Imagine you get an email from your agent tonight requesting a self-tape for a huge role that’s due first thing tomorrow morning. How do you react?
Do you do your happy dance, confidently record at home with the correct equipment, and send your agent a professional quality self-tape ahead of the deadline? Or do you panic because you don’t have any lights (or other elements you need) and cobble something together that you’ll ultimately need to redo so your agent can submit it?
If you’d react in the first way, well done! If you’d react in the second way, you need to up your self-tape game. A self-tape is crucial to your success as an actor and you need to be prepared when a last-minute request comes in. To make sure you’re ready when the requests come in, it’s useful to have a small, professional-grade setup in your home. Here’s everything you’ll need:
If you already have a smartphone, this is a one and done! Smartphones have awesome cameras now. Just make sure to shoot horizontally.
Good lighting makes a huge difference. If you have the room, you ideally want a three-point softbox set up. Realistically (especially in New York City where space is tight), you should invest in a ring light that’s small enough to store in tiny apartments and will light up your face beautifully. There’s no need for an extra stand because your phone attaches to the inside of it. You can find these in a range of prices, so do your research. If you can, I recommend trying some out before buying.
3. Tripod and/or Light Stand
If you use the three-point lighting setup mentioned above, you’ll need a tripod for your phone as well as stands for your lights. If you use the ring light, you’ll only need one light stand. You can find an inexpensive tripod or light stand on Amazon or at B&H.
4. Smartphone Tripod Adapter
You’ll need an adapter to attach your phone to the tripod or ring light. I learned this the hard way when I couldn’t figure out how to attach my phone during a last-minute audition. Learn from my mistake and buy one ahead of time.
Sound is usually the last thing people think of when doing videos, but bad sound can have a huge impact—and not in a good way. Do yourself a favor and invest in a lavalier microphone.
A blank wall in a neutral color is the best self-tape backdrop. If you don’t have uninterrupted blank wall space, a blue screen or muslin photography backdrop is necessary. You could also hang a plain sheet behind you, but make sure you iron out any wrinkles!
7. Editing Software
You’ll need to use software to edit and export your video. I have a Mac so I use iMovie. If you’re a PC user, try HitFilm.
It’s always best to have an actor read with you. Reach out to your friends and colleagues and set up a reader circle. Make yourselves available to read for each other as auditions come up.
Once you have all your gear, I recommend doing some practice runs. This way, you’ll be a pro at setting everything up and when that late-night email comes in, you’ll be able to knock out your tape without any added stress.
A casting director won’t be able to focus on your acting if they can’t see or hear you properly, so work out these technical elements before the need for a self-tape arises. That way, you can ensure nothing will distract the viewer from your work.