I’ve talked about auditioning basics in previous blog posts, but here we explore the subject with a little more depth. One of the major reasons to be in Los Angeles if your child is pursuing an acting career is being physically available to audition in front of casting directors. If the audition goes well, you’ll be called back for another round (these are called “callbacks”).
Flying back and forth from home, wherever home is if it’s not in the LA area, can be expensive and logistically difficult. Major roles typically involve several rounds of callbacks and ultimately chemistry tests, where the final casting choices come down to the exact mix of actors and how they look and feel together. Obviously this can’t be done long distance. But the process can start long distance.
Taped Auditions (also known as “self tapes)
Many auditions can be done on tape (digital now) and sent in for consideration. Even people who have relocated to LA have to tape some auditions—if a project is being cast out of New York, for example. Or if the various schedules don’t line up. So it is good to get proficient with this process.
I’m not a big fan of the taped audition—I personally feel that an actor’s energy and charisma are much better communicated live. But I’ll never forget talking one day with Kenda Benward, (Luke Benward’s mom—the actress who actually played Dove’s character’s mom-!) on the set of Cloud 9, and discovering that she actually prefers them! Her position was that the downside of a live audition is that you only get one shot at doing a great job—whereas in a taped audition, you can take all the time in the world to get a scene exactly the way you want it. Good point! This is a terrific example of the truth that there is no “right way” to do anything in this business. Luke in fact had a very successful career from the age of 8 to 17 living in his hometown just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, doing an average of one major movie per year, as well as pilots and other projects. The family finally moved to Los Angeles the summer he was 17, just before Disney cast Cloud 9.
Basic requirements for a do-it-yourself taped audition include some kind of camera that can tape digitally; some kind of tripod; and decent lighting control. You’ll also need very basic digital editing software, and a way to send a large file.
A lot of phones now come with a good-enough filming function that they can work in a pinch, but I’d still recommend a little tripod, just so your end result doesn’t resemble The Blair Witch Project. When we moved to LA I invested about $300 in a basic little Lumix with a Leica lens and a tripod. I’m sure you can spend less now and get an absolutely decent setup. The tripod is also useful if it’s just you and your kid making the tape, as you are likely not only filming them, but also reading the other character’s lines on the sides.
It’s very difficult to read, turn pages, and hold a camera still all at once! So get a tripod. They are not expensive. As of this writing I now have not only a standard tripod which works for my traditional camera, but also an adaptor that allows my iPhone to attach to the tripod, as well as a little iPhone specific table-top tripod that not only sits nicely on a table and is small enough to throw in my purse) but wraps around almost anything. Small, cheap, and effective.
A word on lighting—it can be amazing how awful basic home lighting looks on an audition video. Frequently your child is not well enough lit, or there are strong shadows, which can be distracting. Overhead florescent lighting is truly dreadful. We ended up using a couple of high wattage halogens that we could aim toward Dove, and they were pretty good at lighting her well and eliminating shadows. Basic lighting kits are also not too expensive.
Finding a good place to tape can be a little challenging. We were living in a small apartment without a single blank wall to shoot against. You definitely want a backdrop that’s free of distractions. We tried different things, but ultimately ended up hanging a solid bedcover over a bookshelf to create a clean, clutter-free backdrop for most of the auditions we taped. Be creative if necessary.
Most computers come with basic video editing software bundle—Microsoft has Movie Maker, and Apple has iMovie. I find that iMovie is much easier to use, but either one can work. Get familiar with whichever one you have. You certainly don’t need Final Cut Pro to do this!
OK! You’re all set up. Your kid has memorized their lines and is dressed in a simple outfit that is not black or white or with tiny patterns. Maybe it slightly suggests the character they’re reading for, but it is not costume-y. Their hair is pulled back from their face and they’re well lit. Your camera battery is charged or plugged in and you are ready to press the record button. A few last minute notes: since you are right behind the camera, your voice is going to be louder on tape than theirs unless you deliberately speak more softly. So do that, since you’re not the one auditioning!
At the very beginning of each take, have your child “slate.” This is where they say their name, sometimes their ages, and the talent agency that represents them. Sometimes the sides will come with more detailed requests for a slate: weight and height are not uncommon. But have your child do this at the beginning of each take so that when the casting director reviews all the auditions that are sent in, they know which one is your fabulous kid!
After you and your child have gotten the take that feels good, download the digital recording into your computer and save it. Do this before deleting anything from the camera. Then open up your software editor, select the take you like best, and if you’re feeling fancy, you can add simple graphics (your child’s name in a title sequence, contact info at the end) or cross-fades between scenes if there are more than one set of sides in the audition. To be honest, we rarely did anything but send in a basic tape with a slate, so if that’s all you can manage (and it’s midnight on a school night and the tape is due) that is absolutely enough.
You’ll discover that sending a large file like a video through your email program is either actually impossible (the file size can exceed its limit) or can take many hours to upload, or worse, if you succeed in sending it as an attachment, it may exceed the capacities of the recipient’s server. Not good. This is where basic file transfer software comes in. At the time of this writing, Wetransfer.com, Hightail.com, (formerly YouSendIt.com) and DropBox.com are all good free sites that can help you send large files over the Internet. They’re simple to use and all the casting offices are familiar with them. Just follow their directions, upload your video, enter the email address of the recipients, and press send. Done. Easy, right?
My book, The Hollywood Parents Guide, available on Amazon contains everything I wish I’d known when Dove and I started this journey, and will save you untold amounts of time, money, and stress. Full of information you MUST know, it also features stories from parents of other kids who’ve made it!
Or book an hour consulting with me to come up with an individualized plan that takes your own unique needs into account. For about the cost of an hour with a professional acting coach, you can get your questions answered and a road map to help you move forward toward your dream.
Invest a little in your kid’s future today.
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