Last week I conducted a resume workshop at SAG and the good folks at iActor decided it was filled with such essential information that they taped it and will be distributing it to the SAG branches in other markets (and/or putting it up online). Yippee! Seems every time I do a resume workshop, I cover the same basics. That’s not the surprising part. The surprising part is that every time I do any sort of resume workshop (in front of a small group or large), some of the fundamental information I provide is met with gasps from the audience. Like, “I never would’ve thought of that! What a great idea!” Over and over and over again.
So, why squirrel away that information for just those who could make it to the workshop, who might be in minor market branches watching the video, or who can wait for however long it might take for it to ever make it up online? I figured, if I could put into a column the things that I say at EVERY one of these resume workshops, then everyone could benefit from the goodies. So I’m gonna try! Excuse the stream-of-consciousness flow, here. It really is gonna be like you’re attending a talk I’m giving. I tried to force this into something more linear, but this information — like most industry how-to — is fluid and tangential.
Rule Number One: Your resume is not a list of everything you’ve ever done. It is a marketing tool.
Read that again. I’m not kidding. If you treat your resume like a list of everything you’ve ever done, you neglect to use your credits in the way they were meant to be used: To get you your next opportunity. The more crap you cram onto that page, the more you tell us you’re simply desperate to work, to show us that you belong. Go SIMPLE with your resume and you tell us you’re confident in your credits and your abilities. Teach us how to cast you. Show us where you’re headed, not everywhere you’ve ever been.
That’s why this week’s column is called “Resume Feng Shui.” Just like clearing clutter from your home can shift the flow of energy in all areas of your life, cutting credits and training and skills from your resume can create a shift of energy in your CAREER. And you won’t believe me ’til you try it. But if you try it, you’ll see. I get buttloads of emails from actors who’ve taken my advice, trimmed the fat from their resumes, and increased their flow because of it. Take it or leave it. This works! Do not fear the white space.
Rule Number Two: Your credits don’t need to be presented in chronological order.
Someone somewhere decided that “corporate rules” aligned with “Hollywood rules” and told actors to list their credits in chronological order. Nope. It’s bullshit. Don’t do it. And if you need me to tell you there is very little comparison to what goes on in Corporate America and what goes on in Hollywood, you’re in need of more help than I alone can give you. It’s not news. These are different worlds.
Lead with your strongest credits. Lead with your largest roles. Lead with your biggest studios. Lead with your most prestigious directors. Lead with the POWER items on your resume (and end with your crap credits that you’re simply unwilling to lose yet, no matter how much I beg you to slice ’em). Listing your credits in order of strength makes it very easy to trim credits in the future; you’re always cutting the last credit when you’re adding a new, stronger one.
Booked a top-of-show guest-star on a top-ten network series? Great! Off goes the one-liner in the spec pilot no one ever saw. Booked a studio feature film? Great! Off goes the student film which never yielded tape for your reel anyway.
Show us how to cast you. Lead us to your next booking. Don’t get sentimental over the old credits as you delete them. We sure aren’t! And that leads me to…
Rule Number Three: No one has the same emotional attachment to your credits that you do.
And I know that’s not really a rule, but it’s a guideline (hopefully) for the detachment with which you should approach this process. Just like sitting through someone else’s home movies is exciting only for them (because they remember how it FELT to live those moments) and is mildly interesting (at best) to those who are spectators, your sentimental credits mean nothing to 99% of the people reading your resume. Yes, you remember getting your SAG card on that indie film. We see a microbudget direct-to-video project no one will ever see… and that doesn’t show us that we can take a risk on you as the lead of a studio blockbuster.
You remember falling in love with your co-star. We see a one-liner on a cable series that got cancelled in its first season… and that doesn’t show us that you could be qualified for a series regular position on a new project at network.
You loved that role. It was your breakout moment on stage. Good for you. You’re never gonna be cast as that type, that age, that character again. It’s been 20 years. Let it go! Show us how to cast you TODAY.
If you keep Rule Number One in mind, it really helps with all of the other rules. 😉
But enough about rules. Everyone in this town knows there are no rules (but — as Peter Guber says — you break them at your peril), so let’s get to what we’ll call Bon’s Guidelines for Resume Feng Shui… in stream-of-consciousness order! (God help you.)
1. Include your personal contact information.
Yes. Even if you have an agent or manager who requires that you do not. Include your cell phone number. Your email address. At bare minimum, your website’s URL. Why?
Well, we want to book you. We want to schedule you for an audition. We want to contact you for work or the possibility of work. And as much as your agent rocks, his LIFE is not consumed with your career goals. He goes on vacation. He takes a day off. He has other clients. Sometimes he’s just unreachable, no matter how much he has assured you he will always be reachable. And rather than having us go to the next guy on the list, make it easy for us to get to you when we can’t get to your rep.
An agent or manager who REQUIRES that you remove your own contact info from your resume is operating from a place of fear. He is concerned that you will cut him out of commissions on projects you book directly. There is so much wrong with that mindset that it would take another column to cover (in fact, there’s one that already covers it a bit, in the archives). This is your teammate. You’re gonna pay him commission on everything you book. And some stuff you want to go after might not even yield a commission (or much of one, anyway). Fine, if your rep will not budge on this, then give him the stack of resumes without your contact info, but bring to auditions the one WITH your contact info.
Besides, how sure are you that this will be your agent or manager forever? For as long as we might hold onto your resume after an audition, a showcase, a great play? Are you certain? Casting directors are packrats when it comes to the headshots of actors whose work we love. Say I pull your headshot and resume out a year after your agency folded (or after your agent left the agency and you went with him somewhere else, or after you upgraded to a bigger agency, or after you were dropped during lean times at this agency). If I contact your FORMER agent trying to find you for a new project I’m casting, it’s not your former agent’s job to help me find you. It’s his job to not let me off the phone ’til I agree to see the NEW version of you he now has on his roster. And if I already have a “you” by the time I hang up with him, why do I need to keep trying to track you down when you couldn’t be bothered to share your cell number on your resume to begin with?
Just do it. And if you’re uncomfortable sharing your number, at least share your URL. When I visit your website, I can fill out the contact form or see who your current rep is or click to email you or get your number there. Good enough. Sure, we could go to IMDb-Pro and look y’all up, but if we have two actors’ resumes and one of you provided us with exactly what we needed and the other expected us to go look you up (and hopefully know which of the four credited people who share your name is you, and then further trust that the contact info at IMDb-Pro has been updated recently), who is making our job easier? And when we’re looking for anything to help us cut down the number of actors we’re considering, you making it more difficult for us to find you is just a little Actor Darwinism in action. We welcome the assistance in thinning the herd!
Including your URL on your resume (even if your URL is just your profile page at Actors Access or another online service) is a great idea also because you can list, right there in the footer of your resume, “additional photos, credits, demo reel, and updates available at www.whatever.com.” That communicates with us that you have additional photos (duh), will probably update your credits (yay), have credits that aren’t the “selected” ones on your hard copy resume that you’d like to share if we’re interested in seeing more (smart), have a reel (awesome), and have a website in case we need updates! C’mon, that’s a no-brainer and a very efficient use of space at the very bottom of your resume.
2. Rework that third column.
Okay, so you use the three-column structure in the film, TV, and theatre sections of your resume. (In the training/education and special skills sections, you can just go all the way across the page; no need for three columns there.) But within the third column is another of those Corporate America structure things about which I’d like to shake your perspective.
At some point, someone decided that if you listed a director’s name in that third column on one project (perhaps the one on which that director’s name was really impressive), you now had to list directors’ names on EVERY project. Nope. Total myth. You go with what’s strongest. Remember, lead with the powerful information!
So, that means if you did a supporting role in a no-name-director film for a major studio, you list that studio in column three! If you did a pilot for a “gun for hire” at ABC and his name is now mud in this town, you list “ABC” in column three. If the production company is the most prestigious item, go with that. MIX AND MATCH, baby! There is no reason to be FORCED to advertise the name of a director on a project if the director’s name isn’t nearly as impressive as the fact that this film was a USC grad film. List “USC grad.” That’s your production company. Can mean a lot more than a director’s name (if that director decided to stop pursuing filmmaking after producing that thesis film. Hey, it happens)!
(In general, mention student films’ schools if they’re the “bigs.” That’s AFI, USC, UCLA — especially at the grad level, Chapman, and NYU. There’s no need to list that Cal State Northridge was the film school at which you shot your only “lead” role in film. That’s a situation where the director’s name might be better for you in the third column. Keep in mind that, unless we see a school or studio in the third column — or a director’s name we recognize, of course — we’re going to assume it was “just some indie film” and move on. No need to draw attention to the fact that your lead role was in a short or in an undergrad film or even non-sync. Save those details for the conversation that launches from, “Oh, I see you had the lead in an indie film,” so that you control the spin.)
3. Billing in film/TV. Character name in theatre.
I see this mistake probably more often than any other on a resume. (Well, actually, that’s not true. The biggest mistake I see, most often, is use of the word — and I cringe to type this — PRINCIPLE on a resume instead of use of the only freakin’ version of the homonym that could possibly be an adjective — which is what you want, since you’re describing the size of the role — and that’s PRINCIPAL. You can remember it’s an adjective because of that handy A right there in the word. A for Adjective. Sheesh!) Anyway, the second most frequently made mistake on an actor’s resume is the use of character names in the second column instead of billing, for film and TV.
I’m not going to rewrite my columns on billing. I’ve already covered this. You’re trying to help us with risk management and that means you need to show us that you’re right for a guest-star because you’ve already done a guest-star. You’re ready for your second co-star because you already scored that elusive first one. It’s time to consider you for a lead in a studio feature film because you’ve had leads in a half-dozen indie films. Billing. Billing! That’s all we care about in the film and TV sections of your resume.
And, in the theatre section, which I’ll cover in more detail next, you’re only going to draw interest from fellow theatre lovers anyway, so you list the character names there. People who care about this section will want to talk about these characters. And most folks will skip the section entirely.
4. Minimize theatre credits.
Look, I know you love theatre if you love theatre. Heck, I love theatre. I started out as a stage actor as a kid and I have great fondness and respect for stage actors. Their discipline, stamina, and devotion to the craft and unpredictability of daily performances in front of a live audience are all awesome qualities. But almost everyone in Hollywood who is looking at you for a film or TV role (and, c’mon, you moved to Hollywood to do film and TV, not theatre, right?) doesn’t give a shit about your theatre credits, and your insistence upon keeping that section packed full on your resume simply tells the industry you’re NOT working in film and TV.
And since our business is risk management, we need to see evidence of your work in exactly the area we’re looking to hire you. Again, refer to Rule Number One. Show us how to cast you. List your “biggies” in theatre (and here, that means Broadway and London stage, maybe a few major LA or Off-Broadway theatres, very few regional houses and only then when award-nominated productions) and change the header to say: “Theatre (selected),” so we know we can ask you about what else you’ve done, if we happen to be theatre types. (Be prepared to rarely be asked about this section. I know. It hurts your heart. Mine too. Just do it.)
Remember that your goal is to show us how to cast you next, and that means you don’t want to distract us from the meaty credits you have that relate to how we WANT to cast you, in order to show us children’s theatre or summer stock or even off-Off-Broadway credits. You do that stuff to feed your soul and keep your craft sharp. To reduce the level of importance of your one and only network co-star by surrounding it with a half-page of stage work is to tell the industry you’re happy working on stage and don’t really care whether you ever get your name left at the gate of CBS Radford again. Think it through. What’s your goal? Show us THAT on your resume, not all of the things you’ve also done.
Now, I’m not advising that you cut so much stuff that your resume is left looking like a tree stump. Just prune the limbs back. You know the difference between getting a trim so your hair is healthy and shaving your head. Be smart. Do as much trimming as is required to show us how spectacular you can look. (And the theatre section is the section that can usually stand to lose the most, on most actors’ resumes. Another is the film section — especially if it’s filled with student films and never-seen indies.)
Best part of listing ANY section of your resume’s credits as “selected” is that you open the door for a conversation during an audition or meeting. “Oh, your theatre credits are fabulous! But it says here these are selected credits. Obviously, you have chops. What else have you done?” Yay, you! You’ve just encountered a member of the industry who loves theatre and wants to talk shop with you. That means those credits you lopped off the resume are actually HELPING you in that room. You’re getting to bond with a fellow theatre rat about all of the cool stuff you’ve done (but that isn’t on your resume). Bonus!
5. Commercial conflicts upon request.
Don’t list your commercials. Even if you no longer have a conflict airing, don’t list ’em. Commercial clients and ad agency reps worry when they see the word “Verizon” on an actor’s resume that the actor might have been as recognizable and as product-associated as “The Verizon Guy” even if you were only a hero mom in a regional spot and never even actually touched the product, much less said, can you hear me now. Doesn’t matter. You scare ’em off when you list the commercials you’ve done. And you don’t need to add obstacles to a career that already has a ton of ’em.
And if you have done ZERO commercials, that “conflicts upon request” line is perfect. When requested, your reply is, “Oh, I have no current conflicts.” Yay, you. 🙂
6. Minimize “all the other stuff.”
Here, I’m talking about voiceover, stunt, background, industrial/non-broadcast, stand-in, modeling, singing, stand-up comedy, hosting, directing, writing work of any kind showing up on your acting resume. Get rid of it. And if you cannot bring yourself to get rid of it, then relegate it to your resume’s special skills section.
What?!? I know. Calm down. You worked hard to become an amazing… whatever else. But this is an acting resume and the BUYERS looking at it are trying to decide whether you should be invited in for a shot at an acting role. Sure, having TelePrompTer skills is awesome if you’re a host. Create a host resume. And if you’re sure you should keep your host info on your acting resume, then include in special skills that you have “extensive host experience — reel and credits available upon request,” and leave it at that.
ANYTHING that distracts us from your juiciest ACTING credits and takes us down the mental road of, “Oh. So desperate to be in the industry that she’ll do ANYTHING to get on our radar,” is potentially costing you acting work. So what if it’s true? Share your “crammed full list of everything” with your favorite reality show recruiter and get your 15 minutes of fame. But if you’re serious about an acting career, an acting resume needs to be focused on your acting credits and skills. Period. Everything else is a potential distraction.
Yes. I know you’re certain that your years of background work proves to a principal casting director that you have valuable on-set experience. No. It doesn’t. You might as well have spent those same years as a PA. It’s a totally different skill set. That doesn’t mean that the experience doesn’t have value; it means it doesn’t belong on an acting resume.
7. Ongoing training is worth noting.
In your training section, if you’re currently studying somewhere, note that! Just a simple parenthetical notation after the name of the coach with whom you’re studying is plenty.
Lesly Kahn: Comedic scene study (ongoing)
Done. That lets me know two things. One: You’re actively working on your craft. You’re keeping your instrument tuned up and you’re pushing yourself as an actor, even when you’re not on set. Two: There’s someone with whom I can check in if I want to know whether you’ve got the chops to handle something I’m casting.
“Les, hi. I’m thinking of casting Chris in this really hilarious comedy and I only see dramatic roles on the resume. What’s the work like in class lately?” And the answer helps me know whether the risk (there’s that word again) is worth a slot on our audition session calendar.
Now, that sort of thing might not happen often, but it happens enough, so it’s worth the notation on your resume. You never know the relationships folks have in this town. Could definitely help to keep us in the loop on what’s going on in your world, in terms of training.
8. Remove special skills that are more about your survival job than about you as an actor or about you as a person.
I regularly see “bartending” or “typing 85 WPM” listed among actors’ special skills. All that tells me is that you have a survival job as a bartender or as a temp. And you don’t want to remind me that you even need a survival job, when I’m wondering whether you’re the best actor for the role. (Sure, we know you do. Just don’t remind us about it while we’re looking at your acting credits and skills.)
Unless by “bartending” you mean “flaming flair juggling bartending” and by “typing 85 WPM” you mean “typing 85 WPM blindfolded and with 100% accuracy,” leave it off the special skills section. Instead, tell us things that are the standard actor crap (athleticism, dance, vocal ability, accents and dialects, etc.), and then share a personality item. A “stupid human trick” you can do. Something you can either do in the room or be asked about in the room, so when you leave we remember you as “that guy who played the William Tell Overture on his cheeks” when we’re down to our top four and trying to decide who we liked best hours before.
Yes, it’s fine to share something that takes us out of your “acting self” for a beat. This is the one place on your resume where there’s a great opportunity to do that. Your personality can shine through, here. And it needn’t be more than a few words of real estate on the page. This helps us get to know the real you, but only after we’ve consumed an entire resume filled with great acting credits pared down to their most powerful, due to Bon’s Guidelines for Resume Feng Shui.
9. Share those good reviews!
I’ve told the story before, but I’ll tell it again. The last play I ever did before retiring from acting yielded an LA Weekly review that included the words, “Bonnie Gillespie is excellent.” Can’t ask for a better four-word review than that, I’d say. (Especially when they didn’t really dig the play.)
You bet those four words, followed by, “LA Weekly, August 2000,” went on my resume, right under my name and contact number. And had I kept acting, I’d have lopped off the date after a year or so, because you don’t want to draw attention to the fact that your last amazing review was that long ago.
Same with film festival wins. If a film in which you starred went to a major festival, find a place to say that on you resume. Some actors will note it parenthetically after the film’s title. Others will use an asterisk and resolve it at the bottom of the page or section. *Best Narrative Short, Sundance, 2007 is a great blurb. Until 2009. Then you just delete the year and leave it as a conversation starter. “Oh, wow! When were you at Sundance?” “In 2007. We won Best Narrative Short that year.” “I see that. Awesome!” “It really was. Thank you.”
You earned the goodies. Share ’em with the folks who care enough to look at your resume (or website, for that matter). Don’t go overboard and get all “glowy” about yourself. Pick the best. Don’t let the review from a rag no one’s heard of detract from the fact that Variety called you talented.
10. Let someone else proofread your resume.
Oh dear God, for the love of all that is holy, please do this if you ignore everything else I’ve suggested (but please don’t ignore it all… it’s really good free advice, y’all): Have someone else proofread your resume. You’re too close to the work of art to see its flaws. You don’t realize you’ve used the wrong word, misspelled a director’s name, didn’t align your tab stops in Word, or left off your contact information altogether.
Just as those really cool home-buying shows I’ve recently become obsessed with do, have someone who knows whether you’re “staging” your space in an optimum way to attract buyers take a look at your product. You’ll know you’re doing it right when many CDs who didn’t “get” you before start calling you in. Resume Feng Shui at work! Believe it.
Questions about Resume Feng Shui? Post ’em below and I’ll hook you up! Wanna be sure ALL your tools *and* your mindset are in peak form? Let us get you in gear with some FREE training right now!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000932.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.