Ah, the self-tape. A dancer and actor’s right of passage as they hunt for their debut role or their next big gig. Notoriously awkward at first (where is my audience?), and sometimes inconvenient (I don’t live in a dance studio!), self-tape auditions aren’t the most straightforward of audition processes. Then again, no audition really is!
Whereas in an in-person audition you might have one shot to kill it before you’re possibly cut, with a self-tape you have as many times as you need to get it right. So why doesn’t that make it easier? There’s several reasons, but it boils down to the difficulties of filming yourself in a way that captures your essence, your charm, and your inner spark.
I don’t think any of us are taking anything in-person for granted anymore after the pandemic, and many of us have gotten a touch more digitally savvy in that time as well. However, the self-tape audition existed long before the pandemic, and it will continue in perpetuity due to the ease and amount of dancers that a casting team can audition through it.
To help you through the process, here are some of our best tips to knock your self-tape audition out of the park.
With a self-tape audition, you have the luxury of time. How much of it will vary depending on how you found out about it and what it’s for, but ultimately you often have more time to prepare your audition and rehearse it.
Even if you don’t necessarily have extra time, you at least have the space to make more mistakes as you learn the combo before needing to practice it. The downside of a self-tape is that you do not have the same communal and competitive energy of an in-person audition.
You can get around that by inviting a friend over to learn the audition piece with you, or to give you notes and help direct and/or film your audition. Actors are known to enlist help from their friends for their self-tape auditions as many of their scenes involve dialogue and they need someone to read lines. Their friend often ends up helping them as both director and audience as well. Even though it might sound intimidating, the perspective and pressure of a trusted peer can be really helpful if you have the time.
2. Dress the Part
You might not be front and center on a well-lit stage, but you still have to find a way to “stand out.” And without the adrenaline of a live audition, you might be worried about bringing your A-game. A great way to get in character, as well as to stand out to the casting director, is to dress the part.
That might mean wearing a leotard, black tights and character shoes, or it might mean wearing a Santa hat for a Christmastime audition— only you know how far you are willing to take your ‘look,’ as the leeway you have with your attire depends on who and what you are auditioning for. Either way, making sure that your outfit is presentable, professional, and representative of you as a dancer or the kind of role you are auditioning for will be important.
Another way to pop against your background is to make your background yourself. If you are auditioning for an acting scene, it is expected that you film in front of a neutral background. In a pinch you can hang up a bedsheet, but if you have more time, you can create a more seamless look with an actual photography backdrop in the industry standard of grey or blue. For dancers, the neutral background wall is not as important as having a clear open space for you to dance in. You don’t want any unnecessary distractions in the background, but it’s not a dealbreaker if you don’t have a professional backdrop. If you have the time and money to rent out a studio, that can solve some of your self-tape set-up woes!
Once your outfit is on, your space is clear, and you’ve rehearsed the audition, it’s time to film.
You can find a multitude of advice on what kind of camera to get, how to set it up, and what setting to film in, so we won’t repeat the obvious. A professional camera is awesome if you have it, but a smartphone can work wonders as well.
What is more important than any camera, tripod, or filter you have is the lighting in your space. This is where a ring light comes in handy, so if you don’t have your own you might consider borrowing one from a friend. You can also position floor or table lamps or heavy-duty flashlights to act as spotlights for you. Alternatively, you can also position yourself in front of a big window at the right time of day. Good lighting will solve a lot of your filming issues, make you look better, and will make your audition tape look more professional.
Once you have your lighting set up, work on your framing. Video or photograph yourself a few times with the camera in position and review the footage. You want to make sure the setup you’ve chosen is capturing all of your movement. If you’re too close to the camera your movement will get lost, and if you’re too far away the viewer can’t get a sense of your personality and performance of the piece.
4. Be Professional
Make sure that you introduce yourself in the beginning of your final video, whether that means introducing yourself before you dance or editing in a separate clip after you film. You want to be brief, confident, and include any information asked for in the audition brief.
When it comes time to edit and send your video, take your time to present it well. You might want to include a fade in or out to your video, edit the music, or add a closing clip as well. When you send your video, it’s a good idea to send your resume and headshot as well, although the audition brief should tell you exactly what they are expecting from you.
The most important and professional part of an audition is to listen to what they are asking for, and then to do exactly that while you are being 100% yourself. Simple, right? Risk-taking and being yourself is great in any audition setting, but it’s really important to know what the rules and expectations are so that you can be confident in the choices you make in your self-tape audition process.
5. Submit the Right File Type
This one is so important it needed its own section! Don’t let any of your hard work be for naught. Make sure to check and double-check that your file opens and that it is in the file form that they ask for. Do not let technology be the reason you are cut from an audition! (You are better than that!) It’s also a good idea to label the file type with your name and the project or part you’re auditioning for. This will make it easier for casting directors and agents to sort and find your tape. It also gives you a leg up over those who don’t take the time to give attention to small details.
6. Let Them See You!
One of the best things about self-taping is that you are (usually) the only one in the frame for the duration of your audition. Use that to your advantage, and make sure they see all of you, not just a mid-range shot of you dancing for the entire time.
Casting directors can rewind, pause, and watch any part of the video you send, so you want to provide them with all of your range and personality in a short span of time. Don’t use this as an excuse to overdo it, and trust that the casting director will see you for who you are even through the camera. But do help them!
As long as you are being professional in your audition, there is no harm in milking the moments where you are closer to the camera so that they can see your face and personality better. Don’t rush through your introduction, and let your spirit shine as you provide any other information they asked for. They always have the option to fast forward or end your video, but they cannot ask you to speak up, do the combo again, or change anything about it on command. So be sure that you are giving it your best in the version you end up sending off, and that you have watched it through to catch any mistakes or technical glitches before you submit it!