We have to start stepping up our game with self-tapes. I've been seeing so many bad ones lately. It's not your fault, it's just nobody ever seems to talk about what it needs to look like, sound like, how to upload and compress it, and to do it all in a short amount of time. They just expect you to figure it out! I've written about this before, and I think it needs a revisit.
It's not enough to just send in something on your iPhone anymore. Self taped auditions are becoming the norm, not the exception, and casting always expects them fast, professional, and showing the actor doing their best. Which is VERY hard when you have 15 pages to memorize and tape by the next morning, and have no access to good equipment.
If you don't know how good it can be, or why it even matters, try sitting down and looking at 100 self tapes from actors in a row. It's very eye-opening. Trust me, I've done it. When the quality is bad, it's unwatchable (no matter how good the actor is). I'm talking bad overhead lighting, and weak sound (no shotgun mic or lavalier mic), just a loud reader (aka your roommate or mom) standing behind the camera overacting the hell out of the scene. When the quality is good, and professional (nice lighting, focused on the face, flattering, and the actor can be heard clearly), you WANT to watch. Hopefully the acting kicks ass too, and the actor looks like they are stepping onto set (memorized, present, listening, hair, makeup, wardrobe). We always gravitate towards something that looks like it has high production value and looks great. That's why actors usually start off their demo reels with the bigger budget scenes. It looks professional, they look like they are on set (cause they are), and we see that they take the work seriously. Why present a tape that looks like a bad student film? It makes you look amateur, and there's no room for that in this business.
This is why your self tape auditions need to be better. Because the next actor who has the same audition as you will be more memorized, more camera ready, and will take the time to make a more professional self tape. So why wouldn't you? Why would you just half ass it? I've done self tapes that are sent all the way up to show runners and network executives, and I have seen actors book from tape (and even screen test from tape). You don't even always have to be in the room anymore to test for a pilot! You know what doesn't book from tape? A shaky iPhone video with a pre-recorded voice reading the other lines on your computer off-camera. It just sucks, and doesn't paint you in the best light.
But here's the other side of the coin. Now that self tapes are so important, and so common, this means that your agent and manager are also getting to see your work as well, before they send it off to casting. Your tapes are a direct reflection of what you are doing in the room. Do you look tired? Are you not memorized enough? Are you not listening or connecting? I've seen too many tapes have to be redone because of these things (which are totally in the actor's control), and it doesn't look good for the actor who didn't take it seriously enough. Agents and managers take notice, and it makes them more reluctant to trust you.
There are many things outside of an actor's control, but this isn't one of them. If you get a "self tape audition" for a job, why wouldn't you give it your all, and cover everything you can on your end, be as professional and prepared as possible (as if you were stepping into a producer session), and blow them away with how great you are on tape, and what a great actor you are. Don't you agree?
Self taped auditions are new pre-pre-read, meaning casting directors are deciding who to bring in for their few precious spots based on self-tapes. This means you need to level up, understand the game, and also put yourself in their shoes, and imagine what it seems like when they scroll through hundreds of tapes (sometimes thousands for big open call castings). The first 5-10 seconds matter, both in the acting and the production value. Don't give them a reason to skip over your tape that you put that all that work into.