So, last week I talked about “Pre-Prereads” (AKA taped auditions requested prior to any sort of first in-person meeting about a specific role). And, of course, the follow-up questions came pouring in. Overwhelmingly, there is support from the acting community for this sort of opportunity. That makes me happy (and not just because I think it’s an awesome way of getting the audition process started — and for as many candidates at once — as quickly as possible), so let’s get right to your feedback and follow-up questions, shall we?

Hi Bonnie!

I’m still enjoying your column as always and especially wanted to comment on “Pre-Prereads” because I was truly excited about the idea of future auditions being handled in this way! I totally understand the chaos and time consumption affiliated with live auditions and have wondered myself why no one had thought of this sooner!

Of course, you know you’ve just opened a can of worms because, invariably, more questions will be thrown your way. For instance: “What should I wear?” “What looks best on camera?” “What kind of lighting should I use?” “What makes a good background so I’m well-seen?” “Should I just shoot a head-and-shoulders shot or should I show a full-length shot in order to show movement?”

I’m definitely not afraid of this type of auditioning and wonder if those who are currently without representation may in fact benefit from this type of audition process as well.

I’m happy you broached the subject and will have my camera in hand!

Thx! 🙂
Shannon Ashe

Let’s tackle the specific questions you brought up in order. “What should I wear?” Well, I’d say go for what works for the character and you in that character. So, basically, the same choice you would make for an in-person audition should work here. You don’t want to go overboard “in costume” (which always seems a bit “over-compensating” in auditions), so to “suggest” the character while bringing yourself to it would be the best balance.

“What looks best on camera?” Ah, well that’s where your camera playback becomes your best friend! You can — long before an audition is ever requested of you — try on various outfits and shoot yourself doing monologues of different types. You can get a real sense of what your best colors are, what makes you look older vs. younger, what makes you look tougher vs. more innocent, what works for the hero roles and what works for the victim ones. Doing this prep before you get the request for an audition is going to be extremely helpful. Then, when you get the call, you just grab the “right” look and go. (I always hear a “rule” that actors should “avoid whites, blacks, reds, and busy patterns,” but I’ve seen all work just fine on-camera, so I think it’s more about testing it out ahead of time in the exact conditions you’ll be shooting to see whether there’s some sort of “camera buzz” from the angles and intensity of it all.)

“What kind of lighting should I use?” I don’t have any specific recommendations for products (for cameras, for lighting, for external mics) simply because I’ve seen just about everything work. I mentioned last week the cell phone camera one actor used in taping an audition for me. Most important is that you are well-lit and well-mic’d, whatever you use. Again, test out your lighting options ahead of time to know what you can count on when it’s time to do the audition itself. I love natural light but of course that’s not always available. Good, strong halogen lights are helpful but you shouldn’t look like you’re being interrogated. Soft light can be flattering but too fuzzy. Maybe some awesome readers will write in with specific equipment suggestions, but my best piece of advice on this is: try it out and play it back. You’ll know what looks good.

“What makes a good background so I’m well-seen?” Some auditions come to me with the actor outside (because the scene is set outside) and that can compromise control over quality (especially where sound is concerned), some are in front of a blank wall and that can look sterile and non-specific (but it can also keep us focused on your performance). The ones that seem to work the best are just in a natural setting. Meaning, if you’re supposed to be at a coffee shop, your kitchen table might do just fine. What’s behind you is a hint of the curtain that covers a nearby window or the counter pass-through to your dining area from the kitchen. Depends on your environment! Don’t include anything too busy or distracting like a TV on in the background or a really bizarre print of art on the wall in the shot. Oh, and while I’m at it, I should mention that you should silence your cell phone and home phone/answering machine before starting to shoot. You know you’d hate to ruin your best take by having a ringing phone distract you!

“Should I just shoot a head-and-shoulders shot or should I show a full-length shot in order to show movement?” Again, this would depend on the scene and what you’re being asked to convey in the audition. Keeping in mind that we’re most likely going to be watching what you’ve shot and uploaded on our computer screens (and not on some big screening monitor in the office), you want to keep it somewhat simple and straightforward, but if the scene would benefit from some movement, you want to be sure you’re not framing yourself so tightly that you leave frame every time you shift your body weight! Play with it and see what looks best to you. Obviously, if anyone who requests footage gives you specific instructions, go with that! But if you’re really on your own, that gives you tons of room to experiment before you’re asked to do it, so you know you’ll be going with your strengths when it’s crunch time.

You asked about whether actors without representation may actually benefit from taped auditions like those I described last week. Heck yeah! Unrepresented actors benefit, out-of-market actors benefit, actors with natural talent but not enough credits to get appointments benefit, and so on! Any actor who might not otherwise get a shot in the room is going to benefit from having had the opportunity to just showcase their talent by shooting themselves!

Hi Bonnie,

I just wanted to write you to let you know how much I love your “Pre-Prereads” article this week. I had some additional practical questions after reading the article. First, what would be the best background to film against? I don’t think you would want a lot going on, but I’m not sure if a plain white background would be appropriate either. I know you mentioned that one person was able to get called with just a cell phone camera, but I was wondering if you have any recommendations on digital video recorders, how close-in to make the shot, and what video format you prefer. Sorry for being so long-winded. Marnie Cooper has taught our children a lot about acting, but we know practically nothing about creating videos.

Lewis Ford

The questions about background and tightness of frame, I’ve touched on already in this week’s column (definitely play with it and see what works best). And in your situation, where you’re taping your kids’ auditions, even better! You can start the shot at a medium frame and if there’s a moment of transition or some really great, expressive stuff going on in your child’s eyes, you can zoom in on her to show something that the wider shot might miss. There are definite benefits to being your kids’ cameraman!

As for the recommendations on cameras, as with the lighting question above, I won’t make any specific recommendations, but again invite the readers of my column to write in with what they like to use and what they’ve found to work best in the “shoot yourself” department. When I spoke about this “Pre-Prereads” trend at the SAG Foundation Casting Access Project event I mentioned last week, immediately one of the actors spoke up and told us all about her awesome camera (for under $200) that does everything an actor shooting her own auditions would need it to do. Maybe she’ll write in and share that tip with all of you!

You also asked about what video format we prefer and the truth is that we aren’t really going to be receiving your video file in the format on which you shoot. In most cases, you’re going to have to digitize and upload your footage to the Internet and provide us with a link to the footage so we can watch it. So, that means you should shoot on whatever format you have access to at home (VHS, Mini-DV, recordable DVD, straight to digital video file in your computer) and then edit it in iMovie or whatever video software you have on your home computer and then upload it to whatever site the casting director has requested that you use. If you’re emailing a file directly, Quicktime is the most universal. And for those who DO still use “hard copy” submissions of video footage, I believe everyone is equipped to play VHS, Mini-DV, or DVD in their office.

Hi Bonnie!

Just read your “Pre-Prereads” column. I just booked a movie via YouTube audition. It’s shooting out of state. I definitely understand the lack of “human element” of using YouTube auditions, for I — and I’m sure other actors — feel that if they get a chance to rap with the director or producer that I’ll have a good shot at it, BUUUUUTTTT, with that said, who cares about all that stuff when you have an opportunity?

The opportunity to be seen is all you can ask for as an actor and whether it’s in a theatre, a hotel, an office, your home, somebody else’s home, over a glass a lemonade and a cupcake from that fancy place in Beverly Hills, or on a satellite orbiting the Earth or any other planet for that matter, OR YOUTUBE, you have an OPPORTUNITY. That’s what it’s all about!

It actually has helped me open up my regional market connections that I had before I moved out here. I think it’s great. I love them actually. I’m currently creating a set-up in my house so that I can have good lighting and sound to prepare for the moments in which I need to do that.

Thank God for your columns. At least five times a week, I get asked how you get started in acting or how you do this or that. I just give them your link and call it a day, hee hee. Okay, Bonnie, Peace out!

Shane Callahan

Wow! That’s awesome, Shane. I really appreciate the feedback (of course) and I’m thrilled to know of another example of “Pre-Prereads” leading to bookings. Awesome! I hope your shoot goes great and that you keep me posted on when we can see the finished film. Very exciting!

I’m totally in agreement with you about the opportunity being the key element people need to focus on, here. And I think those who fear the change that a taped audition (or “Pre-Preread”) represents are really just not thinking through how much to their benefit this is! I mean, there’s control over the finished product. There’s control over how your work comes across. There’s having the opportunity to choose your best take. There’s control over when and where you’ll audition. Heck, just the “Zen” of not having to wedge an audition between two others would put most actors in a better zone for delivering a great read, I’d imagine!

Shane, I’d love to hear more about your new in-home set-up (and I’m sure my readers would love the specifics too) as well as any consumer-video-equipment tips you have to share. And the fact that you’ve reconnected with contacts in other markets is awesome. I’m telling you, this business is getting more “small town” every day. And that’s pretty dang cool if you ask me!

Hi Bonnie,

I have been asked recently to film auditions for various projects including
film. Was wondering what you suggest as the best way to read the other character parts during the read. Or just leave them out? Or do we need to get a “reader,” which is hard during the “wee hours.”

Tansy Alexander

Great point, Tansy. It’s not so easy to grab a willing scene partner at 3am, now is it? Heh! Okay, so my suggestion when you’re in that situation is this: Use your tape recorder. Remember that gadget? I don’t know if actors still do this, but back when I was running lines, I would make use of my drive-time by recording my scene partner’s lines into a microcassette recorder and then playing them back (with the gaps in place for my responses) as I drove around town. Same when on a machine at the gym. Any time there was a moment to prep, I was using it. And a recorded “prompt” often did the trick.

Why not use that same sort of thing for your taped audition, when there’s no option of enlisting the help of an actor friend? Obviously, the sound quality won’t be ideal, but you’ll know what to expect and be able to play off an anticipated set of cue lines. Your viewing audience will hear the cue lines (and we’ll already know what they are, so it doesn’t really matter how crisp they are; your work is what we’re watching). What you don’t want to do is deliver both sets of lines, appearing schizophrenic. Much better to have some other party (recorded or live) helping you out.

I hope and wish all CDs will start having actors tape their own auditions and email or put them up on YouTube. I love the idea of doing take after take until it’s just right instead of maybe having an off reading and it’s over.

If I had an agent/manager who told a CD that he wouldn’t let me do my own audition, I’d fire that rep in a NY minute. It’s such a huge advantage. No driving, no traffic, a more relaxed environment to do my work.

I think this streamlining process will eliminate some of the outdated competition as well as free up more time to see more taped auditions and give more willing actors a chance to be seen for a role.

Win-Win, baby!

Eric Kan

Now, you know I agree wholeheartedly, Eric! And just like the big push into electronic submissions pretty much forced casting directors who relied on snail-mailed submissions to either get okay with turning on their computers or be way behind in the amount of time it took to sort through submissions and begin the casting process, this is going to force CDs to at least consider that there are more actors out there than the few they might invite in for an audition, using their more traditional methods. Just like the studio system gave way to the submit-and-pitch-and-audition system we have now, I’d like to be so bold as to suggest that we may be witnessing the next big wave of “how casting is done.”

And it’s your choice whether you want to be on the leading edge of that trend (regardless of how much staying power it might have in the industry) or to ignore its potential impact, refusing to take your own shot.

Dude. Take your own shot! If you rock at this, you’re showing the industry how to cast you before they even consider relying on their “old ways” of doing business. Get in there!

Are you in there? It’s been a few years since these tips were first shared. What would you add to the list, now that we’re used to self-taping, daily? Here’s the tip sheet from Breakdown Services (PDF). What are your tips, ninjas? Comments are open, below! Let’s jam! 😀

Wanna be sure your tools *and* your mindset are in peak form? Let us get you in gear with some FREE training right now!

Woo HOO!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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  1. Audrey October 2, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Hi There! I stumbled upon your site re: taped audition tips, what a great find!

    Wondering if you can weigh in on a question I have about this?

    I would love to self submit myself on tape for TV and Film using Showfax as a guideline. However, how do I get my Youtube link to the CDs? And if I can’t see the actual breakdown, how will I know if I’m a good fit (just because the script/character looks like a good fit). What if a script reads great, but the breakdown calls for a 50 year old African American woman — and I’m a 34 year old white female?

    I work with an agency that has access to these breakdowns…so I have a shot at getting them to submit links for me…but I don’t want CDs to get annoyed at the agency for submitting on my behalf if the target character is WAY off, or if it’s simply not the right fit.

    Or, getting my agency annoyed at me, because I’m pestering them with questions about “is this script a good fit for me”, can you email this link to my CD, etc, etc? Am I over thinking this, or is this typical stuff that actors do all the time?

    Also, should I slate my name and role at the beginning of the tape?

    What are the top 3 things I should know or be aware of (from the CDs p.o.v) before getting self submitting audition to them?


  2. Audrey October 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Ahh, and my other question is (to follow up from my above post)….Showfax has tons and tons of sides, with many roles (as you know!), how do I know if that role has already been filled, would this be yet another question I’d ask my agency to find out?

    I’m REALLY trying to not get the label as “Pain In The Ass”. I’m combing through the sides with current dates, but not sure if I missed the boat on a role and don’t want to waste my time, or anyone else. Any secrets here to help?

    Thank you!

    1. Bonnie Gillespie October 2, 2012 at 9:32 pm

      Hi Audrey! 🙂 So glad you stumbled upon the site! Awesome! 😀 Yay, Internet!

      What I would suggest is that you *start* by self-taping NOT to submit, but to practice. To get sooooooo clear on what the sides are like for co-stars, for guest stars, for recurring roles on your target shows. This will make you so READY for the time when the role *does* line up with your bullseye. Obviously, submitting your audition material when you don’t meet the specs that were put out by the casting office (which you cannot always know if you’re not seeing the breakdown, but instead only the sides) could put you on a shitlist, and we don’t want to see that happen, so it’s far better to use these sides and your self-taping practice as an opportunity to get GREAT at auditioning for your target shows, and then work to build relationships with the people in these offices (through social networking, CD workshops, networking events, having an agent or manager rep you when you’re sure that person has a direct line to that office, etc.), so that when you DO get in there (because the role totally lines up with who you are), you NAIL it. 😉

      Certainly, if you have an agent or manager who is seeing the breakdowns, you connect to make sure your self-taped audition is submitted *when* it’s a good fit. 😀 Let *them* decide whether your self-taped goodies are worth sending over. Sometimes they will be; sometimes they won’t! 🙂 You just keep doing what you do because you want the practice, and because you want to become an expert in THAT type of role, that type of show, etc. When your reps feel it’s worth sending across, they will. You letting the agent/manager know it’s avail is great. Don’t have any attachment to whether or not they send it over. Sometimes, it’s not the right time.

      Sure, only you know if you have an agent who will be open to an email with a link to a self-taped audition every day or two. Some agents and actors have great relationships where they can receive those and go, “Cool. Not a good fit, but that was a good read. Keep at it,” and others will go, “Stop bothering me, ACTOR!” 😀 I don’t know what your relationship is with your team, of course!

      Slating is fine, but it’s also fine to do a “visual slate” using your iMovie editing software.

      As for how long it takes a role to be cast, for commercials, that’s the quickest (sometimes the same day). Episodic TV is within a day or two, certainly that week. Film can be weeks or MONTHS depending on so many factors! So, that’s another of the things you’ll learn to ask CDs at workshops or panel discussions the unions put on or anytime you can connect with specific target CDs using social networking. Just keep building up your show bible (use the search box here to find my writing about that concept) and you’ll get ninja with this before you know it!

      Glad you’re here! Have at it! 🙂

  3. Melissa July 2, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Hi Bonnie!
    In my regional market there is now a set standard on taping. Agents won’t even send your audition in if its not done correctly.
    And it’s because it keeps all actors on level playing fields & makes the CD’s job a little less distracting.
    Everyone is to tape using a light blue background (either painted wall, curtain, sheet, etc). Light blue is flattering on most & is pretty neutral.
    Must be well lit & no one uses natural light because it can be different at different times of day . So everyone is using studio lifting but it is still pretty simple.
    We’re all shot pretty tightly, usually chest up or even just head & shoulders.
    Then the slate is done as a separate take with either a full body pan or just pulled back to see your full body.
    There are taping services here as well for those that don’t have their own means. It’s become a lucrative business for other actors & coaches. Majority of our auditions are now put on tape. And the taping services all use the above standards for taping. And if you tape at home, the same is expected.
    The services charge anywhere from $10-$25 per audition, which includes taping, editing, & sending to you & your agent in proper format. If you want coaching for your scene they charge a little more.
    So if you start getting more auditions it may be worth it to tape yourself & learn to edit.
    Plus there is always a reader with you. Usually the person doing the taping service. But if yourstl, then you need to have someone be your reader at home, to the side of the camera, but reading in a quieter manner as to not take away from your audition.
    This is the standard here, so that’s what agents & CD’s are expecting.

  4. Bonnie Gillespie July 2, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Awesome, Melissa. Thank you for weighing in. These are fantastic tips. On the “blue sheet” issue, I actually wrote a myth-busting column on that after hearing this RULE in a talk I gave at SAG Foundation, Dallas, last year:

    I get nervous whenever someone says there’s A (only one) way of doing anything, in this business.

    Best practices, sure. But to believe that “agents won’t send it in” if they see BOOKING DOLLARS is nonsense. If they see BOOKING DOLLARS, they’re sending that puppy in no matter how many “sins” are committed. 🙂 Eyes on the prize.


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