Your Successful Prescreen
College reps and admissions counselors will review your prescreen video before inviting you to audition for a spot in their program. It’s kind of a big deal.
You gotta get technical
If you’re not super tech savvy, don’t worry. There are basic steps you can take to ensure a grade A recording, like using a good digital camera. You don’t have to rush out and buy an expensive device; even point -and-shoot digital cameras have good resolution nowadays. Whatever camera you use, you have to make sure it’s on stable surface, like a tripod, and has the functionality to transfer your recording to a computer. Also, know how to convert your video file to an mp4, the standard file type for videos (not sure how to convert a video? Click here.) You should also make sure your aspect ratio is the standard 4:3. This will ensure your prescreen won’t be distorted when the reviewers watch it.
Location, location, location
You don’t want to record your prescreen video just anywhere. Choose a quiet, clutter-free space with a plain background. You don’t necessarily have to record on your prescreen on a stage, but you want a space that is comparable.
The better to see you with, my dear…
You have to be well-lit. Natural light is best, but artificial light, like lamps or reflectors, can be useful to minimize shadows. Do some test shots to make sure your face is clearly visible and that your eyes “pop.” To avoid looking washed out, wear a solid color that compliments your skin tone.
Just like lighting, sound is an important part of your prescreen video. You have to be heard clearly. An external microphone will definitely help, but there are other quick fixes you can do to enhance sound quality, like eliminate ambient noise. If you’re recording in your home, which is a totally viable option, make sure you can’t hear the TV in the other room, or the dishwasher or washing machine. Have someone monitor (listen) to your audio through headphones as you record. Doing this will help you hear what background noise the mic is picking up. You’ll be surprised. Use sound absorbers in the recording space, like padded furniture and rugs. If you’re recording a musical prescreen, make sure you are louder than your accompaniment. If you’re recording a dance prescreen, make sure there’s someone to cut off and cue your music.
You’re the star
In the end, the prescreen is about your performance. Perform your piece directly to the camera, and frame your entire body or from the waist up for music and theatre prescreens. Dance prescreens will need a wider shot. Don’t zoom in for extreme facial close-ups, even for the slate, but do smile during your slate and show your personality to the reviewers. Adjust your performance for camera in gestures and blocking. You generally want a dialed down performance for your prescreen. Most importantly, re-record as many times as you want.
Nailing your prescreen video will set you up for success at your live audition and provide you with an awesome introduction to the decision-makers
DO: Dress for the audition. Even though this is on video, that doesn't mean it's not a real audition. Dress as if you were going to a campus for the audition.
DON'T: Show JUST your face. The faculty wants (and sort of needs) to see your whole body in the shot at some point in the audition, at least from the knees up.
DO: Pick pieces that suit you as an individual. To put it in the most eloquent way I can imagine, I will just quote our Head of Acting at Coastal, Monica Bell: "I suppose that this is a rule for all of our auditions, not just video pre-screens, but choose pieces that let us as a faculty get to know YOU. I want to get to know you through your material, to experience your work as an individual."
DON'T: Make your pieces too long. Follow the guidelines that were given to you by the school on their auditions website. Although it's possible for you to sing the entire song in your audition, it's not a good idea. 16-32 bar cuts are used for a reason, and going over doesn't make the viewers watch any more of your singing or monologue, it just makes them fast forward to the end.
Now I'm not going to promise that if someone follows the guidelines perfectly they will pass the pre-screen of any program. Sometimes, students are extremely talented and make well put-together, professional videos…and they still aren't invited to audition. There are forces at work outside of everyone's control, and they usually boil down to "Not what we're looking for this year." As much of a bummer as that is, this process gives students a chance to move on to the rest of the eggs in their basket. Time and hard work will lead everyone to the place that is the right fit for them. Sometimes it just takes a few long days with a camera (and quite a few school visits!) in order to find home.