Photo by Debra Lopez
Right now, I’m covering a high-end Internet project where the initial round of auditions involves actors putting themselves on tape. Once that phase is done, casting will review the submissions and decide who gets to come in and meet the producers face to face.
I cringed when the casting director explained this to me. My first impulse was to call her lazy. After all, it’s her job to read actors in person. That allows her to give notes and direction that could make a huge difference in the performance. When actors put themselves on tape, it’s an all-or-nothing situation. The choice is the choice. There’s no opportunity to make a simple adjustment because the casting director isn’t there to provide guidance.
From my perspective, this is total bullshit. I recently had a client pre-read on a film, and her choice turned out to be wrong for the part. But guess what? The casting director gave her a note, she nailed the adjustment, and now she has a callback to read for the director. If my client had been asked to put herself on tape, she never would’ve gone this far.
Alas, this is the world we live in, and my voice is often a whisper that no one hears because they’re busy playing with their phones. So I’m going to give you guys some advice on how to master a skill that’s quickly becoming an essential part of every actor’s tool belt.
Give some consideration to your backdrop. Avoid clutter. Don’t stand in front of a particleboard bookshelf with your bored cat sleeping on top. That’s too distracting. A smarter choice is to hang a solid sheet. Even a bare wall will work as long as it’s not blinding white. Also, make sure you wear clothes that don’t blend into the background. A dark top against a dark wall will make you look like a floating head.
Using civilians to read with you is a mistake. Their lack of ability will hurt your audition. So ask one of your actor friends to help, but make sure he or she throttles down the performance by about 50 percent. His or her emoting shouldn’t distract from your acting. Also, never have the reader appear on camera unless it’s someone famous like Ryan Gosling. That might be kind of cool.
Don’t break the fourth wall by looking directly into the camera. Instead, have your reader stand off to the side. The idea is to create the angle that would be used in a real production. And keep it tight. Don’t go any wider than a head-and-shoulders shot. You want the viewer to see the emotion on your face.
There’s no need to go out and buy a professional lighting kit, but you should give some thought to how you shed light on your audition. Overhead lighting isn’t very flattering, and fluorescents will make you look like death. Try moving some household lamps around to create a basic key light/fill light/backlight situation. A quick Google search will explain what I mean.
Unless casting specifically requests two different takes of the same scene, don’t send multiple versions of your audition. Going on tape is like losing your virginity. You get one take and that’s it.
These five simple steps should help make your self-taped audition a success. As for myself, I’m currently looking to invest in a start-up company that creates high-definition holograms. Because let’s face it. Pretty soon, that’s all you’re going to be. An image that’s not there, trying to create a character that isn’t real.
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April Yvette Thompson