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The secrets of self-taping?

Christian Bevan, final year student at LAMDA, writes...

The world has gone digital, and so have drama school auditions in the form of Self Tapes.

What are they? Essentially a self tape is any form of video of you performing a piece. (Look on youtube there are loads of examples of celebs getting it both right and wrong).

What do you need to do one? A phone that can record video (aka a phone) and a wall. If you want to go further and have the budget: a tripod, a phone holder for your tripod, a studio light, a microphone and a backdrop.

How do you do them? Well there are as many opinions on self taping as there are self tapes, but here is my view.

Backdrop: Find a wall, preferably a plain one of neutral colour, ideally grey. White can make you look washed out. Have a play around though as it might also depend on your skin tone. If you have no suitable walls then you can buy a backdrop and put it over a wire to hang it up. Make sure it’s ironed as crinkles can upstage you. Take a large step away from the wall. This is stop there being a shadow behind and to put the focus on you.

Lighting: Ideally you have a bit of wall near a window and, obviously during the day time, you can use the sun as your main source of light. If you have a studio light (or, my personal favourite, just any lamp!), set it up on the other side of the shot (i.e. if the window is to the left, put the light to the right). See the diagram below which is a VERY rough set-up. Make sure the light sources are ‘soft’, which means they don’t cast heavy distinct shadows.

Framing: LANDSCAPE! Not portrait. You want to position yourself as in the picture below. It’s a very standard Mid Close Up shot in cinematography. Make sure you look to the side of the camera where there is ‘space’, but not too far. You want them to see as much of your face as possible. If someone is going hand held then make sure they know what they’re doing and get them to hold the camera still! A phone attached to a tripod makes this so much easier, and you don’t have to keep resetting the frame.

Sound: There are microphones available that can plug into your phone and help boost the sound quality. You can also find ones that clip onto your shirt or whatever you’re wearing. If you don’t have either, phone quality sound is still great. Have a play around with levels and echos. Make sure the room is quiet!

I just want to end by saying don’t worry! This is not a test of your self taping skills. Hell, even I’m still getting used to them and don’t have half the equipment I mention here. It’s all about the acting, so focus on that. The schools know not everyone has the money and time to do it to a professional quality. They just want to see you do your thing.

Also: If you’re not happy after 5 takes, then take a break! You’ll drive yourself mad doing it over and over and over again. Break and restart again. You’ll never get a perfect take.

Here are some useful links. I can’t personally attest for these products, but I have friends who can:

Rhode microphones are known for quality, but there are cheaper ones!

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