This is Why Your Self Tapes Suck

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I’ve had many actors book tv and film jobs off of self tapes.   I’ve had even more actors send in dozens of tapes (hundreds?), only to never hear anything.   In the casting world, it’s easy to ask anyone and everyone to “send in a tape” from wherever they are, and weed out the ones you want to bring in the casting room for one of their precious audition slots.   Self taping is becoming more of a “pre-pre-read,” and it allows casting directors to open up a wider net, to scroll through the videos on their computer or phone whenever they have time (sometimes the director is looking too—wink wink), to decide whether an actor is good/right for the role after only hearing a few lines (as opposed to several scenes in the room).    Sometimes your slate is all they need to hear to decide “Nope.”  

This is why it’s more important than ever for you to be firing on all cylinders when you send in a self tape, whether it’s through a self-submission, or through your agent and manager.   I mean you need good lighting, sound, acting (duh), choices, be “camera ready,” understand tone, be prepared and memorized, have a strong point of view, the whole deal.  It should be as if you are stepping on set.   These little .mov files are everything.  Get. Good. At. It.  Don’t put mediocre work out into the world.  Treat every tape like it’s being seen by Martin Scorsese. Seriously.   ESPECIALLY if your agents and managers are watching it.  How you do on your self tape shows them how good/bad you are at auditioning, which directly results in how hard they push you to get into the room.  You feel me?

I am by no means a casting director, but have been on the receiving end of hundreds of self-tapes, both through directing a few short films, asking actors to show me their self tapes, being a coach all these years, and asking agents and managers their thoughts.    Let’s fix this, shall we?

Top reasons your self tapes suck:

1.  The Slate From Hell.   You know those “Actor Slate” things on Actors Access?  You can tell an awful lot about someone from just having them look into camera and say their name.  Don’t be crazy.  First impressions are everything.   You either seem like a nice, friendly person you want to hang out with on set for a few weeks, or you look like you strangle cats in your backyard.   For fun. On Sundays.  Just be normal.

2.    Lack of Prep.   Treat this like you are walking into a screen test.  You know how they say your eyes are the windows to your soul?  Well, your eyeLIDS are windows to… well, sucking (oh snap!).  The more you look down at your script, the more you put up a wall, and the more the viewer drops out.  If you aren’t connected, how can you expect the viewer to be?  This is one of the few things you CAN control.  Don’t drop the ball.  Don’t give them a reason to skip over your tape.  Memorize your script, but have it in your hand.   Be so familiar with the scene that you can really listen and connect to the reader.    Grab the viewer by the *&*% and hold their attention.  It’s crucial.   The most important parts of a scene are the little moments between the lines, where the thoughts form, the discoveries happen.   That is when most actors look down to grab their lines.   So.. no more of that, cool? 

3.  Hot Mess.  Why you look so tired?   Maybe comb your hair?   You should look like you are stepping onto set—hair, makeup, wardrobe, the whole deal.   Not that you are just returning from an all night bender with your 80 year old roommate.   Get some rest, put on some foundation (you too, guys), wear clothes that fit you and colors that flatter you.  It matters.   Always remember that someone else will be putting in more effort than you, will be hitting up Drybar the second it opens, and will be going to the Mac store to find some “male foundation.” (just me?)

4.     Blair Witch Lighting.   Chill with the overhead lighting, the iphone flashlight lighting, and everything else that makes you look like you murdered your best friend.    A properly lit tape makes the casting director WANT to watch you, because it lights up your eyes, flatters you, gives you dimension, and takes out all of those crazy shadows.   Look up 3 point lighting on Youtube.   Play around with it.   

5.  Your Reader is Loud and Sucks.   Love you, mean it.   You need to have a lavalier microphone that sticks onto your shirt and plugs into your camera.  Please?  Buy a $25 dollar one on Amazon and plug it into your iphone.  Good sound fixes a lot of things.  Bad sound makes a nice looking video unwatchable.   I know your mom/roommate/sister/best friend was an extra on All My Children 10 years ago, but if they are standing right next to the camera, they need to chill with the shouting.   The focus should be YOU, your ACTING, your CONNECTION, your EYES, not the wild animal that you are reading with.  

6.  Handmaid’s Tale Framing.  You know how they shoot actors on Handmaid’s Tale, and put their closeup in the lower left corner of the screen?  Awesome on that show.  So good. So bad in your tape.  So bad.  Keep it simple.  A nice medium shot, chest or shoulders up, with you in the center, a little room above your head.  

6.  Cheap things you need to have.   Soft box lighting, lavalier microphone, tripod, iphone tripod adaptor clip, gray or blue sheet for a backdrop, editing software (iMovie or Final Cut Pro), a friend who never gets tired of reading with you, and some good pomade.

Think of it this way: A breakdown goes out for a small scene in a big film.   Every agent and manager in town submits their clients for it.    Let’s say they receive 2,000 submissions.   Of those they ask 100 actors to send in a self tape.  Now switch sides and imagine you are the casting director.  Let’s say you are watching 100 tapes of people saying the SAME LINES.   50 won’t be memorized enough, 10 will have bad lighting, 20 bad sound, 15 will look like they just stepped out of a hurricane, and 5 will have it memorized, coached, professionally lit, have great sound, BE RIGHT FOR IT,and give the casting director/producer/directors no choice but to hire you.     The production value will be terrific, and people will all want to watch your tape.  

See what I’m saying? Now don’t go sending me emails saying how the “Stranger Things” guy sent in a self tape while he was sick in bed. Kay?   

Love,

Matt

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