How to Make the Perfect Audition Video

We are currently living in a time during which more and more aspects of our lives are going wireless, and the entertainment industry is no different. It is becoming increasingly common for actors to submit homemade videos for auditions, auditions which can be tremendously beneficial career opportunities . . . that is, if the videos are done well. Of course, it’s ultimately your talent that is going to get you the gig, but a good quality video is going to enhance your performance and make your tape stand out from all the rest. The caveat to all of this is that if you have friends who have access to equipment/have the technical know-how to set up your lighting or sound, absolutely reach out to them–these ideas are for people without those resources, who need to MacGyver their way to a well-done submission. That being said, here are some suggestions on how to make the perfect audition video:

1. A Clean, Well-lighted Place: Choosing where to shoot your audition video is crucial. Ideally, you should shoot somewhere with a neutral background–the last thing you want is for the casting director watching your performance to be distracted by the flashing numbers on your alarm clock. It doesn’t have to be a stark-white wall, but at the end of the day, the focus should be on you. Additionally, don’t stand right against the wall. Even two feet of space between you and the background will provide some depth and make the shot much more aesthetically pleasing. Also, a carpeted room is ideal because it prevents sound from bouncing around (more on that later), and for similar reasons, a room that is oddly-shaped or has slanted ceilings is also a good choice (as long as it doesn’t look funny in the shot). Finally, choose a room where you will have control over the lighting.

2. And, While We’re on the Subject of Lighting . . . . Like I said, you want to shoot in a room where you have control over the light. You can use natural light (i.e., light through windows), but make sure not to stand directly in front of a window–if you do, the window will look overly-bright and you will be in shadow. Rather, you can stand just to the side of one. Soft lighting is the most flattering, so you can adjust the lights within the space (lamps, overhead lights, what have you) to achieve that (NO FLUORESCENT LIGHTING unless absolutely necessary). One way to do this is to put a light curtain over a window or use a lampshade to diffuse the light. Another lighting problem actors run into sometimes is they get shadows on their faces. To avoid these, there are a few things you can do. One is to avoid stark directional light pointed straight at your face–from an angle, this lighting position creates deep, unflattering shadows, and from straight-on, you look flat and washed out. Rather, point it at the wall behind you. If you find that you’re still getting shadows on your face, you can point a light at a wall on the side, which will bounce off and act like a fill light to get rid of the shadows. Also, this may seem obvious, but keep the light out of the shot–it ruins the illusion of natural lighting.

3. Sorry, I can’t hear you: From a technical standpoint, audio may be THE most important component of your audition video, and unfortunately, it’s one of the easiest aspects to mess up. If you can use an external mic (i.e., one that attaches to your device instead of a built-in one), especially a lavalier mic, or “lav” mic, (these are the ones that you see pinned to people’s clothes in interviews–they look like tie clips), that’s ideal. If you can’t, there are ways to maximize your sound in quality with your built-in mic.

One important thing to keep in mind is what happens to the sound based on how far you are from the camera. If you are too far away, you sound muffled; if you are too close, the sound gets distorted, and you run the risk of “clipping” (when your sound wave peaks higher than your mic can record, so the video sounds like a speaker crackling even when the volume is low). If you can, check the manual of your camera on how to check sound levels. You will need a pair of headphones for that process. If that isn’t a possibility, a good rule of thumb for built-in mics is to be about three feet away, but each camera is different, so you will want to experiment with yours to figure out what’s best.

Just like how you worked on controlling the lighting in your environment, you can control the sound, as well. As I mentioned before, a carpeted room with lots of angles is ideal, sound-wise. You also want to pick a place with minimal “room tone” (think, for example, of the hum of fluorescent lights). Turn off the air conditioning, close windows, that sort of thing. Lastly, make sure that you are enunciating–the CD can’t connect with you if s/he can’t understand you!

4. I’m Ready for My Close-up, Mr. DeMille: The idea behind this section is pretty simple–pick a good camera, and know where to place it. While it is technically possible to record audition videos on a phone or computer, I encourage you not to unless you absolutely must. If you do have to, record your audition in a well-lit room so that there isn’t auto gain (a feature which cameras use to lighten dark pictures, but makes the picture grainy). The best place to have the camera is at the actor’s eye level, which is a neutral place. These angles can be played with slightly depending on character–if you are auditioning for a menacing and imposing character, you may have the camera positioned slightly underneath eye level and tilted up, or conversely, if you are playing a meek, timid character, the shot can come down from slightly above. Be careful not to go too far with that, though. Additionally, use a tripod if you can–you want the shot to be steady. You don’t have to use a studio-quality camera, but use the best hand-held cam available to you.

5. What’s My Frame?: Understand your playing space.  Typically in auditions, actors are framed in a medium-close shot (from the chest up), though sometimes (depending on the project), the submission may ask for a medium shot (approximately the waist up) or even a close up (from your shoulders up). Regardless, it means that your space is tight. Be conscious of keeping your movements and expressions the appropriate size for film, but remember that underplaying is not the same as lowering the stakes in a scene. Understand where your mark is, and stay there. This is especially important when making your own video, because you probably won’t have a cameraman to follow you if you move a step or two off of your mark.

6. You’re wearing that?: Select your outfit wisely. Don’t wear anything too busy or bright, and avoid prints. Also be cautious of wearing too much jewelry, which can be distracting both visually and aurally. On the flipside, make sure that your wardrobe doesn’t make you dissolve into the background. Focus on colors and cuts that will draw the eye upward to your face. While we’re talking about the face, make sure that your hair is out of yours–if you have bangs, pin them back. Your eyes are one of your most important tools as an actor, and if the CD can’t see yours, you are not going to hold their interest.

7. Okay, so the video is recorded. Now what?: My biggest advice in this regard is to pay attention to the submission specifications provided in the audition information. Most places you will submit to will tell you the size video that they can accept, the format they want, and other such parameters. To make the video the right size, you may have compress it (check out Cast It’s compressing instructions here). If you are still confused when uploading and exporting your video, there are great tutorials online for most editing programs, such as Final Cut Pro, Windows MovieMaker, Avid, and iMovie.

So, now you know how to make a technically proficient video . . . the rest is up to you!

Check out our other articles for tips on creating audition videos at home:

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