Getting the most out of your self-taping/e-Casting Opportunity

More and more of us are being asked to self-tape these days. It’s supposed to be greener – it certainly saves producers money – but it puts an extra burden on actors. On the plus side, it probably means you try for more opportunities overall. So look on the positive side – this is a great opportunity for you. And if you muck it up the first time, no-one will see it but you. You can do as many takes as you like before you send it. They want to see if you can act – not make films. You simply need to make sure that the technology is good enough not to obscure your great work. They need to see and hear you clearly.

So relax; breathe; smile. This is going to be fun!

Equipment

You can use an iphone or ipad if you have to – but it’s best o use a separate mic (there are some on the market for iphone/ipad). You can do it without but the sound won’t be as good, and if you have any distance between you and the iphone/pad you will pick up more background noise than voice. Your partner’s voice – reading while holding the gadget – will sound louder than you. Shoot landscape mode. Use autofocus. Use a tripod if you can or prop securely at the right height.

Ideal : A video camera and a separate mic placed near you on a stand (unless you live with a boom operator!) Check the white balance. Use a tripod.

Where to Shoot etc.

Find a QUIET space to film. Close the windows from external noise. Don’t use a corridor or bathroom (or church) as you will sound too boomy and resonant. Don’t use an open-air space unless you have excellent equipment, as there is likely to be more noise and more changing light problems.

A plain background behind you – not too busy or brightly coloured.

Use indirect natural light near a window – have it come from the sides rather than directly onto you. If it is sunny, all detail will burn out in the picture. Don’t sit or stand in front of the window or a strong light as you’ll be in silhouette. Morning or early afternoon will give you the best light. If you HAVE to shoot after dark, then position a couple of table lamps on either side of you to offset the shadows caused by an overhead light. You may be able to rig up a reflector like a sheet or piece of white paper to bounce some light onto your face.

Have a last check that you haven’t a fire extinguisher growing out of your ear or a plant out of your head. Move your position until there is nothing behind you to distract or upstage you.

Don’t wear all-over black (if background is dark, your body will vanish).

Don’t wear all-over white (takes light off you).

Don’t wear stripes/checks (may strobe), very electric blue/bright red etc (burns out on image).

Wear softer colours: charcoal, greys, pastels, muted colours, a little white or black mixed in is fine. Navy can work. If you are dark-skinned, green works well. If you are fair, blue is good.

Think about the kind of clothes/hairstyle that would give a flavour of the role. A coat can work if you are meant to be outside – but avoid scarves as they shorten your neck. Don’t let your clothes drown you out.

Watch your hair doesn’t hide your face. Dab with loose powder or tissue to remove too much shine. Don’t use too much make-up. Keep your make-up simple but avoid too much shine – guys: blot your face/head with tissue if you are ‘glowing’ too much…

Find a scene partner (they don’t have to be same sex or age as the other role). Do this even if they don’t speak (monologue) so that you have someone to ‘bounce’ off. Position the person reading the other role’s lines very near the camera (yes – they do all have to be read and you need to listen (not show you’re listening – but listen!)

Sit if you would be sitting. Sit back. Let your whole body be part of the scene. Adjust camera height to where your eyes are – don’t have it peer up your nostrils or down your cleavage.

Stand if you would be standing – Adjust camera height to where your eyes are. If you feel awkward, hold a suitable simple prop and find somewhere else to take your gaze – a window, a photo etc. – when you need to look away from your partner. (Your gaze should still be not too far from camera when you look away.) Why are you standing in the scene? Believe in that situation/surroundings and you will feel more comfortable

Your partner should stand or sit next to the camera at the same height as you. (You cannot ‘spike’ the lens and break the fourth wall unless you look directly into the lens (which you must only do for the ident unless specifically asked) Next to the camera is fine.

If the scene demands physical contact with them then use some movement – for example – towards the kiss, or the start of the slap, or as if you want to get up but a thought stops you. Get comfortable in the chair so that your whole body is involved but keep shoulders level and sit back. If standing, don’t lean forward or jut your chin.

 

Action! (Practical)

Learn your lines. But if time is really too short, then hold the script to the side and not too low. Know it well enough to just glance down a few times during the scene.

Some scripts come with shooting advice. They may ask you to start with an ident – saying your name, height and agent straight to camera. They may ask for both close and full from front and both sides. If you have a zoom you could start zoomed in, pull out for the wide and end on full face medium shot. Don’t take more than maximum 20secs for this.

It is a good idea to do a full-length ident even if not asked. Do it as a separate file, then they can watch or not as they wish. Film in mid-shot (to upper chest or waist, depending on type of scene Use extreme close-ups only if asked. (You are not expected to edit). Only choose one take unless asked to do it in two sizes or if you have two exceptionally good very different versions. (But generally just use one take for each scene you have been asked to send.)

Don’t look straight into the lens except for ident, or for a presenting job, or if specially asked. Stay in your imaginary world. But don’t hide from the camera – you can look close to it. You will mainly be looking at your just-off camera scene partner.

If you look down, we lose you. Think out to a real or imaginary window for example – somewhere fairly near the lens rather than down. That’s what we do in life. If you have to read a letter or stir a pudding or similar, don’t look down too much and try to position the object higher if you can (but not covering your face). And mind you don’t hold that glass, or your hand, over your face.

Provide yourself with real props where needed – don’t mime. Be sparing. Only use them if they are integral to scene or role. If they are important to the story, hold them where they can be seen. Don’t use unnecessary props. If you are holding a cup or glass – drink at least once (but not all the time!)

Mind the noise from props! Don’t bang a glass or rustle the paper over your lines.

 

Action! (Organic)

Do all your homework. Look up on IMDb – see what the director does – find out all you can about the project. Google it if nothing on IMDb.

Be a text detective. Read everything you have been given slowly out-loud, including scene directions. Pick up all the clues try to work out what’s going on in script – intelligently make up the background you don’t know. Give yourself mental ammunition.

What world are you in? Who are you talking to? What is the relationship between you and the other person? Can you see the people/places you talk about in your mind’s eye and what do they mean to you? What is driving you? Do some preparatory work in whatever way you prefer. Believe in that world – whatever it is.

Know WHY WHY WHY you’re saying these lines. And what you hope to achieve by doing so. Feed off your partner (or environment) – how are your words changing them – are you getting what you want? (You don’t need to have a fixed gaze to do this. Only look where you would in life.)

Know what you want and make it important to you. (Do some background impros etc before you film. Where have you come from? What was this relationship like before this scene? or whatever applies…) Only show your partner what you would in life. There is no audience – only the world you are in. Don’t lean forward if you can avoid it.

If you are telling a story – act it out before filming, then you will have real memories with real internal pictures to share.

In this imaginary world are there others there too? Or are you alone? Know, physically, where you are and allow your eyes to leave your partner to see your surroundings when you would do this in real life – the café, the sea, the photograph on the living room mantelpiece. You will also instinctively glance away when an internal picture flashes into your head or with new thoughts – as you do in life.

When you would look at your partner, really look. See if your words are changing them, or getting what you want, or comforting them. When you wouldn’t look at them, don’t – but look away not too far out to the side of the camera, or we won’t see your thoughts. Space becomes much more condensed on the lens. Look out for this when you watch back. Ask yourself if the viewer is seeing as much as they should. But let your thoughts and sub-text take care of themselves – don’t ‘show – the camera is amazing at picking up any thought.

Before you begin – shut your eyes and put your hand on your belly and gently breathe into your hand. Let images from what is driving the scene flash into your mind; the person you love, your lost child, the job you want etc.

Try starting your scene by looking somewhere else in the real/imagined room (not too far to the side so we can see your thoughts) – let thought form – then turn to partner. (This is a quick thought – a second or so)

BREATHE. Breathe in a relaxed way – not ‘fight & flight’! (Even if you do want to run away – your agent is waiting for this clip…) Don’t miss the moment by breathing out either… Let the thought form, the need bubble up and GO!

Keep life in your eyes. Don’t get serious just because you are acting. In life, people keep themselves in there – even in the worst situation. Don’t play a ‘character’ – it is YOU AS IF…

Shiny, alive eyes are your best asset. (Think of those successful actors…:)

Keep your ‘shiny’ eyes, humour/irony/charm – full of real thoughts. Don’t let the text make you ‘heavy’ when in life you wouldn’t be.

Move if you (the role) would move – but not very far (a half-step might be enough, or a shift in the chair) Don’t move to make it interesting or because of nerves. Film doesn’t need moves like theatre because we are riveted on your face.

Don’t let the words drive you – they are your words. You (in the role) are finding them as you go. Allow yourself think & react as quickly (or slowly) you would. Don’t ‘perform’ it – say it as you would given your relationship with the other. The camera will see it. The camera sees thought. The stronger the relationship is with the other role – the less you’ll have to do. Don’t ‘sell’ me the lines.

Keep telling yourself – this is real. It’s life. I just do what I would. (But you must understand all the details of the situation even if you make some up.) It must as important to you and specific as your own life. For each take, start again. Where have you come from? What do you want? It has never happened before.

Have ENERGY, LIFE, BRAVERY. Try the scene in many ways – don’t get patterned – and see which you prefer. Which one would YOU want to watch?

 

Post Production

As you are not usually expected to edit – hold your thought till camera is off or trim any excess (or that horrid face pull) with a simple tool. But best of all – don’t do that grimace at the end!

The files will be enormous, so use an app to compress them – or it will take you ages to send. Most casting agents/production companies don’t want them sent direct. They will ask you to use ‘We Transfer’ or ‘Hightail’ or similar. Another possibility is Vimeo with a secure password or Dropbox.

You can get a watermark app for your phone or ipad to protect your filming. It also reminds them who has sent it if it gets separated from the ident.

If it’s important you have a good clip to send – splash out somehere like Spotlight (@SpotlightUK) if you are in London – they are reasonable and charge by the half-hour. There you get a good well-lit quiet space, a great helpful DOP (who – if pushed will read in for you, though better to take a partner.) You can choose from a few takes then it will be trimmed and sent out for you.

Don’t put casting tapes on YouTube – because these scripts are almost certainly secret – FYEO. Also they will be raw and unedited and will do you no good. And they are hard to take off the internet once you have done it.

 

Showreels

Showreels are different – clips are expected to look professional enough not to distract (ideally- from real work) and are edited into a selection not more than 3 minutes max. 2 minutes is better. Most casting directors will only go 30 secs. in, so put your best work first. Also best to start with a clip that looks like you – and where we know who the showreel id from – and in your own accent.

Jury is out on whether to include a ‘montage’ at all but if you do – put it on the end. Styles change all the time so get advice from your agent – look at other actors’ reels. Many of above tips apply when you are making them. These days drama schools, Spotlight and Casting Call pro allow you to put up your reel. Real movie scripts are fine for first reels if done well (they don’t have look like – shouldn’t look like – the original. Don’t watch clips of the film just before you do yours. Would you watch a rival’s Hamlet just before your own version?)

Obscure scripts are better than the very well-known films. Or rewrite that great scene so no one will recognise it.

You can make your own – outdoor locations and real homes better than studios. You’ll need to team up with a good camera operator and editor…

Or you can have them made at various places like Actors Studio Pinewood (@Actors_studioUK) and many others. Check out their work. The more individually made the better.

Good luck! Have fun!!!

(Even if you don’t get THIS part – you have just been seen by useful people!)

 

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About Mel Churcher

I am an acting coach, voice coach, actor and director.