• Stefan Erasmus

How To Film A Self-Tape At Home Alone

Updated: Jul 30

So your at home and you've just received a self-tape brief for a new film or series. You are super excited, so you grab your phone and call up your friend - who you always do your self-tapes with and just as you are about to hit the call button, you remember that you are in quarantine and you can't go anywhere, and you live alone. Shit!

So what do you do?

Well, I'm going to take you through some steps on how to film a self-tape alone at home with nothing but your smartphone.

Let's go! 

LANDSCAPE


First thing you are going to want to do is make sure you are using the rear facing camera of your smartphone. The front camera is going to be lower quality. Unless you have one of the latest smartphones, but let's assume you are still rocking your Samsung S8. (Yes, it still works and yes it the best phone I've ever had) 


You will be filming this landscape mode.

This is because it closely resembles the aspect ratio of modern film. 

MOUNTING


You will need some way of locking off your camera. There are a number of methods you can use. 


You can either lean your phone against something sturdy, but I find that it can become really finicky especially if you are doing multiple takes and want to review your footage in-between.


Trying to re-position your phone constantly can create a lot of frustration not to mention you will never get it in exactly the same spot again and this will be a little frustrating for the person watching it.


If you fancy yourself a DIY expert you can try constructing a stand for your phone using an old card or rigid piece of cardboard.


See these references here

If you have the means you can buy a tripod with a phone mount. 


The one in the reference link is a small tripod. A regular size tripod would be ideal as the added benefit of being able to adjust the height as needed will be super convenient. 


BACKDROP


Like most people you probably didn't choose your dwelling based on the ability to film effective self-tapes. So you don't have a spare empty room with a blank wall just laying around.


Do not worry.


The main thing with any backdrop in a self-tape is that it is neutral.


Any solid colour wall will do just fine. (Obviously, if it's a bright red wall you might want to reconsider your choices, I say this as a man who had several bright red walls throughout his dwellings).


You also do not want to have any distracting objects in your frame. So please take off that family portrait before auditioning for gangster number 5.


If you do not have access to an empty wall, make sure that you minimise the amount of objects in frame and please keep your space clean! No one wants to see your dirty cup creeping into the background. 


LIGHTING


The second most important element of your self-tape.


If they cannot see you, they cannot hire you! (I just made that up, it's very catchy and also true.)  I'm going to assume you did not invest into studio grade lighting or majored in lighting design.


Hmm? No? Don't worry there is an easy solution. 

Make sure that you are in a well light area.


Try to film close to a window, either with the light coming in from the side or place your camera in front of the window. Making sure the light source is coming from behind the camera.


This will act as your main source of light. Or key light, if you want to get technical.


The main takeaway here is to make sure you are not in darkness.


If you would like to get fancy you could invest in a ring light to help fill in some of the shadows. 


*This is an example of a ring light. This person is using her phone in portrait mode, you would need it in landscape.


And it goes without saying, but for those in the back. If you film your self-tape at night, you are making it incredibly difficult for yourself. 


SOUND


The most important aspect of your self-tape. (If they cannot hear you, they cannot hire you! See what I did there?) 


If you have ever recorded any video on your smartphone you will be well aware that the sound is not the best. It's not bad, but it could be better. 


The best way to improve your sound quality would be to invest into an external microphone. One that you can plug directly into your phone. It will boost your sound quality by about 100%


They are relatively cheap and If you are going to buy anything to boost your self-tapes this would be it.


If you do not have the means to invest into an external microphone right now here is a checklist to make sure you record the best sound quality possible.


  • Film when it is quiet in your house and neighbourhood. If you live with noisy housemates or family kindly let them know you have an important job interview for the next hour and will need absolute silence!

  • Place blankets and pillows on the floor to absorb some of the sound. It might seem silly, but if you are filming in a "echoey" room, a few blankets on the floor can do wonders.

  • Make sure that your smartphone is as close as it possibly can be to you. Do not try to do a digital zoom to crop out something strange in frame. Rather just move the phone closer. 


EYE-LINE 


It is important that you place your smartphone about high level height with you. You do not want to create any funny dutch angles in your self-tape. Leave that to the DOP.


Another point here is to place the person you are talking to just off of camera. You do not want to look directly into camera unless they have asked you to do so.You also do not want to constantly be bobbing your head from side to side either, unless you are auditioning for Wimbledon audience member number 27.


RECORDING YOUR OWN READER


Now we are getting to the tricky bit. 


You would typically do your self-tape with a reader - someone who reads the other dialogue for you. 


With Corona in the air most people don't want to leave the house unless absolutely needed. And naturally some of the time you are not going to have access to a housemate willing to help you out and what if you live alone? Shit! 


Don't worry. You can record your own reader. 


Record the dialogue for all the other characters in your scene and make sure you leave silent gabs for your own dialogue. What works nicely is when you are recording the dialogue, read all of your lines very softly, this will ensure the timing is accurate. 


Of course the above method requires that you to have a separate recording device. A laptop or additional phone will work just fine. The answer to your next question is below.


PRESENT WITHOUT A READER


Now you might very well be in a position where you only have your smartphone and no other voice recording device in the house. 


Here I would advise that you present without a reader. This should be your last option, but it is a very real one as some people do live alone or do not have access to another recording device. 


When doing this method make sure that you know the other dialogue really well especially if there are any beat changes occurring. It's important to still hit those beats even when no one is speaking. Counting in your head will work wonderfully here. 


TO SUM UP


It's going to take some practice to nail your self-tapes.

But if you just make sure of the following you will do just fine.

  • Keep the camera in landscape.

  • Make sure your backdrop is neutral.

  • Have enough light in the room.

  • Make sure your sound is the best it can be.

  • Keep the camera at eye level.


All that being said, above all else.

Make sure you follow the instructions laid out in the casting brief. 


Often, not always, they will outline how you need to present, but if they don't, these guidelines will ensure that you stay on top of your self-tape game. 


If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment below. 

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