Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Self-Taping Auditions Advice

The Art of Self-Taping

Andy Henry's POV: Self-Taping

So, last installmentAndy Henry contributed a great POV on self-taping and all the equipment actors need to have (and master using) to get their work in front of more and more buyers, these days. This time through, he's going to talk about the elements essential to your actual read, so that you can self-tape like a pro!

As I said in the last installment, in the past few years, it has become more and more common for those of us on the casting side of things to ask actors to put themselves on tape. Whether it is because you were on vacation or out of town working when we wanted to see you here in LA, or the film is casting in another part of the country or world, or even that we just don't have time to pre-read everyone but told your agent, "We would be happy to look at a self-tape," it is becoming more and more common--and thus more and more crucial--to know how to put yourself on tape in a manner that makes our lives easy and sells you in the best possible way. 
For more click on "read more" below or go to POV at Actors Access by clicking here.

The Slate
Yes, they suck and are awkward, but we need them. Please start with a wide shot that gets as much of you from head to toe as possible. A good rule of thumb is to include your name, height, the role you are reading, and who your rep is. Also let us know where you are and how long you will be there (or where you are based if it is somewhere other than where the film is casting).

Make it casual and conversational: "Hey guys, I'm Bob, I'm 6'11" and reading for the role of Tiny. I'm in sunny Alaska all this week, so I am putting this reading on tape for you."
Sometimes you will be asked to do a quick interview as well. Keep it simple and quick and save the embarrassing stories for your post-Oscar interview on Leno. We would also like a body shot (clothed please) and profile (just one, this is not the LAPD). Start with a wide shot, getting as much of you, head to toe, as possible, give a turn, turn back, then zoom into your face (upper chest to top of head).

The Framing
Keep it simple. We don't need zooms, pans, cross fades, or anything else. Mid-chest to top of head is the framing that we use and that is what we prefer you do as well. Obviously this should be adjusted if there are things that you are doing with your hands and body that are crucial to the scene (see below). In addition, if your scene has a lot of motion in it for some reason (and some do) you will really want a separate cameraman and reader so that someone is dedicated to keeping you in the frame at all times. Ultimately though, I want to see your eyes and your face; these are the heart of the performance and the basis upon which we judge the "realness" of a scene. Obviously, none of this applies if you are doing a dance or movement audition.

Within reason, this should be a simplified version of what is in the scene. If your character is standing, stand; if your character is sitting, sit. But, if your character is lying down, slouch back in your chair but sit at an angle where we see your face (and not just up your nose, please), and if your character is pacing back and forth, please find another way to latch into the emotions that are making him or her pace and keep relatively still. The more movement you have in the room, the more distracting it is on camera, so do what you MUST to convey the meaning of the scene, but nothing superfluous or showy.

Bear in mind that if your character is supposed to be moving around--ESPECIALLY if the other characters in the scene comment on that--and you are just sitting there, it will read as very false and pull us out of the scene. Also be sure to run the scene a few times with the cameraman so that he or she knows what movements you will be making and can adjust accordingly.

For the vast majority of scenes, you should speak as if you were having a real conversation at about four feet distance. Don't project, don't shout, and don't whisper. It should be what is appropriate to the scene without going to extremes (so if your character is loud, be loud within reason; if your character is quiet, be quiet provided that we can still hear you) and not feel like you are performing on stage. Remember, we need to be able to hear you clearly to be able to cast you. This is a case where you should really do a couple of tests with your camera to see how good the mic is, and adjust the performance levels slightly if you need to.

Setting the Stage/Sight Lines
Place the reader out of frame, just to the side of the camera. You clearly don't need to physically set the stage, but be specific about where you are looking, where things are that your character is seeing, etc. One good rule of thumb is this: Place things on opposite sides of the camera so that you are crossing its point of view as you look from one to the other. For example, if you are reading for a detective who is examining a body hanging from a tree while talking to her partner about what she sees--Did I just out my CSI background?--place the body on the opposite side of the camera from the reader and the same distance away from the camera as the reader is. This way, as you look from body to partner and back, you are never in profile but the two eye lines are very distinct and different.

Likewise, if you have multiple, distinct people in the scene, place them in places where we can always see your full face, but can tell to whom you are speaking by the eye line. (If it is only one or two lines, you are welcome to put them off to the side and be in profile for that moment, but ONLY if it is a moment.) As with the note on physicality above, keep it simple and do only what is necessary for the scene to make sense (e.g. combine two similar characters into one so that you are not constantly looking back and forth).

On a side note (this didn't fit anywhere else in here), give two to three seconds after the camera starts rolling and again before you cut at the end. This gives ample time for editing (see below).

Okay, this isn't a piece on performance technique, but it is worth remembering, from a technical standpoint. Remember that taping tends to exaggerate your facial expressions. We are watching you--and only you--the entire time, so any moment of faking it, anticipating a line, and such will really stand out. You need to really listen, really think, and keep the reactions small. For the vast majority of the auditions you will do, if you have prepared the scene well and are really interacting with the reader, you won't need to "do" anything. The thoughts and reactions that you naturally have will be captured on tape.

Number of Takes
I advise taping everything, even the warm ups, just to prevent the "it was better in rehearsal" moment. Shoot as many takes as you like and your "crew" will tolerate (I often do six or seven takes with actors whom I am coaching, just to get it perfect), but only send us one for each scene. If you have two different takes that are both great but quite different, then you are clear to send us both, but NO MORE than two, please! It is not our job to pick the best take out of the bunch and we almost never have the time. Nor, for that matter, do you want us to see all your flubs.

Trim each take that you are going to send to us to remove the status updates and commands of "rolling," "cut," etc. You want them to be clean in and out with about two seconds of "lead time" before and after the start and stop of the scene.

Then, unless told otherwise by the casting office, please edit all your takes into a single file. Put your slate first, then the first scene (if you did multiple takes, then put them back to back), then the next scene, etc. Finally, label the file in a way that makes it easy to recognize (your name, project, character). You do NOT need to do any fancy labels within the editing of the video, scene transitions, etc. A typed-up slate at the beginning is nice (NAME, ROLE, CONTACT INFO) but not at all necessary since you are about to SAY all of that as well, once rolling.

Proof the Video
Just like you should never send a letter out to an industry contact without proofreading it, you should never send out the tape without proof-viewing it. You are not looking for performance here (though of course you can and perhaps should--maybe you will end up retaping, maybe not), but you want to be sure that we can see you, hear you, you are in frame, etc. Also take a look at the resolution of the video and make sure that we can actually see YOU, not four giant pixels that sound like ROBO-YOU.

Test It
Send the video to a friend, or send it to yourself on another computer. At the very least, make sure that your agent or manager looks at it to be sure that the silly thing plays. I won't get into the technical stuff (again) but it is possible that you make a "reference file" by accident and it plays on your computer just fine but not on anyone else's. Be sure it works for someone else before you send it on to the casting office.

Let It Go
The toughest part of all of this: Send it and forget it. It can take weeks for the "urgently needed" video to get watched. You will most likely NEVER get feedback on it, so please don't ask. It is very easy to get hung up on what you could or should have done differently, but just like with an audition in the room, once it is done, it is done. Don't obsess about what you can do differently. And don't be too surprised if you get a call in six weeks that you got the job that you were sure has already filmed.

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