Here we are again. It's that sweet time of year when flowers are blooming, people are happy, spring fever is in the air, pilot season is winding down, tv shows are on hiatus, and agents are going through their rosters and deciding to drop clients who aren't booking enough. Ouch. The Drop List. Now until the end of June is the time when agents are looking for new talent, are most likely to open their mail, and are looking for the next big thing to walk into their office and make them a ton of money. They are attending graduate school showcases, actor meet and greets, seeing shows, getting referrals from casting directors, and taking meetings. Actors are doing anything and everything they can to secure representation, from blanketing the town with headshots (thanks to pre-printed mailing labels), spending tons of money signing up for 6 meet and greets a week, sending unsolicited emails proclaiming their phenomenal talent, and leaving long voicemail messages for agents reading off their resumes. And...delete.
So here's the big question. Are you ready for an agent? Everyone wants one, yet few actors are actually ready to be part of that incredibly competitive, hard working group of talented people who are savvy enough and prepared enough to make that leap into the big leagues. There are roughly 60 talent agencies in New York, covering commercials, tv, film, theatre, hosting, modeling, voiceovers, etc. There are thousands and thousands of actors, both in the union and out of the union. These agencies essentially have their pick of whoever they want, since there is a huge talent pool to choose from. It's not easy to get an agent, and they are simply looking for the best of the best. They are looking for actors who are valuable, talented, reliable, diligent, marketable, and smart. It's not enough to just say "My friends think I'm really funny," or "I can cry easily" (I hear this all the time). You have to have training, good headshots, build your resume, and ideally have a kick-ass demo reel showing how great you look on screen. Not footage you shot of you in your basement doing a Hamlet speech on your iPhone. Actual, real footage from student films, non-union films, features, shorts, whatever.
Here's what I think an actor needs before even thinking about approaching agents.
1. Amazing headshots. Good headshots that reflect you and your type, and are taken with a high end camera with amazing lighting and light retouching. Do not skimp on this! And please do not let your friend take them for you, even if they are a "photographer." Spend the money, at least $300, and find an amazing photographer or ask around.
2. A good resume. If you are young, high school and college plays are fine. For now. You need to show them that you will get work. A blank resume means you are definitely not ready to be in front of an agent. I got my first agent strictly based on a theatre resume from high school and college, and the $600 headshots I had taken. Always be building your resume. Do everything, especially non-paying stuff.
3. Training. It's not enough to take a 2 week class at Actor's Connection. You need to develop your technique, learn how to act, how to audition, and be around other actors who are better than you. You need to find a teacher who will push you outside your comfort zone, and you need to learn your strengths and weaknesses. Training is ongoing, and something you should do for many years. Natural talent will only get you so far. You need to be able to take that and execute that talent with any script that is put in front of you. It's not easy, and it is a highly developed, learned skill, much like any other discipline. It requires practice and patience. Agents like to see actors who take the craft seriously and have studied with good teachers.
4. Demo reel. This has become the most important tool a working, non-union actor has when approaching agents. It shows what you look like on screen, how you're cast, and what your type is. It is 2 minutes of your most professional work, high production value, featuring your best work in short snippets. A sizzle reel. It should close the deal, it should pop off the screen, it should make them say "I HAVE to sign this guy." If you have been around for a while, and you don't have a demo reel, get it done now, cause they all ask for it. Find all those student film directors on Facebook and ask for your damn footage. You deserve it. If you have a meeting with an agent, and they ask for a demo reel, you better have one. Too many actors I know have missed big opportunities because of this.
5. At least 4 monologues. If you don't have many credits, and you don't have a demo reel, you better at least have something to show them. The first agent I ever met with asked for 2 contrasting monologues on the spot. Yikes. You MUST have them ready at all times. 4 monologues, under 2 minutes each, 2 comedy and 2 drama. 2 from plays, and 2 from film and tv. Have options, and make sure they are all absolutely amazing. These are your selling tools. A good monologue can really win over an agent who isn't sure about you.
Once you have all these, then you can START to think about approaching agents. But more importantly, keep working, keep honing your craft, and do your research, and constantly ask yourself why you would be an asset to this industry. Not every agent is right for you, and not every medium is right for you. Perhaps you are meant for theatre, or for commercials, and not TV and film. Make a targeted list of 10 agents (or managers) that you think might be looking (based on your extensive IMDB Pro research, etc.). Everyone wants an agent, but few are actually ready to have one. Agents only make money when you make money, so you have to show them that you are serious, reliable savvywill go out there and book work! Good luck!
If you want to learn more about breaking into acting, you can purchase my book "10 Steps to Breaking Into Acting." It answers a ton of questions about this whole crazy process.
The year has flown by, and now you're in that introspective, semi-hungover "What did I accomplish?" mindset. Over the holidays your relatives all asked you about your acting career, and you weren't quite sure how to answer them. "When are we gonna see you on Tv? Why don't you just get a job on that 'Modern Family' show?" I don't know, Grandma. Soon?
Now the holidays are over. It's a new year. Now is the time to stop, think, and be totally honest with yourself. Ask yourself the tough questions. Am I happy? What can I change right now? New Year, New You. A chance to start fresh, forget the past, change your perspective, and really figure out what is driving you to pursue an acting career. Write it down on your mirror and remind yourself every day. Hold onto it. It's your lifeline. Be realistic with who you are and where you are at.
It's not enough to say to yourself "This year I'm gonna be on TV" or "This year I'm gonna get an agent, be famous, and make tons of money." You have to be really specific and give yourself small, attainable goals along the way.
Here are some resolutions that are smaller, easier, and don't suck:
1. Get new headshots
2. Change my survival job so I have more flexibility for auditions
3. Go on 2 agent meet 'n greets a month (but not until April, as that is when pilot season is over, and agents are more likely to be looking for new clients.
4. Sign up for an acting technique class or an audition technique class.
5. Meditate twice a week
6. Book 3 student films
7. Finally finish my demo reel
8. Learn a new hobby that has nothing to do with acting
9. Submit for auditions every day on at least 2 different casting websites
10. Find 4 new monologues
11. Learn social media etiquette
12. Make a website for yourself
13. Go see 1 off-Broadway play a month, and 1 movie
14. Send a mailing to personal managers
Really break down how you are going to achieve your goal in a series of steps. Give yourself a deadline for each step. Last year one of my big resolutions was to write a book for beginning actors. I decided to write a chapter a day until the book was done. I accomplished that goal, published the book, and the response has been amazing. This year one of my big resolutions is to teach classes in different cities. Next week I'm going to be teaching a class in Los Angeles for all of my clients out there, and I'm planning several more throughout the year. Take risks, step outside your comfort zone, and see what happens. You just might surprise yourself.
It's November 1st. This week we were hit with a massive hurricane on the East Coast. Hurricane Sandy. People lost electricity, houses, loved ones, and New York City was turned upside down. Some people are fighting to stay alive, some people can't get to work, some can't get food and water, some had trees fall on their houses, and others don't know when they can get back to your apartments and houses because they were completely flooded. Some of my clients have been evacuated, and can't get back to their homes. Some are walking over bridges to get to work to do 25 hour shifts or they will lose their jobs!
For some reason, Brooklyn Heights was spared, but all I have to do is a walk a half a block to the Promenade to remind myself that half of New York City is dark (see picture). It's a scary, crazy time, and it forces us to reevaluate where we are at, and what matters most.
What does this mean for actors? We are stuck inside with our feelings, our monologue books, and Ramen noodles. We are going stir crazy! Acting classes are cancelled, agent seminars are cancelled, Broadway shut down, auditions are postponed, agents offices are closed. What? No auditions??? Nooooo!!!! If we don't have internet, how can we update our Actors Access profile and check Backstage for new auditions? If we don't have cable, how can we research our type and work on a targeted mailing? If the post offices are closed, how can we send out postcards that say: "Just survived Hurricane Sandy and booked a webseries!" What's an actor to do???? Well, here's an article Backstage wrote on Working on Your Craft During a Hurricane.
I have a better idea: DON'T work on your craft. Don't worry about your waterlogged headshots. Don't worry about auditions. Don't do anything acting related. Don't even think about it. Take this time to be with friends and family, to relax, to reflect, to read a book you've never read before (not acting related), to put the cover letters and postcards aside, and think about the bigger picture. Look around and absorb how lucky we are to be alive. Hug your kid. Help a friend who was evacuated from their home. Here I was worrying about having to cancel my Audition Bootcamp, while people on the news were standing in 3 feet of water and rescuing people in boats. BOATS! How stupid did I feel.
As actors, we are constantly obsessed with the pursuit of getting ahead, doing mailings, developing a "business" strategy, clawing our way to the top, and getting ourselves in front of anyone and everyone who will pay attention to us. We are always worried that we are missing that big audition, that big agent meeting, that lucky break. Well guess what? All of those opportunities will still be there after all of this is over.
Perspective. It's time to relax. Give yourself a break. Reboot. Just...chill. It's the best thing an actor can do so that you don't end up burnt out. Meditate. Quiet your mind for ten minutes. Read some Eckhart Tolle. It's far too easy to lose touch with reality with all this actor marketing stuff--Twitter feeds with auditions, casting notices sent directly to our phone. They are evacuating hospitals! Put down your Stella Adler book and use this time to learn something new. It makes you a far more interesting person, and a far better actor.
This week I had to cancel 3 classes, and all of my private coaching sessions. I couldn't really work. I'm used to working. I love working. I was still able to coach people over Skype, but these were actors who don't live on the East Coast, so the hurricane really didn't affect them. Was I upset? Not at all. I knew my agent's office was closed, so I knew there wouldn't be auditions. I knew Ripley Grier was closed, so I couldn't teach my classes. And I knew nobody could get to me to take a private lesson, because the Subways and trains were down. The grocery stores were closed, bars were closed, Starbucks was closed! I couldn't even pretend to find something to do. I was stuck in my apartment and was literally was forced to relax. And I needed it. And I caught up with family members I haven't talked to in months. I didn't think about coaching or acting AT ALL. Once the storm passed, I walked around my neighborhood with my dog, saw stores and streets full of water, businesses that were beyond destruction, families crying because they lost their house (or relatives) in the storm.
I pulled myself out of the rat-race for a minute and the reality of it all stopped me in my tracks. It's the same way I felt after 9-11 (when I was on my way to a movie shoot).
I emailed my clients to make sure they were okay. My client Nati Rabinowitz emailed me: "I was gonna go out to get a beer Monday night. Didn't. Someone else did to walk their dog and they got killed by a tree. On my corner. Dreams. Aspirations. Important but gone. Enjoy the present." Another client emailed me saying a tree went through their house, but luckily they weren't there at the time. Others got in a car and drove home to their families in other states to be with them.
I can't help but think sometimes that all this acting stuff feels so silly. People are struggling to live, and we are worried about auditions? We can say this to ourselves every day, but it doesn't really hit us until it literally "hits us." We don't really learn to appreciate these things until they are gone.
Cliche or not, I felt a strong need to publish these words this morning as New York City slowly regains its footing and tries to get back to normalcy. I hope all of you actors out there, especially on the East Coast, will take this week to step back from acting, have a glass of wine with friends, and tell your family how much you love them. It's better than any acting class.
So I thought it would be fun to ask my sister Becki Newton a few questions about her career and to offer some insight for aspiring actors. Here ya go!
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PAID ACTING JOB?
During my senior year of college I crashed my brother's Colgate commercial audition while visiting him in NYC. I got called back. Didn't get the job but was asked to do extra work. I loved it, even though I didn't realize the camera wasn't on me.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR AGENT?
I sent my picture to every agent in NYC and then harassed them by phone until one or two agreed to meet with me. One was nice enough to get me a few commercial auditions as a trial. I booked one of them, a Kodak commercial that required me to fly to Italy to shoot for a week. I was in heaven. And got my SAG card.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE ACTING JOB SO FAR?
WHAT SURVIVAL JOBS DID YOU HAVE?
I dressed as Barney the Dinosaur for children's parties. I was a cocktail waitress at the Times Square brewery. I handed out flyers in Bryant Park (and by handed out flyers I mean I threw them in the garbage and went to the movies). I answered phones at a fancy law firm but pretty much just hung up on everyone. Good practice for playing Amanda.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN FIRED FROM A TV JOB?
Yes. I was replaced from my first pilot and the feedback was that they needed someone "sexier and funnier". Ironically getting fired is the thing that made me more fearless. I think before that experience I was so worried about people thinking I was good/liking me that I was cautious with my acting choices. Once I was told that I wasn't good I stopped caring so much about what people thought of me and focused more on making real choices. The next audition I had was for Amanda. I remember practicing the audition scene (the first time Betty walks into Mode) and saying to my husband "I'm either going to be banned from auditioning forever or I am going to get this part". There was really no in between.
DO YOU STILL HAVE TO AUDITION? DO YOU LIKE IT? DOES IT GET EASIER?
Yes I still have to audition! I wouldn't say it is any easier, but it is different. Some people assume I am very similar to my Ugly Betty character and are shocked when I show up in person. I think they expect me to be nasty. Or in stilettos. Or drunk. I like the chance to play around and try different characters out through the audition process. I still try to employ the "go big or go home" mentality with my choices, which is really fun until I am met with blank stares of confusion.
WHAT WAS YOUR WORST AUDITION/MOST EMBARRASSING?
I remember a tampon commercial audition in NYC. It was the middle of winter (think pasty white skin) and we needed to wear a bikini and "casually" recline over a chair and discuss what it means to feel fresh. I broke out into red hives of embarrassment, and got into a major laughing fit.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO AN ASPIRING ACTOR?
Don't ever forget that this is supposed to be fun.
DID YOU EVER GET BAD FEEDBACK?
Yes! I try not to dwell on it. When a casting director once told me to wear more makeup and "put more effort into my appearance" I was horrified. But in her defense, I showed up on a day I was moving apartments , and didn't have time to shower or find my clothes... and was wearing Uggs. Sometimes it's helpful. It's never as personal as it feels. It should help you, not debilitate you.
DID YOU EVER FEEL LIKE QUITTING?
WHICH ACTRESSES DO YOU LIKE?
Leslie Mann, Christina Applegate, Judy Greer, Emma Stone, Sara Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler, Jama Mays, Rashida Jones
DO YOU GET OFFERS FOR FILMS?
Not really. I haven't done much film work, so in that world I am very new and am grateful to fight for every opportunity.
DO YOU WORRY ABOUT NEVER WORKING AGAIN?
No. It seems like a waste of time and energy to worry about that. I love my life outside of acting, which puts a lot less pressure on it all.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH YOUR BROTHER ON UGLY BETTY?
So much fun! Like 2 worlds colliding. He knows me so well in real life that at first I was self conscious that he would see through my tricks. But he was such a pro that it became normal really quickly. Also we got to film the Bahamas episode together so it was especially cool. I couldn't really look at him when we had scenes together because I would have started laughing the way I did in high school when we'd be in a musical together and he would make a face at me and I'd lose it.
"Dear Students of MN acting studio,
1. Before walking into any audition room, I say to myself "watch this, bitches!" Ideally no one else actually hears me.
2. One time a casting director told me I needed to wear more makeup to my auditions. "Suck it", I thought to myself while applying more lipstick.
3. If I am working really hard to be charming I can guarantee it's not working.
4. If I don't think I'm funny I promise no one else will.
5. If I think I'm awesome someone else might believe me. Not guaranteed though.
6. Just because I grew up watching Olivia Newton John in "Grease" doesn't make me qualified to do an Australian accent.
7. I was horrified to learn that a certain casting director actually plays one of my "quirkier" (i.e., awful) audition tapes at parties. See the second half of
8. When I'm excited for an audition instead of dreading it the chances of success are at least 75% greater it will go well.
9. Laugh attacks are sometimes helpful. "Look how much fun she's having!"
10. Don't have a laugh attack during dramatic auditions. Especially any of the Law and Order auditions. They will not have you back. Ever. Nothing is funny about crime. "
For those of you who don't know, my sister is Becki Newton. She was on "Ugly Betty," "How I Met Your Mother," and is on the upcoming Fox TV show "Goodwin Games." But how did she start? What was one of her first jobs? We all have to start somewhere right?
Drum roll.... Wait for it.... Okay. She was hired to be a BARNEY at a birthday party. A what? A Barney. The purple dinosaur. She dressed up in the purple suit, on a hot summer day, and paraded around for a bunch of kids. Then she got fired because she wasn't "believable" enough. No, I'm not kidding. Apparently they needed more gesturing and she wasn't good at the "Barney voice." I'm pretty sure she cried that night.
Clint Eastwood was a pool boy, Jim Carrey was a janitor, Johnny Depp was in a KISS tribute band, Jennifer Aniston was a telemarketer. The list goes on and on.
To be an actor, you need a survival job. They go hand in hand. Acting is an unpredictable business, you never know when the next paycheck is coming, and you still have you pay your rent, your bills, eat, and have a little fun, right? The last thing you want is to walk into a big tv audition and "need" the job. Casting directors see the desperation a mile away. You need to get your financial security in order before you start going out on big auditions. You have to find a way to have the "I don't need this" attitude when you walk into the room. It makes you more appealing.
A lot of actors want to know what the perfect survival job is. Here is a list of the ones I did when I was starting out: temp, dog walker, hotel sales administration (what?), host at a restaurant, dishwasher, waiter, busboy, golf caddy, house-sitter, etc. etc. etc. I did whatever I needed to do on the side so that I could do what I really WANTED to do, which was act. Every time I worked one of these side jobs, they usually asked if I wanted to be a full time employee because I was such a hard worker. One time the manager of the hotel I worked at said "Why don't you give up that silly little acting thing and come join our team?" Um, no thanks. Team? Not a team player, sir. I was like Superman. I'd finish the "spreadsheet", change into my audition outfit, run to an audition, come back, change back into my suit, and do whatever else work needed to be done at that job (another random spreadsheet). I was good at temping, they liked my energy, but I didn't see myself doing that for long. It was an hourly rate, and I barely got by.
I was a waiter at the American Girl Cafe. "I'm sorry, what?" Um, it's the restaurant on the third floor of the famous doll store. The money was great, and I wore a pink apron and served food to kids and dolls. Jealous? To get the job, I had to read a book on one of the dolls (Kirsten? Tammy? Melissa?), and then fake my way through a book report for the manager of the restaurant. Oh, the things we do to be actors. But guess what? I had money, and so I didn't put pressure on my auditions, and as a result, I got work. It was the single most important thing I could do for myself and my career. Yeah, it's a funny story, and a bit humiliating at times (esp. when people at the restaurant would recognize me from being on tv), but it was necessary, and I never felt angry about it. I just knew that I needed to do it so that I could live comfortably and not ever wear desperation on my sleeve.
The first day I moved to New York I walked into four different temp agencies with my fake resume, and asked them to give me as much work as I could. I handed out flyers (so did my sister), put candy in bowls for company meetings, whatever day to day job I could get that wouldn't interfere with my auditions. And that's key. I promised myself I would NEVER, EVER miss an audition, and to this day, I have never let that happen. I didn't come here to wait tables or temp, I came to be an actor, and if a job ever prevented me from going to one, I would leave, and the next day would find a different one. It was a constant battle, but I always made it work.
One time in LA I applied to be a waiter at Bennigan's (like TGI Friday's, but worse). I went through 3 interviews (no joke), and then a "training bootcamp," where they flew in enthusiastic Bennigan's trainers from all over the country and we spent a day doing role-playing games. I practiced answering the phone, did skits on how great Bennigan's is, and met TONS of other actors. As I did my 5th "trust fall," I decided enough was enough. I handed in my name tag, my green polo, and said I "found another job." Not true. The next day I got a big guest starring role on the CBS show "JAG." Jackpot. You never know when the next job is coming.
There are many actor-friendly jobs out there. Go on Craigslist. Look for ANY short-term employment. Check out Mandy.com for film and tv related jobs. Be a paid PA on a film. Google temp agencies. Be a nanny. Everyone is looking for a dog-walker. Walk into any restaurant between the hours or four and six (before they are busy), and ask to speak with a manager. Make up a waiter resume from the small town you grew up in, walk in looking your best, and ask if they are looking for waiters, busboys, hosts, etc. I walked into 10 restaurants one day. No joke. The great thing about restaurant jobs is you can audition all day, and then work nights and weekends. It's the most flexible, actor-friendly job there is. Yes, they won't pay as well as a big salaried corporate job. But that's a sacrifice you have to make, a decision. Do you want tons of money and benefits, or do you want to be an actor? It's a means to an end. It doesn't have to be anything more than that. Forget your ego, and do what you have to do to survive if acting is really in your blood.
Here is a list of celebrities' first acting jobs. Enjoy!
I still get nervous before auditions. I've been on over a thousand at this point in my career, yet there is always an element of insecurity that creeps in right before I walk in the room. What if they don't like me? What if I mess up? The difference is that now I've learned how to calm myself or cover up the nerves. I have a routine, a kind of ritual, that allows me to center myself and walk into the room and be completely present for two minutes without any worry about the past or future. You can't act unless you are completely relaxed. As an actor, you must treat auditions like athletes, and focus on your "pre-game" ritual. Here are some of the tricks that have worked for me over the years:
1. TAKE TEN DEEP BREATHS: It sounds silly, but this has an amazing calming effect. When you are sitting in the waiting room before you go in, close your eyes and take ten full deep breaths, inhaling all the way in, holding it for 2 counts, then exhaling completely until you have no more air left in your lungs. This will actually help slow your heart rate and develop a sense of relaxation which is essential to doing your best work when you walk into the room. When the person before you goes into the room, that's when you start. If you are panicking, this is very helpful.
2. LISTEN TO MUSIC: I have an "audition playlist" on my iPhone that consists of ten songs that calm me. Instead of working myself up into a bundle of nerves before my upcoming producer session, I get lost in some of my favorite songs. It calms me completely, simply because it distracts me from obsessing over my sides. I have meditation music on there, and I have RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE. It all depends on what kind of part it is. I use that time to think about the character without the distraction of other people's conversations in the waiting room.
3. USE YOUR NERVES: I find that the more you try and push your nerves away, the worse your nerves become. If you keep saying "Don't be nervous don't be nervous don't be nervous" you are actually making it ten times worse! It's much better to accept the nerves, say to yourself "I am nervous," and use that healthy energy for your character in the scene. After all, everyone's nervous. It's a natural part of auditioning, so stop pretending you're not! If it's an interrogation scene on Law and Order, your character can "act nervous." You always want some amount of nerves, as it gives you a competitive edge and keeps you on top of your game.
4. VISUALIZE SUCCESS: This works the best for me! Instead of spending all that time before an audition worried about how it's gonna go, hoping I don't bomb, and focusing on the negative, I simply imagine that the audition will go extremely well. I close my eyes, and picture the audition from start to finish, exactly the way I've rehearsed it, from the moment I walk into the room, all the way through to my "thank you"s at the end. I say to myself "This is gonna be great! I already have the job, and I'm just gonna go in there and play around." I actually sometimes even write that on the top of my script to remind me as I'm getting ready to go in. If I've worked on the audition enough, and trust my choices, and BELIEVE in myself and develop an UNSHAKEABLE TRUST AND CONFIDENCE in what I'm doing, there's no way it can go wrong. Mind over matter. Rewire your mind to think positively and it will work wonders. You're an actor right? "Act like a confident person."
5. PREPARATION: The most important one by far. The biggest way to overcome nerves is to anticipate every possible scenario, and make sure you are covered. Practice the audition sitting and standing. Practice your lines many different ways in case they give you adjustments in the room. Improvise the lines so that you really get a handle on what the scene is about. I find that my best auditions are the ones I've rehearsed over 50 times, and thought about my character, the opening beat in the scene, my relationship to the other characters, and known the lines really well. My worst, most nerve-wracking auditions are the ones I only worked on for about 15 minutes and thought "I got this. This is easy." The more work you do at home, the more time you've spent making the lines your own, the better your audition will be. It's a fact. And guess what? Mistakes will happen in the room. They always do. You simply recover in character and keep going. Mistakes are good, because they snap you into the present moment, and keep you from going into "autopilot" and having the lines sound too rehearsed. If I'm committed to the circumstances completely, know the lines backwards and forwards, then I will give an amazing audition with full emotional truth every time.
Auditioning is 60% preparation, and 40% psychological (LA Audition coach Margie Haber said that). Remember that. Work on your technique, and work on quieting your mind. And remember to have fun!
Are you this actor? Do you come into the room slowly, with your shoulders hunched, arms crossed, avoiding eye contact, with your sides shaking in your hand? Do you feel sweaty and does your mouth dry up? When the casting directors ask you if you have any questions, do you avoid eye contact, stutter and say "uh...uh...I don't...think so?" Do you feel like you don't deserve to be there, or that you might pass out?
If so, it's time for a reality check. Nothing says "Please don't cast me" more than someone who walks into the room apologizing before the audition even starts. And by apologizing, I don't mean saying "I'm sorry" out loud. I mean with their body. They bring in their nerves, their self-esteem issues, their money issues, their "need to please," their "need to please their parents," and whatever else is clouding up their minds and keeping them from being focused. It is a huge weight, and it reveals itself when that actor comes in the room.
It's like a sign on their forehead that says "I NEED THIS JOB!"
None of that stuff has anything to do with the actual audition, and usually it ends up sabotaging an actor's ability to book a job.
THERE ARE WAYS to fix this so that you present yourself in the best way possible, every time you walk into an audition, paying and non-paying. It's about CONFIDENCE. Some people have it, and some don't. Even if you are freaking out, you can hide it, or you can "act like a confident person." You are an actor, right? What does a confident person act like? Try it!
Body language. Next to preparation, it's the single most important thing an actor can control, whether you are new to the business or have been doing it for two decades. You are prepared mentally, and understand the character, but what does your body say? Are you an open and likable person, or are you closed off and aloof?
Say you are at a party, and you meet two people. The first one shakes your hand limply, speaks softly, and doesn't make eye contact. The second one gives you a firm handshake, a genuine smile, and looks you right in the eye. I'll remember the second person EVERY time, and I'll admire how confident that person is. I'll want to know more about them. They are ACTING successful, whether they actually are or not. And guess what? With ANY job interview, the more confident person makes a much greater impact at a job interview. So think of auditions as another job interview, and tell yourself that you are the BEST person for the job before you go in, and then dare them NOT to hire you. Easy, right?
Too often in my audition classes I see actors walk into the room as if they are walking in front of a firing squad (and I'm not even casting anything!). They are a bundle of nerves, as if someone is forcing them to be there and holding a gun to their head. They are worried about being judged, criticized, embarrassed, and ripped apart. So they bring that into the room with them, and it shows with their body and the way they act, and it makes the people in the room nervous too.
Remember: Your audition begins the moment you walk into the room. Casting directors and producers are already making assessments about you (too short, too tall, too blonde, not pretty enough, not ugly enough, etc.) before you even speak. They get a sense of you as a person, how comfortable you are with yourself, how relaxed you are and how easy you might be to work with. Let's be honest, there's a lot of stuff in this business that it totally out of your control, but there are definitely some things that you CAN control, the first of which is how you walk into the room the first time they see you. All they've seen so far is your headshot, and now you are introducing yourself in person and showing them your ability to sell yourself as a person and an actor.
Think about it. If you were a casting director, who would you hire? The person who walks into the room nervous and aloof, or the actor who walks in, smiles, makes eye contact, is relaxed and focused, and really believes in himself. After all, if YOU don't believe in yourself, how can anyone else? How can they cast you and trust that you will be able to handle the stress of being on a film or television set? Their perception is that if you are nervous in the audition room in front of 1 or 2 people, then you'll DEFINITELY be even more nervous when you are on set with about 100 people. You want to show them that you fully understand the script, you know your lines, and that they can 100% trust you and put you on a set tomorrow. Charm them! Show them you know EXACTLY what you're doing!
I think a lot of actors think of auditions as "tests," where they either get a pass or a fail. There's a sense of desperation when they walk into the room that says "I need this to pay the rent," or "I need you to think I'm good." It's not like that. It's simply about showing up prepared, looking your best, and doing your best work EVERY time, and eventually you will be right for a part. You really have to leave the audition and forget about it. Most actors sabotage themselves by over thinking and being hypercritical, instead of just saying "I did my best work. Onto the next." You have to be like a boxer, and every time you get knocked down, you get right back up and come into the room confident, strong and hopeful. It's VERY appealing to the people on the other side of the table. Act like you are a star already, and you are just waiting for other people to realize it!
Side note: I throw my script out the second I get out of the audition. There's nothing helpful about me getting on the subway and reading over it again and questioning my choices. It's that kind of second-guessing and beating myself up that will mess up my future auditions. Onto the next! Sometimes auditions go badly, and that's okay too. It's not the end of the world. I've learned over the years to just forget about it. There will always be more chances.
You can only act when you are relaxed. Work on training your mind to stay focused on one thing, which is very simply the relationship between you and other person in the scene, and how you feel about them, and what you want from them. That is the ONLY thing that should be on your mind when you walk into the room. Make it your goal as an actor to get to a place of being that focused, whether it's through meditation, yoga, relaxation exercises, whatever.
If you are one of those people who gets nervous before an audition, you have to find a pre-audition ritual to calm you down. Some people do visualizations, some take ten deep breaths, some listen to their favorite song on their IPOD, and some just think about their character and what happens right before their scene begins. Whatever it is, you need to find a way to walk into the room CONFIDENTLY and truly believe in yourself and your talent, no matter what stage of your career you are at. Fake.it.till.you.make.it. And remember: when you are starting out, a lot of these jobs don't even pay, so what's the point of being nervous at all? They'd be lucky to have you in their project working for free!
You have TWO MINUTES to show them what you can do. OWN IT! Put your shoulders back, walk in confidently, have fun, forget about pleasing anyone, focus on what you want in the scene, and GO FOR IT! If you do it right, your nerves will fall away and you will give an honest, fully committed audition every time. Instead of walking into the room with your body saying "I'm sorry for what you are about to see," work on showing them "This is gonna be fun! I'm so damn good, and I dare you NOT to hire me!" It will make a world of difference. Remember: they are on your side! They WANT you to be good! They are hoping you'll be the one and they can say "THE SEARCH IS DONE!" Remember they are your friend and you will be awesome.
Actors want to be working. That's a fact. To be working, you have to have auditions. To get auditions, you have to have headshots. Blah blah blah. But how do you get auditions? This is a question I get asked over and over again. When I first started, I would have to go out and buy the latest Backstage print audition (which came out on Thursdays, but I would buy it on Wednesday nights after midnight in the subway newsstands), and look for which auditions are coming up for the following week. I would then go through it, circle the ones I was right for, and I would then have to send in a picture and resume, and hope that I would get a phone call (this is before cell phones, so believe it or not, I had an answering service).
Times have changed, and everything is internet based, and with that, comes all kinds of websites claiming to offer auditions. Some of them are legitimate, and many are not. The bottom line is... do you research. Check out www.ripoffreport.com to see if something is a scam or not. Or just google it. There is a lot of information on the internet, and you'd be surprised what you'd come up with.
In the meantime, here are the ones that I like and my clients get a lot of auditions from: Backstage, Actors Access, Casting Networks, and NY Castings. All of these are online, subscription based, and you usually have to pay about $60 for a year for unlimited submission access. Which means once you sign up, you can put your headshot and resume on there and submit to your heart's desire. Some even send audition notices that you are right for directly to your phone. Fancy, huh? We are in the future now kids. Auditions are updated constantly on these sites, so you can actually submit yourself in real time. Which means that the more persistent you are, the better. When a casting notice goes up on a site, hundreds of actors can submit electronically right away along with a cover letter. Anyone who is casting anything for non-union films, short films, independent films, web series, theatre, staged readings, music videos, etc. uses any one of these services to submit a casting breakdown looking for talent. Should you sign up for all of them? You can, if you want, but I think signing up for one or two is your best bet. I always suggest doing Backstage for the theatre stuff, and Actors Access for all the non-union stuff, both paying and non-paying. But that's just one acting coach's opinion.
But be very, very careful of sites that charge you and claim to do everything for you--make your website, get you auditions, give you "insider access," etc. Also, I wouldn't do craigslist. Too many times actors have gotten an "audition" through Craigslist, only to find out they are at a director's apartment in East, East Brooklyn. If it feels sketchy, it probably is. Have some respect for yourself, and don't be desperate for work. Only submit yourself for projects that you WANT to do, and that you'd be proud to show your parents. That's the bottom line.
ANY legitimate director or casting director will PAY to post an audition posting on a reputable site, rent a space at Ripley Grier, Pearl Studios, Shetler, Champion, 440 Studios, etc. and have a proper casting call. It's worth the $20 an hour to show their actors that they are serious about what they are doing.
I get lots of email that say this, so I wanted to address it. So...you want to be famous? Perhaps you've read in US Weekly that the Jersey Shore folks are making $100,000 an episode, or people keep telling you how funny you are, or you see so many reality shows that it "would be fun" to be an actor and make that kind of money, or that it "seems easy", or you watch a TV show and say "that guy sucks. I can totally do that." I've actually heard all these things as a coach. I think a lot of people are under the misconception that it's very easy to become an actor, and all they need is a couple hours of training. Many TV shows are making stars out of nobody's, and so I get emails from people all over the world asking if I can help get them on a TV show, even though they've never done anything before, have no credits, never been on a stage, a film set, etc. Times have changed, and it seems like everybody has a chance to "hit it big." After all, there are all these scams out there that promise to "get your kid on a Disney or Nickelodeon show," for the low, low cost of thousands of dollars! Just show up at the Marriot down the street, and a "Hollywood casting director" will discover you. Uh uh. Doesn't happen like that. If it's too good to be true, it probably is.
I'm here to keep it real with you. Are you sitting down...again? Okay. Here it is: being an actor it tough, tough work, and requires a TON of persistence. There's nothing easy about it, it doesn't fall in your lap, and people train for years and years to do this without getting paid a cent. You have to be able to handle lots and lots of rejection, and just keep picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and doing it all over again. It's frustrating, exciting, heartbreaking, amazing, and totally unfair. You still with me? It's the only business where you go on tons and tons of amazing job interviews, yet you never really hear back from any. Your JOB is auditioning, and if you get something, that's great. But very few people get work. For every 1 line on Law and Order, hundreds of actors with agents are being submitted, and maybe 20 people get seen for the part. And if you don't have an agent, you're kind of out of luck. Because getting an agent is very, very hard, as there are sooooo many actors out there, and so few agents who are actually looking for new people, esp. those with no credits.
Acting is a discipline, and requires a great deal of determination, training, and a very thorough understanding of the business. Ballerinas practice every day. Professional athletes practice every day. As actors, you have to constantly be maintaining this level of "readiness," so when someone gives you an opportunity, you are "ready" for it. Most actors fail here, and are not ready when that time comes. Actors have to constantly be working on themselves, whether it be emotionally, physically, in class, private coaching, audition technique, monologue preparation, scene study, reading books, networking, seeing theatre, reading the trades, creating their own work (play, showcase, web series), going on auditions, and getting seen! You can't just send out ten pictures and wonder why nobody is calling you in. I hear this all the time! You have to give your blood, sweat and tears, keep pushing forward ,and obsessively plot your strategy. There are too many people that want it more than you, and I can tell you that laziness will get you nowhere. It is an unfair and sometimes arbitrary business, but I can tell you for sure that if you are smart about it, and know your way around, you can get yourself to a competitive level.
Here's how I started. I am writing this not so you can do exactly as I did, but more to prove a point about persistence and shine a light on the importance of determination.
A month before I graduated college, I decided I would pursue acting for a living. I wanted to get a headstart, so I set up a headshot session in the city with a small photographer I had heard about. I read a bunch of acting books about the business, and wanted to be sure that I was on my way the second I got out of school. I didn't want to wait around for the summer like a lot of friends of mine. I had a Drama degree from a prestigious school, but that doesn't really translate to getting tv and film work as an actor. I knew I had to WORK at it. So I had the headshots taken, bought the Call Sheet, and sent pictures to every agent in New York city. Of course they'd take me! Good-looking, drama degree, young. Yup..no response.
After graduating, I got cast in a play that a bunch of friends of mine were doing from Vassar. It was Romeo and Juliet, and they were doing it in a parking garage on the Lower East Side. It was fun, and we were all going to invite agents to it. Oh, and I had no money, so the day I moved to New York, I had to find a survival job. I was always good with computers, but hated waiting tables. Temp agencies love me! Temping it was.
I spent my days at an office, my nights rehearsing the play. I lived above a Chinese restaurant with two awful roommates. I hated it, and I had no AC, and it was one of the hottest summers ever. I was constantly submitting through backstage, going to open calls, but didn't have much luck. Oh, once I got offered a "bus and truck" tour doing Mark Twain monologues, but turned it down because I had to make some money.
New York is the only place you can "freelance" with agents, and all I wanted were some real auditions. Every night I sent out headshots. Then two days later I would call the agents on my lunch break at my temp job, just to "see if they got my headshot." Most of them hung up on me. In the meantime, I sent headshots to every casting director in NY AND LA (crazy), saying I'd fly myself out for extra work. I don't know what I was thinking, I just knew that I had something and wanted people to see it. I slid headshots under agents doors, I showed up with coffee out of the blue (I heard agents love that! wrong) I enrolled in an on-camera audition class at One on One, I did Shakespeare monologues for the under five casting directors of the soap operas, I invited agents to see Romeo and Juliet. I literally would not stop until someone paid attention to me and got me auditions.
At one point, I was freelancing with 8 agents. How? Just from sending pictures out and following up. A couple of them didn't hang up on me when I called, and actually asked for a meeting. Some asked for money (sketchy), and some wanted to sign me on the spot without seeing me do anything (double sketchy). I did a day of extra work on "Guiding Light" because I wanted to see what a set was like. I hated it, and spent the whole time tossing food at the girl who they paired me up with in the background. I just wanted to be the one talking (side note: I ended up doing a recurring role on that show 8 years later!). A lot of these agents I was working with didn't have much pull, and so I went about my business temping and doing the play and sending out pictures. I was so busy, but frustrated, and not making money. I guess i was "doing what I loved," but my family kept asking when I was gonna be on TV, so I needed to step up my game.
5 MONTHS and 4 TEMP JOBS LATER, I got an audition through one of these small agents (finally!), for a decent part in an indie film. It was one of those days when I was rushing from my temp job to different auditions (most non-union), and was sweaty, tired and cranky. Well, I guess this audition went well, because the casting director said he'd refer me to a manager? He mentioned the name, and I had no idea who it was (side note: he's the guy who went on to direct the movie "Precious." ) So I met with that manager, read a bunch of monologues (I knew to always have them ready in case this kind of thing happened), and after a few meetings he took me on. Wow, right? He told me to get rid of all of my agents, and he set up some meetings with "the big ones." Well, I don't know how, but one of the big ones "hip pocketed" me, which means they don't sign you but they are interested and will work for you.
Was I ready? Yes, I was. Opportunity met readiness, and I was prepared for it. I had worked my ass off, taken classes, educated myself on the business, and done everything possible to prepare for this kind of opportunity. Suddenly I was in waiting rooms with very well known people and then somehow booked a guest lead on the Comedy Central show "Strangers with Candy" playing a blind football player (my favorite role to date). Everyone in the waiting room wore sunglasses, and I decided I would do it without, and just stare at the casting director's shirt the whole time, showing her that I was "blind." Well, these new agents sent the tape of that episode to their LA office (bicoastal, too!), and then suddenly I was in LA for "pilot season." A month after I got out there, I tested for the lead in an NBC pilot and did two guest starring roles ("Judging Amy" and "family law"). Because of this, I HAD to join the union, and now suddenly was in the big leagues. 5 months before that I was doing extra work on Guiding Light. Crazy.
I say all this because it wasn't easy, and to be honest, I think it happened quicker for me than it should have. I was just going about my business, working my ass off, and for some reason had a good audition with the right person, at the right time, when i wasn't over thinking it, who connected me with other people, who risked their jobs by taking a chance on me. You can't plan this stuff, and I went from a guy who only wanted to do Shakespeare theatre in New York, to auditioning for every "Dawson's Creek" spinoff during pilot season in LA. It was pretty awesome.
So that being said, don't do this because you "want to be famous." Do this because you love it, and if you get work on TV and your parents tell everyone they know, then that's awesome. Or even if you get to be in some really cool play that blows people's minds. But I think if you really wanted to be famous, you'd be better off getting in trouble with the law and getting your face all over the news. Check out this article here about the AUSTRALIAN Matt Newton who manages to do this really well. Just so we're clear, that's not me.