Actor. Yeah, Actors.

(Beginning note: I use the term “actor” as an interchangeable meaning either actor (male) or actress (female), as it should be used in most contexts.) 

Many times I have been asked: “How do I get into acting as a career?”

And it’s a good question. As there is no 100% correct answer, I can at least point you in the correct direction with a few ideas and how to make it happen. Without following these pointers, you have a chance for success, but it’s limited. Following this advice will exponentially increase your chances for much bigger and better successes to follow.

WHERE TO BEGIN:

Before you begin, you need to sit and be as objective and honest with yourself as you can be. You need to be able to identify the specific “gifts” that you have to offer. Here is a list of questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do I have the time/strength/energy/desire/passion to become an actor? You see, many people “consider it”, but never really think about what is required to become an actor. They think it just happens overnight, and that is very, very seldom the case. It requires DEDICATION to the craft, not just some half-hearted commitment to the process. You don’t think that people with Master’s degrees just went to one class and became knowledgeable, do you? In some cases, people who look to become actors study and work on the craft for years, with only a small role or two in a blockbuster to show for it. Those are the dedicated people who absolutely love and live the craft. They have passion for what they’re doing.
  2. Do I have a “look”? While this isn’t as important as the next few questions, it certainly is important. You need to be able to identify what look you have, if any. If you look remotely like another actor or actress, this could be problematic. You need to make sure your look is much different than that of others who have succeeded before you. You NEVER want a director or casting director to say something like, “You remind me of…!”
  3. Can you lie well? Whether you realize it or not, lying is a huge benefit for actors. Those who have the ability to project a good lie almost always have the chops to work well in acting.
  4. Can you go above and beyond your typical personality? If you can walk through a crowded subway station and yell something out loud without worrying about what others think, you’ve effectively gone beyond your personality. Imagine if you just broke out into song in the middle of a department store. There, again, you’ve gone above. Your ability to “act” in front of others requires that you not only have the gumption to do what you normally wouldn’t, but do it in a way that people may quickly accept as entertainment.
  5. Are you personable? In other words, do you “play well with others”? You need to be certain that you’re not prone to being a priss or arrogant about yourself, otherwise your career will be short-lived.
  6. Could you have an argument with a friend that makes you seem very angry, but you’re not, at all? Try it. Even use a family member. Get angry at them without actually being angry. Fake it. It seems difficult at first, but eventually you’ll learn to do it well. But make sure that, at the end of the “argument”, you explain that you were just testing your acting skills. See, manipulating your emotions is a key element to acting. You need to be able to get a wide array of emotions and really on demand.
  7. Can you be confident? Nervousness is one thing, but confidence is key to performing.

By answering these questions truthfully, you’ll find out quickly whether or not you’re ready for the next phase. The next phase requires a bit more commitment, time, and energy, so you’d better prepare. You didn’t think that acting was just showing up to something and being this superstar, did you?

THE PROCESS:

The process begins with understanding what you’ll need to have and accomplish in order to secure a role in a movie. And much is a myth based on what other people experience that is not at all what they thought or believe to be true. The first thing you’ll need to understand is the “equipment” you’ll need to be an actor. And here is that list:

  • A PROFESSIONAL headshot and resume.
  • A good set of clothing.
  • A “look”.
  • A desire to get the part with a great understanding of what they’re looking for in the role.
  • A list of credibility.

Notice I NEVER mentioned things like “training” or “classes”? That is a myth. Good actors don’t need classes or a specific set of training to begin their career. You may want those after you start, but getting a good beginning doesn’t require you to have those. As a Director, I very limited look over the list of “classes” or tutelage people have gone through. Why? Because, either they have lied about it, forgotten/ignored the “training”, or have done it so long ago, it’s not pertinent. Besides, as a Director, I’m interested in what the person can do NOW, right here in front of me.

So, let me explain some of the stuff in that list:

Thanks to my friend Samantha Elmer, Actress

Thanks to my friend Samantha Elmer, Actress

THE PROFESSIONAL HEADSHOT: Imagine a cluttered desk. This is the desk of an indie producer/director. A bunch of crap floating around on there… Everywhere. Now, the person remembers they need to find the right actor. They start to look around. They have a good idea of who they met, but they’re unsure of a decision. Then, from the corner of a bunch of papers, a large, FULL COLOR, nicely printed headshot peeks out. And it’s your headshot, done up professionally, and making you look GOOD.

A professional headshot is everything you need it to be. A beautiful, not “hot”, photograph of your head, and possibly upper body, shot by a professional photographer in the correct (or really good) lighting. It should show a side of you that is absolutely neutral. If you have great teeth, perhaps a good smile not overdone. Samantha’s picture above is an excellent representation of how to accomplish what you need to get done. She shows off her beauty, gives you an “all-American girl” feeling, and conveys a sense of pride and understanding of whatever you need for her to do for your production. (And all of those things are 100% true with Samantha!)

THE PROFESSIONAL RESUME: This is one of the most important things you will need. And creating one isn’t as difficult as you’d believe. But if you’re going to focus on one medium, such as film or TV, you need to make sure that the resume reflects that. Basically you need to make sure it has that stuff near the top, and not your “training” or stage performances. But, if you have limited TV or film experience, don’t think that loading your resume with other experiences or “training” will help. Remember, it’s the person and talent the Director or Casting Director sees before them that will stun them most. This piece of paper is only there to help clarify that you may, or may not, have experience. No, the resume is most important for your CONTACT INFORMATION. And make sure you put EVERYTHING that you can think of for contact. If you have several e-mail addresses, add them all. If you have three phone numbers, add them all. Remember, the person looking at this wants to find you. And, if you’re going to narrow it down to a specific phone number or e-mail address, YOU NEED TO CHECK IT DAILY, if not hourly. I’ll explain more about that, later.

THE CLOTHING: Imagine that an actor shows up to an audition in tattered jeans, a Motley Crue shirt, and piercings from head to toes. Now, I have nothing against trying to get “into a role” as may be needed (or Motley Crue, for that matter), but to show up like that for a serious dramatic role will diminish your chances of being remembered. You don’t want to strike the directors as being careless in your demeanor. No, you need to present yourself in a manner that proves you have a desire to do this thing you love. Dress well. Dress for success. But do NOT overdress for the occasion. And make sure to add a few optional selections of clothing to the vehicle you’re in, since sometimes you might hear, “I’d really like to see him in a suit.” You’d have that ability if it was stowed away nicely in your car, now wouldn’t you. (This is also very helpful for indie productions where you have the role, but aren’t quite sure what you need to be wearing.)

THE LOOK: If the role is calling for a down-trodden, secretary type, you should consider what a secretary would look like in this role. Even if you’re completely “off” for what the Director was thinking, they’ll be able to see right through the facade and on to your talents. They will be able to cut through all of that and make a decision based on the need for the role, and then dress you up and make-up you for the part they need.

One of the coolest actors I ever met was a woman who was trying for a role as a surgeon in a hospital and SHOWED UP IN A SURGICAL UNIFORM, mask and all! That impressed me so much that I placed her into the role, even though she was completely nervous during the audition.

But the look goes beyond clothing. It’s the style of how your face is made up, the expressions you can provide, and the confidence you have in yourself. And if it comes together well, you’ll be much more of success.

I once met a man who tried out for a role. He was well-dressed, performed spot-on, and had massive charisma. But, he was so over-confident that I declined to put him into a role. He was absolutely certain that he had “what I needed” and wasn’t afraid to let me know that. And that was a huge turn-off for me as the Director. So, having everything just right is key, but trying not to go too far is also majorly important. Never just assume that you’re getting something.

ABOUT THE ROLE: Knowing what the Director would like is key to building a quick and steady “in” for yourself. Usually in most casting calls or auditions, the person who placed an ad somewhere will provide the information about the characters they need for the role. And it will tend to look something like this:

JIM (lead) Age: 30s – 40s Gender: Male Race/Ethnicity: Any
Description: Jim must be able to use mannerisms that show his fragile and beaten physical state while being able to show us a soft and possibly innocent spirit. Actions and reactions are very important. Dates needed: 5 out of 5 production days

First you should be sure that you fit the requirements of the “character descriptors”, such as age, race, and gender. The “description” is the important part for the audition. By knowing or having a certain understanding of what they require, you’re more likely to “fit their bill”. Concentrate on the needs they have and bring those with your abilities on your audition day.

THE LIST OF CREDIBILITY: This harkens back to the information about the resume and headshot. Sometimes having a decent list can be helpful, although most times not. But, if your list includes working with anyone on the current production, that is a major bonus. A “voucher person”, if you will. Someone who will speak positively about you or your talent.

So, how does one accomplish this task of working with others that might look well for you in the interim? It’s simple, and really part of this article further down. READ ON!

THE FIRST STEPS

So, now you have much of what you need to get started. What do you do?

During the process of “beginning”, start to look into classes that you might be able to take. The best way to do that is to get involved with other actors near to you. You could begin with places like Stage 32 (http://www.stage32.com/) and begin the network process from there. Find someone local to you and strike up an online conversation with them. You’ll find decent friends in this manner, but also excellent network contacts to have for the future.

Here is a potential outline of what to do in your beginning:

  1. Gather all of the list above and keep them handy (ie. Resume/Headshot, clothing, etc.)
  2. Join up to some place like Stage 32 and start to network
  3. Meet up with someone local to you, in a public place for safety, and chat about acting. For your safety, make sure the person is of the same sex.
  4. Learn as much as you can from that person about where they are headed and what they have done. More importantly, discover if they’ve taken classes and find out who’s the best around. You could also look toward local colleges, community theatres, and advertisements on acting websites. (I am personally joined up to 30+ sites that provide information daily, even though I don’t act!)
  5. Whomever you decide to be your teacher/coach, you need to check up on them. Do the research and ASK FOR REFERENCES. See who they have taught and learn about the successes and failures of this specific person. But know that they may have not been the only teacher/coach for successful people.
  6. Find a place that is good for you, and your wallet, and ATTEND THE CLASSES.

Now, remember, I said classes aren’t important… at the beginning. You’re now past the beginning. And every person who wishes to take up acting should at least have an idea of what they want to become and the work involved in it. They are numerous things to consider that you probably never thought about, such as acting method, style, character considerations, learning to listen to a director, and more. And only classes, which cause you to react to these things, will be the most beneficial. NOTHING anywhere else, including and especially the internet, will be more beneficial.

Okay, so now you know what to have. You know that you’re going to need classes. You’re ready to begin working towards your career. So, where do you go now?

THE NEXT STEPS

You need to find auditions or casting calls. Let’s first discern what the difference is between those two things:

AUDITIONS – Auditions embody a specific search for actors to fill specific roles. Usually they are for only one production and have posted for a specific set of people. And usually, an audition requires that you contact someone in order to be part of the auditioning process; no walk-ins allowed.

CASTING CALLS – Casting calls, sometimes ignorantly referred to as “cattle calls”, are an open audition process. Sometimes it may involve only one production. But many times it’s several productions looking for specific people. During a casting call, you walk in, perform your monologue that you have either prepared or have received on the spot (called a “cold read”, meaning that you’ve had no time to “warm up” to the part), answer a few questions, and hope to receive a callback for a part that one of the productions might have available. Casting calls are good for beginners in some ways, because you have the chance to outshine others with your skills. But they can be bad for others, because if you’re plain Jane with your acting, you’ll never stand out to the directors, producers, or casting directors.

So, now that you understand the potential difference, you’ll know what I mean from here on in. As a new actor to the scene, your best event to join is the CASTING CALL. Why would I suggest that if I’m telling you how to succeed. Well, first of all, you need to experience it. Secondly, the sheer amount of networking contacts you can make during one is astounding. But it needs to be a good one. One that is open to the public, advertised well, allows for your own material, and provides opportunities to everyone. When you’re there, try to sit and watch other people as they provide a monologue. But before you head there, figure on working out a monologue that you can use. And here are the best places to find them:

  • Watch your favorite movie. Make it something mainstream and “known”, but not something too over-the-top. Don’t pick Forrest Gump, simply because it’s a character that is just too much. Pick a drama or comedy. Then practice being similar to the character in that movie. Try to get the nuances and the dialog down verbatim. And practice it over and over again.
  • Pick up a script or a book and work on learning a monologue from that. There are several books on Amazon that help provide useful monologues for actors. The only problem with this is that the monologue might not be known by the directors and there is no defined way to perform the character.
  • Create your own. That’s right… You heard me correctly. Create your own monologue. Build it from scratch. But make sure that you get to portray a various selection of emotions. Perhaps psychotic, overly happy, and angry. Add them to your repertoire and show them off for the directors. You see, directors — good directors, that is — will certainly appreciate a powerful and/or moving monologue if it’s done well, even if they’re not sure where it’s from. It’s all in the power of the performance.

The biggest problem with actors is that they are afraid of success. Yes, afraid. It’s a common phenomenon that strikes down many good or first-time actors. They keep themselves from going “too far”, even though they haven’t gone nearly far enough. And one easy thing to do is to remind yourself that everyone you’re sitting before is just as human as you! Remember one of the quotes I am most famous for:

“You’re a human being, and as one, you’re susceptible to all of the same crap we are. I like to live by this philosophy, too. Even the President of the United States can have a bad chili dog. He’s gonna take a crap and it’s no more glamorous than you or I straining to get it out.”

You can be nervous, sure. But I have reminded hundreds of people to not worry about it. Consider the people you meet as friends (at least until they give you others reasons to think otherwise) and practice in front of your new friends. The more you can be comfortable, the better it will be for you. Yes, they are grading you on your performance, but they are not there to destroy you. They’re there to find the best person possible for the roles they need to fill. If you can be that person, you can fill the need. And you’ll be up and acting in no time.

So, here you are… You’ve successfully completed your first casting call (even if you weren’t offered a role) and now you’re looking to move forward. Now you should start to look for auditions to try out. And you should still be either looking for acting classes, or you need to have found the right one and are going to them regularly. Either way, you have begun the commitment that is required to become a professional actor.

Now, you should realize that working for just any production will not get you anywhere. Many indie productions are very tight on their budgets, so you’ll find that they have to “skimp” on many of their benefits. But more than that, you need to be selective. Has the Director done anything else, or is he new to the scene? How about the Producers? If the answer is that they are first-timers, you’ll need to find out their training or schooling in order to learn if they’re making a YouTube video, or something with way more potential. And never EVER believe the hype! When they tell you it’s going to the theaters, it’s probably not. They can try, sure, but the likelihood of an indie production making it to a theatrical release is very, very slim. Live realistically.

A FEW, OTHER NOTES

Failure to secure a role is not a good indicator of your potential. Only you can realize your potential. Keep going until you reach your goals.

When you have secured a few roles, begin to ask pertinent questions of the production. Questions like:

  • Will there be pay on this production? (Understand that very few productions work with a major budget, meaning that, if you’d like to work as an actor, you’re going to need to do a few unpaid jobs. How else will you earn experience?)
  • Is this production working with SAG? (If they are, you have the potential to join SAG after you work with a few. Or, if you’re in a primary role, you can join instantly by doing a Taft-Hartley. Research about that online. If you eventually go SAG, which is expensive, you’re guaranteed pay for your roles, have access to benefits, and can get good roles a bit more easily.)
  • What are the benefits of working on this production? (Usually, in the indie world, you’ll find out it’s just FCD… Food/Credits/DVD. There might be a few other perks, but whatever will get you the best experience works out well for you and for them!)
  • What is the serious potential of this movie doing anything other than premiering on YouTube? (You, especially you, need to know if the movie has potential. Scrutinize the script. Scrutinize the principle management for the production. Know who you’re going to be working with and make sure it’s a right fit for you. Just because you don’t have much experience doesn’t mean you have to work on just “anything”. Become selective before you waste your time going to an audition two hours way.)
  • WILL THERE BE A CONTRACT? (This one is uber-important! Wanna know why? Because, the mark of a good production means they have paperwork for you to fill out. Lots of it. And that includes a contract for you to read and sign. Don’t be nervous! Most productions — good productions — want to cover their ass, and yours as well. Just make sure you read it and abide by the terms. But, if they don’t have anything for you to sign, especially BEFORE the production begins, then you’re probably looking at a movie that will get your career absolutely nowhere.)

Never be afraid to ask these questions. It’s the difference between making your star rise and not making it rise. And never, ever, ever be afraid of telling a production that the fit isn’t right for you. Especially BEFORE you sign any contracts. So you need to make those considerations, and fast. Do your homework/research and get the right roles for your acting career!

Remember, this information is not the end-all, be-all of the acting world. There are other considerations you’ll need to look at like finding a manager and talent agent, and more. But this will get you on the right path, for now.

As I find more things to add I will be updating this post. If you have other information, consider e-mailing me at jeff [at] pafilms [dot] com.