Getting Started as an Actor
I’ve had mild success in the acting industry in a medium-sized market. Every once in a while, I will post a commercial or project I was blessed enough to act or model in, but every time this happens, people send me messages asking how they can do something similar. Funny enough, I even got one yesterday! So hopefully this article is well-timed. Acting professionally is a road paved with endless pain and unbridled rejection with the very occasional feeling of total badass-ness – moments when the Oscar gods smile down on you with their brilliant, golden light. So here’s some personal and practical advice based on my experiences and wise words from agents and teachers:
1.) Love it.
If you are not a glutton for punishment, this is not the industry for you. You will be rejected. And you will be rejected again. And you will have to find the strength within yourself to audition one more time. Even after you lost the part you were perfect for. Even after you decided to change your name to the character’s. You should understand, before you begin, if you are willing to commit to something that may break your spirit and try your soul. That being said, there are SO many reasons to love this line of work. Here are some off the top of my head: 1.) You get to reinvent yourself every time you get a new script in-hand. 2.) You love the camaraderie that happens when you go from arriving as strangers on-set to working hard to get the perfect shot and completing the project - inevitably walking away friends for life (over a year later, and I still love every Instagram photo my commercial co-star posts). You worked on that together, and you made magic happen. 3.) It’s cool. People will think you’re cool, and you now have that wow-factor story to share during corporate icebreakers and at dinner parties.
2.) Do work.
Acting on-stage is different than acting on-camera, and several instructors may caution against diving too deeply into theatre if your end goal is commercials, TV, or film. That being said, it’s not a bad place to start to get experience related to this industry that you can put on your resume: church productions, community plays, etc. And create stories. Film you and your friends. Practice. The best thing you can do, however, is get yourself into an acting class - look for classes studying Meisner or Method. These are the primary techniques used by actors in TV/film. For more information on the similarities and differences between these two techniques and other fantastic acting tips, visit Scott Rogers’s blog here. Find instructors who have done what you want to do. Read reviews. You can typically audit classes too - inquire about this. Try out different classes and find one that is right for you. Ask other actors for recommendations, and once you’ve settled on a class, embrace your community of drama queens. My friend and I currently drive three hours to Portland every week because we’ve found a teacher irreplaceable to us. He is our favorite grouch, and an incredible mentor and friend ;). And my fellow students aren’t too bad either. These are the people you will lean on to drop everything and help you film a self-tape audition for four hours after a long day at work (you’re welcome, Derrick), or run lines with you, or play silly acting games with you to help you improve your technique. These are also the people you will exchange audition horror stories with and tips from on-set. These are the ones whose victories you will celebrate as your own, and who you will be excited to see at a group audition and cross your fingers you get to share your chemistry on the same project together.
3.) Get headshots.
Depending on what market you’re in, costs for headshot sessions can vary, but typically, you should expect to pay at least a couple hundred dollars for a session. Many photographers are willing to do TFP (Trade for Print) though, and it doesn’t hurt to ask if they would consider it! Trade for Print means the photographer will give you your touched-up photographs free of charge as long as they can use your images to advertise their photography business.
4.) Create your resume.
There are a number of sites online that can help you format your acting resume. Here is a great resource for actors who need guidance on creating an acting resume.
5.) Learn a dramatic monologue. Learn a comedic monologue.
Agents may have you do a quick, cold read for them, but they will usually also ask for a dramatic and/or comedic monologue. As a best practice, you should tape your dramatic and comedic monologues as well. These will come in handy when shopping for an agent or if you don’t yet have a reel (because you may not have TV/film experience yet) and the director has requested to see you in-action on-camera.
6.) Get an agent.
Do your research. Look into “franchised” agents. A "franchised agent" is “a person, firm, or corporation that has entered into an agreement with SAG-AFTRA under which they agree to abide by certain rules and conditions when dealing with performers who work within SAG and AFTRA's jurisdiction.” For more information on SAG-AFTRA, visit: https://www.sagaftra.org/about. And please, be vigilant. Tell your friends and family who you’re going to meet with and when. Have someone come with you. Never sign with an agent who requires you to pay them before you book a job/pay them for headshots/etc. Agents don’t get paid until you get paid. "They work for you," as one of my instructors likes to remind us, even though sometimes, it may not feel that way. And it is incredibly important that you trust them. If you get a bad vibe, even from a legitimate agent, find someone else. This is one of the most significant, if not the most significant, relationship you will have in this business. For more information on how to spot illegitimate agents and castings, here are two informative articles: https://www.backstage.com/advice-for-actors/backstage-experts/7-signs-casting-scam/ and https://www.theguardian.com/money/2009/jun/20/talent-agents-scam
7.) Accept your audition. If you have a conflict you absolutely cannot work around, email/call your agent to try to book a better time.
Sometimes, you will get lucky and casting will be done by headshot (no audition required), or you can submit a self-tape (screw up as many times as you want and send in the best audition). More often than not, you will be requested to come in for an audition some time in the 72 hours from the time the request comes in. In other words, you will have no time at all. There are several different casting systems. Your agent will ask you to join the relevant ones in order to communicate with them and/or the casting director. Never decline or mark your audition as tentative without contacting your agent first. If you can make it work, make it work. And triple-check your audition information – location, date, time, requested props, sides (the shortened script you will use with your reader at the audition), etc.
8.) Attend your audition.
You may be scared to death about how things will go down, but please, show up. Check in with the person who looks like they’re checking people in or isn’t one of the nervous, quiet, or talkative actors in the waiting room. You can usually tell. You may also be asked to sign in and complete information (i.e. Arrival Time vs. Actual Call Time (this is for Union stuff), name, agency, etc.). Rule of thumb - bring two copies of your headshot and resume (stapled front to back). The two headshots should be the same photograph. Sometimes, they will request more. Keep several up-to-date copies in your car.
9.) Slate (whatever they ask for).
When casting directors ask you to slate, they will typically specify the information they are looking for. For example: “Please slate your name and agency.” They may also ask for your height, an interesting fact, and/or will follow-up with a request for your side profiles (you will turn to the right/left).
10.) Do your audition.
You will run your lines with a “reader” – this may or may not be your casting director/a volunteer/etc. They may give you a few takes and offer feedback after the first. Whether you accept this feedback or not is up to you, but we’ll discuss this in a later article. For commercial auditions, you may not have a script to work with. They may ask you to tell them about your last vacation. They may ask you to react to different scenarios or show varying levels of the same reaction for a given situation (i.e. you just saw some super exciting sports play on your phone!).
11.) Forget about it.
Your audition will be a blur, and you will try your best to analyze what just happened. “Was I too blinky? I messed up one of my sentences. Did they notice? Oh, God, did my eyebrows look like this in there? Was I breathing? AM I BREATHING RIGHT NOW?” One of my teachers always shares this story to make us feel better. He was working with a director. They were hosting auditions. A woman auditioned, and she was absolutely perfect for the role. Everyone loved her. The director said “no.” Why? Because she looked too much like his ex-wife. Whom he hates. She’ll never know. Just the same, for reasons you will never know or understand, you will not book your audition. It is completely out of your control once you walk out of that room (or once you or your agent submits your self-tape). It is subjective. It will always be subjective. So walk away. Take up knitting. Adopt a cat. Heat up some leftovers. And when those five minutes are over, find other things to do to keep you from being alone with your thoughts.
*While minor details may vary depending on the market you are in, the information overall should hold true.
Special thanks to my agents, teachers, friends, and family for all the support throughout the years. This journey is worth it because you are the best supporting cast of life any girl could ask for <3