9 Tips for Graduates Pursuing a Career in TV/Film

Springtime: a season for rebirth, renewal, reinvention…It is the time just after pilot season when agents and managers have shortened their rosters and are looking to strategically replenish their talent. Among the many venues talent reps, network executives, and casting directors seek the next generation of talent is at college MFA/BFA showcases.

A common discussion among executives, agents, managers and soon-to-be graduating students is the growing disconnect between how the presentation of showcase material fits the West coast market. Film and television requires a more subtle skill set, which is often missing at these showcases. Here are 9 steps to better prepare students in an acting program for the film/television world.

1. Material is key. Your scene should be two minutes tops, contemporary, and age appropriate! Show your audience how you’d be cast now, not the future you, nor the glamorous you after hours in hair and makeup.

2. Know your castability. By age 21 you’ve played old Gremio in “The Taming of the Shrew,” the Emcee in “Cabaret” with a meticulous accent, and your celebrated one-person experimental deconstruction movement piece of Ibsen’s “The Master Builder” was a crowning achievement. While the audience may be entertained with your ability to deliver a foreign accent, unless it’s authentic, this will not help casting and reps know your type. Now, take a look at the medium you will be cast. You will audition for roles ranging in age from 16-25, with your exact physical attributes. The more savvy you are about the shows being cast and the types of roles your physical type would play, the better prepared you will be in choosing your showcase material and succeeding in Film/TV.

3. Know your room. Working actors know the tone of a piece, the medium it would be performed in, and how to share it appropriately with the audition room. Your audience wants to get a sense of the medium you want to perform in—in Los Angeles it is film and television. Your classically trained skill set will likely need to be adjusted to the contemporary film/television medium you are performing for. Many colleges are adding video to their showcases to show their students range in both mediums.

4. Find the humor. In your dramatic scenes, find the humor and find the grounded moments in your comedic work. In other words, play your opposites to create dimension and authentic human beings.

5. Point of view. You’ve been in school for four years, and you have no idea what’s out there. But now, you’ve had a successful showcase and reps and executives are setting up meetings with you. They want you to share your personal point of view—express your thoughts on how you should be cast, know the difference between an agent and manager, know where you want to live and why, share your aspirations and what other parts of our business fire you up. This is your time to collaborate with your future and make those choices, not to reiterate your résumé.

6. Pick a coast. What is your ultimate goal? One executive lamented during one of his recent showcase meetings, “When I asked [this graduate] what his ultimate career goal was, he replied, ‘TV/Film, but I’m going to New York and Hollywood will find me.’ Why delay the inevitable?” Pick the coast or regional area that aligns with your ultimate goal, put in the work, build your community, and build your résumé the way you envision it.

7. Remember it’s a business. A couple years ago, a working actor, coming from a family of engineers and attorneys, confided to me that he was frustrated with his lack of challenging roles and struggling with the lack of movement in his career. Instead of blaming others, he began treating his Monday through Friday the way his family did, as a 9-to-5 job. He went to his home office every day and worked on his business by setting small manageable goals, working smart, creating his own work to keep his creativity nurtured, and gaining more understanding of the culture of his chosen career. Within one year he booked a high-profile series and hasn’t looked back since.

8. Attitude is everything. There will always be challenges and setbacks in your auditions, class, work, and on set. It is how you recover from those challenges that will propel you forward. Keep it positive.

9. Collaborate. Your team will consist of your agent and/or manager, your trusted family, your steadfast friends, and the many wise mentors/teachers/coaches who will contribute along your journey. Everything learned will be used. It is all collaboration.

The years devoted to a rigorous MFA or BFA program learning to stretch, explore, and build a foundation of technique will provide the groundwork for a career in theater. But to compete in the film and television market, an additional skill set is required. While we respect strong scene work, combat ability, and the movement and voice technique that theater programs provide, we must also acknowledge the need to adjust showcase scenes for the film/TV industry with an eye towards video and digital media.

Inspired by this post? Check out our audition listings!

Caroline Liem is a casting director, audition coach and teacher based in Los Angeles. She has cast independent films, studio features, and television pilot/series for Disney Studios, Nick Jr, Warner Brothers, Sony, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, WB, and Fox. Her highly acclaimed film/TV audition and text analysis classes have been taught throughout the U.S. and internationally both privately and at universities. For more information on her classes visit www.CarolineLiem.com

Partnered with Emmy-nominated casting director Wendy Kurtzman (“Independence Day,” “Auto Focus,” “Stigmata,” The Replacement Killers”), they co-founded College To Career Acting- CTCA, which prepares young actors to audition and interview for the college of their choice, guide their transition into the entertainment business, and keep working actors moving forward in their work. Like CTCA on Facebook, and visit www.CTCActing.com for more information.

For updates on what she’s casting and teaching like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @CarolineLiem.

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Caroline Liem
Caroline Liem is a casting director, teacher/coach based in Los Angeles. For the past 20 years, she has cast films, studios features, television pilots, and TV series. She is faculty at Pace University and UT Austin and teaches locally at the Village.
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