Your Successful Prescreen: Prep tips from Mary Anna Dennard

Published October 3rd, 2013

It’s officially October, which for you high school seniors out there means the college search and admissions process is in full swing. If you’re applying for a degree in music, theatre, or dance, there’s even more on your plate.  You will almost certainly have to do a live audition before you’re officially accepted into a program. You’ve no doubt thought about that already and have maybe even started preparing for it.

What you may not be as familiar with is the concept of a prescreen video. This is a recorded audition of sorts that some programs require as a prerequisite to a live audition. 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.

At Acceptd, we want to help you get into the program of your dreams, and part of that is your prescreen video. Our friend, renowned college audition coach Mary Anna Dennard, shared  some tips with us about how to prepare for your prescreen video. And we’re going to share them with you.

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 ration 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.

Come again?

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. If you still have questions, be sure to reach out to us or check out Mary Anna’s website: or watch her video about how to create a successful prescreen video here.

Capture Mary Anna Face (64x80)

Since 2000, Mary Anna Dennard has been a nationally recognized college audition coach. She authored the book, I GOT IN! The Ultimate College Audition Guide For Acting And Musical Theatre. She has been a guest contributor for the New York Times theatre section, and Theatermania. Mary Anna is a member of the National Association For College Admission Counseling and just launched the first-ever Online Prep for performing arts applicants called, College Audition Coach Online.

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