Long hours, minimal social time outside of work, restlessness … still interested? After all, nothing can compare to the feeling when everything comes together on the big screen. Hundreds of people with various talents and skills must collaborate to create a masterpiece that is formally known as the film and entertainment industry.
I started out in the entertainment industry modeling at the raw age of nine. I did not know how I was going to do it, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. My parents were so proud and amazed that I knew exactly what I wanted to do. So naturally we looked up some agencies and signed a contract with the one agent that was very eager to have me onboard. Within the contract we agreed to pay one thousand dollars for a portfolio because the agency cannot represent me without having something to send out to clients, right? It was a valid point so credit cards were swiped, the photoshoot dates set and shortly after the prints were delivered. This was followed by a month of silence. Were my photos not good enough? Why isn’t any calling me? A month and a half later my agent requested a meeting were he stated that there was a commercial opportunity. The client was very interested in me and if I paid a lump sum of four thousand dollars I could be the star of a national commercial. I was sold. Here is my big chance. My parents, being new to Canada unfortunately did not have that sort of money despite wanting to provide their daughter with every possible opportunity. I still remember my mother saying no as tears filled my eyes. At the age of nine, I did not, nor could I comprehend that that deal was dishonest. I should to be paid to be in a commercial and not the other way around. A week later the agency was in the news for fraud and some people were facing jail time. Safe to say, my parents were relieved that they did not commit to anything further with that agency as their office closed down and my agent disappeared.
Although my experience was not the most pleasant, it did not discourage me from trying again. Since then, I have been with a couple of more agencies and rest assured, I will not be making the same error twice. However, mistakes in general can only be avoided to an extent and this is a business where everyone seems legitimate and sometimes it is very hard to tell who you can trust. Despite joining a modeling agency first, I have since found that acting agencies are quite similar in that regard. My goal is to help guide you towards your first steps in joining the wonderful and yet quite crazy world of film and television.
As I previously mentioned, my parent’s first instinct to getting started in the business was to get an agent the field. Their reasoning was simple: to get into the room we need to connect with a reputable agent that is working in the industry. I figured that merger in itself was the most important decision and my ticket to getting in an audition room. If only it was that easy. Do not get me wrong an agent is essential but you must have a good understanding of the film and television industry and you must bring something to the table beforehand. If you do not, you could easily get lost in the shuffle while spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars on classes and photographs.
When you are brand new to the business, just like in any other field you need some experience. This will not only keep your skills polished but it will demonstrate on your resume that you are serious and actively involved in your line of work. Without solid speaking credits, your training is the single most important asset you have. So build on your reputation, as it will precede you. Start volunteering, look into classes taught by casting directors, ask your friends or anyone you know in the business where they go, and most importantly get creative and make videos. After all, people want to see proof that you can act, they are not just going to take your word for it. You cannot assume people know that you are passionate and skilled. Most importantly, research everything in this business. My tip would be to see how long the company/school/facility has been in business. That is not to say new schools are not legitimate but you want to make smart choices, especially in the beginning stages if you are not sure where to go. Look for established institutions of ten years plus experience. This way there will most definitely be some reviews online and chances are higher that maybe even someone you know has gone there before. Once you find a reputable school and get more involved, you will soon discover and get an understanding of the best places to study and work in your area. Talking to your teachers and peers will be more beneficial to you than you can imagine. Plus the more people that know you, the more exposure you get and you never know who will be starting up a project and need a few extra actors/hands on set.
When you feel it is time to get an agent, go through your local actors union website to see reputable candidates to apply too. In Canada you can check out www.actra.ca and in the U.S.A go to http://www.sagaftra.org. These sites are helpful as they have close relationships with the agencies they list. Most, if not all of them have signed a certain agreement with the union: “under which they agree to abide by certain rules and conditions when dealing with performers”, furthermore to be on the list: “the applicant must demonstrate that the agency is a legitimate business, registered with the state or city when required, that, among other things, maintains proper office space, surety bonds and client trust accounts” (SAG-AFTRA 2014). Doesn’t that ease your mind just a little bit? Once you have your top ten choices, typically a performer sends out a package that includes a cover letter, headshot, resume and a demo reel (if you have a body of work to showcase). Investing in a good and clear headshot is key as it is the first thing that is looked at in a package. Hopefully within a few weeks time you receive a call or e-mail for a meeting. At this encounter be prepared to audition and ask plenty of questions. Not only are you being reviewed but this is also your chance to get to know the agent that you will be communicating with on a daily basis. This person will be representing you so make sure you agree with what they stand for. Lay everything out on the table from where you work or go to school full time, your availability for auditions, your goals and if you two can achieve them together. This is a partnership as you are trusting the person to vouch for you so use your discretion and do not rush the process, despite how thrilling everything may sound.
If you go to an agency for a meeting and after a quick conversation they agree to represent you, beware. A reputable agency auditions their talent first. Think about it, how can an agent sign you onto their roster if you have no experience and they do not see a performance? That is an immediate red flag for me, even if they are on the union list. As I have mentioned before this is a process and once you see a few agents you will get the hang of it and will be able to tell who is the best match for you. Do not be discouraged if you do not hear from anyone. In this business many times it is difficult to know what others want as everyone is saying that they are looking for new faces yet no one really wants to take a chance on a newcomer with no experience. The key here is to build relationships and fight through that barrier. Constantly promoting yourself is vital. Many actors forget about this aspect as they are so consumed in the craft, but self-promotion is as equally important as the work you produce. The goal is for people to observe and examine your talents. Moreover, stay motivated and know that after you have signed with an agent there will be a whole new set of challenges from moving from the commercial world to the film world, to seeing new casting directors, and the list will continue. Just take one day at a time, stay in the loop and you will soon see if you were unsure before, if you really love this unpredictable business.
This line of work is a journey and will take years and years of your dedication and time. Be sure you are willing to spend those years building relationships, training, and sometimes doing jobs that will help others more so than yourself. Reputation is key. But then again you could get lucky and bypass the traditional route and become a star tomorrow. That is the beauty and the craziness of the entertainment business. Although being an actor is a fantastic job, I am always eager to learn more about the various jobs that are available on set. A well-informed actor is a grateful one, or so I believe. I constantly receive questions about the numerous jobs in film so I have decided to launch a weekly series of ‘on set interviews’ where I chat with a diverse group of people that include both my colleagues and friends. You just may go into the field wanting to be an actor and then come out working on sets, or in wardrobe. Take a look at some of my sessions with industry professionals and see what they have to say in regards to their jobs in the film business. I am doing this all via my iPhone 5 and are meant to be informative and fun. See you on set!
Copyright © 2014 Olivia Gudaniec