Author: Lynda Goodfriend, Chair, Acting Department, New York Film Academy Los Angeles
There are literally thousands of actors in Hollywood trying to “make it.” According to union statistics, approximately 80% of all actors in SAG-AFTRA are out of work at any given time.
So what do you do while you are waiting to become part of that 20%?
1. Get a job
You need to survive physically and mentally. You must be able to buy food, pay for rent, car and gas expenses, and have the “business of life” taken care of in order to have the freedom to pursue a creative career. No casting director wants to hire a desperate actor. If you come into your audition with the hope that this job will pay for your overdue rent so you won’t get evicted- well, they will see that fear and desperation, and you are not somebody they want to hire.
2. Find out what makes you different
What do you do that is unique? What makes you special? One director I know said he likes actors with a lot of skills, so that he knows what he can have them do in a scene: play drums, basketball, twirl baton, do impressions, do handstands, etc. Not that you don’t also have to act, but this opens up the potential for casting you in a role–especially for commercials.
3. Get an Agent
You really do need one. Sometimes a manager can get you initial casting interviews, but it is best to have an agent. (Managers cannot legally negotiate a job.) If you don’t have any or many professional credits, you will probably start with a smaller agency.
Sign with one who is reputable (check with SAG) and needs somebody in your category. I always feel it is better to sign with an agent and try them out for 4-6 months, and if you feel they are not helping your career move forward, then try somebody else. It is usually easier to get the second agent, since somebody has already taken a chance on you.
4. Don’t wait for your agent to get you a job
An agent I know said, “We get 10% of your salary, and you get 90%. So you should do 90% of the work.” Do everything you can to get work through friends, online casting sites, plays, and/or student films. The more you are working for you, the more your agent is willing to work for you.
5. Have a great headshot and a great demo reel- update them often
These are your number one tools. The headshot gives a casting director their first impression of you- the look, the way you do your hair, even the quality of the photo you have chosen to represent you. In my opinion, if you are going to spend money on your career, spend it on a great headshot. You usually do get what you pay for. The other important tool- your demo reel should be up to date, and have your best work in the first 30 seconds.
If you are not getting a lot of responses, change your headshot. A new look might be just the thing to get the interest of a particular casting director.
6. Keep skills sharp and develop new skills
Go to class. Just like athletes who need to train and keep in shape for competition, actors need to workout and keep their acting muscles in shape.
You also need to keep developing skills that make you more castable: dancing, singing, martial arts, playing a musical instrument or a sport. The more you know, the more you can work.
7. Work for Free
Don’t’ miss an opportunity to work. Many unpaid jobs are rewarded with future jobs and relationships that help you get future work. Work breeds work. And it’s a great ‘free’ acting class.
8. Stay healthy
You can’t be ready to work if you are unhealthy- that goes for emotional as well as physical health. Work out, do yoga, meditate, stay in good shape. Acting takes physical and mental tolls on you and you need to have stamina for the long haul, mentally and physically. Do activities that help relieve the stress of pursuing an acting career.
9. See work that inspires you
See as much of other actors’ work as you can. Watch films: contemporary and classical. See plays. Know the work of other actors- see how high the bar is.
10. Be prepared
Be prepared to perform at any time. Have a couple of great monologues in your back pocket- comedy and drama. (See Denis McCourt’s article, “Oh No! Not Another Article About Audition Monologues”). Always carry pictures and resumes (stapled together) in your car. Have a business card printed with your headshot and contact info in your wallet.
11. Don’t be late
Ever. Never. To a job or an audition. People don’t like it when you waste their time. The expression in the Industry is “15 minutes early is on time.”
12. Don’t complain
Don’t complain, nobody is listening. If you want a job that provides security, do something else. Only be in this business because you can’t live NOT being in it.
13. Don’t quit
Self-explanatory. Don’t quit. Never, ever. There is an old saying “Out of every 3 actors, one will make it. Not because of Talent or Looks, but because the other two give up.” This is very true, but multiply that by thousands. One in every thousand perhaps has the persistence and dedication to keep at it. Just hang in there- the next job is just around the corner. In the meantime, go to class, go take a hike, go learn to play violin. It’s all in the name of Acting.