A common misconception for models is that since they aren’t actors, they will never be asked to do any type of video or on-screen work. This actually couldn’t be furthest from the truth. While models may not be asked to do many speaking roles in commercials or films, they are sometimes wanted for small speaking roles and are often used as background actors.
Sometimes, no video will be involved in the project at all, but a client still wants to see how you move in front of a camera as opposed to just seeing still shots/digitals of you. This is why knowing how to do “self-tapes” and “slates” as a model is incredibly important, especially during the pandemic when so many castings have gone virtual. If you have an out-of-town agency, the likelihood of being asked to at least submit a slate video is very high, so having the knowledge of how to prepare and submit such a video is a must.
So, first things first, what is a “self-tape” and “slate”? A “self-tape” is a video that many casting directors refer to when an audition is done through a virtual casting rather than auditioning in person. The talent (model/actor) must record their audition video on their own and submit it to their agent or the client. It usually starts with saying your "slate" (see below for definition) followed by a couple lines or other instructions they want you to act out. They may give a few lines to say or just want you to show your profiles (turn to the right, then back towards the front, and then to the left, so that the camera can see your whole face) and give a couple different facial expressions without speaking.
A "slate" is essentially the introduction of yourself that you give at the beginning of your self-tape. In your slate video, you should always state your name and agency first, then provide other information that may be asked such as your height, age, or location followed by whatever the script asks you to do. (check out more important industry terms you need to know here)
Knowing how to self-tape and slate properly can be a deciding factor in whether or not you’re going to receive a call-back or book a job, so read below for some tips on how to do self-tapes!
Record in Landscape Mode
Be sure to shoot your videos in landscape (horizontal) mode instead of portrait (vertical) mode. Shooting videos in portrait mode runs the risk of stretching your video or having it upload sideways. Most of the time, shooting from the waist up is the preferred method, and they'll aslo have you submit photos along with the video so they can see your full body. If they request to have your full body in the video, still shoot in landscape mode, just have the camera far enough back to fit your full body in.
Do Not Shoot in 4k
These days with phone cameras being able to shoot at such high resolutions, many people shoot at the highest option possible because they assume that's best, but the reality is that no self-tape needs to be that high definition. Obviously, you want to make your videos look as nice as possible, but shooting in 4K often limits the compatibility of your videos and can lead them to being impossible to upload to casting servers.
The max resolution you should use is 1080p, but the most compatible resolution to use while still getting great video quality is 720p (1270×720). Also check your phone settings to make sure you’re not shooting in “high efficiency”, as this will also make your video resolution too high to attach in an email or upload to a casting submission page.
Make Files Under 100Mb In Size
Anything above this size limit automatically gets compressed upon receipt. This can cause a lot of work for the recipient to upload it, and also may cause your video to pixelate when they are able to open it. To limit these potential issues, shooting in 720p and exporting as .mp4 is the best way to go, or manually compress your video before sending to ensure there is no quality loss.
This can’t be emphasized enough. The sole purpose of doing a self-tape/slate is to capture you on camera clearly stating your personal information and following the directions they have given you. So, your only job is to ensure that you have covered all the directions that the casting agent has requested. Do not deviate from the directions, even if you think there may be a better way to do what they’re asking. If you don’t follow the exact instructions or provide a piece of information they’re requesting, you’re showing them right off the bat you don’t take instruction well or that you overlook details, which will greatly impact whether or not you get booked for the job.
The beauty of doing self-tapes is that you can literally re-do it a thousand times until you get it perfect, so make sure to read the instructions and watch your recording over to make sure you’ve covered everything they’ve asked. If you missed even one little part, re-do it!
Film Like a Pro
Much like taking “digitals”, when filming your slate/self-tape, less is more in terms of production. Most self-tapes are taken with a phone, so don’t worry if you don’t have a high-end video camera. Take your video against a blank background, preferably a white wall. If you don’t have a white wall in a well-lit area, try to find a wall that’s as neutral of a color as possible where there’s nothing behind you that can be distracting such as art or photographs. Also make sure there are no distracting background noises such as traffic, kids, or pets that could make what you’re saying difficult to hear.
Natural lighting would be best option as natural light tends to create more well-lit videos and looks flattering for everyone. If you don’t have a black wall in a well-lit area, don’t be afraid to set up a ring light or go outside and use the side of a building or garage door as your backdrop. If you do have to go outside, try to stay out of direct sunlight to avoid squinting and harsh facial shadows, and make sure that where you’re standing has even light all around you. You don’t want half your body in the sun and half in the shade as that can distort your features. Also be aware of the wind, as that can make your audio staticky.
Sometimes there are recommendations about what you should wear, or the role you’re casting for has a specific look that you want to try to follow. If there are no such instructions and they just want to see you in your natural state, I always follow the same guidelines given for taking digitals. Your hair should be natural or very lightly styled (no obvious unnatural style or up-do) and makeup should be minimal to bare-faced, no full glam. Wear an outfit that is flattering to your body and avoid wearing patterns or bright colors.
***NEVER*** do your self-tape in lingerie, partially nude, or fully nude. If anyone asks for that type of self-tape, it’s a HUGE red flag.
Be Confident and Natural
The key to slating is to be natural and show a bit of your personality. Your introduction shouldn’t be over the top but it should certainly not be boring either. Just like when you introduce yourself to a new person, you want to give a good first impression that shows confidence and ease. You want to look professional (you’re being hired for a job), but relatable and friendly (you’re selling a product). Keep it light and casual. You’re basically having an easy conversation with your camera saying “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and here is the information you asked me to provide, thanks so much for your time”.
This seems like common sense that doesn’t even need to be mentioned- but unfortunately it does. When you’re saying anything to the camera, it’s important to enunciate your words and speak at a volume and speed that can easily be heard and understood. Especially when you’re stating your personal information, you want to make sure there are no questions about what you’re saying.
Ask for Feedback
Never be afraid to send your self-tape to your agent before submitting to get their feedback on it. It’s better to have them suggest some changes and re-record it then to send it in as-is when it could’ve been improved. Remember, they’re your biggest advocate and want you to get the job as much as you want it!