Covid has brought along many changes to the casting process. One that looks like it’s going to stick around is the usage of self-tapes. With that in mind, Emma Clifford has given us the top 10 things to focus on!
1. Lets get technical
You will need a recording device, a light source and a plain background. The look of your self-tape will rely heavily on these components. Camera quality has improved immensely on smartphones over the last 5 years, it is quite possible to create something that looks professionally recorded from the luxury of your bedroom. Always record in landscape and send via reputable websites such as WeTransfer.
2. Backgrounds – Sheets don’t cut it!
Gone are the days when we can shove a plain bed sheet over the door and hope for the best. Yes, it’s better than nothing, but you’re in a highly competitive field, go the extra mile! Paint the wall in the spare room, invest in some good quality sheets of card from an art shop. If you’re looking for a consistent & instant background wherever you are in the world, a pop-up backdrop used by photographers is the way to go. With these, you can self-tape anywhere from Grandma’s living room to a B&B in the outer Hebrides. The colour should be flattering to your skin tone and enhance your appearance. Bright yellow belongs in the 90s and not on your self-tape.
If you’re using your phone, always have an understanding of where the microphone is in relation to you and any backing track/reader. For singing, your vocals should sit on top of the track. For acting self-tapes, make sure the person you’ve asked to read in isn’t louder than you in the recording. It becomes incredibly distracting! They can either lower their voice or move away from the mic.
4. Lighting & where to look
If using natural light, make sure the light source is in front of you. If using artificial light, try angling the lamp to bounce off the walls. This will produce a softer, more even tone on the skin. Ring lights are helpful but can sometimes be too harsh and cause shadows on your face and the backdrop. NEVER look down the lens unless it’s requested, or you are filming an intro to yourself known as an ident/slate. Always look to the left or right of the lens. What camera you have will determine what this distance is.
Look your best: minimal makeup, clean hair and a top that doesn’t detract from your amazing face! Steer clear of bold floral prints or heavy stripes. We just want to look at you. For specific characters, use your common sense; f you’re playing a doctor, don’t crimp your hair and wear false eyelashes. Casting directors don’t have time to deconstruct how you might look without it!
6. Do a quick test
Do a quick test so that you can look at all the above elements and make any necessary changes. Producing your best work only to realise the backing track is too loud, or you look like you’re looking down the lens is so annoying and will drain your energy. Creating an environment where you are completely relaxed is key. It’s important to do all this technical stuff but then take 10 minutes to focus on you and the task at hand.
7. Limit your takes
Limit your takes to a specific number and then assess the situation; if you’re not happy with it by then, it’s important to take a break and come back to it. Hammering it out can cause vocal fatigue and or an unspontaneous recording.
8. Practice makes permanent!
The more you do it, the better you get at it. Watch yourself back. Once you’ve come to terms with your physical appearance on screen (it’s good to remember that NOBODY likes this part, not even those who won the genetic lottery), ask yourself some basic questions; Do you believe what you are saying? Have you captured the essence of the song/script? Are you partaking in some interesting habits that make your performance phoney?
9. The camera never lies
There is a fixation with not being too big on camera. A good theatrical performance will manifest itself physically based on the size of the auditorium or tone of the piece but will always be steeped in truth. The same works for the camera, the most important thing here is that you are telling the truth within the parameters of the screen. Natural realism will always produce the best results. If you think and feel it, we will see it.
10. Just be!
Finally, we can talk for a long time about how to produce the best self-tape, the dos and the don’ts, the lighting/sound etc. The most important thing here is that you give an honest, truthful performance that represents what you can do to its best at that moment. Find out what works for you and set up some healthy habits surrounding the self-tape so that you are team Spielberg… not team tears.