Kids Self-Tapes: Everything You Need to Know!

During the Covid-19 pandemic, it is not always easy to organize old-style auditions, especially for roles where the competition is high. It is very usual for casting directors to proceed with a screening process before actually start considering potential actors for roles. Here is where the self-tape comes into action: let’s see how to create the perfect one and maximize your chances to land the role of your dreams!

Photo source: Caitlin Watkins

As young actors approaching this amazing industry, you surely heard how important it is to be able to make great self-tapes for auditions. When we talk about a self-tape we refer to an audition that you registered by yourself, with your camera or your smartphone, where you perform a given piece of script or a monologue from your repertory.

Why are self-tapes so popular these days? Well, there are many different reasons, and we are going to see them and how to create your perfect self-tape in this new episode of Stories of an Acting Student for Acting Students!

Why self-tapes?

First of all, let’s say that self-tapes are much more popular today because the tools actors have available are different from those they had some years ago. Today, every single person has a camera available, even if it’s only the camera of their smartphone. Years ago asking an actor to send a self-tape to audition meant that you could potentially exclude actors that did not have a camera available.

Furthermore, it was harder to download videos and pass them from a device to another, and when the internet was not a thing the tape needed to be sent physically.

Another great advantage of self-tapes is that they eliminate the nervousness of being present in person for the audition, which can be pretty scary, especially for young actors!

Self-Tapes: an actress’ experience

I remember the first time I had to send a self-tape for an audition… I felt so relieved! I was on vacation with my family in a beautiful paradise on Earth, Seychelles, and I received an email answering an application I did a the time for a short movie.

They said they were excited about my application and wanted to meet me in person in the next few days. I was so happy about their answer, but I was unsure of how I could be able to meet them, being literally on another continent at the moment.

Luckily for me, they were so interested that they asked me to send a self-tape to have an idea of my acting skills before actually meeting in person, considering that we would have to wait at least two weeks for that.

I remember thinking “This is going to be so easy, I won’t even need to be in front of strangers to do this!” The reality is that it took me 3 hours to film a decent version of my monologue because of dogs barking outside the window, bad lighting, etc.

Another great obstacle was the fact that I was able to see myself acting. This may sound weird, but it’s really hard to be your own director! As actors, our weakness (mine for sure, lol) can often be the desire to appear pretty on screen. This is not something we should worry about: we are not models, we should deliver performances and not beauty. But it takes courage to accept not to be good looking all the time!

But let’s see now some tips to make sure your self-tape is on point, enjoyable and easy to watch.

Self-tape: useful tips for you!

Let’s now dive into more specific details for the perfect self-tape! Here is a checklist for you:

  • Background noise: Be sure to film in a quiet place, where it’s possible to hear your voice clearly.

  • Clothing: Do not wear the same color of your background, highly pattern clothes or clothes that will draw the casting director’s attention. Simple clothes and solid colors are perfect for a self-tape!

  • Background: A plain wall is a perfect choice to film your self-tape, even better if it’s white. In any case, it’s always better to avoid bright colors.

  • Lighting: Lighting is very important when filming a self-tape. Make sure to be in a room where you have plenty of light or help yourself with a reflector or a lamp, positioned at your face level.

  • Information: Start your tape by stating your name, basic information and your agency if you have one.

  • Profiles: It is common to give profiles at the beginning of a tape, so you want to turn on each side and stand for 1 or 2 seconds.

  • Reader: If someone is reading other lines, make sure that they stand on the other side of the camera. The attention should be always focused on you!

  • Edits: Most of the time directors ask for unedited tapes to make sure edits are not deceptive. If basic edits like cuts are needed, software like iMovie will work perfectly.

The goal of self-tapes

Self-tapes are a great way for casting directors to make a first selection of the actors who fit the role. Most of the time it is not even about how good you are or how realistically you act: the director has a specific vision of how the character should look, talk and move, and they want to find the actor that better fit their expectations.

Let’s say you were given this line for your self-tape audition:

Can you help me please?”

This line could have so many subtexts, and each actor can interpret it in a different way!

Let’s do a small exercise!

Try to read the line emphasising a different word each time:

Can you help me please?

Can you help me please?

Can you help me please?

Can you help me please?

Can you help me please?