How to Make a Great Reality Audition Tape

Since I was cast for Survivor Micronesia back in 2007, I have been getting requests, comments, and questions about how to make a great audition tape for the casting department at Survivor. If you would like to see my audition tape, you can see it on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqDbE2KiNYA

After going to multiple reality charity events in which I spoke to other contestants on such shows as Survivor, The Amazing Race and Big Brother, I have a ton of information for you to consider. There are multiple ways to get the attention of the casting department other then by mailing in a great audition video, but for sake of simplicity I will only be talking about the audition tape method here. Some other ways to gain the attention of casting: be semi-famous (washed up actor/actress/sports figure), be a multi-millionaire business owner type (sports team owner, self-made millionaire), be an expert/one-of-a-kind in your specific field or career (astronaut, pro wrestler), or simply insert yourself into the casting people’s circle of friends on the west coast.

There are 3 basic rules I used for my audition tape that I saw in pretty much every other successful audition tape for Survivor:

  1. Show, don’t Tell
  2. Be Yourself
  3. Get to the Point

1. Show Don’t Tell: A lot of unsuccessful videos include way too much talking in front of the camera. If you haven’t noticed, on shows like Survivor and the Amazing Race most people are talking on screen for less then 5 seconds each episode and the rest of the time they are out running around completing challenges or strategizing while they talk over the images of those events. The “Voice Over” is your friend,.. you can start by showing an establishing shot of yourself talking then cut the image away (while you’re still narrating/talking) to more action shots of yourself at work, play, or doing more hilarious things.

Do not state for the camera how badly you’ve wanted to play Survivor you’re whole life with a desperate look on your face. The casting department’s job is not to make you feel better and grant your wish,.. it’s your job to convince casting you are going to be an awesome character that will benefit their show. Which leads me to point number 2,…

2. Be Yourself: I know this sounds like a cliche statement, but you have to think about the whole casting process from SEG’s (CBS’s casting department’s) point of view. They have a deck of cards they like to stack each season of their show, and if they don’t get the cards they want it won’t play out as fun as they have predicted. If you portray yourself on your video to be a “badass balls-to-the-wall biker dude” and they invite you to a real live interview and you’re a computer programmer with depression they’re going to be mad. You messed up their casting scheme.

Be exciting with what you show in your video, but don’t lie. If you’re trying to get SEG’s attention use what is true and exaggerate it a little to make it a little more attractive to them. For example when I first applied in 2007 I was an art student, cross country runner, and wannabe comic artist not yet established. Not very exciting in my opinion. However each summer I worked a part-time job in Hell, Michigan a town devoted to Halloween year-round and only consisting of 72 people, who were all crazy as hell. If you watch my video Hell is one of the major things I focused on,.. it became a bigger part of my identity to SEG because I knew it was more original, unique, and funny then the average person. Find those qualities in your life and play them up.

Another thing to consider when trying to show your best side to casting departments is the BIG 3! What’s the big three?

  • Humor
  • Sex Appeal
  • Conflict

These are the three qualities most television shows look for when casting. If they can’t ultimately boil your “character” down into one or two of these categories you might find yourself watching from the couch the rest of your life. My “character” was obviously humor,.. foolish dumb-ass gives up immunity. In Survivor you can see a lot of other personalities fit into one of these three categories too: Johnny Fairplay – Humor and Conflict, Boston Rob – Humor and Conflict, Parvati Shallow – Sex Appeal, Sandra Diaz – Humor, Tyson Apostle – Humor, Phillip Sheppard – Conflict and a weird-bizarre-wtf sense of humor,.. there are other qualities that make a great character for reality TV, but these three are lightning rods for casting people when used correctly.

So what does this mean for you? You have to really know yourself before you make a great video selling yourself to anyone. I know if might sound a little zen, but there’s a lot of magic when it comes to making films. To make a Wizard of Oz comparison, you are the “man behind the curtain” and how impressive the vision of yourself you show to others is up to you. When I filmed my second application video (my first one sucked, but got the attention of casting) I had filmed 3 1/2 hours of “raw footage” that I later edited down to 3 minutes. It was definitely worth the time and effort! I was called back for in person interviews the following week.

3. Get to the Point: What are you about? Why do you want to play this game? There are a handful of simple straight forward questions casting needs to know about you. It’s great to have an exciting funny video, but be clear with the information. Weather you add facts and figures on screen with text, you take time to answer those questions in a narrative voiceover, or you draw them out,.. it doesn’t matter how just give them the basic info. Some important information to include:

  • Your Full Name
  • Your Profession, Job, or Career
  • Where you’re from
  • Exciting Hobbies / Sports / Activities
  • Why you want to be on the show
  • Who you are (more of an open-ended question)
  • What you’ll bring to the show

These are a lot of things to put into one video, I know. But I think its all necessary to take the time and do the best you can. These qualities I have mentioned here are present in a lot of successful videos and they can help you out too if you’re frustrated with your quest.

As a Survivor fan I had always heard online that it is really hard to apply for Survivor by sending in a video. More and more it seemed like SEG was actively looking for interesting people on their own who have nothing to do with Survivor. I was amazed when I was cast for Fans vs. Faves and still am to this day,.. I still think my casting video was what helped get me there. You just need to be honest and show them the next great player that they’re looking for.

Q & A from Twitter followers time!!!
These are select questions from Twitter followers I thought I should cover in this article. I’m on the tweet machine @BloodyAmer1can if you want to put in your 2 cents! Apologies in advance for the excessive “air quotes”!

Q: How early in advance (of the casting process) do you have to make it?

A: Once they announce that they’re casting online at CBS.com send in your video anytime from there on out. It’s my understanding that the casting process is ongoing; even after the time frame has expired they’re still formulating cast schemes. As I said above, they are composing a new deck of “cards” (characters) each season. If they like your “character” they will try and put you into as many decks that they are considering to play. Some people have been cast three months prior,.. some have been cast 3 days prior. Don’t give up hope!

Q: What’s the best way to immediately grab their attention without being gimmicky?

A: Try not to resort to movie techniques and mimicry. Originality is your friend here,.. different is good. Even a little “strange” can be good if its funny. You are the raw talent in this situation,.. you are trying to show them a “new product” (you!), a new talent to make their show better.

Q: How did you edit your video so well? What programs did you use?

A: A friend of mine had the program Final Cut and worked as a video editor. He helped me put it together over the course of a week. You can easily make videos on iMovie or Windows MovieMaker or other simple editing programs, but Final Cut is excellent. You basically upload your footage from a digital camera and start editing, adding music, and more. It takes a while though,.. plan for a few days or more of editing.

Q: What are the absolute no-no’s that people make the mistake of including?

A: Don’t go overboard on Survivor. I know this sounds stupid and mean, but if you are a fan of Survivor (or the Amazing Race, Big Brother, etc.) don’t focus too heavily on that aspect. You aren’t making a fan-video, this is an application. You can show a 5 second scene of you with your buff collection and say,”..Like the wonderful Cochran I too am a student of the game!” and then blare some of the Survivor theme song, but that would be enough for the entire video. That may be a large part of your life, but it’s not the only part. Show them more of who you are as an individual.

Also don’t spend to much time on each scene,.. I have found that quick edits (spend 3 – 5 seconds on one set of static imagery) do better for the video pacing. You only have 3 minutes to show as much as you can about yourself. You don’t have time to delve into a half minute dialogue about strategy theory. Be critical, if a scene doesn’t inform, excite, or get a laugh then decide if it should be cut from the video.

Lastly, don’t play a character unless you show enough of yourself too. This is not an acting audition,.. you can do impressions, but show off your own personality too.

Comments or Questions? Post them here! Thank you!

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