Baby's First Self-Tape
Updated: Feb 17
I recently got permission to send in a video for an out-of-town audition for the first time, and I was really excited about it. I mean, I was willing to fly halfway across the country for one day to read for this role so the time and money saved by a video submission was a huge relief.
I was familiar with the concept of a video submission – I’ve helped friends film them, and seen cast-mates duck into a quiet room to fit one in during lunch break. It seems like it should be easier than a face-to-face audition… I mean you can set up your own space and do multiple takes until you’re happy with your performance. There are, however, some additional factors to consider.
I, for one, do not own a camcorder. Luckily, I had a friend willing to lend me some equipment, but in a pinch a phone will work as well, as long as it has a decent camera. Just make sure you don’t film off the front selfie camera, and turn your phone horizontally.
The next challenge is finding the optimal space to film. This proved to be a real unexpected challenge for me, as I do not have a blank wall large enough to film against in my home. The room I ended up able to use was in my partner’s parent’s basement, and very dark. We had to get a little creative with lighting, bringing in several lamps and propping them up with DVDs and books. We hung up a maroon coloured bed sheet, and a friend came over to help me read. I was very lucky through this process to have a supportive community of people to rely upon for assistance.
The actual filming was the least-stressful part of the process. We had to make a few adjustments for some loud noises that were being picked up by the microphone, but other than that, our only real hurdle was my perfectionism and knowing when to stop. It’s a hard thing, because obviously you want to make sure you’re representing yourself and your abilities in the best way possible, but you also don’t want to waste a full day on a single scene. This is part of the next difficult thing about film submissions: you don’t have an opportunity to form a personal connection with the panel, and there are very few chances to showcase your personality while remaining economical with your tape. For this reason, ultimately, I think that auditioning in-person is the best option. Even if you don’t get a job out of it, there is a much greater chance to make an impression with the panel.
The last step for a successful video submission is editing your clips together. You want to string together your best takes for each individual scene as well as your initial slate (stating your name and what role you are reading to the camera), but you don’t want to over-process. Do not cut together multiple takes of one scene unless you absolutely have to. It looks suspicious if you are unable to submit a complete take, and the director will wonder what mistake you made. I put some basic title cards between the scenes, but otherwise left my clips basically untouched.
There’s a few free editing platforms that can be downloaded online, or trials that you can sign up for if you need to bang out a submission fast and don’t want to shell out the money for a full software subscription. However, if you were willing to fly out to attend an audition, the cost of your editor might be less than a plane ticket would have been. Also make sure you check your final video for a watermark before you send it off if you are using free software or a trial. I learned the hard way that some trials do not allow you to export an unmarked final product.
If you are an emerging artist and want more tips on things like self-tapes, or just basics of the business in general, Katherine Steele’s Youtube channel is a great resource. She’s got videos on pretty much anything you could think of, and I’ve borrowed a few of her tips in this post.
Ultimately, self-tapes are a great opportunity to submit yourself for jobs you wouldn’t normally be able to attend an audition for, be that because you are away from your home-location during audition season, or because you are based too far away. If you’re not sure if you can submit a video, you can always ask. In my experience, the worst-case scenario is just that you don’t hear anything back.
Even though I did not get this particular job, I’m really glad I got the opportunity to film my first video submission and learn what it takes to tape one successfully. I hope I get to try it again in the near future!