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Acting for Fun and Profit

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How to get parts in commercials, TV shows and movies

Wouldn’t it be fun to be in the movies? You don’t have to move to Hollywood or New York City, and you don’t need to have movie star good looks. Here’s what you need to know…

WHAT DIRECTORS WANT

One myth about acting is that it is a young person’s profession. While it’s true that movies and TV shows feature people in their 20s, older actors have an easier time landing roles in markets outside Los Angeles. There are so many young people trying to make it as actors that the competition for young parts is extremely stiff. Besides, outside Hollywood and New York City, most professional acting jobs are parts in local commercials and corporate training films. Directors want actors who look like the company’s actual customers and employees—in other words, like ordinary people.

Extras can earn $75 to $150 per day, while principal work can pay $600 or more per day.

WHERE TO FIND WORK

Three resources for aspiring actors in search of roles…

The Web sites of state and city film offices often list opportunities to appear in films being produced in the area. Type “film office” and the name of your city or state into Google to find local film offices, then monitor the announcements or job listings for appropriate opportunities. These jobs are posted by independent filmmakers as well as by casting directors.

Casting directors represent production companies and ad agencies that hire actors and models. Google the term “casting director” and the name of your state or the nearest sizable city to find casting directors in your area. Visit these casting directors’ Web sites to find out if they have “open calls”—auditions open to anyone interested in trying out. Most casting directors have these once a month. Casting directors who like your look and acting abilities will keep you in mind for future projects.

Talent agencies represent actors and models, typically in exchange for 10% to 20% of their future acting and modeling earnings. Many might charge an up-front fee of $150 to a few hundred dollars as well. This covers uploading information and head shots into their databases. Legitimate talent agencies have working relationships with casting directors that greatly increase their clients’ odds of getting auditions. Most agencies also have print departments, which help actors and models find work posing for print ads, magazines and annual reports.

Helpful: If you’re a novice actor, take some acting classes before approaching a talent agency. Agents won’t recommend you to casting directors over their existing clients unless they are confident that you know what you’re doing.

Before visiting casting directors or talent agencies, rehearse a short monologue. Books of monologues suitable for auditions are available at libraries and bookstores or online. Choose a monologue appropriate for someone of your age and looks.

Important: Be persistent. The actors and actresses who find success tend to be the ones who audition as frequently as possible and continually monitor their regional film offices’ Web sites for opportunities.

DON’T GET SCAMMED

Confirm that you’re dealing with a legitimate casting director or talent agency. Some companies charge thousands in up-front fees in exchange for vague promises about launching aspiring actors’ careers. Legitimate casting directors do not charge any up-front fees, and legitimate talent agencies charge no more than a few hundred dollars, plus a percentage of future earnings. Also…

Check casting directors’ Web sites for a list of credits. Legitimate, experienced casting directors will have a long list of projects that they have worked on in the past.

Make sure talent agencies are licensed by the state. Licensing requirements vary by state.

Helpful: The Web site of the Screen Actors Guild is one place to find legitimate talent agencies. (On www.Sagaftra.org, select “Agency Relations” from the “Union Info” menu, then select “SAG Franchised Agents,” and choose your state or region from the list near the bottom of the page.)

OBTAINING EXPERIENCE AND TRAINING

There is work available to actors who have little experience and training. This typically includes nonspeaking roles and small roles in independent film productions (independent films often pay actors little or nothing, however).

But to land more and better roles, you probably will need some acting experience and/or training. Taking roles in local amateur theatrical productions is one way to gain this experience. Taking acting classes can be an even better way to improve your acting skills and employability. A local talent agent should be able to recommend classes, or you can conduct an Internet search for the phrase “acting classes,” along with the name of nearby cities or large towns. A four-to-six-week class is likely to cost a few hundred dollars.

Examples: A class focused on on-camera acting for commercials and corporate-training films will be particularly useful if your goal is to launch a part-time acting career and you don’t live near Hollywood or New York City. If you’re more interested in becoming a stage actor, ask local theater companies if they offer acting classes.

Also, local casting directors and talent agencies sometimes offer personal consultations with prospective actors about how to get started in the business and/or seminars about the business side of acting. These can be very helpful. Prices vary, depending on the reputation of the casting director or talent agent involved, but shouldn’t be more than a few hundred dollars for an hour-long private consultation and less for a seminar.

AUDITION LIKE A PRO

When you audition, dress for the role you hope to land. Appropriate wardrobe can help the filmmakers see you in the part. Also…

Arrive at least 15 minutes before your audition time. The script often is not provided until you arrive.

Warning: Don’t attempt to memorize the script unless it’s only a few sentences. Quickly memorizing scripts can lead to constrained, expressionless performances.

Bring a résumé detailing your acting experience (if any) to the audition. Type the words “actor’s résumé” into a search engine to find examples of how these should be structured. If you haven’t yet landed many—or any—professional roles, it’s fine to include amateur acting experience, even local theater productions from decades ago.

Bring a professional head shot to auditions as well. A talent agent should be able to recommend an area photographer. Expect the photographer to charge $175 to $400 (most include the cost of a makeup artist).

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Source: Kathy Wickline, CSA, founder of Kathy Wickline Casting in Philadelphia. She has cast thousands of projects, including commercials for BlueCross, NBC and Comcast. She also cast the Academy Award–winning feature films Witness and Philadelphia. Her CD So You Want to Be an Actor is available at www.WicklineCasting.com (click on “Actors”). Date: February 1, 2013 Publication: Bottom Line Personal