Self Tape Tools for Auditions
Everything You Need to Record an Amazing Audition at Home
The ability to self tape auditions is an absolutely essential skill for any actor who wants to have a lasting career in this industry.
Sure, there are audition taping services that can do all the technical work for you, and those services are extremely valuable. But I believe that every actor should, at the very least, be able to tape an audition on their own if they really needed to.
Fortunately, self taping is not rocket science! The tools below will help you record a professional looking (and sounding) audition from the comfort of your own home.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you end up buying one of these products, Amazon will give me a small commission. Your cost is the same either way. Please do not spend any money on any of these products unless you feel that they will be helpful and useful to you.
The recording device you use to tape your auditions will be the first decision you will need to make. You definitely do NOT need to go out and buy a camera. Your phone will do just fine when you first start out. I know many actors that have booked roles on major movies and shows with auditions recorded on their smartphones.
The Canon M50 Mirrorless Camera has been Canon's best selling camera for a number of years. It's a very popular camera among YouTubers and actors. The video quality at 1080p is superb at this price point and Canon's Dual Pixel Autofocus technology will ensure that you never go out of focus even as you move around during your audition.
If you do decide to get the M50, a couple accessories I recommend are spare batteries and a battery door plate to allow you to access the battery and memory card without taking the camera off the tripod.
If it's within your budget, I think the Canon EOS 90D is an excellent choice. I'm currently using an older model of this camera for both my self tapes and my YouTube videos. In fact, if my current camera were to stop working all of a sudden, this would be the camera I'd buy.
Learn the Audition Process of a Working Actor
KURT'S FREE AUDITION CHEAT SHEET: Take your film and TV auditions to the next level. Learn the audition techniques I've used to help me book over 50 movies and television shows.Download the Cheat Sheet
Regardless of whether you are using your phone or a camera to tape your auditions, you will need a tripod to stabilize your video. Do NOT ask someone to just hold the camera steady. A good tripod is pretty inexpensive so there is no reason to here.
Amazon sells an Amazon Basics brand tripod for $25. It looks legit and has great reviews; but I've had two of those break on me over the years so I can't recommend it in good conscience. But I have friends using that tripod with no issues so maybe I'm the problem :)
The Dolica ST-500 seems to be a much higher quality product and it only costs ten dollars more than the Amazon Basics model. I've been using mine since 2014 with no problems whatsoever.
Note: I've used this tripod to tape actors as tall as 6'1" with no issues. If you are 6'2" or taller, you may want to consider the option below.
For actors that are 6'2" or taller, this Polaroid ProPod might be a better option. It's a little more expensive than the Dolica but that's going to be the case with all taller tripods.
I haven't personally used the Polaroid so I can't give you my opinion on it. But the brand name is recognizable and the reviews are decent so I would assume the product is reliable.
If you're using your phone to record instead of a camera, you will need an adapter to attach the phone to the tripod. This Ulanzi Tripod Phone Mount is only $14 and will hold your phone steady as you record. It comes with a mini tripod that you can detach it from to use with a full size tripod. I also like that it has a shoe at the top to attach a microphone or a small light.
Note: When using a phone, make sure to record in landscape mode (horizontal). Casting directors will not accept vertical videos for auditions.
As you start to build a more sophisticated self-taping setup, you'll probably want to get an external microphone. The on-board microphones on cell phones and cameras aren't known for capturing the highest quality sound. A lot of actors (myself included) prefer to use a shotgun mic for audition purposes. I've listed two of my favorites below.
Lavaliere microphones are popular among actors who use their phones to self tape. This POP Voice Lav Mic has thousands of positive reviews on Amazon and works with iPhone and Android phones. It plugs into the headphone/microphone jack on your phone and clips to your shirt.
Tip: Before buying a mic to use with your phone, search the reviews on Amazon to see if anyone has successfully used it with your exact phone.
I prefer using a shotgun microphone over a lavaliere mic that attaches to my shirt. The Takstar SGC-598 is a fantastic value at less than $30. I used this microphone for nearly ten years and hundreds of self tapes. This is my number one recommended mic for anyone starting to build a self tape setup.
This is the microphone I currently use. I moved on from the trusty Takstar in 2020 because I wanted to be able to control the gain on the microphone rather than in camera. The Deity D3 Pro also has slightly less noise than the Takstar. Those benefits come at a price, though. The Diety currently costs $199. That's a big jump from $30.
While the Diety is, unquestionably, the better microphone, unless you are paying close attention, most people probably wouldn't notice. If you have the finances and you're a bit of a gear head (like me), then go ahead and splurge on the Deity. Otherwise, definitely go with the Takstar. You cannot go wrong with that mic.
A shotgun mic can be used on-camera or attached to a stand. I prefer the microphone to be closer to me than to the reader so I put mine on a microphone stand. I typically angle the mic so that it is below me, just out of frame. I like this stand from Kasonic because it comes with a clothespin style microphone holder which works best for shotgun mics like the Takstar and Diety.
Note: if you do use a microphone stand with one of the shotgun mics above, you will need a microphone extension cable.
If you aren't happy with the quality of the the natural light coming through your windows or the lamps available at home, you may want to consider getting some lights dedicated to your auditions. I prefer softbox lights because they produce nice even light on the subject while minimizing shadows on the background. Every room is different, though, so you will need to experiment a bit.
Softbox lights are great at producing a nice even light that isn’t harsh on your face. This Neewer Softbox Light Kit is what I currently use in my home audition studio. They use CFL bulbs which are relatively cool. My first set of softbox lights used halogen bulbs. I would NOT recommend those. It got so hot under those lights I would start sweating after only a few minutes.
I'm not a huge fan of ring lights for self tapes because I don't like how the catchlight (the reflection of the light) looks in my eyes. However, there are some advantages to using a ring light like this Neewer 18-inch Ring Light. For starters, it takes up a lot less room than the softboxes. Since there's only one stand and the light sits directly in front of the camera, you don't need nearly as much space as you would if you were using softbox lights. A second advantage is that these lights are LED, which means they are dimmable. You can control exactly how bright or dark you want your video to be.
I prefer to use a solid color gray or blue wall. If you don't have access to a neutral color wall, then a bed sheet or curtain hung up in the background will do just fine (make sure wrinkles are ironed or steamed out). If none of these options are working for you then you may consider buying a professional backdrop.
These collapsible backdrops are great if you don't have a lot of space. They open up to 5ft x 6.5ft and fold up nicely to a compact 28 inches for storage. I particularly like that one side is gray and one side is blue so that you can decide which color works best for you.
This type of fabric backdrop is just a more professional version of hanging up a bed sheet. What's nice is that it has the loop at the top so that you can use it with a backdrop stand or a curtain rod. This one has multiple color options but just one size (6x9). There are other similar backdrops with different size options as well.
This backdrop stand is 5 ft wide and can adjust up to 8 ft tall. It comes with 4 spring clamps to help hold whatever backdrop you are using. A T-shaped stand like this is great when you don't have much room and want to save space. It's also easy to take down and put away when you are finished.
Video editing is becoming easier and easier these days. Most smart phones have some sort of video editor built in so you don't even need to download a separate app to do the job. If you're like me and prefer to do your editing on a computer, here are a few options for both Mac and PC.
If you have a Mac, iMovie is the video editor you should be using. Many Macbooks come with it pre-installed but if yours doesn’t, it only costs about $15. Apple iMovie is extremely easy to learn and use and is absolutely perfect for editing auditions. There is a free mobile version available in the app store if you want to edit directly on your iPhone or iPad.
OpenShot Video Editor is a FREE editing program available for both Mac and PC. I still recommend iMovie for Mac users but if you don't want to pay for it, OpenShot is a great free alternative. For PC users, OpenShot is actually better than some of the paid editing progams I've used in the past. I have a YouTube video on how to edit your self tape auditions with OpenShot.
The editing software I've been using for over ten years is VEGAS Movie Studio for PC. This program has more bells and whistles than OpenShot but, to be honest, you won't need 99% of them for audition tapes. It also costs quite a bit more at around $80. I prefer this app because some tasks (like cropping the frame) are just easier to do in VEGAS than in OpenShot.
Use HandBrake to compress video files that are too big to send. This FREE video transcoder program has been a godsend for me. Anybody who has ever needed to upload their self recorded auditions has run into the issue of file sizes being too large. HandBrake does an awesome job of compressing the size of the file while maintaining video quality. It’s available for both Mac and PC.
Learn the Audition Process of a Working Actor
KURT'S FREE AUDITION CHEAT SHEET: Take your film and TV auditions to the next level. Learn the audition techniques I've used to help me book over 50 movies and television shows.