So you wanna be an actor?
I don't blame you. Earning lots of money while appearing in movies opposite Natalie Portman (or Brad Pitt) is an appealing idea. Fame, fortune, cars, mansions, a star on Hollywood Boulevard, your photo on billboards, and your name in lights; you want it all. But let me guess - you don't know where to start.
The most frequent message I receive since I became an actor is the "I want to be an actor; how do I get started?" message. If you sent me one of those messages (or even if you're reading this), you're on on the right track. Not because I'm your key to success, but more so the fact that you did something proactive in regards to your career.
The one thing you've got to remember about being an actor (and life in generally, really) is that things will very seldom be handed to you on a silver platter. Yes, we've all heard those stories about stars getting "discovered" at the gym or while walking down the street, but those are very much the minority of how most actors came to be. Do a little research and you'll find many more stories about current A-listers that once lived in their car for months while trying to make it.
If you want to be an actor, you're going to need to stop waiting for something to happen. What follows in this article is a rough guideline that will get you started, but it all comes down to what you do with the information.
One last thing - keep in mind that I'm not writing this to teach you how to be a better actor. I'm writing this to help you better manage the career side of being an actor. Being a better actor is a much more involved process, and one you'll discover on the way.
If you start nowhere else, start here. Even though actors don't necessarily need a degree to succeed in the industry, classes are an invaluable resource on your journey. Their number one purpose is to help you hone your craft, but aside from that, you gain great insights into the industry from your coaches and your classmates.
Keep in mind is not every class will be right for you. Every acting school teaches a different technique to utilize when approaching acting: classical, improv, Chekhov, method, Meisner, etc. Each of these techniques resonate with each actor's personal style differently. Similarly, two acting schools teaching the same technique can be vastly different in their style.
So how do you choose?
Luckily, most schools provide the opportunity to "audit" a class. An audit allows you to check out multiple schools without committing to one. Usually, auditing means you attend one of the classes the school offers (usually a high-level class), allowing you to see their process in action (some schools even allow you to participate in the class during the audit.) Use audits to find a class that you think might work for you, but don't be too picky - especially if it's your first class. The key is to just get the hell in there and learn about yourself, and how you need to grow as an actor.
Once you're in a class, take advantage of all the things the school offers. Many schools offer workshops with casting directors, agents, and managers. Network with your peers. Ask questions. I signed with my first agent as a result from a workshop I took in my first acting school, and some of my closest friends now were classmates in former acting classes. Again - the key is to BE PROACTIVE: the school will offer these tools to you, but it's up to you to utilize them.
Use the classes as (duh) a learning experience. Am I better at comedy or drama? What roles are right for me? Am I good at cold reading, or memorized scenes? Can I vulnerable in a scene? Can I be powerful? These questions all lead you toward the actor you're going to be and the types of roles you'll be playing in the future. Find your strengths and hone them. Try to overcome your weaknesses. This all probably sounds abstract now, but these things will all become very apparent with time in class.
To sum this section up: just go out there and take a damn class.
Okay, so you've got a little bit of training under your belt, and you're ready to make some money. How do you do it?
Spoiler alert: it's probably not gonna be in movies. At least not right now, anyway.
It's a massive leap to make the big bucks in movies. Unless you're insanely lucky or ridiculously talented, it's a very long road to be a top biller in Hollywood. So how do you make money now? You don't have an agent, you don't have a manager, you don't have anything on your resume. Same way you find a job in the "real world": you look through the paper.
Okay, well, not literally.
The 3 major ways to find jobs in the industry are 1. through your agent/manager, 2. through networking, and 3. through casting websites. Casting websites are similar to "looking through the paper." These websites allow casting directors to post jobs and job descriptions (aka "breakdowns"), while allowing actors to submit their headshots/resumes to these jobs as they see fit. (Don't freak out if you don't have headshots or a resume - I'll get to that in a bit.) The beauty of these sites is that they help both parties by giving the casting directors the ability to specify the criteria for their jobs (age/ethnicity/look/height/etc) which the site can then match with your description, giving you only the roles you're right for. (Tip: DO NOT LIE ABOUT YOUR DESCRIPTION! You're going to be brought in to audition anyway, and if you're not right for the part, you just wasted your own time, the casting director's time, and travel expenses.)
So, if you want to get started right away, these are the most utilized websites:
I recommend signing up for all 3, but you'll probably be spending most of your time on LA Casting. It's what most people in the industry use, and you'll find more than enough to get your started. Just sign up for an account, put in your profile and description, and start submitting for jobs. (Note that signing up is free, but there is a small fee when submitting to jobs. I highly recommend signing up for the monthly unlimited plan, because you can then submit yourself to every job that fits you.)
Now, back to headshots and resumes.
When you first start, a resume isn't that important (especially because yours doesn't have shit on it). A headshot, on the other hand, is extremely important. When you submit to a job on LA Casting, you're submitting yourself along with 400 other 5'8 blondes with blue eyes and fair skin. (That's not an exaggeration - I've worked in casting, and 400 is not that much.) The casting director for that job is looking through hundreds of little photos (see photo to the left) of people that look very similar to (if not just like) you. You want a photo that makes that casting director want to pick you for the job. Make sure the photo is good quality, and taken with a photographer who is as professional as you can afford. If you can't afford a professional headshot photographer, ask a friend who has a nice camera. What matters here is that you just go with what you have.
Also, make sure the photo is flattering, but not falsifying. AKA: don't front. Again, if you're brought in because of your photo and you don't look like your photo, you're wasting everybody's time. (And, you run the risk of being blacklisted. You do NOT want to be blacklisted.)
Your first photo on LA Casting is free, but you will have to pay for each photo after that. It helps to have a variety of headshots - one smiling, one not smiling, one in casual clothes, one in business attire, etc. If you only have one good photo - that's fine - it's better than nothing. Again with the theme of this article: don't wait. Don't wait till you have more than one headshot. Push forward with one and see where that gets you.
Last thing - DO NOT be a flake. Some casting directors will take note of no-call no-shows. At the very least, decline your audition on LA Casting with a valid reason. Again, you do not want to be blacklisted.
Moving to LA
Ah, the big move. The move every actor considers at some point in their career. While this is probably the place you want to end up, consider this: 70% of the people I've met here are aspiring actors. There are more actors here per capita than anywhere else in the world (I don't know if that's true actually, but it might as well be), and many of those people are established, working actors. To put it simply: if you're just starting, you will be a small fish in a big pond. It's easy to get lost in the shuffle.
Check out the city you live in first - do any productions happen there?
I, for example, started acting in San Diego. San Diego is relatively close to LA, and there is definitely an acting/production community in the city. The agencies are smaller, the productions are smaller, the pool of actors is smaller. Jobs are usually non-union, and student productions are more accessible to new actors. To top it off, San Diego is close enough to drive to LA if you do happen to land an LA audition.
Working in a smaller market is a great way to get on sets, network, gain experience, build your resume, and learn the industry while simultaneously working in it. Eventually, you will know when you've outgrown that market and at that point, yes, I suggest making the move to LA.
When you do move to LA, keep this phrase in your head: "I'm here to work." There are amazing parties here, social events, beautiful women - the things you think of when you think of "living Hollywood." It's okay to dip your foot in once in a while, but remember - you're here to work. Social events can be network opportunities. Don't ever get too distracted, or you might just end up moving out of the city with your hopes of acting left in a pile of cocaine.
HIRING Agents and Managers
At some point in your career, you will need an agent and/or a manager. In some regards they can perform the same functions, but the general (huge generalization here - take it with a grain of salt) rule is that managers usually have a more invested approach in your career as a whole. They think more long-term. Agents usually think on a per-job basis - more short term.
What both agents and managers do is they take care of everything I talked about in the "finding jobs" section. They look through the breakdowns, submit the ones you're good for, and when they get auditions for you, they tell you where to show up. They will also negotiate rates for you, as well as handle some of the more in-depth legal stuff that actors can't be bothered to think about. It's great to have someone working on your side, as well as advising you on directions you should take in terms of your career. The advantage of an agent/manager is that they also will have access to breakdowns that an unrepresented actor doesn't (usually the bigger stuff handing out the bigger bucks).
When looking for an agent/manager, it's very similar to finding the right class - find the right agent/manager for you. Just because your friend has found success with them, doesn't mean you will. Find an agent that you feel like is on your side. Top agencies and managers are tempting, because you get to say "I'm with the same agent as Robert Downey Jr.!", but believe me, those guys are looking out for Robert Downey Jr. - not the "hey can I get a small co-star role on CSI" guy (you). Your best bet is looking into smaller boutique agencies with smaller pools of talent. They are far less likely to put you on a shelf.
Dealing with Rejection
Lastly, as an actor, you have to be able to handle rejection. Because you will get rejected. Many, many times. The cliche phrase your hear in the industry is "for every 1 'yes' you get, you will get 10 'no's." (Sometimes I think it might even be more than 10.) You will go into a room thinking you are PERFECT for a part, only to not even get a callback. You might not even be called into auditions. Potential agents may not return your e-mail. Hell, I auditioned for a job once, got a callback, got a call that they were interested, received flight information, and was told "they chose someone else" the day I thought the flight was.
It's that brutal.
The thing you always have to have a firm grasp on is that your "job" as an actor is not to book a job, it's to perform. When you walk into an audition room, you perform. To the best of your ability. After that, it's done. You've done your part. Forget about it. Them calling you back is just a result of things you cannot control. Casting directors and producers and directors all have to make decisions based on things like the heights of their actors, their ethnicities, the length of your hair, the budget of the production, the weird way one guy walks, or the fact that an executive producer wants his daughter in the film. It's not necessarily because you're a bad actor and you should quit acting.
A casting director told me once, "many times the person who was perfect for the job, didn't end up getting the job." That's how much is going on behind the scenes.
Don't give up.
See you at the top,