My favorite "acting gear"
We are in a world of self-tapes and home VO studios. Here are some tools I've come to love over the past couple of years. They make great holiday gifts for that actor in your life (just maybe that's YOU!)
Is there cheaper stuff out there? FOR SURE. But if someone is asking you what you want for a gift, and you wanna step it up a bit - here's some really solid gear.
Full disclosure- some of the links below contain affiliate links where we receive a small commission - but it's at no extra charge to you. I use these items, and would absolutely recommend them regardless.
SELF TAPE GEAR
Phone holder - Ulanzi ST-14 Iron Man III 360° Tripod Mount - $34.95
This thing is the Cadillac of phone clips. I've used a load of other phone clips, and this is the only one that hits all the marks for me. You can screw it into a light stand, use it with a camera tripod, or it has a flip out foot to just stand it up on a desk. It's made of metal and won't break when your REALLY can't have it break! It's got a cold-shoe mount on it so you can add an external mic (see below). And the deal breaker for me: It can TILT. I just can't use a phone clip that won't tilt downwards. You've gotta get that phone up at eye level, but then to frame properly you want to tilt it down a little bit. With non-tilting clips you have to have the phone lower than you want in order to frame up properly.
I use this for holding an iPad to use as a teleprompter, and also for holding an 2nd external monitor for my computer when working on the road. It packs up small, but is rock solid. I use it with this ball head to make the viewing angle more adjustable, but it's not needed.
Adding an external microphone to your kit can be a great way to allow you to move that camera back just a bit further, crop in, and create better lensing. This mic works great for me when I'm on the road. (Full disclaimer, in my home studio I don't shoot on a phone, and use much higher end cameras and microphones cause I'm a gear geek... but I do love this when on the road.) Speaking of being on the road... if I know I'm not gonna need to record any VO jobs, but may need to lay down some VO auditions, I use this to double as my travel VO mic in combo with the Twisted Wave app on my iPhone. Sounds totally good enough for audition quality takes. For me- that double-purpose was the deciding factor in this purchase.
NOTE ON EXTERNAL MICS! - I hate the way LAVS sound on self tapes. I use lavs all the time when shooting real video projects - and I usually choose those tracks over my shotgun track in the edit. But the cheap lavs and the auto-gain that most actors use on self tapes sound pretty crappy to me. Even when the actor goes quiet and intimate, the auto-gain cranks the volume up a TON. The same happens with a mini-shotgun... BUT... with a mini-shotgun it's not as much, and you can still hear the SPACE and how forceful or relaxed the actor is with their breath support. Mini-shotguns just tend to deliver that performance nuance way better in my opinion.
There are way cheaper light stands out there, but OMG these things pack down small and are amazing for travel or home use. The only difference between the two is that the carbon fiber one is lighter by about 4 ounces. You can tell the difference, but it's not a huge deal. I have one of each. I only got the carbon fiber one because I shoot professional projects on the road, and carrying around a full camera and lighting kit makes every ounce count. For self tapes? I'd just go for the aluminum ones. Plus, I love having several light stands around for self tapes. One for the phone holder, one for teleprompter, and a couple for lights. (I'm not a fan of ring lights at all. I'd much rather have two simple soft box lights off to both sides - but you do you.)
Now admittedly, both of these tripods are ridiculously expensive - you can get away with a $10 light stand, or a really sweet $50 light stand. I bought my Ulanzi Zero F38 with the additional U-190 Mini Fluid Head for a video project I was directing and shooting down in New Orleans this past year. I used the tripod with a kitted out Black Magic Pocket Cinema 6k and it dealt with the heavier camera just fine. We walked around a TON during that 3 day shoot and I was so happy to have this thing. I needed to carry all of my gear on my back - camera, tripod, lights, modifiers, sound, everything. So weight and size was crucial. And I gotta admit - for self tapes on the road it's fantastic. It disappears into a carryon bag, and gives your helper the ability to pan and tilt. If I were to buy one today, I would probably go for the cheaper Ulanzi TT09 Video Go. It's just an inch longer when packed up. (that inch made a difference in the backpack I was using on that shoot). Please DON'T go and buy one of these thinking that you need it! This is definitely a luxury item for a self tape kit. But if you travel a ton... it may be worth it.
Adjustable Laptop Stand - Tossbiss Laptop Tripod - $55.99
I don't put my laptop on this. Well, not usually. I mostly use this as a table, desk, counter, etc in my self tapes. It adjusts down if my character is sitting at a desk or table. It adjusts up if my character is standing at a counter. I solves so many problems in so many self-tape scenarios. AND - it has a dual use. I DO put my laptop on it when I am traveling and need to record voice over auditions or jobs in a walk-in closet. I love this one because the extra tray gives me a place to put my audio interface. And I also use it as a music stand when I'm jsut screwing around on the guitar. A shout out to Natalie Younger who tipped me off to the wonderful world of laptop tripods and their incredible versatility.
Packing Tape - Scotch Sure Start Packing Tape - $4.44
Want something cheaper? Packing Tape. I always give this one as a solid recommendation for ALL you need to do a successful self-tape audition. Take your smartphone, some clear and strong packing tape, and tape your phone to a window. Make sure it's horizontal and at eye level and during the daytime. Best to do it NOT in direct sunlight. You'll have perfect lighting. And the phone will still sense your touch right through the tape. It peels off your phone super easy when done. And this makes the absolute most compact travel self-tape setup there is.