Over the course of the next few months, I’m going to be bringing some of the chapters from my first book — Casting Qs: A Collection of Casting Director Interviews — here to The Actors Voice. Why? Well, it’s a sad time for Casting Qs. It’s going out of print. Yup. We did a lot of research before deciding to not create a second edition of my first baby and came to the conclusion that the amount of work required to get its existing interviews updated — not to mention interviewing the new generation of working casting directors in order to really create as useful a book as we’d want the second edition to be — was simply not do-able for me anymore.

Why? Well, when I conducted the interviews for the first edition, I did so as the casting columnist for Back Stage West. It was my job to meet with a different CD each week and compile these interviews to run in the paper over the course of several years. I wasn’t yet a casting director. I didn’t have a busy calendar of speaking engagements. I hadn’t authored several books. I wasn’t producing showcases. To publish a book filled with CD interviews when I’d been collecting these columns each week wasn’t a tough start-up, really. To update the existing interviews (some of which are as much as seven years old, now) and conduct new interviews, I would have to — for no pay — return to an interviewer lifestyle and stop casting, producing, and speaking, as well as ceasing to write this weekly column, The Actors Voice: POV, and my next book.

Frankly, going back to the interviewer lifestyle while leaving behind the very cool stuff I love doing every day just doesn’t seem like much fun to me. I’d rather help get casting directors to share their thoughts with you as contributors of POV, as guests at my various speaking engagements, even as co-hosts of my various podcast and web-based TV projects that are currently in development. Am I sad that there will be no more Casting Qs for folks to buy in stores or browse at libraries? Yes. Very. I’m especially sad because it has become a required textbook at many colleges and universities, and that’s the kind of thing that I know would’ve made my mother so very, very proud. And maybe there will be a time when I can take an unpaid three months off from everything else and go around collecting new interviews and publish a new version of Casting Qs. Until then, I’m going to do what I can to bring some of the content over here, to The Actors Voice, so you will be able to search out and read the information when you no longer have the option of getting the book.

Thank you all for indulging me! We’re going to start out with a revamped version of The First Thing an Actor Should Do in LA — a chapter in which 15 casting directors originally participated, a few years back. I’ve added in content from other previous casting director interviews to really round this piece out. So, the eight key ingredients to success in this market are: Stay Focused, Be Prepared, Get Training, Have Great Headshots, Work a Survival Job, Do Theatre, Find Good Representation, and Network. Let’s get to it!

Stay Focused

There are people of all walks of life that arrive in Los Angeles every day to become actors. Have you defined what will make you different? Do you have an internal goal? This goal is not the one you talk and grumble about. It’s the one inside that you truly believe about yourself. — Judy Belshé-Toernblom

Truly examine your motivation for becoming an actor. Be honest with yourself and don’t settle for the easy answers like, “I just want to work,” or, “I just want to be respected.” Figure out your personal mission, and hopefully, it’s more resonant than showing up Marcie Schwartz back home who beat you out for Marian the Librarian in the high school play. — Mark Paladini

The only thing that you have control over in this business is becoming the best actor you can be. The rest of it is the lottery. As much as you can, be objective about your career and what you choose, what you want to be, and not just seeking the next job. — Eugene Blythe

In Los Angeles, we have this self-perpetuating myth. We make stars out of people and then ask them to come up with the goods afterwards. It’s really an unfair way to do it. Granted, some have a natural ability, but we make it very tough on actors, when we make them stars before they’ve been trained. — April Webster

Have the passion, desire, and commitment to your craft. Come to Los Angeles believing in yourself, having complete confidence in your ability. This business is too competitive and cruel for the weak. — Caprisha Smyles

I’m concerned that I’ve seen a lot of talented people over the years self-destruct. You wish they could just keep their eye on the work. — Donna Isaacson

You must have emotional, mental, and spiritual stability. Find that stability and balance, whatever that means to you. Don’t put everything into acting. Have a whole world so that you can survive the emotional roller coaster that is this business. — Katy Wallin

Act at every opportunity. Go do tiny theatre out in the Valley where no one may ever come out to see you. Do student films that no one will ever see. Do the state fair. Don’t do these things because they pay the rent, but to creatively satisfy yourself. An actor should always, always be acting somewhere. — Peter Golden

Be sensible. Treat acting like a business. Study the business end of it while you perfect your craft. Get a game plan in place and set goals. — Julie Ashton

Be Prepared

Buy a car! This is the very first thing an actor should do. Then go buy [an] agency [guide] book, get a list of acting classes, and Back Stage West and read up on what is [going on] around town. — Victoria Burrows

There’s no excuse to not have a cell phone anymore. Get the basic cell phone and only use it when you’re stuck on the 405 and on the way to an audition. This is a 24/7/365 job, so you must be reachable. — Michael Donovan

When you arrive in Los Angeles, you should create an orientation month, just like colleges do. Itemize your needs: housing, car, insurance, day or night job, union card (a must — talk to other actors and find out how they got theirs). — Linda Phillips-Palo

The first thing you should do upon arrival is get a Thomas Bros. Guide and drive around to all the different studios and networks. This will help ease the anxiety of not knowing where your next audition may be and how long it may take you to get where you are going. — Kevin Scott

Be educated enough to know or resourceful enough to find out what you’re selling. After all, in what other business can someone who is brand new make $700 on their first day of work? — Donna Ekholdt

If you haven’t prepared, how do you make choices about your acting? How can you hear notes from the director and make changes? It’s so obvious, but you’d be surprised how many actors come in without having prepared. You should know the material really well. Take a class in cold reading. — Julie Ashton

Go to Samuel French [bookstore] and buy agency and casting director guides. Circle the agents you think you would like to be with. Circle the casting directors you want to target based on what specific shows or types of casting they do. — Melissa Martin

Make notes from auditions. You are a business and you should create a file on everyone you meet. I do my homework on you when you come in. You should do the same thing. If you get up every morning and remind yourself that you are a business and you are not getting rejected, you’re just running a business, you can get past taking the rejection personally. — Donna Isaacson

Don’t join SAG and then learn how to act. Do your learning first. Work out with other actors. Work for free. That work will lead to other work. Too many actors get their vouchers, get an agent, and still don’t know how to audition. We’ll always remember if you’re a bad actor. You have one shot. Make sure you’re ready for it. — Sande Alessi

Get Training

Study. It’s so important to study with good teachers. It’s the most important thing you can do. — Robert McGee

Invest time and effort in the activity of training. Classes can help you advance in your craft as well as give you the chance to interact and learn with other actors. — Caprisha Smyles

Audit a number of classes. This gives you the opportunity to get a feel for the different sensibilities in this town and, just as importantly, puts you in contact with other actors. That energy opens up ideas to other classes, photographers, theatre companies, etc. The only way an actor who is new to town is going to get a feel for what is going on is by connecting with other actors. — Mark Teschner

Classes help actors blend into the community and help [when selecting] agents and managers. Stay away from packaging groups that want to set you up with pictures, agents, classes, etc. They charge too much for stuff you can do on your own for a fraction of the cost. — Victoria Burrows

Stay creative. Have an outlet so you’re not just waiting for the phone to ring. Trust your instincts. Life it too short and there is so little joy. You need to find balance so each job doesn’t become everything to you. You need to study so you’re not rusty. An audition shouldn’t be your only opportunity to act. Class gets you up every week. — Jeanie Bacharach

Get into a strong acting class for six months. Then take an audition class. Get on–set training by being an extra. When you’re ready, go out on audition calls from Back Stage West to iron out any flaws in your audition techniques before you start meeting agents and CSA casting directors. — Craig Campobasso

Actors who come from regional areas usually do not have the proper edge that is needed to compete in Los Angeles. Being in class will give you the time to adjust and gather information about the new arena you are competing in. — Terry Berland

Even Meryl Streep is better at one thing than another. Figure out what you’re good at. Learn your strengths by being in a class and testing things out early on in your career. Find your forte. Acting is tough. Knowing your strengths will make it easier. — Julie Ashton

No matter how successful you get, you should continue to study. Like with any business, be at the top of your game. — Billy DaMota

I think actors should take a class before they audition. It’s good to know how you look on camera. But also, so many actors show up and don’t know how to sign in or don’t pay attention to protocol in the waiting room. Pay attention to how the audition session works. — Francene Selkirk-Ackerman

If you are a very new actor, you must — of course — get yourself into acting classes. There are many types of studies and methodologies. Hopefully, if you are coming to Los Angeles to act, you have done your homework so that you are not a green actor, just agentless. If you can come to Los Angeles with your SAG card from another city, all the better. — Melissa Martin

Getting into a good acting class is the priority, but I also recommend classes that deal with the practical aspects of the job, which most colleges are loath to provide. — Mark Paladini

Get training. And not one-day workshops or weekend intensives. — Billy DaMota

If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. There’s no holding any ground. You’re like an athlete or a dancer and you must work it every day. Training, training, training, training, training. — Donna Ekholdt

As a talent, you don’t work every week, but when you are in class, you are working and validating why you are here. Shop around and learn from different teachers. The business is not made up of just one personality and neither should your experience. Glean from each class what helped you. — Judy Belshé-Toernblom

Find a good class if you need one. It helps ease anxiety of being alone. You might hear about projects being cast you might be right for. It keeps your mind and instrument flexible. — Elisa Goodman

Have Great Headshots

Headshots are important. Be in control of your own look and style for the headshots. Interview numerous photographers. — Victoria Burrows

I think 8x10s should come with an expiration date. People are using ten-year-old pictures and it’s just not right. I’d rather have a recent color photo.” — Sande Alessi

Get some good headshots. — Tina Seiler

A headshot is your calling card, so it should be great. You should use more than one if you’re going for character and comedy roles. But always have one excellent dramatic close-up headshot without your hand in it, without some weird angle where I see your feet; just give me a good headshot. — Billy DaMota

I detest when the picture does not look like the person. Because I bring in so many people I’ve never laid eyes on before, when I don’t recognize you in person from your picture, I am not happy. — Jackie Briskey

Start by getting recommendations from people who know, look at examples of the photographer’s work, and meet the photographer. A photo from a regional area will not fly in Los Angeles. — Terry Berland

Update your photo and resume as often as you can. It’s your calling card. Have it be the best that you can be. Look like your photo when you come in to meet with me. That is really important. — Robi Reed-Humes

Put together your postcard or headshot and resume with a teeny-tiny cover letter that says you’re new in town and seeking representation, or to casting directors saying, “Please feel free to call me directly at this number.” Be brief. [We] already know what you want. Use your circled names from the guide you bought at Samuel French to do your mailers. If you are overwhelmed and not normally a good businessperson, do ten mailers a day. — Melissa Martin

Get a good headshot that looks like you. Although when you do land an agent, they may want you to get them re-shot if they want to sell you a particular way. — Elisa Goodman

Obtain a photograph that really looks like you and represents the sense one would get from you in person. So many people misrepresent themselves in their photos, which usually doesn’t get them much but disappointed. The photo doesn’t have to be a professional one. A casual, clean headshot just taken by a friend can sometimes tell a casting director so much more than the specially made-up and lit so-called professional photo. — Pamela Starks

Invest in a good theatrical and commercial headshot that looks exactly like you look now. Too often, actors submit headshots that look nothing like [them]. — Caprisha Smyles

When actors don’t look like their picture, it is a waste of their time. They’re wondering why they’re not getting booked and it’s not because of talent, but because they don’t look like their headshot, once they come in. We’re saying, “We wanted this girl in the picture. Who are you?” — Debbie Savitt-Salners

Work a Survival Job

It’s not a simple job. At the end of the week, there is no paycheck for auditioning. How are you going to support yourself? Nothing makes a person more depressed or makes you feel off base like no money. This business does take money, even if it’s buying shoe leather to walk to the next audition. — Judy Belshé-Toernblom

Get a good day job, maybe live with a group of people in order to shave costs. Have camaraderie. Share information. Be positive. — Cathy Henderson

A few years ago, there was a legend going around about Vin Diesel and his ability to earn and save $47,000 as a telemarketer before he made it big. First, let me say that telemarketing is hard work. Next, the most important thing to focus on in that story about all that money is this: Not only did Diesel earn $47,000 in his first year in Los Angeles by telemarketing, he saved every penny he could. He said that he watched other aspiring actors buy hot cars, rent big apartments, throw parties, dress nice, and go out all the time. He knew that doing those things would be fun, but would also put him at a greater distance from attaining his dream. So, he drove his old car, wore the same clothes every other day, and lived in a tiny single while he saved his money to invest it in his self-produced film. That film was what got Steven Spielberg on the phone to him. It’s not just the earning that makes a difference; it’s the investment you make in yourself as an actor. — Bonnie Gillespie

From a very realistic point-of-view, an actor should get a flexible day job. You will definitely need it until the acting work hopefully starts rolling in. — Pamela Starks

Find a job that supports your time constraints. — Elisa Goodman

Do Theatre

Do lots of theatre. Participate in theatre not for who will see you there but as a way to hone your craft. Casting directors check to see who you’ve studied with and look at your theatre credits. This tells us how hard you’re working to be a competitive working actor. — Cathy Henderson

Do some local theatre. — Tina Seiler

Understand that this is a craft that requires upkeep. I strongly encourage studying, doing theatre, honing your skills. — Gary Zuckerbrod

Postcards are great to invite me to something. I see tons of theatre. There are 1200 productions in town a year, so you should be doing something. — Michael Donovan

Theatre companies are great places to work on your craft. — Victoria Burrows

Even for TV and film actors, theatre is where you learn everything. It’s where you learn to be a better actor and a better human being, really. Wonderful film actors are committed to going back to theatre. It’s about a commitment to grow and challenge yourself. Actors should be seeing theatre, doing theatre, reading plays. I find that actors will limit themselves by not experiencing theatre. — Julia Flores

If you want to get into a play, pick up Back Stage West for possible leads. If the play is too far out of town, people may not come to see you. Make sure the commitment-level of those involved is high. Most people in this town do a play for the exposure instead of committing to do the material. That is why most plays are so uneven and the agents and casting directors have been burned going to see so much bad theatre. If you are going to do a play, serve the material first, yourself second. Otherwise, it will not turn out well. — Elisa Goodman

Join a good theatre company and start networking with other actors. Don’t do mass mailings unless you’ve got a good tape to show or you’re in a piece of theatre you’re proud of. — Marc Hirschfeld

Get in a good play. When looking at a resume, my eye goes to theatre credits, where the play was done, and who directed it. When an actor comes in the room, even for a television audition, it is obvious to me whether they were trained in theatre. It’s a good obvious. — Laura Gleason

Find Good Representation

Get a good — notice I said good — agent. — Mike Fenton

Have a good agent whose opinion we respect. — Cathy Henderson

Don’t assume having an agent is going to automatically get you into every casting office in town. You’re still going to have to do most of the work. But if you’re out there, working, the right agent is going to pursue you. And that will rock. — Bonnie Gillespie

Seek and secure representation, whether it is an agent at a large or small agency or even a personal manager. Most important is that whomever agrees to represent you is really interested in you, your abilities and appearance, and actively wants to seek work for you. A lot of agents will take an actor on and then do absolutely nothing to advance that actor’s career other than sending out the actor’s headshot along with several hundred others. — Pamela Starks

I like the small, boutique agencies. They’re more efficient, more creative, and more willing to help. The biggest godsend when a big agency is involved is learning that a personal manager is also involved. Talking to the manager is like talking to an actor’s wife. It’s personal. — Patrick Baca

Agents are my saviors. They call me when they get excited about someone and I’ll see the actor based on that. — Peter Golden

Find a good agent that can commit to the representation of you and your career. A commercial agent is usually the easiest to find. Finding a good theatrical agent can be a hard task (especially if you are new to the game and have no credits on your resume), but keep searching and don’t get discouraged. — Caprisha Smyles

Mail submissions to agents and managers only if you feel they are open to your style and type of character. Learn that through the agency books. Agents and managers are great for careers. They are supposed to collect ten to twenty percent from talent depending on what deal you strike up. It is not customary for talent to pay for representation. — Victoria Burrows


Network, network, network. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get advice. — Linda Phillips-Palo

Get out there. Get good at working the room. As Stephon Fuller loves to say, “Nobody’s casting anything in my living room, so I’ve gotta get out there.” Just mailing your materials in or clicking an online submission button isn’t enough. — Bonnie Gillespie

I have a drop-off box in the lobby, so actors can come in and drop off a new headshot, an updated resume, whatever. — Danny Goldman

I’ve seen some terrific actors in well-run, well-organized workshops. I’ll bring them into the office based on the workshop experience. I’ve cast anywhere from 15% to 65% of non-star roles from workshops. Actors need to be ready before they do workshops for casting directors, though. — Cathy Henderson

It’s actually a very small town and there is always a connection from one person to another who knows someone who might help you. — Elisa Goodman

I like showcases. I am always surprised by the quality I find. In ten to twelve scenes, I’ll see one or two people who stand out. For that alone, I get so excited. — Bob Morones

Stay on top of the business. Read the trades and know who’s who and what’s going on. If you’re aware of projects going on, you can send the casting director a note. You have to help yourself. — Debra Zane

Once you are sure of your goal and you’ve settled on your income, it’s time to network. I will always believe in acting classes. This is where you meet others like yourself. People that are having the same experience and drive as you. That is very comforting in this business. Network, make friends, be a friend. Then pray you get on a show that is the next Friends. — Judy Belshé-Toernblom

Try to go to some of the commercial casting offices that are in town. You can drive your headshots around to the offices that have multiple casting companies in them. Put your headshot in the bin of each casting director. Do it once a week. It will help alleviate any intimidation you might have when you become familiar with each space and see fellow actors inside. Also, if the casting director happens to be casting a project that you are right for at that moment, you have as much a chance as anyone else to be considered and selected. Make sure your phone number is on everything. Casting directors do not always keep headshots on file, so keep making the rounds. You will feel proactive and professional. Hard work and talent always pay off. Success is nothing but hard work [recognized]. — Melissa Martin

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000738.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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  1. Gina buchman April 28, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Thank you for this valuable information. If is just what I needed to know because I have recently decided to take an acting class and begin the journey. You are like the good fairies along the way! I love your advice also about always having your own life outside of acting. (There is no place like home) and being balanced in all areas. Maybe I will see you along the way! I would be honored. Gina

  2. Bonnie Gillespie June 19, 2016 at 1:04 am

    Aw, thank you so much, Gina! I am so glad you found your way here and I hope you’re having a blast on your new journey into acting. Keep me posted, okay? 🙂


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