As a marketing expert, I’m constantly asked questions by actors who seem to have a lot of misinformation about the business. This can be frustrating; you might spend months or years using marketing tools that don’t work or contacting the industry with little or no response. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions with the correct information.
Agents: Are they looking for new faces? How can I get representation when I graduate from my drama program?
Agencies already have a full roster of clients from the moment they open their doors or soon thereafter. They aren’t “looking” for new young faces unless they’re short of a particular type, age range, nationality, or other unique quality. The other reason they may offer representation is if you are “highly marketable” having already booked paying work—network commercials or roles on primetime series. Otherwise you need to market yourself and get experience—showcases, Off-Off-Broadway plays or indie/student films. Self-submit online to Actor’s Access, Backstage, N.Y. or L.A. Casting. It’s not the highest level work, but it’ll teach you how to audition, compete, and book! When you have some credits under your belt, then contact agents.
Casting directors: How is best to meet them? Will they hire me if I do a “pay-to-meet”? Should I intern with a casting office?
Interning is a good idea if you want to learn casting or even producing, and to see how the casting process works. You might even get an audition or small role from a grateful CD, but generally it’s not how you build an acting career. Meeting and showing your work to the industry is. Stay in touch with postcards or email campaigns letting them know your development—jobs you book, new training or marketing tools, headshot, and demo reel. They may remember you for that perfect role and call you in later.
Union vs. nonunion: Do I have to be a union member to book work?
There are a slew of jobs that are non-union. It’s probably a good idea to go for those and get the experience first as most agents won’t be able to get you in the door without being union. Non-union commercials won’t pay you residuals or take out deductions for health, welfare, and pension funds but if you learn how to book and develop your own style – then, when you do join the union, you’ll be more successful competing with the already working union actors. Being an extra a few times on a film or prime time set will teach you how TV shows and major films actually work. Use the experience to observe as well as possibly being upgraded (a small speaking role) to become SAG-AFTRA eligible.
Headshots: What makes a good one?
One of the biggest mistakes young actors (or those coming back to the business) make is getting a “generic” headshot—a blank smile, wearing your comfortable blue jeans or a hoody—instead of pointing out your most marketable roles. Since most casting is done online—CDs will look at dozens of thumbnails and select (quickly) the few actors who look the part—the lawyer, the criminal, the sexy mom, etc. If you have a generic headshot you may not be chosen. Be specific for the three main roles you’ll consistently play; dress the part as well as showing your personality.
Résumés: What is the professional standard? Do I include modeling, print work, and commercials?
The most professional format for résumés is three columns; easy to read in five seconds and tells an agent or CD your strongest training and credits. Avoid long, across the page lists of five teachers. Choose one line, one subject, one teacher. Include the size of the role for film and TV (not necessary for theater): starring, co-starring, supporting, featured, or recurring. Although some industry pros still use the phrase “lead” or “principal,” by saying the above five options, it is clearer what size role you actually had. Skills should include sports and activities, dialects and languages. These can actually help get you cast. Don’t include print work or commercials. (Use a separate card to list those.)
Demo reels: What should I put on my reel? Can I shoot a monologue with a reader?
Obviously, when starting out you won’t have a lot of film clips from a-list movies or primetime series, but with a good editor you can take a few student or indie clips and present yourself professionally. Or better, pay a company to write and shoot a few sizzle scenes. Keep the final reel short—1–2 minutes with tiny 4–8 second “moments” edited together showing three things: how you appear on camera, what roles you can play, and the level of your talent.
It’s not really competitive to show a videotaped monologue or scene with an off-camera “reader,” but it’s acceptable as an emergency measure if a producer or CD needs to see your work within a few hours notice.
Commercials: Is it good to do them? Why? How do I get cast?
Commercials are a great career starter. They don’t require serious theater training; it’s more of a “look” or a specific type. You can learn on-camera technique at each audition as well as make money (residuals!) while waiting for that brilliant film or Broadway role. You just need a polished, camera-ready look; a good smile, neat hair, good skin. And wear vibrant colors and be very natural and “energized” in your audition.