How to Break In to the Entertainment Industry
I recently returned from shooting headshots for aspiring actors in Las Vegas. Several times per year I travel to other cities to shoot for local agencies with ties to the Los Angeles Entertainment Industry. The groups I work for are local companies who secure work for their talent in the local markets. These groups also help transition their clients into the Los Angeles market as well, often times helping to attain representation in Los Angeles and facilitating with audition tapes and management from afar. As I’ve met so many hopefuls living in other markets, our conversations often turn to the real basics of the industry.
With this recent trip, I talked about how to break in to the industry so many times, I thought I’d write a post about it. Hopefully this can serve as a reminder to my new friends in other cities, or as a quick overview to the industry for the completely un-indoctrinated. In any case, if you want to be the biggest movie star on the planet, this is where you start. Feel free to click on the videos next to each section to hear me talk in more detail - and remember to subscribe to our YouTube page for more tips and videos about the industry!
Headshots Yep, that’s right. The Los Angeles photographer is telling you to get a headshot. I’m not telling you to come to me, but I am telling you that you need a professional image of who you are. You can be cheap or you can be fancy, but the only thing that matters in the end is that your headshot (or portfolio of many headshots) must represent who you are—not just how you look, but who you are as a performer and entrepreneur. The how you look part shouldn’t need a lot of discussion. You should be true to who you are including your self expression. However if your self expression is wildly out of step with how most people look in films and on television, you might want to rethink the radical haircut and the face tattoo. (Or completely own it and know that you are not going to be right for 99.9% of castings, but that one 0.1% of castings you are right for, you are really REALLY right for.)
Besides how you look you need to show them who you are as a performer (or who you legitimately could be). Are you a comedian or a more serious actor? Are you commercial talent? Are you playful or sexy or goofy or stoic? Can we determine what kind of talent you are from a photo? We should be able to. And you're job is to help up understand you and your talent.
You can find a wealth of information about what to wear in your headshots: https://www.shandonphotography.com/blog/wardrobe-choices-for-young-actors here.
One last thing you should try to convey in your headshot: Your Business Sense. This basically means that you need to look like you gave your headshot some professional thought. Gimmicky headshots or poor quality headshots reflect on who you are as a decision maker. As an actor, your job is to make choices—clear choices that drive the motivation of the character you are playing. How can you expect any professional casting director to take you seriously if you are showing them (in your first professional introduction) that you clearly don’t make good choices? (Good choices: Professional headshots with professional lighting. Tasteful style. Tasteful display of your brand.) (Bad choices: anything else.)
Agents Managers and Representation So many actors ask me the best way to get an agent or a manager. The best way to go after agents, is to let them come after you. No one wants to be hounded. Professional agents and managers have enough on their plate without having to sift through the dozens and dozens of daily unsolicited emails, postcards, letters and friend requests from hopefuls trying to get work. Blind submissions usually don’t produce staggering results, and if you actually do happen to catch the right representation at the right time, you’re still beginning your relationship from a needy place. You need them much more than they need you, and you’ll find yourself pressured to make a good impression fast so that you can continue to build a relationship and a career. In essence, blind submissions can be a losing uphill battle.
Similarly friends and connections can be a long shot to any real interest from agents. If you're friend is getting you a meeting, or your uncle knows someone, once again your relationship to your rep begins from a needy place, and at the very best you’ll end up owing something to someone. The best way to find an agent is to make them think that they found you. There are a lot of great acting coaches, commercial workshops, and improv groups in Los Angeles and a lot of those classes have showcases where they perform live one evening for agents and managers. Some post online auditions at the end of their courses. These are very reputable companies that are teaching you skills like audition techniques and scene study. The agencies look at these companies as resources that make their clients better performers. They see performers who’ve studied with these groups as more viable products to sell to the industry. In other words, if an agent sees you at an industry showcase, they witness your talent first hand, they know you’ve had training, and they know you are looking for representation. They get excited about your talent and know that if they don’t pick you up, some other agent or manager will. Best of all, you start your relationship from a position of power, where you’re rep is excited to work with you and eager to get you working so that you all can make money.
Branding Yep, that’s right the photographer is telling you to get more headshots (especially if you didn’t do it right the first time.) Now that you have an agent or a manager to help guide you in your career, you need to supply the salesman with something to sell. Marketing is crucial to getting work, so make sure you and your agent are marketing as you should. If you’re agents want you to get more specific or more professional photos, oblige them. In can be frustrating to hear your new agent opine that your headshots aren’t up to snuff, but he or she knows what works. They have a bunch of other photos of other people in their agency and they see what photos are working. They may want to refine your brand and get more specific headshots for more targeted submissions. They may see an energy or talent that isn’t represented in your current shots. Regardless, your rep is your new collaborator. And if your branding or rebranding yourself to make yourself easier to sell, then welcome your rep’s input and advice and add new photos to your portfolio.
Online Profiles There are several online companies that you will need to register with. You can sign up at any time, but you should probably get some kick-ass photos and representation first. ActorsAccess, LACasting, CastingFrontier and IMDB are all worth the time and money to register with. Your theatrical agent will be using ActorsAccess to submit you to most professional film and television roles. Similarly, a commercial agent would use LACasting for commercial submissions. While both casting sites do offer breakdowns for self submissions, those job offerings are usually independent films and theatre work or non-union work. The network television, streaming networks and studio feature film auditions are put into breakdowns that only professional agents and managers can access. The reps then use the online services to submit their talents’ profiles to the casting director.
As an actor, one of your jobs is to keep your online profiles up to date. New photos, credits, tape/footage, and contact info should be updated regularly, so that your best work and best image is present at all times. Help your reps help you by keeping your online presence professional and up to date.
Auditions Be prepared, be professional and be present. Shouldn’t have to say it, but read and study your script as soon as you can. No one is expecting a finished performance, but they are expecting a familiarity with the sides you’ve been given. You should know how to break down the scene so you can deliver the most effective performance. You should study your scene and rehearse it. You should be prepared with strong choices. Being prepared is essential and there is no better way to look professional.
Speaking of being professional, do all the things that the CEO of your own company would do. Show up on time. Present yourself confidently, even if you have questions. Negotiate the room and have a sense of how you are being perceived. Don’t be distracted by the noises in the waiting room or inside your head. Enter a state of professional Zen and you’re sure to make an impression.
And speaking of Zen. Be present. The key to a great audition (and maybe the key to a great life) is to stay in the current moment. Don’t get caught up in the future and let yourself worry about what this job means, or who else is auditioning for the part. Don’t worry about your rent or your parking meter, or your date that you’ll be late for. Likewise, don’t fret over the past. Don’t wish you had rehearsed more, or wore something different. Don’t beat yourself up for not remembering the casting assistant’s name. If it can’t be addressed in the room in that moment, then you have no business thinking about it. It will only distract you from your greatness—from your fullest potential.
Be present went talking to the casting director. Don't force conversation. Listen to direction and take adjustments. Let the casting director guide your meeting but be an active participant in it. And your presence should continue into your actual prepared audition. When you are reading your sides you should be rediscovering your rehearsed energy as if for the first time. By staying present and listening to your readers voice, you have the opportunity to live in your character’s voice and breathe real life and inspiration into those printed words.
That spark of inspiration might just book you the job and officially break you into the industry that once seemed so far away.