How to Crank Out a Decent Self Tape Under the Worst Circumstances

iStock_000021904923_SmallOn the best of days, you can book a taping with a studio you trust, with an actor friend who has professional equipment, and you will have all the elements of a killer self tape neatly arranged. But not all days are created equal. Sometimes it’s a rush job, a deadline in a matter of hours, and no time for frills.


But all is not lost! There are ways to make the best of poor taping circumstances. Here are some tips and tricks to help squeeze a little blood from that stone.


  1. Lights. Good lighting is crucial to the look of a self tape. If you haven’t already purchased professional lighting equipment, I highly recommend the investment. But when you just don’t have access, try to opt for natural lighting. Try to film near large windows or even outdoors, depending on your surroundings. If that’s not an option, drag as many lamps to your taping corner as possible. Play with placing them at different heights and configurations. Try switching or removing lampshades.  Shoot to minimize shadow and avoid hot spots. The better you can get the lighting, the more professional the tape will look.
  2. Camera. These days, most smartphones come equipped with good enough cameras to use in a pinch. Make sure to hold them sideways for taping. The trickier thing will be bracing it. If you don’t have a tripod, drag over a moveable bookcase, stack DVDs on top, do whatever you need to do to get the camera at the right height and held steadily in place. If you don’t have anyone to hold the phone, try folding paper around the bottom edge of your sideways phone for padding, and clipping on binder clips to create a flat surface on which the clipped phone can stand.
  3. Audio. Good audio is as important as good lighting. Test the audio first and see if there are echos, tinny resonance, etc. In a pinch, try padding the floor and walls with blankets to absorb sound.
  4. Reader. Get a good reader if at all possible. Get a non actor to read if you have to. This is important and will immeasurably improve your self tape. However, if it just isn’t in the cards, do your best to make the editing clean and frame your audition in the best way possible.
  5. Backdrop. Blank walls work well. Try blues, grays or greens if possible. Off-white isn’t the best but will do in emergencies. If you can, blue sheets can make clean-looking backdrops. Make sure they are wrinkle-free, opaque, and neatly hung.
  6. Know when to fold ‘em. Occasionally, if you just can’t pull it out, it can be better to decline an audition than turn in a bad one. Use this out sparingly, and talk to your agent about preferences.
  7. BONUS: Don’t forget that the most important thing is still the audition itself. Take a minute to recenter, remind yourself of your objectives, and get the text comfortable in your mouth. You are the product. The self tape is the sales pitch. Make sure you do everything you can to set yourself up for success.


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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at

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