This is the blog post version of my YouTube video on the same topic (hopefully making this information more accessible for different kinds of learners as well as easier to come back to the check things by having different formats available) I just wanted to go through some things that are really small and simple that help an actor understand your script and character, as well as make it easier for them to learn lines and be more beneficial for the production team. My own training in performing arts and acting, my experience trying to get back into acting and performing in recent years (and the things I have noticed happen quite a lot), as well as my own experience with my Creative Writing BA where we studied script writing etc. have informed this blog and my video. The wording may vary slightly but the gist should remain the same!
This is for amateur productions or student led productions, this includes film and stage. I think we all have things we can learn from different roles within our industry which can help inform how we work and make things easier and run more smoothly overall.
Formatting is so important for all written work. You don’t need fancy training, you don’t need to stick strictly to the ‘rules’ but having a consistent format helps actors a lot when it comes to understanding and learning the material. If you’re really struggling, you can Google search pages of plays and scripts, or even use your local library, maybe the Libby app to access copies of plays and scripts to read and learn from. There are a lot of resources out there for free.
I even found this youtube video that goes through this!
The Scene Remains Still/Doesn’t Change Camera Angle
Self tapes cannot (and should not) be like filming. They are one take videos in one spot. If you have directions in your script where there is a lot of navigating around (like moving around a room, moving to different rooms or even entire location changes) or the camera cuts to a different space/angle in the same scene, you might need to edit the scene to be more audition appropriate.
This goes for doing too many activities in one spot too. Are you really that bothered about seeing an actor chopping vegetables or applying makeup?
Keep in mind what self tapes are and their purpose.
Length and Content
Not Too Long, Not Too Dense
You want variety in these scenes. A mixture of speaking and silence.
If there’s a lot of interaction with other characters within the broader script, a 2 character scene is the optimal number for auditions and self tapes. Keep focus on one character, with helpful information in the directions to inform the actor what the scene and conversation is like.
Steer away from physical direction and go with a more emotional and intellectual focus. How do the characters react and respond to each other? Is there something the characters would know that informs this scene but isn’t explicitly explained?
Not Too Short/Not Too Sparse of Speech
The other side of that is not too short/not too sparse of speech. A self tape is not the time to only see internalised acting. Get the balance.
How Long The Scene is in Minutes
Keep it short (time wise) A page of script is roughly a minute of film. Keep that in mind when asking people to learn/part-learn lines for an audition. 2 minutes should be more than enough but not too much to ask an actor to do (especially on short notice, as auditions and self tapes often are)
Content Warnings and Access
Content warnings are a helpful tool to allow actors to decide if the project is suitable for them and their needs. I use the term ‘content warning’ here over ‘trigger warning’ because it may not be triggering to the actor, but they may still not feel it is the right fit for them. Plus, it is letting people interested in working with you know the content of the project without having to disclose a whole detailed synopsis or provide a full script (which, you don’t want to do with just anyone, and actors don’t have time to read every full script… it’s time saving for everyone!)
Access requirements are also something you should keep in mind generally. If you can, find and work with a disabled professional who is trained in access in performing arts to advise you what you should be keeping in mind, pre-preparing for everyone on set (actors and crew) and options to have in place for those who may need them. AND OFFER ADJUSTMENTS, don’t wait for someone to ask. There’s lots of things you can do to make these adjustments that are free, minimal labour, or relatively low cost. It also encourages more disabled talent to audition.
Remember What You Use Self Tapes For
What are self tapes? Remember, self tapes are to look at the acting talent and skill in your applicants. Many of the below points can be checked out by asking for previous work, showreels, or other self tapes before requesting they prepare a self tape for your production. Again, saves everyone a bit of time and time is money (lol) so if your applicant have something they can send you to have a look at BEFORE moving forward to self tapes, that’s a great idea as you can eliminate or prioritise candidates and make specific notes and requests of each actor individually for their self tapes.
What You Should Be Looking At
How people look and sound on camera (something you can decide based on previous videos before requesting self tapes)
Facial expressions are key. Are they over or under acting? Do they get the balance right?
Their interpretation of the character and what yours is. Did they get what you wanted? Did they do something different you liked? Why? Physicality and even costume… can you see they really got into character without going over the top?
A snippet of their abilities. You should not expect a completely polished end product.
Room for development.
Remember, these are tips on self tapes specifically and auditions generally, not any other part of the casting process or production. And it is aimed at novices, newbies and people looking at a different career direction. You can see the video version on my channel as well as my video talking about my experiences with self tapes and why they are/have been a great option for me and many other actors as well as projects.
I’m coming at thing from the point of view of an actor, a writer, and a director. Not everyone has the ability to, or the interest in, learning and following different career paths and their individual skill sets, and that’s totally okay! You don’t have to have the personal experience, but I think we could all learn a lot about our own roles by learning from others about their roles. It helps us learn how we can adapt to different people at different skill or experience levels, as well as just making the process a little easier when you know the kinds of things other roles around you need to know to do their job to their best ability… so you can also do yours to your best ability. It’s a group collaborative project! This might just be the autism for me, but I find it really helpful knowing what a director is looking for or what the writer intended, and it’s helpful for them to know what an actor is comfortable with and capable of.
I hope this could be helpful to people out there. It can be hard trying to work on a project that involves so many people when there isn’t enough communication between everyone and understanding of expectations. It seems sometimes, the above points aren’t always thought of when the casting process begins for amateur productions, and if we can just share our knowledge and be open to learning, it could be a whole lot easier!
Don’t forget to tip me on kofi for the blog post and youtube video on this! Subscribe to my channel, follow my blog, and check out my social media elsewhere (facebook, instagram, twitter, tiktok) and let me know if you have any questions in the comments or anything else you think would be helpful to remember during this part of the process! (Mind, this is also a post for production teams, not actors, I talked more on self tapes from an acting POV on my channel and if you have any feedback on THAT side of things, feel free to drop that feedback in the comment section of that video, and maybe I’ll make a further video and/or blog post on self tapes)
Don’t forget to buy tickets to come see my Fringe Show later in May! I Was Kinda The Bad Guy.