self tape audition. Most will request the format outlined above but some will want multiple takes of each scene and some will ask to separate each take into different files. Always read the specifications on the casting breakdown before shooting and editing your audition tape.
Now that you’ve edited your audition tape, it’s time to save and share your brilliant acting work.
Auditioning via zoom has the fun of working with the casting director or director the way the actor would in person with the convenience of working from home and the wild card factor of your internet connection and zoom audition setup.
Set yourself up for success by working out the kinks of your zoom audition setup well before you have a real audition. Here are the important things to keep in mind:
How are you going to connect to the zoom room? Consider the device you want to use and which corresponding equipment you’ll need to hold your device and frame your zoom screen in a medium close shot, as discussed above for your self tapes.
a. Computer - You can absolutely use your computer for your zoom acting auditions and callbacks, just keep in mind that you’ll need to prop it up fairly high. Stacking boxes and books on a table is good in a pinch, but if you plan to use your computer for zoom auditions long term, you may want to invest in a laptop stand.
The downside to using your computer for zoom auditions is that the built-in camera is above your screen, so unless you set up an external camera and connect it to your zoom, when you look at the zoom reader, your eye line will be below the camera.
You can correct this by using a piece of tape to the side of your laptop camera, which means sacrificing looking at your reader.
b. Smartphone - Using your phone can work great for zoom auditions and callbacks, because when you mount your smartphone horizontally, the camera is to one side of the screen, meaning you can look right at your reader and achieve the perfect eye line. Most ring lights come equipped with smartphone mounts, so you may not need to invest in a separate phone stand.
The downside to using your smartphone for your zoom auditions is that the screen is really small, and from a few feet away - your reader becomes tiny.
c. Tablet - A tablet is a fabulous tool for your zoom auditions and callbacks. It’s incredibly useful for your self tapes too, as you’ll see in the next section. A tablet is big enough that your zoom reader's face is easy to connect with and also has the advantage of the camera being to the side of the screen when shooting horizontally, so the eyeline is always perfect.
The only downside to using a tablet is that you have to have one. If you don’t have one yet, consider setting a SMART goal towards saving up for one.
There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of an audition scene and your internet connection cuts out. If you don’t have strong, stable Wi-Fi, consider going old school and hard wiring your device to the internet with an ethernet cable. You’ll need adapters to get from old tech to new tech, but the result will be the best zoom connection possible.
Pro tip: Did you know that when your internet connection is unstable, zoom downgrades your video quality to try to keep the call connected? Ethernet may be old school, but the connection is the best.
There are a few key zoom components to familiarize yourself with for your zoom auditions and callbacks.
Make sure you test your zoom set up regularly and well before you ever have an audition. Being uncomfortable with the platform adds another element of fear to the audition experience. Invest time into learning how the system works and make sure all that you are thinking about during your zoom audition is your acting work.
a. Basics - Review how to turn both your camera and mic on and off and also make sure that if you’re zooming from your phone, that your screen orientation is unlocked, so that the image doesn’t end up rotated.
If you’re entirely new to Zoom, check out zoom’s getting started guide.
b. Account Name and Photo - Match the name on your zoom account with your name (or your stage name, if you use one) and upload your current headshot as the profile pic. This ensures that everyone in the zoom call (the directors, producers and casting) knows exactly who you are.
c. Waiting Room - Often casting will put the auditioning actors into a zoom waiting room and then pull them into the casting room one at a time. Familiarize yourself with how they work.
d. Pinning Screens - The key to a great performance via zoom is two fold:
i. You’re not looking at your own screen while you’re acting.
ii. You’re not looking at all the other people’s little zoom screens while you’re acting.
A great audition performance displays as real a connection as possible. Set yourself up for success by pinning your reader’s screen and looking directly at them. Even if they don’t give you any acting moments and read the scene flat and monotone, looking at yourself or other zoom screens is a recipe for distraction.
Pro tip: Don’t apologize for taking the 5-10 seconds you need to find your reader’s zoom screen and pin it before you start the first take of your audition scene. As long as you’re efficient and prepared, everyone is happy for you to take the time you need.
e. Chat box - Casting will often use the chat function to share notes about the timing of the audition and to provide more information. When you are first admitted to the waiting room, it’s a good idea to check the chat.
f. Exiting Sessions - Never overstay your welcome! Familiarize yourself with exiting zoom calls. Often, Casting will remove you from the zoom audition room from their end and put you back into the waiting room or end your session, but it’s a good idea to understand how to do that yourself too.
Self tape auditions mean that when casting used to be able to watch about 8 auditions in an hour, they can now watch 30 auditions at the same time. For the actor, that means more opportunities and more auditions - which is always great! Right?
Yes! As long as you have a strong acting community.
If you don’t have at least a few wonderful acting teammates to work and read your auditions with, you’re left with one of two options:
Pro tip: A small team of actors who work and read their auditions together is one of the most valuable tools an aspiring actor can have. Not only will your teammates never tire from helping you, but through helping them - you will inevitably develop your acting chops, your industry knowledge and your audition prep skills.
With your great self tape set up and a strong acting community, it’s easy to find a reader to work with you via zoom; making self taping easy, fun and flexible.
When you are fully set up in your self tape space, all you have to do is text your teammate the audition breakdown, sides and a zoom link, and you can get your tape shot in as little as 10-15 minutes.
If you don’t have an acting team, it’s time to start developing some relationships! A great way to meet actors who can potentially become your audition teammates is to sign up for an acting class. And if you don’t have any great local acting studios nearby, or if you’re looking for a different community and approach to your acting development, then check out the Laura Mac Method online acting classes. Members of the Foundations program work together via online chat boards as they complete the program and members of the Academy join a team of 8 actors who work together twice a week for 3 months.
Surrounding yourself with great people is the fastest way to move forward in your acting career and your life.
Auditioning in person meant that casting could give you immediate feedback and adjustments between your takes to help you nail your audition. It was great! And yes, the connection to casting has shifted in the self tape audition world.
But: Casting 100% still can and do give notes to actors. If they want you to retape your acting audition with their notes, they will send you the notes and a retape submission deadline.
AND! Now that the actor gets to keep their audition tapes - you can review your work and give yourself notes OR share your work with a great coach and get guidance from them.
Plus! Many casting directors now offer great workshops online where you can meet, work with and learn from them directly.
By focusing on what was lost through switching from in person to self tape and zoom auditions, the actor fails to take advantage of all the benefits that have also been gained.
Change can be painful, but with the right mindset and attitude, will lead to something better and stronger.
If you’re just starting out as an aspiring actor, focus on building yourself a great self tape and zoom audition set up one piece at a time and join a great community who can support you every step of the way.
You got this!