How to Set Up A Self Test

At one time there was nothing more terrifying to me than setting up a self-test for an actor. All of a sudden their life is in your hands and you kind of feel the weight of their audition as you set up. Here are some tips you can use in order to worry a bit less.

MAKE IT AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE

This one sounds like a no brainer, but it’s so easy to overthink these things, especially if you’re worried about impressing a new client. I usually try to stick with one to two lights against a white backdrop. If you’re wondering what that looks like, well then do I have a photo for you:

LIGHTS

Okay I know that probably looks a bit scary if you’re new to the game and have a zero dollar budget, so here are some substitutes:

First off, you don’t need a fancy white backdrop, a plain wall will do more than okay. And lighting is actually way easier than you might think. If you don’t have studio lights then you can make literally anything work.

  • Work Lights
  • Flood Clamp Lights
  • China Ball Lights

Anything to put light on your subject honestly will do the trick.

CAMERA

You’ll probably need a camera if you want to actually film something. Don’t freak out if you don’t have the latest 4K camera, while self tests should be professional, it’s actually a bad idea to try and make them cinematic, or artsy. A self test is there to showcase an actor’s ability to perform the role and that’s it.

(You will need a tripod though, or at the very least a really tall stool.)

ACTION

When you frame your subject don’t get crazy, you only need one angle straight on. Like I said, this isn’t the time to get artsy. A straight on medium shot is your best friend here, think mugshot.

Now that we have some of the practicalities out of the way, here are some tips to help you figure out how to conduct yourself during the self test.

THEIR SELF TEST IS NOT YOUR FILM

Whenever I give a self test, the first couple of run throughs I basically just hit record and let the actor do what they do. They’re the ones who know the character and the project, if you’re asked, “What do you think?” then you can offer some of your mental notes, but keep them simple, things like, “Everything looks good, maybe try slowing down a bit.” Or ask them questions about the character in order to help them think of their own ideas, but this isn’t the time for you to create a character. Even if your intentions are good, you could really sabotage their audition.

GET USED TO EDITING QUICKLY

Basically you want to be the person someone can go to when they only have 3 hours before they need to send in their tape. Get into the habit of editing self tests immediately after you film them. Something that can help you do this is creating a colour grading preset so you can throw in the clip and boom you’re done. Make sure you’re in a quiet room so you don’t have to worry about sound and Bob’s your uncle.

RELAX AND DON’T REACT

Another no brainer, but often clients can be worried about their self test and whether or not they’re gonna get the part. This is when it’s you’re job to make them feel comfortable and at ease with their performance. Greet them with a smile, have some coffee ready and be excited to work with them. You don’t have to blow smoke anywhere just be the most courteous and kind version of you that you can be. Honestly, if you follow this tip there’s a solid chance you’ll feel pretty rewarded at the end of the day.

And look, customer service like that goes a long way. Be the person people are talking to their friends about. Doing self tests for people don’t just have to be the thing you do to make an extra buck, you really get the chance to make a difference in an actor’s day.

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  • While a great many would see him as a hero, there are some that would prefer the term vigilante. Gregory is an aspiring filmmaker who loves writing, directing, coffee and long walks on the beach.

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