Getting Started in Your Acting Journey
By Rose Rogers
What does an actor actually need in order to start being taken seriously in the industry and start getting auditions for professional roles? In short, and in the correct order:
- Demo Footage
- An Agent (yes, that comes way later than you probably realise!)
Continue reading for more insight into each requirement – you’ll save yourself a lot of time and heartache!
The absolute #1 thing before you even bother trying to do anything else. If you haven’t had any proper training – you don’t know how to act yet. Full stop.
Yes, there’s such a thing as natural talent, but acting is so much more difficult than anyone realises until they are faced with the work themselves. If you think you’re naturally talented enough to make it without any formal training, you’re delusional and won’t make it far in the biz. So get yourself into class with reputable coaches immediately. You can “audit” classes before you sign up, so you know what you’re getting yourself into and if you will gel with the coach. Trust your gut, but don’t sacrifice quality for warm fuzzies – you want a coach that will get the best out of you, in a professional and supportive way. Once you pick a coach and enroll, stick with them for at least 6 months to a year. Real results take time, and you don’t want to forego any possible breakthroughs by not keeping up attendance with the same coach. After this minimum period, you can start to add more classes to your schedule – but DO stay with at least ONE particular coach long-term, the one you feel you are making the most progress with. For reference, actors that see the most success are generally in at least 3 classes per week… year round.
A lot of young actors enroll to study acting at university and this is ultimately a personal choice. Controversially, I don’t believe it’s necessary, and often the curriculum for acting degrees doesn’t translate well to acting as an actual profession. They don’t teach you the business side, they don’t teach you audition technique, or what your types are (all actors can play any role is a bold face lie outside of campus) and they don’t teach you how to cope with all the normal real life stuff that comes after you graduate. If you’re going to study acting at university then give it a whirl, but also study business and psychology to round things out.
If there aren’t any decent acting classes in your area you can start with online training, but ultimately you are eventually gonna have to move to where there are more options and opportunities… otherwise nothing will ever happen. DON’T jump straight to LA though! Your mental health will suffer immensely if you aren’t prepared for how to survive there.
On top of your training you also need to be doing homework – reading books by legendary coaches like Stella Adler, Ivana Chubbuck, Howard Fine, Larry Moss, among others… perhaps I’ll post a reading list. You also need to read plays and practise breaking down scenes – at least 1 or 2 per week. Early on in his career, Michael Caine studied a new play every week for 9 years… that’s 468 plays!
You can’t take shortcuts, DIY these, or do them on the cheap. You need to get it right. Research who the best actor headshot photographers (yes, it’s a specialised field) are in your area, and pay them whatever they charge for the quality they provide. You are likely looking at $200-500. These are a tool, just like a builder needs a hammer – you need proper professional acting headshots.
Go in knowing the types of characters you want to see in the end results – without being gimmicky. A lot of this will be achieved via your eyes and facial expression, you are still acting during the session – not posing. Simple wardrobe also comes into play – i.e. a tired mom wont be glammed up to the nines, and a doctor or lawyer wont be in a t-shirt and jeans. Know what you want out of the session, but also don’t tell the photographer how to do their job – it’s a collaboration, but at some point you will need to let go and get out of your head if you want to get the best possible shots.
You need a properly formatted actor’s resume even if you haven’t done much yet. DON’T LIE! Remember that episode of Friends where Joey gets caught out for lying on his resume… don’t be that person. The format of your resume will differ depending on which market and country you’re in, but the essentials are the same. You need to include your:
- Email address (create a professional one, no [email protected]!) and phone number
- City and country
- Acting experience (if any) – NOT extras work
- Notes – anything relevant like significant awards, if you have a valid passport (and type), availability (pro tip – be 100% available or no dice), car licence and any other type of licences if you have them etc. Don’t waffle, just list the facts.
Don’t even think about getting a reel made yet. A reel is for actors that have already been acting for several years and have legitimate professional footage to use from projects they have auditioned for, booked, and worked on.
However, you do still need something visual to demonstrate that yes, you can in fact act, and so you can put your training to use. This is where demo clips come in – a relatively new concept, and something the majority of actors are not understanding is essential – headshot and resume alone are no longer enough in our digital world. So you need to set up a space in your house with a plain wall (or hang a plain ironed sheet) as your background, good lighting and good acoustics. You need to get a tripod for your smart phone, or if you have a DSLR camera that’s even better. If there’s honestly nowhere in your house you can set up a space, or if you live with people that are noisy – then you’ll have to pay to use a professional self-tape studio.
Now you need to record yourself acting short pieces – monologues (not Shakespeare or any other “classical” material unless that’s what you want to be booking… which isn’t very common these days) or devised character pieces to match the type of characters that are portrayed in your headshots, which should be the ones you can easily portray and therefore book. These clips should be 30-60 seconds MAX. Label them by character and genre i.e. “Jane Smith – Teen Vampire – Drama” or “Michael Johns – Awkward Dad – Comedy”
DON’T state what the piece is from (they’ll look it up and compare you to the original actor) and DON’T do anything ridiculously famous and instantly recognisable, and DON’T do anything that’s under copyright or confidential or that you don’t have the permission to perform.
Upload these on either Youtube or Vimeo. I call this a video library. Aim to have around 5 to start with, and keep adding to them consistently – ideally weekly. Also add them to your socials, but not ONLY to your socials because they will get lost and nobody is going to scroll through screeds of your other posts to find and watch them.
START GAINING EXPERIENCE
Create a profile on the acting sites for your market. In the USA it’s Casting Networks, Actors Access, and Backstage. In the UK it’s Spotlight. Australia & New Zealand it’s Showcast and Casting Networks AU. I don’t know about other countries – check with your acting coach.
Some of these may have basic free options, but for the most part you will need to pay an annual subscription. Fill out your profile fully! Upload your headshots and a link to your video library – on some sites that don’t allow links, you will need to upload clips directly to their media sections. Start checking the listings every day and submit yourself for anything and everything you’re right for i.e. not a 55yo Indian lady if you are a 25yo Caucasian male. Common sense. Don’t be too eager – stick to your realistic age range and character types. Be mindful and intentional, don’t throw spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks.
The big juicy roles for studio films and network TV shows will generally only be released to agents – so don’t be disheartened if you don’t see any of those listed. You aren’t ready to be considered for them yet anyway.
Realistically you need to dedicate 1-2 years to building up your resume with student and independent films, particularly short films, to ensure you get used to the auditioning process and understand the logistics and demands of working on set.
DO NOT submit to exploitative commercial listings – you will get screwed over and it will prevent you from booking future proper commercial work. There are so many legalities around commercial work, it’s best to wait until you have an agent before you wade those waters.
Also NEVER pay to audition!! No legitimate project will ever ask you to pay a fee. There are sadly a lot of scammers around that use various methods to con money or sensitive information out of people – keep your wits about you!!
You should aim to have around 10 film credits (ideally at least 5 of those as lead roles) before you even think about moving to the next stage. And keep in mind… you still need to keep going to 1-3 classes per week whilst you are looking for roles, auditioning, working on set, doing your homework, and maintaining whatever other life responsibilities you have to pay the bills or take care of kids if you’re a parent. Remember before when I said it was difficult…
If you’re finding you aren’t getting any auditions and it’s been over 6 months, you might need to redo your headshots and demo clips.
If you’re auditioning but not booking after 6 months, you probably need to train more – most likely in audition technique, which is a completely different skill to the craft of acting. You need to be good at both.
If you’re adamant you’ve done absolutely all you can, seek out an expert (like me) to look at your stuff and give you feedback. If you’re ticking all the boxes there may be other forces at play – your confidence, mindset or self belief may be off, or you may be a really specific character type that isn’t called for often (but never say never). In the case of the latter you should start creating your own films and webseries. I know actors that managed this with just a few hundred dollars – if you don’t have that at your fingertips, save save save until you do. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Hire a producer/prod co-ordinator (or learn how to be that yourself), director (or learn how to be that yourself), DP/cameraperson (don’t DIY this), boom operator (don’t DIY this), lighting tech (don’t DIY this), actors to play alongside you, and an editor (or learn how to do this yourself). Ideally pay everyone at least something (and if you agree on a fee prior you have to honour this, don’t be a jerk – so don’t agree to a fee you know you can’t pay), definitely feed and hydrate everyone regularly, keep them warm/cool/comfortable, treat them with respect, collaborate and have fun, give them copies of the footage, and credit everyone on IMDB Pro. You might just end up with amazing footage that you can enter into festivals, win awards, raise your profile, and of course… use it to get more auditions.
SUBMIT TO AGENTS
Now that you have been immersed in acting for at least 2 years, have your materials together, and know how to act on professional projects – you can start submitting to agents.
Don’t send blanket submissions to multiple agencies, and definitely don’t do a bulk email. Not a good look, will likely just be deleted.
Research the agencies in your market. Understand the type of actors they represent, and the type of projects those actors book (but don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone’s chapter 10) and what level the actors are at – if they have lots of people similar to you, the chances are they won’t bring another in, but if it’s an agency you honestly want to represent you then go ahead and try your luck. You never know, they might be planning to drop some of those similar types.
If all the actors are top tier and have resumes a mile long, on major films and TV shows, then you’d be best setting your sights on an agency that is happy to work with newer actors (like me).
Once you know who the agents are and what they’re all about, submit to the ones you think you’d like to work with. If they have submission criteria/preferred method listed on their website – then why on earth would anyone not adhere to it? Common sense. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by demonstrating you can’t follow simple instructions! (Believe me… it happens ALL the time!)
If they state on their website that they are not currently accepting submissions – then do not send a submission. Common sense.
If they don’t state a preferred submission method, then stick to the standard which is an email to the listed address containing a personalised and professional cover letter in the email body, with your properly formatted resume attached as a pdf, and a link to your video library of demo footage also in the email body. The cover letter should be concise, but should include a bit about who you’ve trained with, what your latest lead roles were (and if you/the project won any awards at festivals), and why you wish to be represented by that particular agency (you can’t BS this).
If offered an interview, the next steps are a bit like dating; you both have to like each other, be willing to take a risk on each other, and continuously work on keeping the relationship healthy so that it lasts long term and you eventually start to reap rewards.
It’s also important to note that once you sign with an agent, your work doesn’t end there. You still have to keep attending classes to stay fresh, keep doing homework and recording new demo clips, ensure your resume and headshots always stay current, engage in social media to connect with valuable contacts and market yourself effectively, attend plays/premieres/networking events, create your own content, stay fit and healthy, and all the many things that go into constantly being prepared for when opportunity knocks. If you drop the ball, you won’t book. It’s that simple. Acting is a full time job – even when you’re not hired on a project. That’s what makes it so difficult, and why so many give up before they really get going.
You need a fine combination of ability, tenacity, confidence, and belief – professional acting requires a harmonious mind, body, spirit connection.
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Published in cooperation with Fourth Wall – Actors & Talent Agency