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11 Ways to Make Sure Your Self Tapes Don't Suck

Hey, it's Matt.

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I've been speaking with a lot of people at the studio lately, as well as agents and managers, about self tapes, and how not a lot of actors do them right, and how that really affects their chances of booking the job.  Now I know not everyone has the time and money to get their tapes done professionally, but there's no excuse not to deliver a kickass self tape from your own home.  

I'm here to fix that.  Here are the rules in making your self tape stand out, along with the right equipment to get.  Print it out.  You will thank me later.

  1. BACKDROP.  Use a gray or blue wall (not white).  If you don't have one, buy a cheap muslin sheet from Amazon.  And iron it.  Something like this.   This helps keep the focus on the actor.
  2. LIGHTING.  No overhead lights,  no weird orange lamp lighting, no huge shadows.   Place two soft box lights on equal sides of the camera, a bit above the actor.  Use white bulbs.   These are awesome.   
  3. SOUND.  Use a shotgun mic or lavalier mic so the off camera voice doesn't overshadow the actor.   They won't cost much.  A lavalier mic can plug right into your phone. Try this one.   
  4. CAMERA.  Use your iPhone or a DSLR.   If you use your iPhone, put it on a tripod (cheap), buy an adaptor, and clip it HORIZONTALLY (for the love of god).  That is the industry standard.   
  5. SIGHTLINE.  Never look right into camera, except for the SLATE.  Place the reader directly next to the camera, and read to that person.
  6. FRAMING.  Medium shot.   Mid-chest to top of head.  Simple, easy, helps the viewer focus on the subtlety of the actor. 
  7. PERFORMANCE.  You need to be better than the 200 other people taping.   You need to be amazing, different, authentic, unique, memorized, and make strong choices.   There are so many ways to say these lines.  Choose one that is original.  Point of view is everything.  Show them your unique take on the character, not just how well you memorize.
  8. HAIR/MAKEUP/WARDROBE.  You should look like you are stepping onto set.  Fix your hair, iron your shirt, take down the shine, cover up the puffy eyes, and look like a movie star.   Don't obsess about the color of the shirt, just make sure it's hip, looks good on you ,and is flattering.
  9. UPLOADING/EDITING.  Import the footage into iMovie (or Final Cut if you're fancy).   Share the project to DROPBOX (industry standard), and make sure it's saved to a file LESS THAN 50MB (otherwise you will crash your agent's email, and they will drop you).   
  10. EMAIL TO YOUR AGENTS.   The title of the file, and the subject of the email should be:  Name_Project_Role.  That is how they like it.  Unless the directions say otherwise.
  11. Finally, PLEASE DON'T SUCK.  Treat your self tape like a network test., even if it's 10pm, you are tired, just got in a fight with your mom (or roommate), and had to memorize 15 pages.  Let it go.  Give it your all, and make the first 15 seconds kick ass, which is about how long it takes for them to decide if they will keep watching or not.   Make a strong connection to the reader, and show them something they haven't seen before.   No excuses.

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