Hide/Seek - Lessons about actor submissions

As you know, I'm going to be directing a SAG short film in April called "Hide/Seek," and we are currently in the process of going through 3500 submissions from Actors Access, Breakdowns Express, and Backstage, as well as direct submissions, to figure out who to bring in for the four roles.   I will be documenting the entire process through this blog, and through our instagram, as I think it's important for actors to really learn on an honest level what goes into something like this.  

As a director, I go through all the submissions and make my selects (my choices to bring in), and recommend them to Kimberly Graham, our casting director, who has her own choices.  We also see if some "names" are interested.    We only  have a certain amount of slots, and we have to pare down and decide who to bring in.   On my end, I don't care if people have an agent or manager, are union or non-union, I just want to have the best actors in my film.   I'm going to be paying my actors and treating them like kings and queens for the week, as that's the way it should be.  It's amazing being on this side of it, as I've learned a lot about the casting process, as well as how actors and agents submit.   So without further ado, here are the lessons I've learned so far.

1.  Lots of people on Backstage have black and white headshots (still?), shirtless pics (why?), or very strange pictures that would look right only on Myspace (cray?).   This doesn’t happen as much on Actors Access.  Don't be crazy.  Are you professional or not?

2.     People who don’t have video don’t get looked at (unless I know you from class and know how great you are on-camera).   I don’t care about union or non-union, but why don’t you have video?  It shows that you have no camera experience.  If you have no video, then get a scene professionally taped and put up there so I can see you in action.  It separates the serious from the non-serious in my book.  You can only tell so much from a headshot, and I want to see if you can talk on camera.

3.     People put age ranges of 20 years or more.  Don’t be crazy.  Keep it to 5-10 years.  You ain't Benjamin Button.

4.     Some agents don’t even bother submitting on small projects like this.  Some of my own students weren’t even submitted.  Stay on top of your agents!

5.     Some agents have a lot of people of the same type.  Very interesting.  Some agents submit all of their clients, and some are selective.  It doesn't take much to click a "submit" button.   The push comes from the follow up email (which most don't do for a project like this).

6.      I thought we would get 500 submissions if we were lucky.  Well, we have over 3500 submissions between Backstage, Actors Access, and Breakdowns Express (maybe because we are actually paying our actors SAG rates?).   There isn't time to look at resumes in this first go through.   I go first to the people I know, and who I have worked with.  Then I consider pitches from agents I know and trust, and who know me.  The rest?   I'm sure there are lots and lots of amazing actors in these submissions, with tons of credits, but I just don't know them, there isn't time, and these audition slots are valuable.   I understand now why it's important to have a relationship with a casting director or director.  Makes me think that targeted casting director workshops make sense after all.   

7.     It’s interesting which agents and managers submit first, and which forget and end up doing it four days later. 

8.     The majority of actors on these sites are 20-40.  Far fewer submissions come in for young kids and older men in their fifties.

9.     I am literally looking at a screen and scrolling through JPEGS of thousands of headshots.   Everyone starts to look the same after a while.  Yes, some caught my eye.  Others did not.  The headshot doesn't matter as much as you think it does (in my opinion), as long as it looks like you, and you fit the type I'm looking for.  Relationships matter more.  

10.  If you don't get a time slot, don't be offended.   We are casting a family, and need people to fit a certain mold.   

Next up?   In my next blog post, I will be talking about AUDITIONS, CALLBACKS, AND CHEMISTRY READS, which will happen later this week, as we narrow down our choices.  Stay tuned....

I'M DIRECTING A FILM!

BREAKDOWN RELEASED TODAY ON ACTOR'S ACCESS, BREAKDOWNS EXPRESS, AND BACKSTAGE

I'm happy to announce that I will be directing a short film I wrote called "Hide/Seek" April 6-10 in Guilford, CT!   This has been a pet project of mine for a while, and I'm very excited to bring you along for this journey.  

I will be documenting the entire process of making the film, from casting, to pre-production, to filming, to post production, and I invite you to follow us on Instagram and Facebook, as well as my blog to witness the entire process.   We will share our journey through interviews and pictures as I think it's important for actors to really understand what goes on behind the scenes.

I will be holding auditions at my studio on March 3-5, so be on the lookout for the breakdown in the next two days on Backstage, Actors Access, and Breakdowns Express.   This will be a SAG Short Film Agreement, will pay $100/day, and you don't need to be SAG to submit.  I will simply be looking for the best actors, union or non-union.   That's the way it should be, right?  Oh yeah, and I will also give the actors their footage.  :)

So here is all the info.   Yay!  

HIDE/SEEK BREAKDOWN

DIRECTOR:  Matt Newton
WRITER:  Matt Newton
CASTING DIRECTOR:  Kimberly Graham ("Homeland")
PRODUCER:  Missing Bolts Productions
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER:  Doug Keeve ("Unzipped")
SAG SHORT FILM AGREEMENT:  Pay $100/day
SHOOT DATES:  April 6-10 in Guilford, Connecticut
AUDITIONS:  March 3-5 in NYC
CALLBACKS:  March 7-8 in NYC

STORY
The story of a young couple for whom a carefree walk in the woods takes a sinister turn when Sherry mysteriously vanishes. As Jake faces this terrifying situation, he quickly learns that Sherry's disappearance is only the beginning of the nightmare.

JAKE  - Lead.  Mid to late twenties.  Sherry’s boyfriend.  Ambitious, good looking, all-american, non-threatening, mild mannered, charming, with a dark secret.   Deeply in love with Sherry.

SHERRY - Lead.  Mid to late twenties.  Jake’s girlfriend.  Sexy, fresh faced, genuine, strong, and fun.

SOPHIE-  Supporting.  6-8 years old.  Innocent, unaffected, playful. 

TIM - Supporting.  Late fifties to early sixties.  Sherry’s dad.   Odd character type.   Average looking and very difficult to read.  Rough around the edges.  PLEASE SUBMIT NAMES.

Thanks for your support!  I look forward to sharing this process with you!!!!!   And if you are right for one of these roles, by all means SUBMIT!!!!!

Sincerely,
Matt
 

How Memorized Should You Be?

So what's the deal? Are you supposed to be totally off book, or only partly memorized?  Should you walk into the audition as if you are stepping on set, or just know it well enough to have an "idea" of the character, and be open to direction?   What is the right amount of memorization?

Here's the bottom line:   It's impossible to give a connected performance when the script is getting in the way.  If you are looking down at the words, then you are robbing the audience of these wonderful moments between the lines that reveal so much about the character.  As an actor, how can you be truly listening, if you are just wondering what your next line is?    It creates tension in your performance, uncertainty, which gets in the way of the spontaneity, the element of surprise, the unwritten "life moments,' and prevents you from being confident, present, and compelling.   And remember:  someone else will be more memorized and more prepared than you, so why not give this your best shot?  There's so much competition, so why not go in and impress the hell out of them?

Now I'm not saying don't ever look down at the script, because for a 12 page series regular scene with lots of technical jargon, that may be close to impossible.   I say bring in the script, but don't look at it.  Especially for co-star and guest star auditions.  It shows them you know what you are doing, but if you go up on lines, you can quickly glance down and find your way back without panicking.  If you go in without a script in your hand, it makes everybody nervous. 

When 200 people are reading for a role and reading the SAME lines over and over, it becomes less about what the character is saying, and more about what they are NOT saying, and sometimes that is revealed through a moment where you are truly listening, hearing these words for the first time, and are able to deliver a surprising and unexpected performance.  It's these tiny, improvised "life" moments (a smile, a look away, a laugh, a moment of vulnerability in the pause) that allow an actor's true personality to shine through, which really separates you from the pack.  It creates life beyond the words.  If you are only focused on the lines, then you are missing these amazing, spontaneous moments, and throwing away a golden opportunity to show different parts of the character.   The more you look down at the words, the more you kill those moments, the more predictable and safe your audition is, and the less likely you are to book the job.  

On-camera auditions are about connection, eye contact, active listening, and seeing the thoughts behind the eyes, the images, the point of view, and the feelings.   Every time an actor looks down to get their line, their eyelids act like a wall, and close off the viewer (the casting director, producer, writer), and we are reminded "Oh, that's an actor auditioning."   It keeps us from going deeper into your world.

I think for actors to give a strong audition, it has to feel like it's NOT an audition, but rather a conversation.   You have to show them something they haven't seen before.  That comes with knowing the script so well that you don't even need it.   You can just sit there, dive into the character, believe the circumstances, truly listen, and let the scene unfold from moment to moment, acting on your impulses, and trusting your preparation. 

Good luck!  

The 60/60 Rule for Audition Preparation

It’s pilot season (duh).  Auditions are coming in the night before, hours before, sides are being revised at the last minute, and actors are being asked to read for a different role with only 10 minutes to prepare.     It’s a crazy time of year, actors are overwhelmed, and a lot of my students ask me how to prepare for these TV auditions when they are coming in so fast.   Our time is limited, we have survival jobs, school, life, kids, whatever, and actors can’t spend all day working on a script, memorizing 10 pages of sides, coming up with a long backstory, only to have it change at the last minute, or have a cold-read thrown at you on the spot in the audition.    Most series regulars memorize their lines on set, in less than an hour between rehearsal and filming.   So why can’t treat auditions the same way?  

It doesn’t matter if you went to Julliard, or took one acting class in high school.    All that matters is that you are creating absolute truth when the camera is rolling in the audition.   It’s about the execution of the material, the connection to the reader,  truly listening and you bringing yourself to the role in a surprising and interesting way.   It’s about being focused, confident, and taking direction on the fly.   You can’t be too locked in, too memorized, to over rehearsed, or your performance will be stale and boring, or at worst, predictable and safe.

60 Minute Audition Prep

Whether it be a simple co-star role for a procedural, or a bigger series regular with 3 scenes, I believe actors should spend no more than 60 minutes preparing for an audition, and then 60 seconds in the waiting room recharging before the audition.   The 60/60 rule. 

Does that sound crazy?  Maybe.  But here’s the deal

Actors need to have a fool-proof system, a ritual, of being able to take a script, and spend a concentrated hour doing everything you need to do to make that come to life.   That includes memorizing, working on character, beats, and then running lines so that they are second nature.    This is the way I’ve done it for years, and I swear by it.   You don’t have to have a photographic mind to memorize a long script this fast (see my video below), but you do need to be able to quiet your mind and concentrate.   For me, it’s the right balance between not “winging it” and not overthinking it.  It’s enough time for me to inhabit the world of the character, speak his language, and imagine myself in his shoes.  It’s about visualizing the scene, being comfortable enough with the words, and understanding it on a deeper level.    How do I do it quickly?  I get the words out of the way (write them down, use Rehearsal 2, etc), and then spend a half an hour walking around and inhabiting the character, punching up the dialogue, finding interesting choices, mining the script and digging deeper.    Then I let it go until the audition.

60 Second Audition Recharge

Once you are in the waiting room, you need to find that character again.   The prep is your safety net, and now you need to conjure up the work, get into the headspace, and get focused.  Put on some noise cancelling headphones, go out in the hallway, the bathroom stall, whatever you need to do, and spend 60 seconds visualizing the scene from start to finish.   See the movie in your mind, in detail, picture yourself saying the lines, listening, focusing, and let your imagination run wild.   If you can’t “see” the scene once you walk into that audition room, you can’t possibly have an honest reaction to the circumstances and truly “feel” what your character is feeling.    You will be nervous and scattered.   In this 60 second recharge, your nerves start to dissolve, your mind quiets down, and you lock in to a character that you have created in these imaginary circumstances.   By the time you walk into that room, you will be grounded in this characters’ thoughts, feelings, and needs.     And you will have a kickass audition (hopefully).  

Once you practice this 60/60 ritual a few times, it will become second nature.   

Good luck!  And..oh yeah, don’t suck in your auditions. 

9 Tips to Kick off 2016

Here is a recent article I wrote for Backstage, offering actor's some very easy resolutions for 2016 to bring their career to the next level.  

Here we go with the New Year’s resolutions: lose weight, read more books, run five miles a day, take up online dating, buy a French Bulldog, get more Instagram followers, stop being crazy. Once we get past the awkward holiday conversations—(“When will I see you on TV?” “Why don’t you just get a part on ‘Blue Bloods’?”)—we turn our attention to the new year, and how to push our career forward. 

What can you do to move your career forward in 2016? The business is always changing, and it’s important that actors keep up with the current trends.

Here are nine tips to start the year off right:

1. Take a class with a working professional. Actors need to know how to book jobs in today’s market. Plain and simple. Learn from someone who knows the business, who works in it, and understands current trends in the casting landscape. Athletes are constantly training so they are ready for the big game. You should do the same. Take an audition class and practice auditioning for the camera. It’s a different muscle, and must be exercised all the time so you are ready when the next one comes along.

2. Update your headshot and résumé. Take off the extra work and featured work (they don’t belong on a résumé), make sure it is formatted correctly (many actors do this wrong), and have it saved as a PDF so you can email it on a moment’s notice. If you haven’t had your headshots taken in two years, it’s time to get new ones. 

3. Track down your footage. Still waiting for your student film footage? Read my last articleabout how to stalk the directors and get your footage right away. If you don’t have any footage, have two scenes taped. 

4. Re-evaluate your type. Are you between types? Maybe you are transitioning to a new type. Ask around and make sure you are presenting yourself the way others see you. Perhaps you are going from cool college kid to hip young parent. 

5. Create your own opportunities. Now more than ever actors need to take control and create their own content. Get your friends together, rent a good camera, write a good short script or webisode, and create a role for yourself. No excuses here. 

6. Get new audition monologues. With new content coming out all the time, there is no reason that every actor in town shouldn’t have a current, original monologue from a TV show that isn’t overdone, that they can transcribe for themselves. For actors who want to break into TV, this is essential.

7. Make a website. Don’t have one yet? Welcome to 2016. It’s free and easy, and everyone asks for it. Create a simple site in Squarespace or Weebly, put your headshot, résumé, reel, and contact info on it, and then put your website link on your résumé and business cards. Trust me. 

8. Learn how to self-tape. Here are my “13 Tips for Better Self-Taping.” ’Nuff said. 

9. Get a hobby. Acting can be very frustrating, and everyone needs to have something else to focus on that makes them happy. If you get bogged down in your survival job, and rejection, you will start to question why you are doing this in the first place. Actors need inspiration, and a challenge. Find something on the side that makes you happy, that you are doing because you love it, not because you want to make money doing it. This will help your sanity when those auditions come along, and you won’t be putting all of your eggs in that one basket.

I love actors, and I think it’s very important that we present ourselves as professionals, and we will be treated as such. 

Good luck, and let’s kick butt in 2016!

Tips for Getting Your Student Film Footage

Here is an article I wrote for Backstage.   

As actors breaking into this business, it’s essential to work on student films, to build confidence, on-the-job training, obtain footage for demo reels (which is pretty much mandatory these days), and to build a résumé. It’s a great way for newer actors to work with up-and-coming directors and film students, to network and start at the ground level with a new batch of filmmakers (who may go on to do bigger and better things when they graduate). As an acting coach, I always recommend my students get involved with as many student films as they can when they are starting out.

Over and over I hear from my talented, hard-working actors how hard it is to get their student film footage after they have finished a project—even though it was promised to them in the initial audition notice. They take time off from their survival job, work hard for no money, have a great experience on set, are promised “copy, meal, and credit,” yet sometimes they never receive the footage at all after repeated requests (even months and years later). Why does this happen and what can we do about this? This seems to be the norm these days, and actors need to speak up for themselves so they aren’t taken advantage of. 

I believe that professors should make it a requirement for their film students to give actors their footage before they get their final grade. It should be mandatory, and it should be a contractual obligation for the director. After all, we are all in this business together, and we need to look out for each other. I believe all actors should be paid in some way. It’s respectful and incentivizes them. If that’s not possible, they should be compensated some other way. Giving an actor their footage gives them a reason to show up and work hard, and lets them know you aren’t taking advantage of them. 

Now I’m not talking about a film that is going to be submitted to festivals, where the director doesn’t want the footage getting out there before the film does. I respect film directors, and understand their need to keep their footage from leaking. I’m talking about small student films that are meant for the classroom environment, which are filmed cheaply, with great equipment, which is a great way to actors to get their foot in the door and have footage with great production value. 

Here’s the truth. Student films needs good actors. It’s a win-win. It makes the director look good, and they get a good grade on their project. If you don’t have good actors, the film doesn’t work. You are lucky to get such good actors to work with you as you figure out how to direct, as it makes your job easier. Also, it’s a smaller world than you think. Directors work on other projects, as do actors and crew members. People develop a reputation. My actors will show up to set again and again for the directors who are responsible and give them their footage in a reasonable amount of time. It’s a win-win. For the directors who don’t, eventually good actors just won’t want to work with you. 

Here are my three ways to get student film footage.

Sign a contract. When you sign on to do a film, come up with a simple contract to hand to the director on the first day of filming. Something that says, “I’m excited to be a part of your film. In exchange for my free services, you agree to give me a copy of the film within three months from the shoot date.” Any director who balks at this is probably someone you don’t want to work with anyway, right? The truth is, they are lucky to have you on their set. You submitted your headshot and résumé, auditioned, beat out lots of other actors, landed the job, and they are fortunate to have a trained actor in their film working for free. So when the film is finished, and the director submits the project to their professor, just email a copy of the project over to the actors. Simple, right? 

Stalk the director. After a reasonable amount of time goes by (one month or so), email the director and say you had a great experience and would like to use the footage for your reel. That’s the nice way to go about it. 

Email the professor. I’ve heard of actors having lots of success in calling or emailing the student’s professor, and mentioning they never received their footage. It reflects poorly on the student, and no student wants to get bad feedback, right? Half the time the professor has no idea the actors never received their copy. 

Let’s change the way we do things, respect our actors, and give them what they deserve. 

5 Tips for Confidence in Auditions

from a recent article in Backstage...

When you walk into an audition, it’s all about confidence. It’s about owning the room, and believing in yourself, your technique, and your skill. After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. 

Confidence is an attractive quality that gets buyers (casting directors, producers, show runners, directors) to trust you so that they can put you on set and you won’t crack under all the pressure. You can be an amazing actor, but if you can’t walk into an audition with confidence, you will lose the job. You can also be a not-so-great actor, but if your type is perfect for that one-line role on that particular TV show, then your confidence can get you the job. 

Here are my five tips for developing unshakeable confidence in auditions:

1. Take the pressure off. Quiet your mind, relax, and focus. Remember, this audition is a simply a chance to play. So much of it is out of your hands (type, eye color, hair color, height, etc). Release the need to be perfect, allow for mistakes, and remind yourself that there will always be more auditions. Think of this as a fun chance to show your work and give them your take on the character. The casting director is your friend, on your side, and genuinely wants you to be right for the part. Release the need to book the job. It will free you up; you will appear more confident; and your audition will be amazing. 

2. Stop the “shaky hands.” Do your hands shake when you hold the script? It’s the most obvious sign that an actor is nervous. Here’s a solution: Put something a little heavy behind your sides, like your headshot folder (or your drama degree?), which will give it a little weight. This will prevent your hands from shaking, which will make you seem more grounded. Even if you are terrified this will give off the perception that you are confident, and in control. It works every time. 

3. “Act” like a confident person. You’re an actor, right? It’s all about perception. Even if you are freaking out inside, act like someone who is very confident, and you will actually take on those qualities. Some actors walk into the room with body language that says, “I’m sorry for the audition that you are about to see.” Act like you are fully in control and have been doing this forever. Take a deep breath, smile, walk into the room with purpose, make eye contact, hold your head up, act like you already have the job. My sister, actor Becki Newton, used to boost her confidence by saying to herself, “Watch this” right before she began her audition. Fake it till you make it, right? It puts the casting director at ease, and lets them know that you are in control. 

4. Know your lines, backwards and forwards. Being unprepared is the quickest way to feel nervous and insecure when you walk into a room. Knowing your lines is one of the few things you can control, and will help you feel sure of yourself and confident in your audition. That will be your safety net when you walk into the room. Do your research, read the whole script if possible, understand the circumstances of the scene, and know the lines so well that you can just focus on the reader and listen. A prepared audition is a confident audition, and allows you to be present without panicking.

5. Wear clothes that make you feel good. This is huge, and something a lot of actors forget. For on-camera auditions, I always feel that actors should wear something that makes them feel good, that fits them well, and that brings out their eyes. Wear something that makes you feel comfortable in your own skin, not something you just bought and have never worn before. All actors should have their go-to audition outfits. When you walk into a room and feel good about yourself, it radiates from you and makes people want to watch you. 

Good luck!


HOW TO FORMAT YOUR RESUME

Actors!  Your resumé is just as important, if not more important, than your headshot.  It seems that many of you are formatting your resumé incorrectly.    A lot of the casting websites will do it for you, but most importantly, you need a version that you can send out yourself on a moment's notice.  A poorly formatted resume says that you aren't serious about your career.  I'm going to tell you the correct way so that you can present yourself as a professional, especially if you are sending this resume out to agents and casting directors.   

YOUR NAME AND CONTACT INFO:  Your name goes at the top, in the center (in big letters), followed by UNION STATUS, your EMAIL, your CELL PHONE (if you don't have an agent), and your WEBSITE (if you have one, and you should).   Following this you could have your STATS (height, weight, eyes, hair color), but that's not necessary.  If you do it, put it in small 9 point font all the way on the left side.  

FORMATTING:  Make sure there are 3 columns.  Each column should be JUSTIFIED LEFT, which means they line up on the left side.    Keep the font to an 11 or 12.   Use 1 inch margins on all sides. If you are stapling to your headshot, it should be sized to 8 x 10. 

CATEGORIES:   List the categories in the following order.   If you don't have credits in one of the categories, leave it off your resumé.

FILM.   List the name of the film, the type of role (PRINCIPAL- not "principle," SUPPORTING, LEAD), and don't put EXTRA WORK or FEATURED or the name of the character on there. In the last column name the production company and director.   If it's a student film, say the name of the school. 

TV.  List the TV show, the type of role (CO-STAR, GUEST STAR, RECURRING, SERIES REGULAR).  If it's a web series or short, put that in parentheses next to the name of the project.  Again, no extra work or featured here.   In the right column list the network or production company.

THEATRE.  List the show, the role you played, and then the location of the theatre.  If you have a lot of New York theatre, create a new resume category that says NEW YORK THEATRE, and put the rest under the category REGIONAL THEATRE.  

COMMERCIALS.  If you book a lot of commercials, don't list them.  Just say "Commercials available upon request."

TRAINING.  Keep it simple and be honest.  List the type of training, the teacher (or studio), and location.   

SKILLS.  This is mainly used for commercial auditions or for conversation pieces.   List any languages you speak fluently first, and any special skills (burping on cue, impersonations, unique sports, etc.).  

FOR EMAILING:  Save the resumé as a PDF, as it's much better to send over email, and the formatting won't get messed up when someone opens it.   

DON'T Put your resume on more than one page.

DON'T Lie on your resume.  It's a small world and people will find out.  

DON'T Add a bunch of pictures and line breaks on it.  Keep it simple.

DON'T Use a color other than black.

DON'T Try to be funny. 

DON'T put your home address, or your social media info.

Hope this helps!  

10 Tips for Your First Time On Set

From a recent article I wrote for Backstage.  

I have been the on set acting coach for the CBS show “Blue Bloods” for the last three seasons, and have seen a lot of co-star and guest star actors step onto set for the first time. It’s fascinating and intimidating, and actors need to know what to expect, how to act off-set, and how they fit into the bigger puzzle. There’s no rule book for this. It’s fast paced, chaotic, and there are so many moving pieces that make a TV show come to life.

Here is my little cheat sheet of tips for the first time you book a TV job:

1. Know your lines. Know them twice as well as you think you need to, because there will be so many other distractions to worry about when you start filming. You don’t want to be that actor holding up production and messing up your three lines while Kevin Spacey is staring at you on the set of “House of Cards.” The series regulars will all learn their lines after the blocking rehearsal, but as the guest actor, you are expected to be memorized the whole time, as you want to be seen as a total pro. That being said, be prepared for it all to change right before you shoot. Welcome to TV!

2. Do what you did in the callback. You were hired because of what you did at the audition for the director and producers. Don’t change anything! As Harold Guskin said, “Don’t make a meal out of a snack.” Don’t suddenly give your character a weird backstory about their creepy doll collection when your line is “More water, sir?” The director has too much to worry about during filming to be concerned with your character’s motivation and why you are suddenly changing your line delivery.  Time is money, and when the producers and show runners need to get through so many pages of material each day, every delay counts. 

3. Bring a book. You will probably wait around for a very long time, rehearse, wait around longer, film part of your scene, go to lunch, and then come back and shoot another part of it. That little scene you worked on for your brief audition will take many hours to shoot. When you’re finally ready to shoot, you’ll usually get two quick rehearsals. The first rehearsal is for blocking (for the actors and director), and the second is for “marking” (for the crew), and then finally you’ll get around to filming that scene you have been obsessing about for the past few days. 

4. Read the whole script. For the audition, you most likely only had your scene to look over. After you book the job, you will get the whole script emailed to you. Read it and understand your character’s context in the entire episode, as it will inform your lines and help you understand the tone. 

5. Hit your marks. There are colored little pieces of tape on the floor, and the camera focus is set to those marks. If you overstep it, you are out of focus. Experienced TV actors know how to hit their marks without looking and say their lines simultaneously. 

6. Learn the terms. All on-camera actors should be well versed in camera angles, common on-set terms, and shot setups. Here are some big ones: “closeup,” “over the shoulder,” “rolling,” “marking rehearsal,” “point of focus,” “continuity,” “check the gate,” and obviously, “action.”

7. Check your contract. Your agent has negotiated your rate and your billing. Make sure the contract reflects that before you sign it.

8. Don’t take pictures. This is an important one. Don’t take photos of the set and post on Instagram, and don’t try to sneak in an awkward selfie with one of the stars of the show. Many TV shows have paragraphs in your contract saying you can’t post set pics on social media, as they may contain spoilers. Be careful! 

9. Know your place. You are a guest in the workplace, and many of the crew members are there 60–80 hours a week. Be professional, don’t complain, and be nice to everyone. It goes a long way.

10. Have fun. Remember in that audition where you had to “imagine” the set, the actors, the props, and everything else? Now you actually have all of it, and can bring the scene to life as you imagined. You have great actors working opposite you, expensive costumes, real locations, and many people working hard to make you look good when it comes time to film your scene. Enjoy it, take it all in.  

Good luck!

What does an acting coach do?

I get this question a lot:  "What does an acting coach do? Do I need one?"  The truth is, some actors do, and some don't.  Some actors hire an acting coach right before their big audition, and some hire a coach to work with them on set after they book the job.  I do both, so I'm going to give you the ins and outs of my job so that you really understand the crazy world of acting coaching.

It's 10pm on a Wednesday night, and you get an audition for Orange is the New Black with 15 pages of sides for the next morning.  Cue panic.  You can either go at it yourself (fingers crossed), or call a coach and give yourself the best possible chance of booking the job.   Do you need coaching for that one line co-star audition?  Probably not, as it's going to be more about type.  But for a big on-camera audition with lots of dialogue, action, and emotions?  It can really give you an edge.  A good audition coach can really help you make strong choices, get over your nerves, and feel grounded and confident before the audition.  A coach discusses every aspect of the audition with the actor, including clothing, hair, makeup, body language, memorization skills, and most importantly, gets the scene to a place where it feels like it's second nature.   I never give line readings, and I never tell anyone where to gesture.   I take the actor's natural choices and enhance and simplify.  The best kind of coaching is when the actor seems "uncoached," raw, and real, and their natural talent is brought out beautifully and seamlessly in their audition sides.  Some specialize in theatre, and some specialize in film and TV.  They can help you work the scene many different ways, really understand the circumstances, visualize the surroundings, be specific about the relationships, and offer an honest perspective of what you are doing and how to make it better.  Think of an audition coach like a trainer who pumps you up right before you go into the ring, or on the field, and gives you the tools and confidence to really knock it out of the park.   I come from an acting background, so I really like to "act" the scene with my students and get it to that very realistic place, so the actor knows what it "feels" like to truly be immersed in it, even if the casting director is giving them nothing in the room.  I also like to throw curveballs and give quick adjustments, much like a casting director would, and explore all the possible ways to do a scene, and help make an educated decision on which is the strongest and most appropriate choice for the character and tone of the show, while also incorporating the taste of the casting director.   If I'm taping, I have full control over the performance, and can start rolling the camera before the actor gets in their head with the scene.  I want the actor to be ready, to feel so at ease in their skin and with the script, that nothing will faze them when they walk into the audition (not even 20 producers in the room).   I always tell actors that I am the one who helps sprinkle the magic dust on their audition and really helps to bring out their essence, which will make them stand out when dozens of actors are reading the same script.   When an actor leaves an audition coaching, they should have an unshakeable confidence in their audition preparation, with no room for second guessing, but be open to adjustments in the room. 

An on set acting coach works a bit differently, and can be very exciting, as you are working alongside directors, writers, producers, and show runners. This is what I have done for the last three seasons on "Blue Bloods," and most recently when I coached Aziz Ansari for his new Netflix show.  An on set coach acts as a liaison between the director and the actor.  An on-set acting helps the actor prep their lines, understand the scene, and make sure they are focusing on the acting when there are a million other things going on around you on a film set.   Sometimes the coach is paid for by the studio, and sometimes the actors hires their own coach.  Actors have so much to think about when they are working on set (hitting marks, continuity, points of focus, line changes, "last looks," camera moves, remembering their lines, their cues, listening to the director), that the acting is sometimes pushed to the side in favor or just "getting through" the scene.  I've seen this with newer actors, and actors who have been on dozens of film sets.   A good on-set coach makes sure the actor is hitting the right emotional notes in a scene, as often times the director doesn't have that time to spend with each actor, as they are focused on so many other things.   If the director is doing a closeup of the actor, and isn't getting what he wants, he will sometimes ask me (the on set coach) to step in and help the actor.  A good coach understands the actor's journey, and can get through to them quickly, as there is usually only one brief rehearsal before the actor suddenly has to perform their crying scene in a closeup with another actor they have never met before (but has to "seem" like they have been married to that person for 10 years!).    A coach will prep them beforehand while the director is setting up shots.   As with audition coaching, the best kind of on-set coaching is when the actor seems like they have never been coached before, and their natural talent is blending seamlessly with the writer's words in a convincing, interesting, realistic way.   It's an exciting, demanding job, and when done right, can really elevate an actor's performance.

I love coaching actors in all aspects of their careers, and find that each actor is very different, and needs different things.  I also know that everyone has a natural talent churning inside them, and it's up to me (the coach) to help push the roadblocks (both big and small) out of the way so that the talent can really shine through in their work and they can deliver their best, most original performance possible.

--Matt

A Love Letter to Student Film Directors

To all the wonderful student film directors...

Hey guys.  Matt here.  I run an acting studio in Manhattan.  I love student films.  I did my first one when I was a Drama major at Vassar College.  It was my first on-camera experience, and very valuable for me.  I learned how film sets work, the different shot setups, how to "hit my mark," and what each person on the crew did.   I made mistakes, I learned from them, and was so much more prepared when I stepped on my first network TV set for a show on CBS called "Judging Amy."  If it wasn't for that student film experience, I would have been a hot mess acting opposite Tyne Daly with 150 crew members staring at me.

I am always encouraging my students to audition for student films, get that valuable on-set experience, and get some footage for that much needed demo reel that everyone is asking for nowadays.  You all now have access to really high end equipment from your schools for free, which when you get into the real world will cost you a pretty penny.   That's amazing!  Your films look great, and the production value is incredible.  I've seen some student films that look better than $250,000 features I've worked on.  You can shoot quickly and affordably, post an ad in Backstage or Actors Access, and get tons of actors to submit and audition for your film, and hopefully do a good job and get a nice grade on your project.   Perhaps that will be your calling card, which will allow you to go on and direct bigger and bigger projects with bigger and bigger actors, get your financing, and help you become a huge film director.    Who knows, right?

So here's the deal.  I want this to be a win-win.  For you, your professor, your crew, and your fellow actors.  Because we are all in this together, right?  You are all starting out your careers and creating material to help you learn and grow, and you are surrounding yourself with actors who want the same.  But you have to PROMISE me something.  Give your actors their footage after a reasonable time after your film has finished post-production.  That's not too much to ask, right?   After all, it is promised in your breakdown that you post on Backstage or Actors Access.  "Copy, meal, credit provided."   I'm assuming that's an actual agreement between you and the actor.  If this were a union project, you would actually have to sign a contract for that.    In fact, I think all student film directors should sign a contract to give footage within a fixed amount of time.  Professors should REQUIRE it before giving their final grade.  You are lucky enough to be getting talented actors to work for free, and I hear far too often that my enormously talented actors are not getting their footage back from you.   And I'm not talking about after two weeks when you haven't even finished editing it.  I'm talking after 3 months, 6 months, or even 2 years.    When you send that final Vimeo link to your professor to be graded, just CC the other actors that were in it.   Don't make them beg, stalk you on Facebook, or email your professor.  It's embarrassing for you.  They take their time off work, don't get paid, work their ass off sometimes for 14 hour days that are constantly being rescheduled, and then they don't get what was promised to them.  Seems unfair, right?   Stay with me here.

Now I know life gets busy, schoolwork piles up, and it's just one of those things you forget about. However, there will come a day when these actors become very well known, and you will be dying to have them in your projects.   You might reach out to their agent with your script, and then the actor will say "Isn't that the director that never gave me my student film footage?  Hell no!  I would never work for him."   Because Karma's a bitch, and actors remember these things.   They all talk.  In my classes I constantly hear about you guys, and which of you are the "bad" and "good" directors, and which school you are in.  You are far too early in your career to start burning bridges.    That student film I did in college?  It was directed by a guy named Jeff Davis, who went on to create "Criminal Minds" (which I was in), and "Teen Wolf."  He gave me my footage.

Having been in this business a long time, I can tell you that it's smaller than you think, and you have to be nice to everyone as you begin your career.  Actors, crew members, finance people, P.A.'s and everyone else.  Because everyone will end up working together on another project, and it's all word of mouth.  My actors ALWAYS want to work with a director again if their first experience was good.   If my actor works on your film and has a great experience, gets his footage back, and you treat him with dignity, he will work on the next five projects with you.  It's good for him, a good working relationship for you, and everyone wins.  If it wasn't good, they will tell 20 actors about it.   Good actors will not want to audition for your films, your film will suck, you will get a bad grade, and you won't have a film career.  You may think that this is just a small project that no one will see, so it doesn't matter if you don't honor your deal with the actors, give them the footage once you finish your project, and ignore their requests to get their well-deserved footage.  However, I'll tell you this:   word gets around, and these talented actors will stop auditioning for your projects.   

I love you. I mean it.    You would be lucky to have my actors in your film.  They will make it better, I promise you.   You will learn and grow together.  

I'm looking forward to you disagreeing with this.  Email me at info@mnactingstudio.com so I can hear your side of the story here.      Please TWEET this and SHARE on Facebook.

Love always,

Matt

12 Tips for Getting Over Audition Nerves

You're up next. You are sitting in the waiting room running your lines over and over.  You are completely prepared, but still your palms are sweating and you are freaking out.  After all, it's a big guest starring role and would pay you lots of money.  What if you mess up?  What if they don't think you are good?  What if you get bad feedback and your agent drops you?  Your mind races in a million different directions, and it's hard to stay focused on the task at hand. I have been there.   Everyone's been there.  

Here are the best ways to get over nerves at auditions, or at least to keep them at bay.  Use one, or use a combination of them.  Print this out, keep it with you, put it on your mirror, and try it before every audition.   Once you have your "ritual" that works for you, I think you'll find you book more work.   

  1. "Act" like a confident person.  You are an actor, right?  Walk into that room like you own the place, look people in the eye, trust your preparation, and don't let them see you sweat.  You would be amazing at how far you can get with confidence.    Even if your knees are shaking, take on the character traits of someone who is good under pressure (head up, shoulders back, eye contact), and let them know they can trust you if they put you on set tomorrow.  If you have never worked on a network TV show before, it's important to show them you are good under stress, as you are about to step onto a set with 175 crew members staring at you.  The audition is where you show them you can handle anything, where you earn their trust, and where you recover from mistakes like a true pro.  Act like you already have the job.  Fake it till you make it, right?
  2. Deep breaths.   When you are in the waiting room, practice the 5-5-5 rule of breathing.  Inhale for 5, hold for 5, and exhale for five.   It instantly slows down your heart rate, which makes you more calm, more present, and more relaxed.  Write "Breathe" at the stop of your script, and throughout the scene.  You'd be amazing how often we forget to breathe in a scene.  It always brings you to a more present place.  
  3. Know your lines.  Seems simple, right?  The number one way to make yourself more nervous is to not be secure with the lines.  Run the lines with another actor beforehand, hear them out loud, write them out, use an app, do whatever you need to do to make those lines second nature.  Nobody cares if you look down at the script in the scene here and there, so take the pressure off yourself.  Just stay in character and keep the scene moving, and be open to adjustments in the room.  If you really know why you are saying these lines, you won't get locked into a speech pattern, you won't obsess about being perfectly memorized, and you can really bring spontaneity to the words.  
  4. Listen, listen, listen.   Okay, you know the lines backwards and forwards.   Now you have to listen, and have a real conversation.   Don't anticipate the lines, just let each line affect you, and react from moment to moment.  Make it seem like they have never heard these words before.  How do you feel about this person and what they are saying?  The more you focus on the reader, on your partner in the scene, the more you think about what they are saying, and being present enough to hear these words (as if for the first time), the more your nerves dissolve, and the more that self-critical voice dissolves away.  
  5. Remind yourself to have fun.  You will be auditioning for most of your career, so you have to learn to love it.   It's a chance to play, to disappear into another world, to be present and imaginative for two minutes.   Nobody is forcing you to be there, and nobody is holding a gun to your head.   Treat it like this fun little hobby.  If you get the job, cool.  If not, that's okay too.  You don't have to be Al Pacino or Meryl Streep.   Just be you, and be okay with not being the best actor on the planet.  All you can control is how prepared and present you are.  The rest of it has to do with type (eye color, hair color, height, weight, ethnicity).   
  6. Visualize the audition.  When you are in the waiting room, shut your eyes.   After you have done the 5-5-5, picture the audition from start to finish.   Picture walking into the room calmly, then disappearing into the scene.  Let your imagination run wild.  Picture everything around you--the furniture, the temperature, the people you are speaking to, and how you feel.  The more vivid the details, the more it will create a physical response in your body, and the more calm you will be when you enter the room.  You have to learn how to transform a sterile audition room into the world of your character.  Fill your head with vivid details, and there won't be room for you to be second guessing yourself. 
  7. Focus on sensations.   An old therapist taught me this.  When you are about to go into the audition, focus on different parts of your body (i.e. your toes touching the ground, the feel of your breath, your hands, the temperature of the room).  How does it feel?  Really focus on it.  It slows down all of those crazy thoughts and brings you into the here and now.  That's where great auditions are born.  
  8. Cue up the meditation podcast.  These can be wonderful, and really quiet the find to find that wonderful place of stillness and focus.  Find a guided meditation podcast that you can listen to in the subway, in the car, on the train, and in the waiting room.   There is nothing better than having someone reminding you to "breathe" and "let go" right before you walk into an audition room.  
  9. Create a Mantra for yourself.  "Watch this." or "I release the need to get this job." or "This is gonna be awesome" or "I don't really care if I get this" are all ones I've used.    Write it at the top of your script (right next to "Breathe"), and use it every time.  It can be empowering, and really give you the jolt to own the scene and deliver a great performance.   Find one mantra that works, and use it every time.  It will actually start to release chemicals into your body that will calm you down.  
  10. Focus on the Opening Moment.   When you are in the waiting room, instead of focusing on how nervous you are, start thinking about what happens right before your scene.  These scenes usually start in the middle, and the character is physically and emotionally coming from a certain place.   What were you doing right before the scene started?  How do you feel?  Picture everything, the characters, the clothes, the room, and all the circumstances around it.  You will walk into the room already grounded in the scene and ready to be present, without needing to "warm up."    
  11. Allow for mistakes.   By allowing for mistakes to happen, and releasing the need to be perfect, you will be much more relaxed in your auditions.   It doesn't matter if you make a mistake, it matters how you recover from it.  If you forget a line, just stay in character, look down at your script, and find it.  Trust me, it doesn't matter.    You don't get extra points or a gold star for being perfect.   Simply listen and exist in the scene, and sustain your character throughout.   Mistakes are good, and force you into the present.   The most realistic acting happens when something "unplanned" happens in a scene.  Don't be afraid of it.  
  12. Don't worry about what "they" want.  If you obsess about "playing the breakdown," or "giving the casting director exactly what they want," you will lose your identity and personality in the scene.  It's about you taking the power, putting your unique stamp on it, and not apologizing for it.  With that comes confidence, and with that the nerves dissolve away and you are ultimately a better auditioner.    Let your personality come through, be yourself, be authentic, and let the camera pick up on that truth.  The more you "try", the more "effort", the more your nerves show up on camera.  If you trust your work, and trust that you are present in the scene, ultimately it will be a more relaxed, effortlessly confident performance.  

Good luck!  

Want to learn more about this?  Check out the "Dealing with Nerves" chapter of Matt's book "10 Steps to Breaking into Acting: 2nd Edition" on Amazon. 

Laziness is the Actor's Enemy

Look in the mirror.   It's time for a reality check.  Ask yourself "Am I where I want to be in my career right now? If not, are you doing everything you can to change that?  Be honest.  Are you simply waiting around for your agent to get you auditions? Are you constantly making excuses and complaining about your lack of success?  Acting involves tremendous work ethic, serious training, and a comprehensive understanding of how you are marketing yourself.  Are you submitting every day, creating your own opportunities, networking, meeting people, updating your reel, and constantly honing your skills?   If not, now is the time to make changes.   

Laziness is the actor's enemy.   It prevents us from taking our career into our own hands, it stunts our growth as artists, and is very unattractive to buyers.   There is always someone working harder than you, who wants it more than you, who is more prepared, and ready to step in at any given moment.  There are far too many actors, and far fewer opportunities.    If you really want to do this, ask yourself if you are giving 100% of yourself to learning the essential skills and being the best artist you can be.  

April is a time for agents to rethink their client list.  Pilot season is done, they may be dropping some of their lower-earning clients, and they are now seeking new talent, perhaps by referrals, or by going to the big showcases.   If you don't have an agent, now is the time to target them--in a smart way.   I've written articles on this, and while there is no one way to do it, I can tell you that the one way NOT to do it is to blanket the town with headshots.  That is lazy.  You have to do your research, see which ones are right for you, and then target them.  Do the work.

What if you already have an agent?  Well if you are unhappy, then maybe it's time to make a change.  I hear far too many actors who are "freelancing" with an agent, and haven't heard from them in a  year.  They are worried about leaving, because it's scary.  I'm telling you that you are better off finding someone who is excited about you, even if that means you have to put a lot of hard work into finding a new one.  It's your career, you are in control of it, and it's up to you to make the changes necessary to get to the next level.  It's your career, and it's totally up to you where it goes.

Are you a good actor?  Could you be better?  If you aren't in a good acting class, then you are stunting your growth.   Actors should never stop training and working on their craft.  Trust me, when you step onto a TV set, it's expected that will deliver on a dime.  The director doesn't have time to worry about you.  Sometimes it's a huge emotional crying scene on the first day of filming, and sometimes cameras are swirling around you while you are doing a monologue.  If you don't have a good foundation in training, then you are going to feel out of place, and not be able to concentrate on the circumstances of the scene to get you grounded.   You constantly need to be practicing, and should find a teacher that challenges you, inspires you, and understands your journey.  

If you are interested in TV and film, you should be getting together with friends and reading scenes on-camera all the time.  Treat it like a gym, and work that muscle every week, whether you are in class or not.   If you want to be a TV and film actor, you should be spending time on sets, learning about lighting, camera angles, whether you are doing student films, network TV shows, or helping your friends with their projects.   You should be reading books about directing, about cinematography, spending time in an editing room, to fully understand what goes into a screen performance, and all the different parts that come together.   Actors should always be learning, always be working their creative muscles.  If you are serious about acting, there is no excuse.

It's the beginning of spring.  Make some goals for yourself.  Book that first costar role.  Take that acting class you have been thinking about.   Produce that web series you wrote.  Drop your agent and find a new one.  This is the season to take your career more seriously, to bring yourself to the next level, to give it everything, and see where it takes you.   

Good luck!

--Matt

 

How to self-tape like a pro

Check out this article I did for Backstage.

OK, actors, it’s time for an intervention on self-taping. It seems there are a lot of you out there who are sending in really bad audition tapes. I’m talking out of focus, poorly lit, unprofessional, shaky, Blair Witch-style auditions with your mom or roommate doing their best Tara Reid impression off-camera. 

I get it. You get the tape request at the last minute, panic, and need to make some quick decisions. What do you do when it’s 10:30 p.m. on a Monday, you’re out celebrating your roommate’s 49thbirthday party, and your agent emails you saying they need the tape by the next morning? You can either pay a lot of money to get it done professionally, frantically call your film school friends looking for a camera and desperately try to rent a rehearsal space last minute, or you can simply take a deep breath, and do it at home using the tools you already have. I promise you, it’s not that complicated. 

Here are a few simple ways to make a professional, quality, competitive self-taped audition:

1. Use your iPhone or iPad. We all have one of these, and the HD quality is better than most camcorders. Prop it up on a book, or buy a cheap tripod , and an iPhone adaptor clip to attach your phone. You can email the file directly from the phone afterwards, instead of uploading to WeTransfer or Hightail. It couldn’t be easier. 

2. Use a neutral backdrop. A wall works best. Or buy an inexpensive gray or blue bed sheet and pin it on the wall. Keep it simple and clutter free, no wrinkles. Nobody needs to see your creepy doll collection in the background.   Here is a good muslin backdrop from Amazon. 

3. Find a quiet room. Turn the TV off, silence your phone, tell your roommate to stop singing, and shut the windows. Nothing kills a self-tape more than car alarms and sirens.  If you want to invest in a shotgun microphone (only if your camera has a jack for it), check out this one here.  I use this in my studio and it really drowns out the outside noise.

4. No shadows. Don’t use overhead lighting, as it creates strong shadows under your eyes and chin. Use natural light, or if your apartment is dark, buy a couple of cheap clip-on lights from your hardware store. Put the lights a little above eye level, on either side of the camera, and use daytime fluorescent bulbs (tungsten bulbs create a less appealing “candlelight” effect). It’s all about the eyes, so make sure they are clearly lit and in focus.   You can also buy this wonderful Cowboy studio light kit from Amazon.  

5. Get a good reader. A bad reader or a loud reader can really ruin an audition tape. Unless your roommate or dad is Christian Bale, find someone who is an actor (a good one) to sit off-camera and read the scene with you. Make sure when they are reading they are quieter than you, as they will be right next to the camera, and you want the voices to balance out. Also, make sure the reader doesn’t read the stage directions. You’d think that would be obvious. You’d be surprised.

6. Check the slate instructions. Sometimes the casting director wants something very specific with the slate, like a full body shot (without panning), or a tight close-up and profiles. Make sure you read the original email carefully. If the instructions are to send via YouTube or Vimeo, make sure it’s a private link. If you are uploading into iMovie, you can send directly to Vimeo or Youtube from that application.  Most agents want it sent via dropbox, as they can watch it right away before downloading it.  

7. Slate separately. It’s always better to separate the slate and the scenes, and film as separate takes. It allows a break so you can really get into the character before rolling the camera for your first scene. The slate is directly into camera (name, age, role, agency, etc.). The scenes are to the reader sitting next to the camera. Also, don’t slate in character. It’s weird. This is the first time anyone sees you. Be cool, be natural—be someone they would want to work with. 

8. Use a tight medium frame. The frame should be from the chest up. Be still. Think it and feel it, and the camera will capture it. Save the flailing chicken acting for your “Guys and Dolls” audition. Don’t pan, and don’t do any handheld “Law and Order” stuff. Lock the frame and keep it simple. Too much movement is distracting from the performance. The camera should be at eye level, not below, not above.

9. Sit or stand. It’s a medium shot, so it doesn’t matter, unless it affects your energy. Sometimes if you stand it gives you the scene more life, as a chair or sofa tends to zap the energy. Go with whatever feels right.

10. Eye lines. Never look directly into the camera in a scene unless the stage directions specifically say so. Make the reader the main character in the scene, and connect to that person. If there is another character, imagine someone standing directly on the other side of camera (45 degree angle). 

11. Set a time limit. Half-hour to an hour max. Don’t overthink it. Be as prepared as possible when you start taping (memorized, strong choices), so that you don’t waste time messing up lines. Do two or three takes of each scene, and pick only the best one to send (unless otherwise requested). We’re not doing a David Fincher movie. 

12. Always watch it back before sending. You never know if there will be a tech problem. Make sure it looks and sounds good, and is in focus. You want this to be as professional as possible.

13. Look your best. Treat it like a real audition. Make yourself camera ready (hair, makeup, outfit), and make sure you are well rested. 

Finally, just relax and have fun. The great thing about self-taping is you can do it until you get it right. If you have a bad taped audition, it reflects poorly on you and makes you look amateur. You want to be as professional as possible, and show the people hiring you that you take your job seriously. If you follow these steps, your talent, not your poor tape quality, will stand out. Since most of us have this technology at our fingertips, learn how to make the best use of it and be prepared when that big opportunity comes along.

How to Get an Agent

Here's the truth.  Getting an agent isn't easy.  It's like the Holy Grail for actors.  If it were easy, every actor would have one, and everyone would be auditioning for the next Aquaman.   There are over 120 talent agencies in New York, and over 40 TV shows filming, and thousands of actors who want to be represented and get in those rooms.   Not everyone is ready to compete at this professional, highly selective level.  So be honest with yourself.  Are you ready to get an agent?   Are you ready to be in front of major casting directors?   Do you know your type, have a kickass demo reel, and most importantly, are you GOOD?  I don't mean "My friends think I'm funny" good, I mean are you TALENTED?  

"If only I had an agent...."  I hear this all the time.  The truth is, even if you start freelancing with an agent, it might be a while before you start getting auditions, never mind work.   You have to put in the time, be patient, and remember that it's about talent, type, and marketability (also, luck).   Yes, there is a HUGE element of luck.  Some very talented actors never find an agent, and sometimes people get an agent without ever having taken an acting class.  It can be a weird business.

As I discuss in my book, the best way to get an agent is through an industry referral.  That is, a casting director you know (or have met) personally calls an agent on your behalf to say how great you are.  How do you meet these casting directors without an agent?  Well, some people go to those controversial pay-to-meet workshops at Actor's Connection, The Network, Actor's Green Room, and build relationships that way.  If a casting director really responds to your work, they can get the ball rolling.  I'm not saying go sign up for a bunch of these workshops right now and spend your hard earned money, because not everyone is ready to be in front of these casting directors.    But if you play your cards right, and are smart and educated about it, then that might be the way to go for you.   Check out CastingAbout.com for up to date info on who is cas

Or perhaps you are in a play or film, or a class, and one of the other actors is working with an agent, or a casting director is coming to see them in the show.  There's nothing wrong with you asking for a referral (IF it's clear that the person likes your work).  The important thing here is that they are seeing you do what you love, where you are in your element, and that is the best way for someone to respond to you.

Another way is through blind submissions, whether it's over email or from sending out hard copies.  This is what all actors do when they are first starting out (as I did), but it's kind of a shot in the dark, and very hard to get someone to respond to an email or hard copy that doesn't know you.   If your headshot and resume are amazing, and you have a great look (i.e. young and hot), this may work.  If you are going to do this, then come up with a targeted list of 10 agents who you think are right for you.  (Again, I'm assuming you are READY to have an agent.)  Buy "Henderson's List of NY Talent Agencies" for $10 at the Drama Book Shop, read "The New York Agent Book" by K Callan from cover to cover, look on IMDB-Pro to see who the agents represent (make sure they don't have a bunch of people just like you), and come up with an educated list of talent agents who may be right for you at this given time.   Do your research!  Maybe you send out headshots, resumes, and a link to your demo reel, along with a short cover letter of recent jobs you have booked.  Then send a postcard every time you book a job, simply to stay on their radar.  And on top of that, perhaps you pay a little to meet them in person, or engage with them on social media (in a not creepy way).    If you are going to send out, the best time is April-June, or December, as that tends to be a slower time for agents, and they are more likely to have the time to open submissions.  Remember, they are working their asses off to get their own clients work (who pay their rent!), so it's a lot for them to take on somebody new and develop them.   They have to be really, really excited about you.  And in turn, you have to be offering them something to really get excited about.

Let's say you have no credits, not much training, but have a great look.  Maybe you want to pursue a commercial agent.  My sister Becki Newton started working in commercials and then crossed over to TV and film.  For some actors, this is a great way in, as it gives them valuable experience on set, with "on the job training" that gives them credibility when approaching a TV or film agent (who is interested in your "look" just as much as your talent).    This could be a great way in, especially if you are making tons of money for a commercial agent, and they also have a theatrical division (film, TV, theatre) which you could cross over to.  Commercial agents are big on improv training, so be sure to check out classes at the Pit, the Groundlngs, or UCB.

The last way is through Pay to Meet workshops.  It means spending a bunch of money to get in front of a bunch of agents for the "in person submission."  You have to be beyond amazing to secure representation from this.  Many actors do this, and many simply aren't ready, and are throwing their money away.   It feels like a "get rich quick" scheme, where you can pay to meet an agent, and think that suddenly your life will change.  It's not like that.  Yes, some actors get signed from these, but that's not the norm.   You may have to meet an agent six or seven times before they really start to remember you.  That's a lot of money!   There are pros and cons to this route, and you need to make sure you are being smart about it.  If you are going to do it, DON'T do the 10 agent panels (too impersonal), and DON'T do it in February and March (which is pilot season, when agents are way less likely to take on someone new).   

Good luck!!!!

Want to learn more about getting an agent?  Check out my "10 Steps to Making Acting your Business" seminar with Brian O'Neil (author "Acting as a Business") on February 22nd.  

 

5 WAYS TO GET THE MOST OUT OF A CALLBACK by Matt Newton and Brian O'Neill

From a recent article in Backstage

OK, actors. Pilot season is almost here, and the auditions will start rolling in. Represented or not, it’s a busy time for actors in New York City and Los Angeles—a time for last-minute auditions, same-day callbacks, screen tests, and frantically memorizing lines the day of and the night before.  

You race around to auditions, and you get that call saying they want to see you again. Congrats! You made both you and your agent (if you have one) look good! Most of an agent’s best clients get called back a lot and then don’t get the job. Most of the time. Why? Because only one actor can get the job and most of the time it isn’t going to be you. For one role on an episodic TV show, they might get 1,000 submissions, bring in 20 actors to pre-read, and maybe bring five back for producers. 

After years of coaching actors for auditions and callbacks, here are what we have come up with for the best ways to get the most out of that callback.

1. Focus on winning the room. This is about so much more than “getting the job.” It’s about making fans in the industry, and getting back in that room again, and maybe in a relatively short period of time. That’s how an actor’s reputation grows. If they keep bringing you back, you are doing your job. The casting director is trying to find the right part for you. The more casting directors you have on your side, the better. Getting callbacks means you are doing something right. 

2. Show them you take direction well. Be ready to play. For a TV callback session, the director and producers want to see that you can take direction on set, as time is very valuable. Do exactly what you did in the pre-read, wear exactly the same outfit, and then be open to change. Be ready for quick adjustments from the director or show runner. Being in a room with a few producers is one thing, being on set with 175 crew members trying to race through their shots is very different. They need to see that you can handle the stress.

3. Use it in your marketing. A callback? You betcha. If you’re freelancing, you can use it when staying in touch with other agents, through postcards or email. You have the right to do this, as you are not signed to anyone. We cannot think of anything an agent wants to know about you more than the casting directors who know you. And if you’ve gotten a callback, they probably like you. Also, if you drop a line to a casting director with this information, it tells them that their colleagues and peers are noticing you. It’s called “vetting” and it can be very powerful.   

4. Don’t brag on social media. Word of caution here: Wait on the “I got a callback for a soccer mom on ‘Constantine!’ ” post until you find out whether or not you have been cast, which happens quickly in the world of episodic television. Understandably, in today’s climate of “instant information,” many industry people don’t want it broadcast as to where a project is in the casting stages as the process is still unfolding. Some casting offices make you sign NDA agreements, as your callback sides carry confidential plot information.

5. Ask for feedback from your reps. At this point in the casting process, it’s down to a few people. Agents have different styles where getting feedback is concerned. Depending on the stakes and your overall track record, some will ask for it only when they think the information will be genuinely helpful to all concerned. Some believe in the old adage “Your feedback is you didn’t get the job.” If you were called back for a big role, there’s a specific reason you didn’t get it, and you have a right to ask your agent or manager. They may not be able to get that information, but it’s worth a shot. If it’s a series regular, it’s about charisma, likability, and bringing depth to the scenes. Feedback helps actors grow. If it’s something you can control—(“He didn’t hit the emotional beats,” for example)—then you have something to work on. If it’s out of your control—(“His hair was three shades too dark”)—then let it go.

Want to learn more?  Matt Newton and Brian O’Neil are teaching a special one-day seminar “10 Steps to Making Acting Your Business” on Sunday, Feb. 22. To learn more, visit www.mnactingstudio.com.  

 

An Actor's Checklist for 2015

Alright actors!  It's the beginning of a New Year.  What are your plans for the next 3 months?  6 months?  One year?   Perhaps it's to book your first co-star role, to land an agent, to move to LA, or to land that first series regular role.   Before you can do that, you have to get your marketing tools in order.   The current trend is shorter and snappier.   As actors, we must constantly be adapting to current industry standards, and keeping up with the business.  

Here is a checklist for the New Year.  

  1. Make sure to have an easy, sleek website with headshot and reel on landing page. (My favorites are weebly and Squarespace.  Totally free and easy to use). 
  2. Two current, contrasting, high quality headshots that pop on a computer screen and show your correct age and type.  Formatted to send via email whenever necessary.  Also, a PDF of your resume. (Remember, don't put extra work on there, and make sure it's formatted correctly).
  3. Gather your footage and create a short demo reel.  It's more important than ever, and it helps your profile come up higher in search results on sites like Backstage and Actors Access.  A demo reel should be 1-2 minutes long, with short, high quality 20-30 second clips.  
  4. Four 60-90 second monologues (2 comedy, 2 drama).  Now is the time to get these ready.  When the time comes for you to meet an agent, they could very well ask for these, and you don't want to panic at the last minute.  Find ones that fit your type, from current TV shows or indie films (the harder to find, the better).  Avoid monologue websites, as those pieces tend to be overdone.
  5. Two strong, current TV scenes for your type.  Not anything from "Scandal." (It's overdone.)  If you've been using the same scenes for 6 months at pay to meet workshops, it's time to find new ones (also, only go to these workshops if you are ready).
  6. Subscription to 2 casting/audition websites.  I like Actors Access and Backstage the most. 
  7. Become an expert on self-taping.  Tripod with iPhone clip, blank wall, good lighting to avoid shadows.  (note: you can get this lighting kit on Amazon for $55). 
  8. Write and produce your own scene.   Why wait for the right part to come along?  Self-produce!  
  9. Make a list of 10 agents or managers to target.  Send out a mailing in April, after pilot season is done.
  10. Familiarize yourself with the New York TV show scene.  Make an Excel spreadsheet of the shows, who casts them, and which ones use your type over and over.   Educate yourself! 

Want more info on these topics?  Check out Matt's book "10 Steps to Breaking into Acting: Second Edition" on Amazon for comprehensive, up to date advice on how to get your marketing tools in order and treat your career like a business.  

STALK US!

4 Ways to Figure Out Your Type

From an article I did for Backstage

Let’s get honest. While it’s easy to look at others and get a sense of their natural type, doing the same for own your self can be daunting. Where do you even start?

Time to break this down. Put “range” aside for a minute and think about what look you are selling. It’s called your type and it defines you in this business. Remember: it’s not what you are, it’s what you play. You can be the smartest person in the world, and still go out for the “dumb jock.” You might not even play any sports! It’s not what your grandmother thinks of you, it’s what the “business” thinks of you. Just because you may have played wonderful parts as a character twice your age during high school and college, that does not mean you will be playing them in the “real world.” When I was 23 and right out of college (having done lots of Shakespeare), my first audition was for a 16-year-old on a soap opera. Reality check. 

We are all born a certain way, with a certain “look” and unless we want to commit to drastic plastic surgery, then we will be cast as specific roles in our acting careers. It’s up to actors to be smart enough to identify that look, harness it, and use it to our advantage. Are you the young leading man who could play the new love interest on “Melrose Place” or are you the creepy old villain on “Homeland?” Does your face say “Gossip Girl,” or does it say “Walking Dead?” Are you the smart, clean cut and sophisticated young lawyer, or the early thirties slacker type? Don’t let this assessment put you off. Later in your career you can start branching out from your type, once you start booking lots of work. 

Here are some easy steps to nailing down your type:

1. Take a good hard look in the mirror. Pay attention to your face, your weight, your ethnicity, and your personality. Do you have a receding hairline? Do you have a thick accent? Listen to your voice. Do you sound smart and articulate when you talk, or do you sound uneducated? Be. Honest. If you don’t look anything like Angelina Jolie, then that is the wrong type for you. Are you the funny chubby best friend? Tough guy? Young politician? Ingenue? Cool mom? Sassy friend? Dumb jock? Girl next door? Smug Sophisticate? Cute quirky hipster? Are you a hybrid between two of them? 

2Write down three actors who are stealing jobs from you. I mean, watch TV, go see movies, and find out which actors are playing parts that you were meant to play. Age, ethnicity, everything. That’s where your journey begins. What is unique about them, and why are they being cast in these roles? Yes, it’s about talent. But they have also cornered their market on that type. What else have they done? Have they always played this type? Some headshot photographers will talk to you about this before they shoot with you so that they can help you present yourself the right way. 

3. Write down three shows you could see yourself on. Series regular, guest star, costar…whatever. There are about 30 shows filming in New York right now. Watch them, learn from them, observe what kind of actors they are casting. Take notes. Look up the casting director and the actors. If you are right for that show, and are trained, and they cast your type over and over, then by all means sign up for a casting director workshop to meet them in person. If you are over 50 and play “extraterrestrial” roles all the time, probably don’t sign up for a soap opera casting workshop. Again, it’s all about being smart and knowing yourself. 

4. Finally, ask your close friends, an acting coach, or anyone who will be honest with you. Your good friends will be honest with you. Coaches will be honest. In my classes, type identification is an important discussion. Each person sits in the front of the class, while everyone else shouts out their different opinions on that actor’s type. It’s very eye-opening, very honest, and is an essential tool to presenting yourself the right way in this business. After all, it’s exactly what casting directors are thinking from the moment you walk into the room. It should be reflected in your headshots, your audition monologues, your demo reel, your attitude, your personality, the way you carry yourself, and ultimately strongly impacts your marketability. 

Remember, always be authentic, and don’t try to be something you’re not. Just own who you are, and that will separate you from the pack.

Good luck!

Agents vs. Managers: Which one is right for you?

From a recent article in Backstage.  

I probably get this question every day from newer actors: “What is the difference between an agent or manager?” And then soon followed by: “Which one is right for me?” 

In my new book “10 Steps to Breaking into Acting: 2nd Edition,” I discuss when an actor is ready to pursue an agent or manager, and the smartest, most professional ways to go about it. But first, an actor must know the facts, do their research, and treat their career as a business. How can you look for someone to represent you when you don’t know anything about them? Do you know the different types of agencies and what they specialize in? Do you know how many clients a manager has and what age, ethnicity, and types they represent? Do you know what an agent does, and what a manager does? 

Here is a little cheat sheet of the differences between agents and managers:

Talent Agents
There are about 120 talent agents in New York, and more in L.A. (and thousands of actors looking to secure one). Talent agents are licensed by the state, and by law are only allowed to take a 10 percent cut of whatever you make. There are agents that deal with actors, and there are agents that deal with magicians, standup comics, and babies. Some specialize in ethnic talent, and some only deal with youth (under 25). You only pay them when you get work. You can “freelance” or “sign” with an agent, and usually they give you a one-year (or 18-month) contract. They may have a lot of clients, but they also have great relationships with casting directors and can push to get you in the room. Agents get the breakdowns for the big projects and submit their clients. Non-represented actors don’t have access to these breakdowns (supposedly). 

Here are the different sizes of agencies:

Boutique: These are smaller independent agencies with a client list of roughly 130–150. There may be about one-to-four agents working at the office. 

Bicoastal: These are more medium-sized with an office in two cities (L.A. and NYC), and have roughly 150–250 clients, and more agents. These agencies usually have legit, commercial, voiceover, and print departments. They usually handle kids, as well as adults, in all the departments. Not all actors are represented across the board. Some actors are only represented with them commercially, as it’s not always easy to crossover in these agencies. Each agent usually deals with different casting directors. 

Mid-size Corporate: These are larger bicoastal agencies which can represent from 500–2500 clients. These have legit, print, commercial, hosting, beauty, and even sports representation divisions. They may have some developmental clients, but most of their clients are well-known in the world of TV, film, and/or theater. 

Corporate: Think “Jerry Maguire.” The powerhouses. These are the largest agencies in the world based out of Hollywood (CAA, UTA, William Morris Endeavor, ICM). They work with international offices, and involve branding and producing, distribution, and many areas far beyond acting. 

Managers
Managers tend to make you sign a three-year contract, can take anywhere from 10–15 percent, and are in charge of overseeing your career in the longterm. Managers tend to have fewer clients (maybe as few as five), and therefore can give an actor more attention, and can be wonderful in developing an actor’s career, as they have relationships with casting directors, producers, show runners, and directors outside of your agents’ relationships. 

Managers can give that extra push when an agent can’t get you in the room, and can really make sure you are being submitted for the right projects. They are more likely to sit down with you and pick out your headshot from a gallery of 300, tell you what to wear to your audition, get feedback for you, and talk you off the ledge when you are questioning your career (I know some agencies that take the time to do this, too). A good manager can give you that TLC that you might not get from a bigger talent agency, whose name alone gets you in the door. Some actors have an agent andmanager, and some have just an agent. It all depends what you are looking for and what you need for your career at this moment. Remember, if you have both, that can mean you lose 25–30 percent off the top of your next job. After commission and taxes, that’s a lot of money gone from your paycheck, so you have to make sure the fit is right for you. 

Which one is right for you? 
It’s about finding the right fit for where you are in your career. Agents and managers all get the same breakdowns, and they all help actors get auditions. Some agents and managers have more clout than others and having their name on your résumé alone will get you in the room, and some have to push harder to get their client the audition, but are very dedicated and really believe in their actors. Some agents only deal with commercials, and some deal with TV, film, and theater (legit), as well as commercials and voiceovers. The right agent or manager is the one that wants you, that needs your type, your talent, and feels that you are ready to compete in front of major casting directors. 

Not everyone is ready for this, and it involves doing a lot of research on your part, and knowing where you are in your career, and whether you are ready to jump to this next tier. It’s about type, talent, and marketability. In terms of deciding who is right for you, that involves doing research. Look on IMDbPro, see which actors they represent, what they have done, and if they have actors similar to you in type. No matter who is on your side, at the end of the day it’s about them giving you the opportunity, and it’s up to you to go in and book the job. 

Want to learn more about the best ways of getting an agent or manager?  Check out the Chapter on Getting an Agent in Matt's book "10 Steps to Breaking into Acting: Second Edition" on Amazon.

8 Pilot Season Prep Tips for Young Performers

From a recent article I co-wrote with coach Denise Simon for Backstage.

Hear that? That’s the sound of pilot season coming with all of the last-minute auditions, cold-reads, memorizing pages of lines, frantic racing around, and late night self-taping, all in the hopes of landing that big TV role. It’s that time of year, between December and April, when kids and teens are expected to memorize 12 pages of Disney dialogue at 10 p.m. the night before, in addition to school work, lessons, sports, commercial and voiceover auditions, never mind trying to squeeze in a social life. It’s a crazy, crazy season where everyone hopes to land that one role that could get picked up to series and change everything on a dime.

When that audition comes you have to be ready, whether you have five minutes or five days to prepare. It starts now, getting yourself into the right mindset to be prepared when an opportunity comes your way. Our job as coaches for kids and teens is to help them give the best audition possible, win over the room, feel empowered and confident in their choices, learn how to bring the script to life, and hopefully book the job. Being prepared means working on your audition and memorization skills, on-camera technique, staying healthy, feeling rested and focused, choosing the right clothes, understanding the character, and being relaxed enough to bring your personality to the script, without carrying all the stress into the room with you.  

So how do you walk into all of these auditions equipped and ready? How do you juggle life and schoolwork with all of these last minute appointments? And most importantly, how do you make it fun when you can barely stay awake? 

Here are our eight pilot season prep tips for 2015.

1. Make sure your headshot and résumé are updated. Although most submissions are digital, make sure your agents have your most current pics, both as JPEGs and hard copies. If you need new pictures, now is the time to do it. Make sure your résumé has all of your current credits and stats such as height, as well as your contact info. 

2. Take time to learn lines each night. Be prepared! No excuses here. There is always someone more memorized than you. You want to know these lines so well that you aren’t even thinking about them, and you can just listen and respond in the moment. Run the lines many times, many different ways. It should feel conversational and real. 

3. Pass on auditions when necessary. Sometimes it’s just too much. It’s much better to give two great auditions than three mediocre ones. Be honest with yourself, and pass if you need to. There will always be more auditions.

4. Have proper equipment for self-taping. Self-taping is so common now. You don’t want to panic and call your coach at 10 p.m. at night. Carve out a quiet place in your home with good lighting, good sound, and a blank wall or pop-up screen. Make sure your iPhone or video camera is working properly, and use a tripod. Learn how to edit, format, and email a file quickly. 

5. Stop by your agency and make sure they know what you look like. Kids grow by leaps and bounds in just a few months. Make sure your rep knows your age range so you are not going out on auditions you may not be right for. If you haven’t been to your agency in six months or more, it’s time to do a walk-through and say hello.

6. Be prepared to fly out to L.A. on a moment’s notice. Make sure you have working papers in order and are up to date with school work. Parents, have a plan for your other kids at home and work obligations. 

7. Put together a short demo reel. A reel can get a casting director excited about bringing you in for an audition, especially if they don’t know you. If you have good footage, now is the time to edit a small reel together so it will be easier for your agents to pitch you.

8. Put your coach on speed dial. Now more than ever you need to keep your acting skills sharp and ready. Take classes, see yourself back on camera, hone your audition skills, keep your technique sharp. Working with your coach the night before an audition can help you make stronger choices, get comfortable with the lines, and feel confident when walking into the audition. 

With the proper preparation, support and attitude you can have the best season ever!

Want to get more advice on navigating the business for Kids and Teens?  Check out the Advice for Kids and Teens chapter in Matt's book "10 Steps to Breaking into Acting: Second Edition" on Amazon.