Talent and training are the keystones to a successful career, but don’t let bad judgement, getting advice from the wrong sources, or not being prepared bring down your potential success!
1. Not being trained for the market for which you are auditioning—prime time, commercials, musical theater.
Primetime drama, comedy, film. Want to work on a sitcom or a primetime drama? Better understand "cold copy" audition technique. They won't ask you to audition with a monologue or a scene you rehearsed in acting class. After getting a “side” you have little time to give a natural performance—very spontaneous with a believable character. It’s over in minutes. The fun and challenging part is creating that character playing opposite a reader—sometimes not even an actor who is blandly reading the other lines— it’ll show your real talent and creativity!
Commercials. Take a class with an actor who's shot commercials, as well as a commercial casting director. Casting directors are often great teachers, but they aren't in the room during the final casting, and so they don't always know why an actor gets hired for a network spot. Learn from a working actor who’s been in the room for the callback and booked the commercial.
Musical theater. Do workshops with working Broadway actors, especially for musicals. It’s tough making the cut from a musical or dance audition, so seek out and work with choreographers who hire singers and dancers from their network. They can show you what you need to do to be up to speed.
Train for all these markets, but don't just accept the knowledge you gained in a college drama program or conservatory training. To become professional, always work with working professionals!
2. Not being up to speed with your marketing tools. If you're embarrassed to show your head shot—it doesn't look like you, is several years old, or is in black and white—get a new one. Go over your type and brand before the shoot and wear the appropriate wardrobe. Suggest the roles for which you would be cast, as well as showing your personality and energy.
Resume. If your resume is badly designed, not trimmed properly, and attached on the back of your head shot, update and refine it. Use columns which are easy to read quickly, rather than long sentences and credits going across the page. Include 5 categories: theater, television/film, training, education, and skills. Avoid phrases like: “community theater,” “student film,” “lead,” “stage experience,” “high school production,” “modeling contest,” and “runway experience”— they tell the industry that you’re still an amateur. Use the correct terms and lingo.
Monologue. If your monologue has never booked you a job, and is from a play over 10 years old, update! Choose new material possibly from television or film. There are some great lawyer closing speeches from certain series, as well as doctor monologues from medical dramas—”FBI agents,” “Spies,” etc.
Website. If you don't have a website—where the industry can find you and get all information about how to cast and hire you—get one! Include at least 5 pages: a welcome page with your headshot, bio/resume, video/film, photo gallery, and contact.
Demo reel. If your demo reel is made up of student and indie film clips, and you're playing roles that don't exist in television and film, shoot a new one! There are companies who do this. Your sizzle reel should show your three most marketable roles, not generic ones—girlfriend, guy with gun, angry woman. Can you play: a doctor, lawyer, FBI agent, undercover cop, investigative reporter, or suburban dad? These are specific roles in which you can get cast. Show the industry what you can play and you'll get auditioned and hired for that.
Indie directors often choose the genre that will get their career started as fast as possible—horror or science-fiction. These do not necessarily sell you. Avoid scenes full of violence—obscenities and shooting guns, aliens and special effects. A good demo shows your believability. It shouldn’t be trying to impress someone with the director's style.
3. Asking friends, relatives, strangers or non-professionals for advice about your career. This is probably the deadliest sin of all. Would a brain surgeon ask his best friend, a guy who owns a car dealership, how to operate on his patient's brain? If not, then why would an actor ask a friend, someone not in the arts, about choosing their head shots, formatting their resume, or performing their monologue? Spouses, mothers, and best friends are a wonderful source of support and love in your life, but are the wrong choice for career information. Worse, some actors go to online sites and ask total strangers who may or may not be working actors how to be successful. They’re not reliable sources of information about acting classes, head shots, demo reels, or meeting the industry.
Successful actors. If you need advice, turn to successful, working actors who might be in your acting class, when not shooting their television series, major film, or appearing on Broadway.
Industry professionals. Casting directors and agents are also a good people to give advice—many of whom teach classes and workshops. Read books written by experienced industry professionals.
Career coach. If they have had a successful acting career, they might also be your best source of information and guidance about acting! Acting teachers may have great advice on technique, but not necessarily on a marketing campaign, or creative choices for your marketing tools—head shots and demo reels.
If you want a successful acting career, seek out the professionals who have the right answers based on experience—successful professionals who've been there, done that!
As the founder and executive director of The Actors's Market, Gwyn Gilliss provides free monthly info seminars, agent/casting director interview tele-seminars, weekly marketing tips, as well as many coaching programs to help actors break into both the NY and L.A. industries. Gwyn has tremendous success with her private career coaching clients. More than 90 percent get agent representation launching their careers with performances in feature films, Broadway productions, and Emmy-award-winning primetime TV series, such as "The Good Wife," "White Collar," "Grey's Anatomy," "NCIS," "House," "Law & Order," "30 Rock," "Criminal Minds."
Email her to request a free 15-minute career session: firstname.lastname@example.org.