Friday, November 29, 2013

How do I start looking for an agent?

You might want to have a few things in place before you begin to look for representation, such as headshots and résumés. Although the agent you sign with may want you to get new headshots, you must have some shots to submit in order to even get an interview. You will also need a cover letter to send with your headshot(s) and résumé. The letter should be short and to the point: State that you are seeking representation and the type of acting work you are interested in pursuing, briefly mention your training and experience in that area, classes you are taking now, and anything you are currently performing in. Be sure to include your contact information, and do not exceed one page.

Note: In addition to basic acting training, you should also have some training in your particular area of interest. If you are submitting your material to a commercial agent, include any cold reading and commercial auditioning classes you’ve taken on your résumé. If you’re going for television work, an on-camera class is good to have. And list any other acting-related classes you are taking.

The more you look like a serious professional, even if you are non-union, the easier it will be to get an agent interested in you. And speaking of looking like a professional, never send your headshots and résumé to an agent using “creative submissions.” This means no glitter (inside or outside the envelope), money, funny poems, silly threats, food, etc. Do you know how many agents have received envelopes with some kind of “miniature foot” in them, along with a note that reads “At least I now have a foot in your door”? And guess how many of these submissions get thrown away? If you guessed all of them, you’re right. Some actors believe that these types of submissions will make them stand out from all the other submissions, but the truth is that they only make you stand out as an amateur.

Note: Every now and then you will hear of an agent who likes to get “creative” submissions. If you’ve actually heard the agent say this, or have read an interview in which he does, then go ahead and do something creative – but no glitter or other confetti-like surprises that will spill out all over the agent’s desk. Otherwise, stick to the professional-looking submission.

Once you have the above elements together, you can obtain a copy of the SAG and AFTRA franchised agent lists from the SAG-AFTRA web site. This lista are available to you even if you are not a member of the union. At a theatrical bookstore, such as Samuel French, you can find copies of a monthly periodical called “The Agents,” which lists franchised agents, as well as those who are not franchised but are still acceptable for union work.

Note: At the time of this writing, agents don’t need to be franchised by SAG in order to represent union actors, but they must be affiliated with either the Association of Talent Agents (ATA) or the National Association of Talent Representatives (NATR), or both.

Asking fellow actors can also be a good way to get names of agents. However, because these actors may see you as their possible competition, or because if you don’t work out at the agency it would reflect poorly on them, you shouldn’t automatically expect other actors to recommend you to their agents.

Once you determine the number of agents to whom you want to send your materials, purchase that many (plus a few more) heavy-weight, 9x12 manila envelopes. Put a headshot(s), résumé, and a cover letter in each envelope, attach a completed “To:” and “From:” label to each envelope, and take them to the post office. Find out the correct postage, then buy enough stamps (plus a few more) to cover this mailing.

For future submissions, keep all of your materials (agent lists, headshots, résumés, stamps, and envelopes) together so that it is quick and easy to set-up an “assembly line” for mailings. Each time you get a recommendation or a lead on a new agent, you’ll be ready to send out your envelopes without having to scramble to find your résumés or the correct postage, etc. And because it’s now quick and easy to submit your materials, you will have less reason to procrastinate about finding an agent.

Note: Nowadays more agents are allowing you to submit electronically. Although this is not the norm yet, you should have your materials - headshots, résumés, and cover letters set up on a computer and ready to send.



Friday, November 22, 2013

How do I find a good headshot photographer?

One of the best ways to find a good headshot photographer is to ask other actors, and to take a look at their headshots - how is the lighting and composition? Also, check photographers’ ads in the phone book, or better yet, check out their online web sites. If you're in Los Angeles or New York, the actor's trade papers and magazines will have plenty of ads for photographers.

In fact, photographers are not hard to find. Even fairly good ones are not rare. However, finding the right headshot photographer for you may take a little effort. Since you may be spending $200.00 to $400.00 for the session, and your shots will represent you to agents and casting directors, you should do your homework before you make your choice.

After getting some recommendations, or finding some possibilities within your price range, make sure you look at their portfolios. Seeing examples of the kind of work they do will not only give you an idea of their technical expertise, you will also be able to see how well each photographer captures his subjects. Even if the shots look good, does he or she work with the kind of actor you are? Photographers who shoot mostly leading men and women may not be as good at capturing the nuances of a character actor.

Note: In the larger cities you may find some photographers who charge as much as $2,000.00 for a shooting session. Unless you are a high fashion model, or are already famous, there is no reason to spend that much for shots that are to be submitted for auditions. Even among regular headshot photographers, the most expensive photographer is not necessarily the best one for you.

While it is important to have a photographer who knows what he's doing technically, you should also find one who will make you feel relaxed and open. So while you are checking out a photographer’s portfolio, talk to him about what you want: how you want to come across, what type of work your shots are going to be submitted for, etc. If he doesn't take the time to talk to you, he may not take the time to do the best job for you, either.

Of course, you need to have a good idea of what you want the shots for. Are you a character actor looking mostly for commercial work, or a young ingénue hoping to be cast in romantic comedies? It is often a lack of self-awareness and/or communication, and not technical problems, that cause an actor to be disappointed with his shots.

If you don't have an agent, I would only get a couple of headshots. Many agents will want you to get new, or different, shots when they take you on. This is because they may have specific ideas about the type of roles they will be submitting you for. Getting just a couple of shots, will also save you some money, as most photographers charge by the number of “looks” (wardrobe changes, different locations and expressions).

Finally, you should ask the photographer in which final format you will receive the headshots. If he uses digital photography, will you receive a DVD containing all the shots? If shooting with film (most headshot photographers use digital), will he give you the negatives? (Personally, I wouldn't use a photographer who didn't give me the negatives.) Do you get any 8x10s included in the price? How about touch-ups and re-shoots if you don't like the shots?

Remember, the photographer is working for you, so politely interview him or her as you would any perspective employee.

More information about what you can do, as an actor, to make your headshots look great will be discussed in a future post.



Friday, November 15, 2013

How do I get started on a career in acting?

Let's start by asking the question “Why do I want to act?” After all, it's one of the toughest careers to make a living at. You may answer: for fame, for money, to be popular, for revenge, or because you have tried acting and you love it. That last answer is the best one, because if you don’t feel passionate about what you are doing, all the fame and money in the world will not make you feel happy or fulfilled.

Now that you have an idea of why you want to be an actor, it’s time to explore the world of acting, and the best way to begin is by seeing some plays. Whether they are comedies, dramas, or musicals, you should get the feeling that you want to be on that stage - almost as if you were being “pulled” up there. The type of show you most strongly respond to may also give you an idea of what type of performance area you’d like to start with (and remember, any training you get in one area will help you in other areas as well). All actors, even if they want to pursue a career in film or television, should start with theatre. Most cities and towns, even small ones, have school drama clubs or community theatres, and it is there that you can put your training into practice. (Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to watch good films and television shows as well.)

If acting is in your heart, start attending classes. If you want to do musicals, begin by taking singing and dancing lessons. If it’s drama that interests you, get into a good acting class - one that offers training in voice and movement, as well as in an acting method. The same is true for comedy, with the addition of improvisation training and, if possible, a class that has a performing troupe and/or also performs sketch shows. Going to classes allows you to begin to experience what it takes to be an actor.

Reading plays, acting books (to learn about different methods), actor biographies, magazines (such as American Theatre), and trade papers (like BackStage, Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter) is a great way to learn about the business and stay connected. Many of the above may be available at your library, local bookstore, or online. If they aren't, consider joining or starting a drama club and chipping in with others to buy a trade paper subscription, or a few acting books, to share.

Learn some monologues. Pick ones that are appropriate for your age and how you see yourself. Memorizing monologues is also good for exercising your memory muscles.

Get in decent physical shape. You don’t have to have the figure of a fashion model or be “ripped,” but you do need to be healthy. Professional acting can be demanding on your body; it often involves long hours and physically strenuous work, along with less-than-healthy eating and sleeping patterns.

In all areas of the entertainment business, training and experience are very important. If you're in a good class, you will love the training as much as the performing. It's all really the same – every time I'm working on a set, I learn something new – usually about myself and my craft. When we're doing something we love, we want to keep growing and finding new ways to express ourselves.

We'll talk more about ways to get started in specific areas of acting in another post.



Friday, November 8, 2013

Getting started in the theatre

When someone asks me, “How do I get work as an actor?” The first question I usually ask is - what kind of work? You could simply do a play at your local community theatre. That would be acting. Or do you mean professional acting work? Do you mean paid work, or a great part that doesn't pay, but is still considered professional?

If someone asks me, “What is the best way to get on a sitcom?” I can answer that. Or “What kind of training do I need to do musical theatre on Broadway?” I can answer that as well. But it's hard to give any kind of helpful answer when the question is vague.

So, let's make this post about getting work in live theatre. To get started in a theatre there are several different approaches you can try. You're not going to be starting out on Broadway – unless you've had a lot of training and you live in New York. And even then you will be expected to have some off-Broadway, or at least a bunch of off-off-Broadway shows on your résumé. Of course, if you're a movie star, producers will be happy to give you a role on Broadway because they know that audiences will come to see you.

But let's say you're just getting started, or maybe you've moved to a new town and want to get involved with a theatre there.

Most colleges and many high schools have a drama department and you can enroll in their classes. Or you could Google “community theatres” in your area and then call or email them to find out when they're going to have auditions. You can do the same with larger theatres in your area, however, many large theatres outside of New York bring shows in from out of town, with the cast already in place, so usually a smaller theatre will be your best bet in the beginning.

Many theatres have companies that you can audition to join, and they choose most of their cast for their plays from company members. And some theatres have classes – so join one of those!

Another alternative is to call a theatre and volunteer to help build or paint sets, work in the box office, be an usher, or help in some other way. Just like joining one of their classes, this will get you involved in the theatre and you will start meeting other actors and the people who run the theatre. It's a lot easier to find out about up-coming auditions when you are already a part of the theatre.

What if you don't have a theatre in your town? What many actors have done is to start their own theatre. No – you don't have to find a building to rent and all that stuff (unless you have a lot of extra money you want to spend). I mean finding a space – maybe even a garage or backyard (for an outdoor theatre) and doing simple plays that don't require a big expensive set.

This is called “DIY” (Do It Yourself) and a lot of actors – even some famous ones – are doing it this way. Why? Because they can do the kind of plays they want to do without having to wait for somebody else to create a show for them to be in. If you read the bios of some of your favorite actors, you will see that there are quite a few that started out this way – doing plays for family and friends.

Be careful of using plays that somebody owns the copyright on, especially if you charge money to see the show. The best way is to either find plays in the public domain, or royalty-free plays, or, even better, get together with some friends and write your own. This is really the best way, because then you can all write in parts for yourselves and you don't have to worry about violating copyright laws.

NOTE: To find royalty-free plays click on my link to Samuel French and search for “royalty free.” On the site you can even filter for the number of males and females in the cast.

I hope this gives you some ideas about the possibilities of getting involved with some live theatre. We will be discussing a lot more about how to get involved with film, television, and internet video and how you can DIY them. DIY is great because it means that you aren't just waiting around for something to happening – you're making it happen! And if you really want to make it in this biz, you can't wait around for the phone to ring.

Have other questions about getting started or getting work as an actor? Use the comments or email me and we'll talk about ways to get film, television, and internet work as well as anything else you want to discuss about the world of acting.



Friday, November 1, 2013

Starting out as an actor

I often receive emails asking me simply: “How do I become an actor?” (I use the term “actor” to mean either a male or female performer. This has become standard practice in the entertainment industry even though the awards shows still give out awards for “best actor” and “best actress”.)

The problem with giving a simple answer to the question, “How do I become an actor?” is that it contains no information about what kind of actor the person wants to become. There is a big difference between an actor who wants to do a sitcom, and an actor who desires to perform in Broadway musicals. The training is different, as is the practicing of the craft. And the paths to achieving those goals are very different. We'll discuss specific paths in another post. But, let's look at how we can start our journey.

Let's start with knowing what kind of actor you want to be. How do you figure that out? Well, watch films, TV shows, and plays. Which one has the most appeal to you? Which one of those mediums would you like to work in? (Many actors work in all kinds of mediums: film, television, plays and the internet, but they usually have a good idea which one is their favorite – at least right now.) Also, do you want to be a comedic actor or a dramatic one? Again, some actors do both, but are usually drawn more to one or the other.

If you can't figure it out, this is where a good basic acting class comes in. If you are in a class and have a chance to do scenes or monologues – which ones do you relate to the most – comedy or drama? Does one of them feel more like a “good fit” for you? Does one of them move you and excite you more than the other?

Do you love to hear the laughter of the audience, or does an audience holding their breath as your character reacts to some devastating news appeal more to you? Often we can only figure things out by having some experience doing them. That's why, even if you think you know what kind of an actor you want to be, if you haven't taken a class, you should start with that. Try a bunch of different styles and see what really moves you. If you are just starting out, I would avoid limiting yourself. Even if you're a silly person, who loves comedy, I would try doing at least one dramatic scene or monologue. There are two reasons for doing this: one – you never know what might turn you on if you don't try it, and two – you can learn a lot from doing something that is the opposite of your personality.

When I was starting out I did both comedy and drama, and found I liked comedy better. But guess what? I get hired to do just as much dramatic work as comedy! Why? I don't really know – some people just see me more as a tough, hard kind of guy than a funny one. And they are usually really surprised when they see some of my comedic stuff (in which I'm usually really silly).

Up close with George Lopez

Just because you start in one area (like comedy) doesn't mean you have to do that your whole career.

I will say this, however – if you want to be an actor, any kind of actor, then training is key. We've all heard of a few well-known actors who had some natural talent, managed to get real lucky, and kind of just fell into acting, or got “discovered” while they were doing a modeling gig, but that's very rare. Let me repeat that – it is extremely rare that a professional actor does not have a background of training and experience.

Do you want to depend on lots of luck, or do you want to work toward your goals? Having a dream is a great way to start. But it isn't enough to just be a dreamer – you have to be a doer as well. That is the only way to achieve those dreams.

I know that some of you are in small towns, or other places in the world where it doesn't seem like you can go after your dream of performing, but there are ways to get started even in those situations. We'll be talking about them in an upcoming post.