For newcomers to the business of acting, here are some helpful hints to get you going.Newcomers.doc print out and read this article.
Where Do I Begin?
One existing philosophy when embarking on an acting career is to make sure you set yourself up with a career to fall back on in the event your acting career doesn't pan out. I know just as many people who believe that if you have something to fall back on that is exactly what you will do when times get tough. But if you don't have anything to catch you when your career is falling, you will have no choice but to work harder and just make your acting career work. That approach is much like climbing out onto a thin branch. You will either quiver, and slip and shake and almost fall, but ultimately make it to safety, or you will hear a crack and the branch will snap tossing you down to the brutal reality that it may be time to rethink your life's decision.
I've Decided to Give Acting a Try. What About Training?
If you are determined that this is what you want to pursue, immersing yourself in a full time acting program is the path most of the best hard working professionals have chosen. A 2-year program or a University program, will take you through every facet or acting. How to properly use your voice, your body, dissecting the text. Teaching you about career concerns with a host of professionals dedicated to working your strengths and weaknesses. Showcases are arranged to present your talent to industry professionals.
All this having been said, many people have instincts for acting and there is no shortage of stories of people truly excelling at acting without a single class. You need to figure out the path that's best for you. Apparently Matt Dillon was playing basketball as a teenager when a casting director saw him, liked his look and the rest is history. The bottom line is that unlike other vocations, the route to a career as a working actor is unclear. To be a doctor or a lawyer, the steps to get there are obvious. To be a schoolteacher, there's no mystery how to get there. Acting is not that way. There is a range of methods to getting there.
The Importance of a Professional Headshot
It's not always clear why one person gets an audition and another doesn't. I once had my little stack of who would be coming in to audition and a friend was looking through the ones I cast off to the side. He asked, “Why aren't you seeing this guy? He looks pretty good." My unfortunate answer was I don't know. I can't remember. There must have been something that jumped out at me. That guy was 75 headshots ago. The lesson is you want to eliminate ANY reason for them to push your headshot away. When a headshot comes along that looks obvious that you got your roommate and your little camera and went out on the balcony to try and do a headshot to save money, I don't see a professional. I see someone who hasn't taken this business serious enough to arm them selves with the very first tool of the trade. It becomes very hard to take that person serious as professional actor who has their act together.
I've seen shots that were obviously taken maybe by a professional but off in a small city less connected with the profession of acting. They can look outdated using the wrong border, old-fashioned choice of background. There is a fashion with headshots. There was a time that people would stare pensively off camera. Not today. Such shots look outdated or British. Your photographer should understand today's look in headshots. The 90s it was the ¾ shot, shooting someone down to the belt buckle. The 3/4 shot is used less today. A hip happening photographer might start shooting people pensively looking off camera and it could become the hot new trend. Everything comes back in fashion. Until that happens, look down the barrel of the lens.
If you want people to see you as a professional, present them with a professional headshot and resume. If your shot looks amateur that is exactly how you will be perceived.
What do I Put on a Resume? I've never done anything!
Don't tell a sole I said this. Lie. Well, white lie. If you don't have anything to put on a resume embellish anything you can to get yourself going. You can't hand over a blank piece of paper. If you did a days worth of extra work on a movie, put it on your resume as bystander or woman on corner. If you did a scene in a scene study class, put that you did that play and make up the name of some community theatre far, far away. NEVER say you've worked at a real theatre that you haven't. If you were in a play in high school, word it to sound like it was a community theatre instead of high school. Hopefully you will quickly get some credits to replace the dubious ones.
How do I lay out a Resume?
Learn how to lay out a resume. I don't care what a resume for any other occupation looks like, an actors resume is in columns. The first column on the left is the play or film name. The middle column states the role you played. The last column states the theatre or film company that produced it then with space permitting, use a slash (/) then add the directors name. Under your name at the top can list things like height, weight, vocal range, union affiliations and phone number. The next section is usually Theatre, and then under that would be Film and TV. Under that could be number of categories like training, special skills or awards. If you do both TV/film and theatre, have two resumes. One that has theatre first for theatre auditions, and one with film/TV coming first for film/TV auditions.
I once read an actors resume that had composed his resume to read left to right in paragraph form. IF I was to believe this resume; he had done 18 Off Broadway productions. I didn't believe it. Anyone who has done ANY Off Broadway shows would know how to compose a resume. Therefore I didn't believe anything on the resume. If he does not know how to lay out a resume, how could he have done 18 Off Broadway shows? I assumed that he was probably an usher in a costume or something and was trying to pass that off as Off Broadway gigs. Or done some showcase in a space that has housed Off Broadway productions before.
Should I have my name on my photo?
ABSOLUTELY. It is not uncommon for directors, producers and casting directors to pin up the headshots of all their contenders up on a wall. They look at them and move them around, pin them into different combinations to see who fits well type wise together. These are the people who you desperately want to know who you are. Use the name/face recognition the headshot offers. Start right away having your name seep into their minds. If you got lucky and your headshot happens to be the one sitting at the top of the pile for a few days, what possible reason would you not want your face AND name staring back up at them.
Also, I worked as an apprentice at a theatre too many years ago where I was asked to clean up the headshot files. I went through them all and sorted and alphabetized and putting together all of the headshots that had come loose from their resumes. If there's no name on it, it's impossible to put them back together.
Should I print my resume right onto the back of my headshot?
Absolutely not. If you change the slightest detail on your resume, it has instantly become obsolete. The effort you went through to make it look nice without staples is now meaningless because you will be crossing out and adding items. The only time it's OK to print them directly onto your headshot is if you are printing as you go. That way, if you book a job and you want to add it to your resume, you're not stuck with a large pile of obsolete headshots.
By the way, many people torment over minutia such as using a glue stick to avoid the unsavory sight of staples. Nobody is paying attention to staples. You have a lot of other stuff to concern yourself with. The only people who care about such details are the brand new newcomers. You will not find hard working actors with a few Broadway credits, film and TV on their resumes messing with a glue stick. Your effort to look professional will make you look less professional by fixating on details that a real professional never would.
Here are few extra points regarding headshots.
#1: ALWAYS bring a headshot and resume to all an audition, even if you know they've been given one already. They may want another or may not have yours with them.
#2: ALWAYS fix your resume to the back of your headshot securely. Use staples or glue stick but use something so that they will not come apart. Nothing annoys auditioners more than that type of thing. I don't care what they do in other industries, but in this one, leave the paper clips in the drawer.
#3: Trim your resume to fit your photo. Some printing places even carry 8x10 paper. Don't make someone have to manage a huge stack of headshots with ONE of them sticking out all around because you used 81/2 by 11 inch paper.
#4: Look like your headshot. Directors find it very annoying when they bring someone in for a role only to find out that you aren't at all the type your headshot suggested. With modeling shots, no one cares what you REALLY look like; it's what you CAN look like with the right attention. With an acting headshot, they want to know what you really do look like. Do your hair for your shoot close to the way you would wear it at an audition. Get a nice natural make up job to make you look like you do on a great day. Don't touch up too much. If you have wrinkles, you have wrinkles. You can tone them down a bit, but it doesn't help you to eliminate them completely. If you have a scar, don't remove it in your headshot. Naturally you don't want it to be the first thing to fly off the page when someone looks at your shot. So at most, only tone it down. Don't remove it.
Should my headshot be in a border?
I think so. There was a time when headshots were all borderless. They also were nothing but a face, quite uninteresting photos. The introduction of the 3/4 shot brought the border into vogue. It was necessary. When shooting someone down to the belt buckle, the border was needed to avoid huge baron wasteland on either side of the person. The 3/4 shot is a longer more slender image. Since then the border has been on almost all headshots making borderless shots look dated. Some day, a hot hip photographer will start doing borderless shots and they will look new and fresh and interesting. Until then the border still rules.
Having said that, one should always be looking for subtle ways to have their headshots stand out from all the rest and I encourage you to be the one to start the trend, I'll shoot it for you. We'll be the trend setters together.
Should I put more than one shot on the 8x10?
You'd think that would be a good idea and on the surface it does, but don't do it. Composites like that are used by models and that is what you will be perceived as. Actors are suppose to be a bit snobbier than that. You shouldn't need to have an extra shot on your 8x10 wearing glasses to make sure that they know what you look like with glasses.
Where do I find auditions?
In New York one of the most common place for actors to find out about auditions on his or her own without an agent has always been The Backstage Magazine. Today with the Internet audition listings can also be found at sites like CastingNetworks.com, PlayBill.com, Actordepot.com and of course Backstage.com. Some cities like Chicago have (I'm not sure if they still do) an audition hotline but at this point in time, New York does not. With the Internet here to stay there will probably never be a need for a phone hotline.
Getting an Agent
There is no denying that having someone sitting a desk all day doing nothing but search for fabulous auditions for you while you kick back and wait for the phone to ring is a wonderful fantasy. And that's exactly what it is. A fantasy. Agencies have very large rosters and it is very easy to get lost in the shuffle. Even if you have an agent you must still pound the pavement as though you don't have one.
The best way to get an agent interested in you is to invite them to something that you are in. I've heard young actors when asked if they're inviting agents to see them in a given show say, "I don't really want them to see me in this one." Or "I don't have a very big part". And they don't invite agents to see them. Big mistake. The brutal reality is there's nothing to worry about inviting agents to something you're in. They won't come anyway. That's a broad generalization, but agents are invited to 3 things per night. My experience has been is that being in a show will whet their appetite. They'll look over your photo and resume. If they're interested they will call you in to meet you. That's where the decision is usually made. They may try you out on a couple of auditions, get some feedback and without ever seeing what you do, their mind is made up. So invite agents to everything you do. It's doubtful that they'll come but it's the window of opportunity for you to approach them when you look most appealing. The old adage is "It's easier to get a job while you have a job."
Hopefully you'll keep getting cast in things to invite agents to and will eventually wear them down. By that time you might really be in something worth seeing you in.
When going for an agent remember that it's important to get the agent that is right for you. If you have very little on your resume, the chance of not getting the kind of attention you crave is huge if you are in an agency that is out of your league. Find an agent who is as jazzed about having you on their roster as you are being with them.
Now you have done some thinking, taken some classes, had shots taken and made up a resume. You know where to go for audition and who to invite when you get a job. You've taken care of the easy stuff. Now it's time for the hard part.
Written by Kevin Fox