FREE ADVICE DAY! Tips and strategy for your career - no matter what stage you're at!
Updated: Oct 17, 2022
In class, we do a lot more than exercises and scene study. We talk about the business of the acting career, what realistic expectations you should have, and some strategies to maximize your progress.
So, if I had to sketch out the stages of a career, and the best things you could be doing at that stage, it might go something like this. Remember, everyone's journey is different, and these categories aren't rigid - they're just meant to be general guidelines to help give you clarity and an action plan!
BEGINNER. You're full of energy and dreams. You've just started taking acting classes. If you are truly invested in your success, you work hard in class, do lots of scenes, working on the notes you get. You may suck at first (like me), and that can be rough at times, but you love the art form and you stick with it. And if you're working hard, you'll notice progress. About six months to a year in (just a rough estimate, this time frame varies for everyone), you should be more skilled and confident than you were on the first day of class.
Suggestions for maximizing your time at this stage:
- Stay in class. Make sure class covers what you need at your level, especially acting basics. If you do not know the acting basics, you may feel lost in a more advanced class, for example, an on-camera class
- Do background work once or twice, just to be on a union set, to get the feel of how things work on a professional project and see pros at work. Unless you love background work (some people do) I would suggest you only do this a few times, or else you might get pegged as a background actor. (And no, you can not put a background credit on your resume)
- If you're so inclined, take a commercial workshop. Many agents, especially regional agents, will sign you as a commercial actor first before they take the chance to submit you for TV and film. Don't expect to be brilliant after just one workshop - if you need to take more, do it
- Get out your smart phone and tape your scene work in class. Watch the playback. See how you might improve the moments that look indicated, forced, robotic. How would a human being actually behave?
- Read as many books as possible about acting. I hear there's a really good one called Act ALIVE :)
- Watch lots of TV and film. Watch the good actors, the ones winning awards. Study how they handle different kinds of moments, from everyday to emotionally charged
- Familiarize yourself with as many different types of tones and genres of scripts as possible. Study the difference in the tones of acting, for example between a Disney show, a nighttime drama like This is Us, and Better Call Saul
- If you have American mush mouth, which most of us do, spend at least five minutes a day reading out loud, from a play, a book, a magazine, or whatever you want. Record yourself and listen to the playback
INTERMEDIATE, or I call THE GREY AREA. Not quite a beginner, but not quite ready to handle big guest star or starring roles on a professional union TV or film set - with the confidence and technique to do multiple takes, make instant organic emotional connections and just being under pressure to keep your composure and deliver. That's your goal, so stay focused.
Suggestions for this stage:
- Class with lots of scene study. Do scenes in as many different types of tones or genres as possible
- Get headshots, if you haven't already. Remember, a headshot session is about presenting yourself as your casting type, not necessarily looking handsome or pretty (unless you're handsome or pretty)
- By the way, some of you may ask, can't I get my headshots when I'm a beginner? Well, yes you can. But at this stage, you know yourself better, and a headshot session should be treated like an acting gig. When I was a new actor, I got headshots immediately and it was a total waste of money because I didn't know my casting type yet
- Audition for student films. Most large cities have universities with film schools, and smaller cities may as well
- Take an on-camera film and TV audition workshop
- Get self-taping equipment and set up your self-tape area in your home
- Reach out to local agents for representation. You took a commercial workshop so you can get your foot in the door by auditioning for commercials
- If a prospective agent wants to see you on film and asks for a self-tape, choose a scene that best represents your casting type that you could book NOW. (I've seen some actors desperately want to play a bad-ass Atomic Blonde when their casting is a Hallmark mom.) Some agents may assign you a scene. Get coaching for this step, and use a professional taping service with a good reader if you don't have a good set-up at home - this is very important! (Remember, this is not considered true demo reel footage - it's only serving the purpose of getting you an agent)
- Start your profile on a casting website, my suggestion is Actors Access. When you get your headshots taken, ask your photographer if they can do a seven-second SlateShot in each of your looks. If you don't have demo reel footage yet, this can be video you can attach to your submission
- Speaking of Actors Access, there are lots of small indie projects posted that you can submit to. If you get invited to audition, it's an opportunity to practice your audition technique
- Your agent might send you out for small, one-liner or other costar roles. You need to know how to audition (see: Take a film and TV audition workshop). I booked lots of small SAG roles during my Grey Area stage
- Find a monologue that you love and work on it in class
- If it's available in your area, take an improv class
- Also, take a shot at theater. Acting in front of a live audience is a great experience and a huge confidence builder
- This last point lands somewhere between INTERMEDIATE and PRO. If, and only if, you have improved your skills to where you can pick up a script and deliver a performance good enough to land you a role on TV and film, consider taking a casting director workshop. But don't take any workshop - target the casting directors who are casting shows that fit your type
PRO ACTOR. Everyone's journey is different, so there's no set timeline here. It could take you years before you're at this stage, and if it does, that's fine. Here's a few guideposts to let you know you're in this arena:
- You have excellent self-tape and in-person audition technique. Every time you audition, you're putting out competitive work at a booking level and showing producers you're the best fit for their project
- You can turn around an excellent self-tape audition quickly, within hours if necessary
- You're challenging yourself in class with more difficult material, maybe some classical roles. Your notes are more about tweaking than a complete tear down and rebuild
- You understand how to approach almost any genre or tone of script
- You are loose and organic on film, living your life while the camera's rolling
- You've booked projects of all types - student and indie films, costars or better
- You are often in the casting mix - if you don't book it, you at least have been on avail, or pinned
- Casting directors request you over and over again. That lets you know they like your work and are looking for a place for you
- You have a professional demo reel, no more than two minutes long, of your best scenes in your booked projects
- Your professional profile on Actors Access and other casting websites, which you started during your Grey Area, has top-notch media (demo reel and headshots)
- You have a good working relationship with your agent. You may stay with your first agent, or you may switch agents. As CEO of your acting career, you are always looking after your best business interests
Suggestions for this stage:
- Look into creating your own content. Take a writing class.
- Speaking of, take a film production class. Learn how to make a short film or web series
- Submit to film festivals. Get accepted. Wear that lanyard with pride!
- Write a play or a one-person show. Book space in a theater. Do it
- If you don't want to write a play, find a play that you've always wanted to do. Buy the rights. Hold casting sessions or cast your actor friends. Book space in a theater. Do it
- Expand your skills. Take a Shakespeare class. Or voice. Or stage combat. Or longform improv. It all informs your work
Questions? Comments? I want to hear from you.
Now, go out there and do great work!