First Steps to Becoming an Actor

by Aimee Mitchell

Photo of path toward your future

Becoming an actor isn't rocket science, nor is it easy. But becoming an actor can be accomplished if you have a grasp of what lies ahead of you down your acting career path.


I've been in show business a long time. And in my time I've seen many budding actors fail at the first hurdle they face because, lets be honest here, there are no clearly defined rules and very few 'How To' guides that outline what to do, what not to do, and all of the in-betweens of becoming a successful, working actor. Because there is no clear path to becoming an actor, many who wish to pursue an acting career struggle at finding work and locating jobs, and then eventually give up on their dream. I'm here to tell you that you don't have to give up on your acting dream, you just have to be smarter about how you go about obtaining your dream. Becoming an actor isn't rocket science, nor is it easy. But becoming an actor can be accomplished if you have a strong grasp of what lies ahead of you down your acting career path.

Feel free to read this article with an open mind, because that's how I've written this piece. I've started at the beginning with how you should commence your acting career and how to get yourself known in the trade. Remember, there aren't any hard and fast rules to follow but there are untold traditions that continue in the acting business today. Your journey to becoming an actor will be much easier once you learn about the film industry and what's worked for other beginning actors like yourself. So take some time to read this article and the others on this web site before jumping into acting with both feet.

Getting Started
First things first - you need to sell yourself. Promote, network, and promote yourself some more. Starting out, you probably won't have a talent agent, manager or other form or representation. That's okay. Every actor begins working on their own and at the earliest stages of your acting career, you won't need an agent. However, even if you've already signed with a talent agent these rules still apply to you.

All actors, whether signed with a talent agent or not, still need to carry out self-promotion. You can't depend solely on your agent. Your agent surely has other clients who are just as talented and willing as you. Therefore, you must make yourself stand out. Instead of waiting around for a call from your agent, go out, meet people, network and tell others about yourself. And don't think that just because you spent four years studying acting and drama that you will instantly be considered over someone else for a role. It doesn't work quite like that so please, read on...

There are a couple ways to self-promote and they depend upon who you're marketing yourself to. You can market yourself to talent agents and also to casting directors. Like I stated above, talent agents are not necessary at the beginning stages of your career. So let's start with marketing yourself to casting directors.

Self-Promote to Casting Directors
You want to grab the attention of casting directors because they have the power to hire you and offer you acting work. The more you perform for numerous casting directors and casting associates, the more opportunity you will have to be cast in their productions. But as simple as that sounds, you can't just show up to a casting director's office unannounced and perform.

In order to be seen by a casting director or casting associate, you need to attend an open casting call, audition or actor's showcase. Every time you attend an open casting call, audition or actor's showcase, you'll be performing in front of a casting director and a panel of casting associates, producers, directors and other various filmmakers. These people judge your performance, evaluate your acting abilities, and ultimately cast you in their productions.

So where do you find these all-important casting calls and auditions? Start by looking online for casting notices, auditions, and events that are going on in your area. Most of the free audition web sites are inundated by spam and junk casting and audition notices. Therefore, your best bet is to register with a reputable casting web site. My personal choice is Actingland.com. With Actingland.com you can preview the latest casting notices for free and are only asked to register if and when you find a casting call that interests you. Even then, the registration fee is so low it's silly not to register.

In addition to online, check classifieds for any audition notices and attend as many as possible.

Go to all of the auditions you find. Don't pass on unpaid acting jobs because they can still prove to be extremely valuable. With each job (unpaid jobs, too) you can add to your resume and build up your online profile. Plus, the auditions and unpaid roles will give you first hand and on-the-job experience and training. Remember, never stop learning!

Even when you are on a job, don't quit looking for your next one. You can find out about up coming auditions just by being around others on-set or backstage. You'll meet interesting people on each job and when taking a break or after the day's work you'll have time to talk and network. There is a very good chance you'll get some valuable information about other jobs and roles from the people you work with.

Self-Promote to Talent Agents
As a beginning actor you won't need an agent. But as you progress in your acting career, you'll find a time when it will help to have an agent. To find an agent, you'll have to self-promote. In this case, you'll have to introduce yourself to talent agents by mailing them your professional headshot, well rounded acting resume, and concise cover letter.

To begin, do your homework and research exactly where the offices of talent agents and agencies are located. You can search online for talent agents and agencies but if you have difficulties locating any in your area, the web site I recommended above (Actingland.com) provides the complete list of all SAG talent agents in the United States and hundreds of AFTRA and extras casting agents and agencies.

After you've found several agents or agencies in your area, try to find out who is and isn't accepting submission materials. When possible, don't send any materials until you know that the agent is accepting them. This step can save you lots of time and money.

For those talent agents that are accepting submission materials, find out if they actually want to see your resume; at this point they may only be interested in receiving postcards with a little detail. Ask what they need from you and send it.

Also, a talent agent doesn't want to see too much information crammed onto your resume - it needs to look neat and professional, plus has to be easy to read (think of how many they'll have to read!). If you have too much information, your resume may be tossed out and replaced by another which is far more pleasing to the eye. Send your materials in a neat, large envelope, anything grubby will look like you don't care what image of yourself you present.

Another point; make sure that everything you send out has no spelling errors, is grammatically correct, and most importantly has your headshot attached to the back of it. Add your contact details including your telephone, mobile number and email address. Do not include your social security details as this info will not be required until you get the job.

Finally, don't forget to include a short cover letter to introduce yourself. Keep it brief, all your work history and skills and abilities lists are already on your resume. But although it's brief, try to personalize each cover letter you send. This may be difficult to do, but if you happened to attend the same school as the agent or are friends with one of their other clients, mention this in your letter. Try to be friendly and casual but also professional, too.

Follow up those resumes you've sent out by calling the agents or sending out chasing postcards. Once you are up to around forty to fifty follow-ups per week, you really are focusing properly and are more likely to be seen by your next potential talent agent.

However, keep in mind that very often, after you've sent your materials, you may never hear back from those agents. Many agents receive so many resumes they just can't respond to everyone. If you aren't getting responses then it may just be that it's the wrong time for certain talent agents. Don't let this stop you. Keep going. Rejection is all part of building your experience.

Whatever form of self-promotion you decide to do, remember to keep with it and follow through. Treat your acting efforts as if you were running your own home business because ultimately, you are. You're in a high-stakes business to sell yourself. So go out there and get some customers!
Aimee Mitchell is an acting coach, short story author, community theater director and playwright. She has spent the better part of her adult life working with young actors and actresses.

Copyright © Aimee Mitchell. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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