I haven’t done the math, but I think I write two philosophical columns for every one nuts-and-bolts column. I think. That feels about right. I’m not going to bother tallying it up to be sure. I’m just gonna dive in and do a nuts-and-bolts column this week, because I do know the past two weeks have been a little “woo woo.” Of course, your emails indicate that you like the “woo woo” as much as the nuts-and-bolts stuff (if not more), so I’m not going to worry too much about keeping my numbers in line (as I approach the “200 The Actors Voice columns, 200 Your Turn columns” mark) and instead just dive into some basics.
What are an actor’s bare minimum needs? What is required in order to compete in this industry, as a professional actor?
Yeah, even though everything has “gone electronic” in the past few years, you’ll still need to have hard copy headshots printed up to take with you to every audition, every time. I haven’t heard of a single casting director fully eliminating the requirement for a hard copy headshot as an “entry pass” for at least the preread session. And smart actors will always be packing a backup in case the CD has another project for which you’d be right and would like to show that extra headshot to the producer on that one. Best bet: always keep a stash of a good 20 or so headshots in your car or, better yet, in your actor bag. You just never know when you may need a few. Restock after every audition, just to be sure you never run completely out!
We’ve talked before about good and bad headshots (one, two, three, four, five times, in fact), so I won’t go into much detail here, but I will recommend that, once you’ve identified your authentic type (your brand), you let that show in your headshots. Your type should show through your clothing choice during your photo shoot, the style of your hair, your positioning (note that I did not say “posing”) in the photos, the border you choose and even the typeface and color of the font you use when printing up the headshots. Everything should compliment your brand and remind us that you are the one we should be thinking of whenever we need that precise type.
The good news about so many casting submissions being 100% electronic is that you’ll go through fewer hard copy headshots now. Gone are the days of mailing hard copy headshots or even doing drop-offs to the extent actors used to do. So, while your budget has changed (and the money is going toward electronic submissions), it’s not like the overall cost is more! You’re saving money on manila envelopes, postage, staples, ink cartridges for printing up your resumé and all that time spent trimming the resumés to fit. So, it all evens out, really.
And because of that, there is no reason to ever be out of headshots. Keep yourself stocked up. We’ll expect you to hand over a headshot when you show up for your audition. Make sure you have (at least) one.
Naturally, your resumé should be attached to a headshot, stapled or glued so that both the headshot and resumé “face out,” and printing the resumé directly onto the headshot is a great choice, because it can never get separated in our files that way. In fact, some reproduction facilities offer a service of printing your resumé right onto your headshots when they reproduce them for you. This is especially handy if you know you’re going to go through a bunch of headshots all at once (like in a showcase or play’s industry kits, or before a mass mailing), so you don’t have to worry about writing in new credits before your stack is depleted.
The format of your resumé is important. In Los Angeles, the standard is as follows (from top to bottom): Name, contact info, stats, union status; Film Section (with three columns: Title of the film, your role’s billing, and then the director or production company or studio — whichever is most prestigious), TV Section (with three columns: Title of the show, your role’s billing, and then the director or production company or network — whichever is most prestigious), Commercial Section (this one’s easiest. Just say “Conflicts Upon Request” and then, when requested, you can let the CD know what spots are currently airing and where, and if NONE, just say so), Theatre Section (again, back to the three-column style, but now it’s: Title of the show, your character’s name (NOT billing), and then the theatre that put the play up (unless there’s a really prestigious director’s name to mention) including a parenthetical notation of the city if it’s not where you’re currently pursuing acting), Training Section (up top should be your current class, then most impressive, and if you took classes at a place known for being a CD workshop facility, instead of listing that place list the instructors so there is no confusion between ongoing training and one-nighter pay-to-be-seen events), Special Skills (include the standard actor stuff like vocal range, accents and dialects, athletic prowess, and always at least one “personality item” that lets us know a bit more about you than the standard actor stuff would convey alone), and if you have room for it, include a footer that lists your website’s URL (where we can find more photos, your demo reel, additional credits if we’re holding onto an old resumé, your current representation status, etc.).
Keep it clean. Don’t add extra sections without running it past an agent, a manager, a CD, an acting coach, or a career consultant, just to be sure your non-standard format choice won’t scream “newbie” or “non-pro” or “not really interested in acting except as a means to become famous somehow which is why there’s also this modeling or singing or hosting or voiceover or industrial or reality show section on the resumé because dammit I’m gonna make it somehow.” And for the love of all that is holy, please have someone else proofread your resumé. Please. Promise me you’ll do this. Another set of eyes can help prevent seriously embarrassing typos that you simply don’t see anymore because you’re too close to it.
Remember that just like your headshot is less of a photograph and more of a marketing tool, your resumé is less of a list of everything you’ve ever done and more of a means of showing the industry how to cast you next. For example, if you’re looking to stop your run of co-stars and graduate to guest star, you might do a little resumé feng shui and remove the ton of years-old co-stars to really highlight that you have been cast (once) as a guest star, so they’ll see you that way again. Same with featuring your studio film credits and letting go of some of the indies no one will ever see, from years ago. There comes a time to let go of the old credits and do a little leading with intention. It’ll hurt you, emotionally, to cut that student film you loved so much or that community theatre masterpiece you did right out of school, but at some point you must. Pro football players headed to the Super Bowl don’t play up their Pop Warner experience for the media.
I’m not going to say that a demo reel is essential for every actor, as some actors just don’t have the footage yet and — at the beginning — that’s quite all right (never be afraid to be new, we all were at one point), but if you have a resumé that indicates you should have professional-level footage to back up those credits on the page, be prepared to be asked for your demo reel and be ready to hand it over upon request!
I’ve talked about demo reels before (a few times) and Judy Kerr has a wonderful piece in last week’s Backstage about demo reels that you should check out. Regular readers also know how I feel about footage created for the sake of showing off an actor’s work (it’s totally fair game), and in some cases, there can be great successes in creating self-produced footage (see below for my latest favorite story on this topic). Again, your demo reel is not about all the ways you’ve ever been cast. It’s the trailer for the movie that is YOU. You need to use it to show us how GREAT the movie is. Don’t worry about keeping true to the original storyline in every clip. Make your demo reel a very short package (under three minutes) that gets us excited about the full-length feature version of you. That’s its mission.
Ideally, your demo reel should be posted online so that we can access it with a link you provide on your resumé or one you email around. It should be parked at your Actors Access account (or whichever one you prefer, but be sure we can get to it using whatever online casting site we prefer), your personal website, and absolutely in the “websites” section of your IMDb page. And that brings me to…
Have one. Have as much of one as you can easily afford. At bare minimum, you should have an Actors Access account since that is free and we can search it from the other side to find you, even if you never use it to submit yourself. If you go out commercially, you’ll need to be on LA Casting. An iActor profile is smart if you’re in SAG, although it’s yet to be seen how big a splash that latecomer to the game is going to have. Opinions vary on the necessity of profiles at Backstage.com or NowCasting.com, so check in with your agent or manager as well as with yourself about your career goals and the types of projects listed at each site to know for sure where your money is best spent. If you’ve earned your first IMDb-worthy credit, make use of that site’s “Other Works” section to talk about your commercials or plays or anything else that doesn’t fall within IMDb’s domain. Write a great bio. Link to your demo reel and personal website. Interact with your fans at your message board if you’re so inclined (but never take anything too seriously, there).
Keep your various online profiles, your personal website, and your public blog updated. Make sure your actor brand shines through in the theme you choose for all of these locations. Don’t have too many different headshots featured (you might talk us out of thinking we understand how to cast you), and remember my tips from the series on websites (here, here, and here) so that you make the most out of your 1’s and 0’s.
Put Yourself Out There
One of my favorite things to see actors do is the good ol’ “Let’s Put on a Show!” cheer from those old movie musicals. Actors often forget how much power they have to craft exactly how we — members of the industry — see them. But when they pull together their resources, creativity, and a few favors, they can really rock this town. Here’s my favorite recent example (and not just because I’ve been a fan of these two actors for longer than I’ve been a casting director).
If you haven’t seen this top-ranked, featured, over-a-million-hits-so-far YouTube darling, then you should stop reading now and follow that link. Then come back and learn just how inspiring this video should be, to actors everywhere.
First, there’s the willingness to put yourself out there. You want to get your brand on the radar of the Hollywood buyers. You want to show the industry exactly how to cast you. You want to score meetings with agents who know how to send you out and with CDs who know they’ve called you in for the role you’re most likely to win, because they GET you already. But how do you get anyone eager to see you when you don’t have a SAG card and you don’t have an agent and you’re already doing standup and plays and showcases and workshops and drop-offs and eventually it’s just all so much stuff and people still don’t get you? Exhausting, right? So you have to decide, finally, that you’re ready to put all of that energy into creating your own work. Mount your own play, produce your own short film, create your own webseries and GET ON THE MAP. The willingness to work hard for that has to come first. But if you think about all of the energy you’re probably spending going to endless workshops, doing mind-numbing mailings, and attending every open call you can find, you’d realize it’s not a huge leap to simply shift that energy into ONE thing.
Next, there’s the brilliant writing. This is essential. You can’t just fly off at this half-assed. Well, yes, I guess you could, but it would turn out to be a waste of your time and energy and money in the end, as well as potentially casting you in the wrong light in the eyes of the industry, and you don’t want to risk that “bad” first impression. So, make it really great. Work with a writer if you’re not one. Meet writers at the many collectives up and running every week in this town. Buy ’em a drink and ask ’em to help you turn a concept into a script. You never know where this could lead!
Third, build a plan and then don’t sit around waiting for conditions to be perfect. Just get to it! That’s what Gabriel Diani and Etta Devine did, in putting together Girl’s Night Out. Heck, I’ll let them explain.
From Gabriel Diani:
We shot the film over the course of about five hours without any contracts or permits. Our friend is a videographer and editor who did us a solid. Our budget consisted of about forty dollars for some props and buying dinner for the three of us.
Talk about getting out there and just doing it! I love it. Of course, the responsible thing for me to do is remind you that you should try to secure permits for filming on location and even use a SAG Internet Online Agreement or SAG Short Film Agreement when you can, but that comes from the same part of me that would tell you never to put out a fake casting notice for actors of your exact type so that you can get a mailbox filled with headshots and resumés of folks in your category and learn what people are doing right and what they’re doing wrong, before moving to LA to compete with them, like one of my brilliant readers told me she did. There’s just some stuff I have to say, “tsk tsk,” about, all the while thinking, “That’s flippin’ brilliant.”
Anyway, Gabe and Etta have worked together for years as the comedy duo Diani and Devine. If you’ve not seen their Burns-and-Allen-esque comedy routines, you’re missing out. Seriously groundbreaking stuff that seems like Old Hollywood but has this edgy, geeky, hyper-intellectual, pop-culture bent that just leaves you feeling smarter for having experienced it.
So, they knew how to work this, and quickly. After they uploaded the finished product to YouTube.com, the response, they’ve said, “has blown them away.” (They reported lots of traffic at Crackle.com and FunnyOrDie.com as well.) Even before their video became “featured” at YouTube.com last week, things were going very well for this little film.
From Etta Devine:
How did you get featured? Great question, I have a theory about that. I was digging around on the YouTube website and found an email address for the administrators. It said to email them if you want them to consider you for a featured video. I wrote them a polite, concise email about us and the video and two months later it was #1 featured here and down under.
If you’re going to post your work on YouTube, be sure to choose to approve comments. If you’re sensitive or easily shocked… maybe just forget the whole thing.
What’s the weirdest thing? I’d say about 10% of commenters really seem to think it’s real. Really.
From Gabriel Diani:
In terms of what has come out of it, Etta was contacted by a casting director to audition for a series regular role on a high-profile sitcom and went to producers for a callback. All that without an agent or being union!
Ah, in fact, you’ll notice among the essentials above the lack of things like SAG Card and Agent. There’s a reason for that. A SAG card is a wonderful thing. I spent years in pursuit of one. And an agent is also a wonderful thing. I spent years in pursuit of one of those too. Thing is, I signed with my first ever Hollywood agent over Thanksgiving dinner at the home of a non-industry friend and I became SAG-eligible through radio work during the years I wasn’t even pursuing acting anymore. Having a SAG card and being represented certainly will change the game up for you somewhat, but there are many, many actors who will tell you that they worked just as much (if not more) before getting those things. I think that’s due to an energy shift that seems to happen, when we get those “big” wants. Actors might say, “Oh, good. Now I have an agent. He’ll get me my auditions,” and stop doing self-submissions or getting out there and showing their work to the industry, counting on the agent to open all the doors. Frankly, I always advise actors to avoid the Premature Moves, but assuming it’s not premature and you’re ready for a SAG card and an agent, it’s still a great idea to come back to the basics.
If you’re doing your part by hitting these five basics discussed above, you’re helping your agent do his job. You’re giving him the tools he needs to represent you completely. And if you’re consistently taking care of all of the above “basics” and you don’t yet have an agent or a SAG card, you will soon. Just ask Diani and Devine.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000845.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.