Using Skype for Auditions and Interviews
By Erik Sean McGiven
For actors, more and more interviews and auditions are happening on Skype. Technology has advanced to where quality video communications are possible over the Internet and at a very reasonable cost (FREE). Likewise, it reduces travel expenses and simulates the final product of film or TV. In addition, when interviews and audition are recorded, they can be passed on to the director and producer where comparisons can be made between viable candidates.
Knowing how to use this tool can be instrumental in promoting one’s career. This includes knowledge about the technical aspects, as well as interview and audition considerations. This article will cover key facets of each of these phases.
The technical aspects we will look at are software, camera, microphone, lighting, and background. Knowing how Skype works can be enhanced by following the operating instructions and also viewing the numerous tutorials found on YouTube. It’s important to know how to use this service before going live. Practice by calling friends to familiarize yourself with the various functions. It is also possible to confirm proper operation by calling Echo Sound Test Service and bill on Skype Video Echo, both free. This should be done periodically, especially before an important interview or audition.
Camera placement and framing should allow for some movement and gestures. If your webcam is on your monitor, then you would adjust framing by moving with regard to the camera. Framing should be such that we see the upper part of your chest (third button down on a dress shirt) and top of the frame about a hands width above the head. Camera elevation should be close to eye level or slightly higher depending on what’s best for your look. Adjust camera settings for best skin tone.
Lighting is a vital factor in using Skype. You want an even elimination with the light source placed about 30 degrees left or right of your camera. This will give you pleasing shadows that provide a three-dimensional look of your facial features. A shaded lamp works well and can be moved in or out, left or right, up and down for best results. Elevation wise, best results are possible when the light is about 20 degrees above the eye line. A fill or weaker light should be placed on the opposite side to soften shadows.
Sound should come through clearly, picking up your voice without echoes or hum. Having a microphone with a flexible arm provides some leeway in positioning. You want the mic close enough for best pickup, yet not so close it distracts from your performance. Another option is using a clip-on microphone with the cable hidden under your clothing. You should know that microphones distort your voice, especially the cheaper ones. While these are okay for chatting with friends, better quality ones are necessary when auditioning. Check sound quality on Echo and correct by either better mic placement or getting a better mic.
The background behind you is likewise a consideration. There should be nothing that distracts from your performance or interview. A neutral background is best and should be far enough away so your shadow is not distracting. Some actors think if the background is interesting it will up their chances. Such is not the case, for it’s you they want to see, not your knick-knacks or photos.
Another consideration is background noise. This could be pets, family members, phones, even appliances. Prepare your environment so that it’s stress free and absent of any distractions, both visually and sound wise.
On Skype, you will have to come up with a user name, an address so people can reach you. It’s similar to an email address. It should be professional and not distract from who you are. Create one using your industry name or one closely akin to it. A resume photo is also helpful in promoting a professional persona.
Let’s begin this section with the simplest consideration, what to wear. First off, you want attire that supports your persona as well as the character you are later portraying. Often actors dress up with an outfit that distracts by either being too flashy or too chic, thinking that clothes will sell them better. Likewise, there is a temptation to dress up only above the waist. By wearing a complete ensemble, you stay in the interview mode. And if you are asked to stand up for some reason, you don’t want it to be an embarrassment and ruin the impression you’ve built.
In an interview, body language is very important. Many casting directors say the audition begins the minute you walk in the door. Thus, think of the interview portion as a major part of the audition. Concentrate on sitting up straight and making eye contact via the webcam. You will be tempted to focus on the monitor, instead visualize the people watching you standing behind the webcam. Avoid connecting totally to the webcam for this becomes a forced behavior that betrays your sincerity. Use look-aways to indicate formulating answers, recalling a past event, or portraying a realization. Such behavior depicts cinematic abilities desired in actors. Also use nods showing acceptance of comments and slight movements toward camera to show interest in what interviewers are saying.
Be prepared with positive comments and answers to likely questions. Have stories and antidotes ready to illustrate your accomplishments, craft, and training. These should be very short. These are important in that they show how animated and authentic you can be and your range of expressions. In this regard, know something about the company and the people interviewing you. What films have they produced, what awards have they won, box office numbers plus actors with which they’ve worked. This information is available on IMDB.com, Box Office Mojo and Google. Companies also have websites on which bios are usually available on production principals. Have complementary comments at hand to use during the interview, especially if you can connect them to the audition project.
Show them who you are. Use Skype’s file sharing feature to send the director and/or casting director your head shots, video reel, acting resume and any other portfolio items. This will be appreciated and indicate you are well prepared. It can also give you an edge over other candidates.
The most important questions will be about how you plan to portray the character, how you see this person and its role in the story. Such questions weigh on your commitment to the role, whether you’ve read the script or synopsis, and your level of dramatic knowledge. Ask well thought out questions. Also, be ready to state what you like about the character and how he or she relates to something in your own life or someone you know. Being able to discuss the story, the confrontation, the relationships in intelligent ways can influence the auditors’ decision. Such responses also help verify the experience and training listed on your resume.
In closing, treat your Skype interview as you would an actual in-person one. Be prepared. Set goals. Be amiable, enthusiastic, and give clues showing you are actively listening.
Normally you would receive your sides along with the script or synopsis in advance of your audition. This should allow time to analyze the material, come up with dramatic choices, and develop the character. You may also receive notes from the CD or director about the character and which scene or scenes to prepare. If these stipulations are unclear, contact the CD.
There are some challenges in using Skype in that there is a slight delay in response between auditors or reader and the actor. This hinders timing and naturalism between the reader playing the other part and the actor. As such, to gain a realistic performance, it helps to have the acting partner in the room rather than dealing with the stress of a time delay. Your goal should be to produce the most naturalistic and truthful performance you can, and you should do whatever is necessary to create a comfortable stress-free environment. Likewise, we don’t see the reactions of your off camera acting partner. As such, you must find ways to respond to these unseen reactions. By using a two female by one male Y-cable adapter, you can connect two microphones to your computer.
In an audition, where do you look. Some CD’s want you to look at the camera so they can see your eyes. Others want a more cinematic performance where your eyes focus on problems at hand, the relationship with the other character, your internal problems, recalled memories, and behaviors such realization, contemplations and expectations. When such acting is force through one perspective, looking into the camera, acting skills are limited and thus diminished. Instead, when the eyes are allowed to move and focus on elements through look-aways, the scene comes alive for we visualize the thoughts and feelings coming from the character’s actions. Such a portrayal is closer to the cinematic ones found on the big screen.
Movement in a Skype audition is restricted by the frame, however because it is a close-up, subtle moves are possible that give meaning to the scene. For instance, move toward the camera when confronting someone or showing interest. Lean back to contemplate a problem, or turning away from the camera and light when confronted with a problem you would rather avoid. Hand gestures and body language are likewise possible. Because you are in close-up, keep such movements and gestures small and slower as they are accentuated by the closeness of the lens. Remember that your non-verbal component conveys some 90% of what you communicate. This includes physical presence, expressions, your gestures and touch, plus vocal characteristics, how you say your dialogue.
Lack of energy is a common complaint by casting directors, more so in not sustaining energy throughout the audition. Lack of energy shows up mainly in dialogue delivery where stress, fickled choices, and marginal craft create an uncertainty that saps one’s strength. Instead, make strong choices, commit to them, and implement them fully. Breathing properly can help boost and maintain your energy level. To simulate a feeling of high energy, do ten, twenty pushups and then you’ll know what high energy feels like. Then you can’t help but project bigger emotions, bigger commitments, and a stronger character. Remember that feeling and use it throughout your audition.
Energy levels can also be affected by poor memorization skills. If you are struggling with the dialogue, you’ll be distracted from your acting objectives. Remember, association is the primary aid in memorization, but it requires a conscious effort and an unrestricted imagination. To remember something well, you need to associate it with what you already know in some ridiculous, absurd, or exaggerated way. The more bizarre, outlandish, or ridiculous the imagined association, the deeper the imprint on your memory and thus easier to recall.
In a Skype audition, dialogue delivery provides numerous opportunities to show off your craft. Because you’re famed in a close up, the focus is on your facial expressions and how you deliver the dialogue. While your movements are restricted, the vocal choices are not. Try to incorporate a range of vocal elements, elements such as motivated pauses, changes in tempo, plus considerations in emphasis, dynamics, and contrast. Likewise, vocal qualities that enhance the character’s emotions and intentions should likewise be applied.
Another consideration in performing is implementing the proper acting style with regard to the script’s genre. These genres include drama, comedy, thriller, terror, suspense, and romantic adventure plus many more. Each genre has its specific traits. In comedy, for instance, emotions are light, decisive and readable, and usually played on the surface. In drama. on the other hand, emotions have a wide span, usually deeply played from full passion to concealment. Emotions can sometimes be subtle in quality making them apparent only through audience involvement in the story. They also have the potential to be highly volatile. The online article “Styles of Acting – What Defines the Differences?” covers this subject in more detail.
Be ready to justify your dramatic choices and how you portrayed the character. This input is desirable in that it opens up ways to make the story stronger. It could be ideas the writer, director and CD never considered. So be open to share things like the back story you contrived, the flaws, goals, and motivations of the character.
When asked to do the scene a different way, it’s more likely to see if you are malleable and can take direction. Be open to their suggestions and be positive about doing it a different way. Such requests indicate you’re being considered and they’re adding an additional hurdle. Likewise, when asked to do a different scene, take your time to review it and make your dramatic choices. Hold the script to where it does not distract from your performance. It is best to work this out in advance.
In Skype, it is possible to see an out-going image of yourself. This can be placed in a small window on the screen where you can check your framing and video quality. There will be a temptation to focus in on this window distracting you from your performance. If so, turn this feature off or place it in an area away from the camera.
It’s advisable to record your Skype auditions so you can see where you need improvement plus areas where you did well. There are several plugins that are compatible with Skype. A popular one is Vodburner. It records both audio and video from both sides. It also allows you to edit and upload your audition to YouTube and other platforms.
When the interview/audition is over, thank the auditors for the opportunity and for the suggestions they provided. If possible, thank them by name. Afterwards, follow up with a handwritten thank you note restating a helpful suggestion, and how you utilized it to improve your performance. Add another affirmation that puts a positive spin on the experience. Include your business card with your picture on it and mail contents to their office(s). Such a gesture ups your reputation as a sincere, committed professional actor, one that deserves consideration now and in the future.
Skype is a viable tool to add to your craft. It provides ways to circumvent obstacles like congested schedules, distant locations, and costly travel. While Skype has some technical limitations, with preparation and practice, actors can use this tool to promote and enhance their careers. Even with these challenges, Skype provides an experience closely akin to working on the set. You get the script, learn your lines, then get suggestions and directions, and finally perform. And if you do it brilliantly, you get the job. That’s a good thing.
Erik Sean McGiven has taught acting workshops and also coached privately. For his students and actors he mentors, he compiled the book, The Rudimentary Elements of the Dramatic Performance, which is based on studying the skills and techniques used by acclaimed and award-winning actors. Articles based on these findings can be found on his website http://www.erikseanmcgiven.com/writings under down links Acting and The Biz. Erik works in the entertainment industry as a writer, producer, and production designer. He has also directed plays for a repertory theatre.
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