MORE AND MORE college theatre programs across the country are using video auditions as part of their admissions process. A well-made video will communicate that you are talented and college-ready, as well as professional, organized, and tech savvy. You don’t need thousands of dollars of equipment or years of experience editing footage to make a good impression.

Here you’ll find some helpful tips and suggestions for filming your college audition using just a smartphone or two, a helper, basic software, and inexpensive or free apps.

Preproduction

Before you begin, familiarize yourself with the video audition requirements of the school or schools you are submitting to. Each school has its own set of guidelines. Make sure you adhere to them.

Get the shot

Most HD video is shot in 16:9 orientation. Cell phones also shoot in this aspect ratio. Flip your smartphone so that you’re shooting horizontally.

Set your phone on a tripod. Don’t have one? No problem! You can make one out of five large binder clips.

When you’re positioning the camera, do not point it toward a window or other light source. Schools want to see your face, movement, expression — not a silhouette. Light should be on you and not on your camera lens.

Be aware of your space. Is grandma’s bright orange couch circa 1974 really the right backdrop for your Lady Macbeth monologue? Avoid cluttered and visually loud, unappealing spaces. Don’t be upstaged by the wallpaper. You’re the star.

Audio

When you’ve found a space that’s visually suitable, take 10 minutes and just listen to it. What do you hear: the washing machine upstairs? Does the HVAC system kick on every half hour? Is your little brother watching cartoons in the next room? Ambient noise can spoil a great audition.

You can’t completely soundproof the room you’re working in, but you can minimize extra noise. Turn down the volume on Bugs Bunny, ask your family to hold off on the laundry, and fiddle with the AC while you’re shooting.

If it’s an option, consider recording audio separately on a second phone. Ask someone to help you. For the best possible sound, have your friend hold the second phone just outside the camera frame as you perform. Slate your recording so you can match the two in editing. A hand clap works best.

You can use binder clips to create a tripod for your smartphone.
You can use binder clips to create a tripod for your smartphone. Photo by Jim Talkington.

Take 2, 3, 4, ?

Consider doing multiple takes. In one, concentrate on getting the best possible video; in another, focus on getting the best possible audio.

Also consider getting a variety of shots. Wide shots show your entire body, whereas tighter shots display something you want the viewer to focus on: your face, your tapping feet, your eyes, etc. Note: Remember to closely adhere to the video audition guidelines of each school. Some schools might only want to see one shot instead of multiples.

The cutting room floor

Don’t overedit. You’re not making a full-length feature film with car chases and a green screen. You’re making a short, simple audition video meant to feature you and your theatre skills. Resist adding that cheesy sound effect or fancy transition.

Be you

Look like yourself. Keep your hair and makeup natural and your outfit tidy and neutral. Bright, solid colors work well on top, or black is a good choice for clothing unless you’re standing in front of a black background.

Use PowerPoint or another presentation software to create a slide that includes your name, contact information, and what you’re applying for. Drop the slide into the editing timeline at the beginning and at the end of your video (again, making sure to follow your school’s video audition guidelines).

There’s an app for that

Take advantage of the wealth of inexpensive or free, user-friendly tools out there designed to help you create polished video.

Editing software

  • iMovie for Mac and Windows Photos: These programs come preloaded on many computers. Both are easy and intuitive editing platforms for the novice film editor.
  • Avidemux: This open source software does simple editing and takes up very little space on a hard drive.
  • DaVinci Resolve: Free, compatible with other industry-standard video editing software, and available for download.
  • YouTube editor: Also open source, this software can make basic cuts to your video. It does not have to be downloaded.

Audio apps

  • Voice Memos: This iPhone app optimizes the phone’s built-in mic and gets cleaner audio. But users have very little control over a finished recording.
  • Audio Memos: You can get this iPhone app for $1 in the app store. The normalizing feature allows you to capture audio at a constant, average volume and can be toggled on and off without changing the original file. You can also add compression to prevent clipping or distortion.
  • Voice Recorder: This app for Android is similar to Apple’s Voice Memos. It is a free, stripped-down app that captures cleaner sound than the built-in mic circuit.
  • Smart Voice Recorder: Free in the Google Play store, this app allows more advanced users to calibrate and test their mic and to skip or remove unwanted silences in an audio clip.
This story is excerpted from the December 2014 print version of Dramatics. Kevin George contributed. 
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