Written and Edited by Lindsay Price February, 2009
Becoming an actor is a tempting dream for many a high school student. It's easy, right? Anyone can do it, right? It's a ton of fun and everyone gets a ton of money right off the bat, right?
Do you think you have what it takes to become a professional actor? Do you have students who are sure they're going to be the Next Big Thing? This month it's all Q & A: we're asking and answering questions on Becoming an Actor. How to avoid scams, do's and don'ts for resumes, and what you should look for in an acting school.
We've heard the cry over and over again: "I want to be an actor!" From the outside, being an actor looks inciting. It looks like a happy shiny world where actors are discovered on street corners and put into block buster movies. It can look easy, and something that everyone can do. Yes it's fun, yes it's interesting, yes it's not your ordinary career. Having said that, it's important to understand the world you're getting into. Acting in high school is vastly different than acting on a professional level.
This newsletter will focus directly on the questions we've heard from teenagers about the professional acting biz.
I want to be an actor. Where do I start?
I'm really talented. Isn't that enough?
It's a great start, sure. And it certainly will help. Talent is something you can't teach an actor. But there are many, many talented actors out there. There are other factors at work. In commercials, for example, talent takes a backseat to appearance. Acting professionally takes more than talent. It takes know-how, determination and perseverance.
The person standing beside you at auditions is also talented. Plus they've researched the director, plus they take classes, plus they don't give up when they lose a job, plus they act in a professional manner, plus they never submit a resume without a personalized cover letter, plus they have more than one monologue and one song in their audition arsenal... the list goes on and on and it's easy to see how talent is just one part of the package.
Most maddening, sometimes acting takes luck. Being in the right place at the right time. Living in the right city. Choosing a monologue that happens to hit a director the right way. There's nothing you can do to control that.
This is why it's important to have a passion for acting. That you really want to pursue this career. That nothing will get in your way. If anything stops you from wanting to do the other, much less fun parts to acting, you perhaps should consider another career.
How do I get discovered?
Ah, the age old question. "How do I instantly become an overnight movie star by walking down the street?" The whole "Being discovered" thing is largely a myth.
It may look like Zac Efron became an overnight sensation. He seemed to come out of 'nowhere' to star in High School Musical. Except that he didn't. He started acting in musicals when he was eleven. His first television roles were guest staring parts. He filmed TV pilots that didn't catch on. He has a career and a history of performance that lead to High School Musical.
Also, actors who look like they've become instant stars sometimes have help. They live in Los Angeles where there's easier access to auditions. They have parents or other relatives in the business. The story is not always as easy and straightforward as it seems.
Does discovery ever happen? Sure. A teenager goes to an open call because the directors are looking for something specific, gets cast in a role and their life changes. An agent goes to a high school production and signs the lead. It can happen. But to make 'discovery' your career goal will leave you sorely disappointed.
I live in Iowa, how do I get cast in a Hollywood movie?
Unless the production is casting in Iowa, it's highly unlikely. A lot of your success as a professional actor depends on location. You need to go where movies/television/commercials are being made. But Hollywood is not the only city with opportunities. Are these opportunities going to be high profile and long lasting? Probably not. But they will give you experience and credits.
Where do I find auditions?
Research. Find the arts council in your area and ask them for a heads up on audition posting. Look to local theatres. Is there an organization with an audition posting bulletin board? If you want film experience try colleges with film programs, they may be looking for actors. Look online. If you're interested participating in reality TV shows, those auditions will be posted on the network websites well in advance. Look for industry publications.
What are open casting calls?
Open casting calls are auditions that non-union actors may attend. They are sometimes called cattle calls, because feels like you're getting herded around like cattle!
Do I need to join a union? Can't I get into movies without them?
If you want an acting career, you will need to eventually join an acting union. You will only be able to reach a certain level as a non-union actor. It's not however, something you need to do before you even start acting professionally. You don't need to join a union before securing an agent.
The bottom line? Acting is a job. It can be the funnest job in the world. But it's a profession. If you want to make it your job for life, you need to research your options. Put daydreams to the side and create a step-by-step realistic vision to your goal.
While it is possible to survive quite awhile in theatre without an agent, you'll need one if you're interested in movies and television. Agents do is submit their clients for auditions. For the most part, agents are the only people with access to movie, television and commercial auditions.
When an actor books a job, the agent negotiates the details of the contract on the actor's behalf. Agents receive a percentage from an actor's pay which is called a commission. They only get paid on booked work. Legitimate agents never ask for money from an actor up front.
The Bottom Line: Don't make the start of your career all about getting an agent. Get some experience before you start looking. An actor with some experience is always more marketable than an actor without experience. And remember, agents want actors. They need actors. They make money when actors work.
Young actors fall prey to scams every day. They so want to be in the business, they'll do anything to make it happen. Unfortunately there are many people out there who know this and will also do anything to get money out of the naive actor.
The Bottom Line: Training is never a bad thing. But a top school is not necessarily your best bet. Choose a school based on your true needs.
Headshots and resumes are necessary. They say what you look like and what you've done.
EXERCISE: Go to google and type 'headshot' into the search box. Click on 'Images' to see a wide variety of headshots. To make this a class exercise, choose 5-10 pictures and show them in class. Ask students what impression they get from the headshot. Is the picture warm (inviting) or cold (detracting)? Do they like the person in the photo? Why or why not? What type of part would the students cast this actor? Does the photo showcase the actor or the photographer?
No. White paper. Format and trim your resume so that it is 8 x 10 and attach it to the back of your photo. Staple, do not paper clip. And don't put the staple through your contact information!
Resumes are only one page long and should be in 12pt type. Do not use fancy fonts. Do not use more than one embellishment (if you're going to bold certain parts, don't use underline) Do not hand write changes on your resume. If you move, print a new resume. If you add a new credit, print a new credit. All these choices reflect on you and whether or not a director will want to see you.
The Bottom Line: The headshot and resume are necessary. Think of them as business cards. Make them simple and straightforward. No bells and whistles.
More resources on the nuts and bolts of professional acting