top of page

Self Tapes — How to do Them

Updated: Mar 31

Man filming himself on phone


Self-tapes are a skill within themselves.


What You Need

You need a good phone, preferably with a cinematic mode, or a good camera that can record in high quality, and make sure you get good lighting too. Good lighting can make all the difference, even if you have the best quality camera. It won’t make a difference if you’re not well-lit. You also want to have the confidence that for all the magic you’ll be putting on camera in the self-tape, you will be seen on screen properly, without any grain or darkness.


Get a tripod, not a tabletop one. One that can extend tall if you need it.


Sometimes it’s hard to find a blank wall in the house to do the scene. If you’ve got none at all, then you can buy one of those foldable photography screens. What colour, you ask? I suppose any, as long as it isn’t too distracting. I have green! Green pops. And if they really wanted to, production could super-impose anything in the background behind you. Screens are also useful if you have to do the self-tape on the move or away on holiday. Believe me, this has happened to me a few times. Side note — If you want the most auditions coming in to you at any given time, just book a holiday! You won’t be disappointed.


You can get this stuff from places like Amazon. Or you can beg borrow steal from friends and family, it's up to you. But if you purchase from Amazon keep in mind, you get what you pay for!


How to Set Up

You need to set yourself up in the quietest part of your house, or whatever type of building you are in. Don’t worry if you can’t get it completely quiet, sometimes it’s an impossibility in this day and age. But make sure there’s no dogs barking or loud talking that could distract from the scene itself.


Always Landscape

If you're filming on a phone, which is perfectly fine, you must turn the phone on its side and film landscape mode. NEVER film in portrait. We're self-taping for something that will be on TV, not TikTok.


Get Someone to Read with You

You must have somebody read with you for the tape. NEVER leave an empty gap for the other character’s lines. It looks ridiculous. And if production wanted just you saying the lines, they may as well have just asked you to do a monologue. They want to see how you engage with other people in the scene and react. That’s how most productions are filmed now. You do scenes with other people. Very little monologue’ing from my experience.


Whoever is casting is looking for the interesting choices you make with the character, and also they want to see how those choices interact with the other characters written on the page. Something that can only be done when there is someone saying the other character’s lines. So get someone, ANYONE, to do the lines with you. All they need to have is the ability to read. You don’t even need a good reader because good readers may steal your scenes.


What if you can’t get anyone to come in-person? We live in the wonderful age of computing technology and the internet. You could recite the lines with someone halfway across the world if you wanted to. You can use Zoom or any other video calling software. Sure, it sounds a bit tinny, but at least you’ve got another human saying the lines with you. It makes the difference. And until they create an AI that can replicate the exact cadence and emotion of a human to say the lines with you… you can kiss your dream job goodbye, because us actors won’t be needed anymore.


I say all this because I once tried to do it. I didn’t get someone to read with me so I decided to film it leaving gaps in the self-tape for the other character to speak. I’d then overlay my own voice for the other characters in the editing software. It’s an impressive feat, and I was really proud I got it done, but again, I wouldn’t do it. There’s something about the scene where the energy just lacks. On top of that, it’s your own voice playing different characters, it’s very difficult to tell who’s who. And on top of on top of that, doing it this way is very technical and precise. You get more focused on leaving the gaps than what you’re character is trying to achieve in the scene. So, 100%, get someone to read with you. Pay someone if you have to.


We have Self-Tape Assistance at our academy. You can check us out on the website. www.wrexhamscreenacting.com


Framing

You need to set yourself up centre of the frame. Make sure that the bottom of the frame is about at your chest, and give yourself a bit of headroom at the top. Now you’re pretty much ready to press record. You’ve hopefully done your scene prep and found your character intent.


Outline of person and green dotted line showing centre frame down the middle

If you’re just beginning with this self-tape stuff, for now, keep safe and just stick to bang on in the middle of the frame (just like the picture here). I think the most important thing to do is to just make sure that you can be seen. If the casting directors can’t see you, they will TURN YOU OFF. As you do more tapes and get used to the camera and learn how to utilise this tool, you can start to experiment with different positions, using the tool for different ways you can tell the story. This is where self-taping can actually be fun! You learn ways in which you can build the scene and tell the story in that one self-taping frame and shot. The rules are always changing; you can bend them. As you do more, you start to understand what people i.e. casting directors, producers, directors, might want to see. Then you can start trying the things that make you stand out (in a good way), like what I'm about to tell you in the next paragraph.


A Little Secret

I’m about to tell you a secret that I've found that can instantaneously give your tape a dynamic feel that is very nice to watch. Are you ready? Here it is… When you come to film the tape positioning yourself in the frame - Rather than doing a bog-standard, front facing, dead centre, framing. Position yourself slightly left or right of the centre line of frame, so that you are looking across the lens to the other character you'll be talking to. Shown here on the picture...


Outline of person slightly to the left of frame with a white arrow pointing toward text

Outline of person slightly to the right of frame with a white arrow pointing toward text

Position yourself in the frame so that you are looking across the lens when you’re speaking.


That’s it. Dead simple. There’s probably a load of photography science that goes into why this seems like a more active and better shot (at least to me anyway), it’s science that I don’t really know. If you do know why then make a comment. But what I want you to do is just try it. And I promise you, for whatever reason, this positioning and angle, it just livens up the scene. Makes it seem more... dynamic.


Don’t do this…

Don't get too close. I made the mistake of doing many tapes too close. My big face filled the screen and it didn’t look right. It was off-putting and intense. I kept doing this for dozens of tapes until a casting director kindly told me to back off. I'm thankful he did. Because I look back at them now, and it was "too in your face". Don't get me wrong, it worked for some self-tapes that were more intense, but not for most. If you think about it, a proper close-up is only used a handful of times to emphasise an emotion, then cut back to the mid-shot. Mid-shots capture more performance, body language, and all. We can view al that from a safe distance. But with the close-up, you catch only a small sliver. So yeah, don't get too close, frame your tape as a mid-shot.


Make it Stand Out

Think about how many tapes a casting director must see in their lifetime. If they all look the same, having to check through hundreds of tapes. Must be sometimes the most boring job on the planet. But hey, someone’s got to do it. So, make sure you stand out a little by giving them something a little bit different, make it a joy to watch. Make it something you’re proud of.

You often hear stories about actors who book jobs through self-tape by putting their own flavour and spin on it. Tom Holland, for example, when he taped for Spiderman, he started his scene doing a backflip into it. Wow, that already captures your attention. Can you imagine how many actors would have done that. Not very many. He actually filmed the tape like it was a movie or video diary with his brother, who is a filmmaker. Like it was his own home movie. Clearly worked. They did it all around the house. It would have stood out from the generic standing in the middle of the frame tapes there would have been millions of. It worked because it added to the character too. And even in the films they do a “vlog” intro. Maybe they got the idea from Holland’s tape, who knows?. Think about how you can make the tape different while staying within the themes of the script and the character.


Cutting, Formatting, and Filing the Tape

This is probably the most boring-sounding title of the whole article, but nonetheless, probably one of the most important for self-tapes. If you know how to do this properly, you can save yourself a ton of time.

Once you’ve filmed your tape, now it’s time to cut the bits off you don’t need. It’s called editing. There are two places only where you can cut down and nowhere else! You can cut either the beginning before the first word is said, or the end, after the last word is said.

You can leave it as long as you like before and after the scene, I just don’t think it’s right that the casting director sees you pressing the record button to start the camera. It’s unprofessional. Cut these bits out, and only these.


Time to Breathe

My rule of thumb when I cut my tapes, I leave about 5 seconds on either side of the scene. Just so the scene has enough time to naturally play itself out. You don’t want too long, where the scene dries up and it becomes dead space though. You want just enough to get the viewer wanting more. And for me personally, that’s around the 5-second mark. At first, it may seem alien and unnatural to leave such a long pause, but believe me, it’s better to leave it longer, so you’ve got the option to cut, rather than leaving it short and having no option.


Don't Cut in the Middle

These 2 places are the only places you should cut in the tape. Don’t watch through, see a bit in the middle you don’t like, or a mistake you’ve made, and cut that. It’s just not how it works. You’re human, you make mistakes, keep them in. The CD might actually appreciate the honesty. and also it could be a happy mistake that adds to character. It’s never a clean cut if its in the middle. It’ll stand out like a sore thumb and make whoever’s watching go… “hmm, I wonder why they cut that there?” It ruins the flow. And it makes it feel too processed. Allow for mistakes, or line fluffs. The casting director, producers, and production understand that we’re only human, as long as you’re conveying the story in an authentic way. Cutting in the middle of the scene is a definite NO in self-taping.


While We're At It...

Other don't(s) in doing a self-tape:

Don’t:

  • Put music or a soundtrack in the scene.

  • Superimpose a background behind you.

  • Get naked.


Stay safe at first. Keep it simple. Keep it about you. Give the casting director what they want, pure acting, and scene, until you’ve done a few of them and got a feeling for what might be the standard and what might be different (in a good way) and get you noticed for your wonderful uniqueness. Self-tapery is a skill in itself and it takes practice.

Once you’re happy with your tape, and it's edited down, now it’s time to get it ready for sending.


Formatting

To start off, I would find a computer to upload the files to send from there. Just so you can see how everything looks on a bigger screen before you do send. I’m not really sure of anyone who sends straight from their phone to be honest (if you’ve recorded on there). But if you do, kudos. I’ve never done this because I’ve always liked to see the scene on a laptop, a bigger screen, with more options to edit. Plus, sometimes the file sizes of the video can be quite big, and this is something you don’t really want to be sending off. It becomes a nightmare for the people on the other end receiving these files from many different actors. It would get a bit annoying having to wait so long for all these files to download. Think about it. You want your scene to be as accessible as possible. To be seen as quickly as possible. If your scene file size is only 19mb compared to someone’s which is 150mb, who's do you think will be seen first? I believe making the file size smaller also subconsciously makes the CD favour you, because it shows that you’ve made an effort to care for their time. Every little helps.


Shrinking File Size

Now you might be wondering, holding a few scenes worth about 100mb each… “how the heck do I get these big file sizes down?”. Well, dear reader, it’s a magical thing we call “Compression”. Yes, that’s it. And don’t worry, if you don’t know, I can tell you a great app that can do all this for you. It takes a little working out at first, but once you learn how to use it, it’s a godsend. But basically, you take your 100mb file and put it into this compression software. It squeezes everything down into a smaller chunk, decreasing the amount of data it needs to work. Voila.


It does take the shine off the quality a little bit, but it’s barely perceptible. Compression can take a file size of 100mb down to a file size of about 20mb. That’s 80% compression. If you make the file 20mb, you could send that tape off to your agent in a normal email if need be.

There are many compression softwares out there, but the one I like to use is called “Handbrake.” It’s simple, relatively quick, and best of all… it’s free! (There are still some wonderful nuggets in this stank pit we call the internet.) Grab the download through this link…


I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of the software. I’ll leave that up to you to tinker around with and figure out. But once you get it all up and running, you find your scene through the “open source” tab. This will load your scene onto the software. Once it’s in, you select the destination of the compressed file. Set up a folder on your desktop to plonk it in. You can name the folder “compressed”. Once you’ve done that, you simply press start and it will begin the compression.


I forgot to mention, not only does this software compress the file for you, but it also puts it into the most common formats too! This would be either .mp4 or .mov. Even better.

Find the compressed scene in the compression folder. Marvel at its teeny file size for a moment.


Now, finally, it’s time to name the file. Dead simple. I’ve found most casting directors from the information they have sent to me want it labeled like this…


YOUR NAME | CHARACTER'S NAME | SC1 TK1


That’s it. Simple. Unless the casting director specifies otherwise, stick to this label. I’ve had it once where the CD has asked for an email instead of a name, but other than that, it’s been pretty consistent.


And that's it! You’re ready to send!


Send it. Cross your fingers. Then forget about it until you get contacted from your agent saying you got a recall.



Want to join our growing community of talented screen actors?




38 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page