$250 Self-Tape for Actors

You’re working on a budget and only have enough money to pay for 1 or 2 self-tapes per month. You might not have the budget to spend thousands on a professional self-tape setup, but you still need it! Let’s look at what we can do to get a great self-tape set up for less than $250.

*All prices are in US dollars, but they can be ordered internationally.

I like to imagine a self-tape in five parts.

Part 1: CameraPart 2: Tripod

Part 3 – Audio

Part 4 – Lights

Part 5 – Backdrop

Part 1: Camera

Let’s start with the camera. We are on a tight budget, so we won’t be able to spend money on a DSLR or Mirrorless camera. Instead, we will use our smartphones. Smartphones have incredible video capabilities these days and can be used to create self-tapes.

You have serious video capabilities in your hands, especially if you own an iPhone, Android, Pixel, or similar. There is no need to buy a new camera right now.

You may need to upgrade if your iPhone is 6 or older. You probably will need to update anyway.

Part 2: Tripod

Next, you will need something to place your smartphone on to stay steady. Sometimes I had to use a combination of a tripod and side tables in a hotel room.

Grab a tripod for your smartphone instead of all the hassle and expense. These are small and lightweight, so you don’t have to worry about everything.

These can be purchased at Target, Kmart and Target for as low as $20. The Joby Gorilla Pod is a solid option (around $30-40), but other options exist.

Note The problem with tripods like these is that it can be difficult to achieve the height you want without making a stack of books, toasters, and the rest. A second-hand tripod is an option, as well as a basic tripod. It should cost less than $50 to buy one.

Part 3: Audio

Good audio quality is crucial for self-tapes. We wouldn’t encourage you to skip this step. A Rode PhotoMic Me Directional Microphone is a good choice, especially since we are working on a limited budget. It costs about $60 and plugs directly into your smartphone. It should point towards you and not your reader.

OR, a Rode smartLav+ Lavalier Condenser Mic that costs approximately $80. This one is a bit more difficult. You will need to attach the mic to your neck/chest and conceal it underneath clothing. The cord will connect you to your phone’s camera. Two smartphones could be used to record video and audio. However, you will need to use editing software to sync the tracks. You could save this step by getting an extra-long cable so that you can still move around while you are connected to your camera.

You can then download the RODE Rec LE App – you have two versions – a free and a paid one. This app allows you to record sound directly to your smartphone. We recommend setting up both mics and then plugging them into your smartphone. Then, play around with the settings and do some tests. Before you start shooting a self-test, do a mock tape.

Note: improving your audio is definitely worth the investment. However, if you don’t have enough money, ensure you’re in a quiet area and avoid large rooms with many echoes. Avoid noise from cars, planes, and other distracting sounds.

Part 4: Lights

For less than $100, you can find average lights that will work. You can find a few options on Amazon. This Continuous Light Kit includes 2x bulbs, 2x stands and 2x softboxes. All for $90. This is an amazing deal. Many brands offer similar products, and you can find them all online. They come in different brightnesses, colours, and temperatures. You should be aware that spending $90 on lighting will not make you a cinematic, professional-looking self-tape. These worked well for me for about a year. Then I decided to save up and buy better quality, more expensive lights. These lights are a great way to start actors.

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