The Beginner’s Guide to Acting

Beginner's Guide to Acting (cover)

Introduction


Welcome to your Acting learning journey!

After working in the entertainment industry for over a decade, we have realized there is a lot of misinformation, and many aspiring actors are stumbling to find success in the entertainment industry.

A large percentage of aspiring actors misunderstand the importance of the business side of the entertainment industry, while actors who understand the importance of networking and filmmaking thrive. This new guide intends to provide an informative look into the acting industry, while also providing information, we believe is essential for aspiring actors to make it into the entertainment industry.

When starting your career in the entertainment industry, whether it is Hollywood, Bollywood, or content creating, having a business plan, marketing strategy, and being able to deliver is arguably more critical than pure acting talent. An actor with an award-winning performance may be amazing; however, if no one can find that talent, then it makes it difficult for that talent to succeed in this competitive industry. There are hundreds of thousands of aspiring actors in the United States alone, which leads to a ton of competition. There are a limited number of audition slots and opportunities, many of these auditions are given to well-connected talent. As a result, for an actor who is talented and has excellent networking skills, will more likely land more acting jobs and thus having a more successful acting career.

Here’s what you’ll find in the guide

But, it begs the question – how do you find acting auditions? How do you develop your business and marketing strategy? How do you market yourself, and who is the target audience? There are options, which include waiting for the dream opportunity landing in your lap or working hard to network, connect, and build your acting career.

Beginner's Guide to Acting

Here’s what the guide looks like:

  • The Acting Business – A guide to the business side of acting in Hollywood.

There are thousands of aspiring actors attempting to make it into the entertainment industry, but, one of the biggest goals would be to become a “working actor.” A “working actor” is someone who consistently lands acting jobs for the long haul. Of those hundreds of thousands of aspiring actors, only a select few will become a “working actor,” let a one become an A-list actor.

But, how does an actor become famous? Well, fame is a collection of social media following, media attention, and job opportunities. Those who become famous may be able to collect and generate millions of dollars in revenue. Ultimately, it is a collection of a healthy business plan, a proper marketing strategy, luck, and timing will lead to an actor becoming hugely successful.

Our goal is to provide a guideline and tools to help aspiring actors become famous, a celebrity, a working actor, and reach their goals. We hope to clarify Hollywood by giving you inside information and running through what it becomes an actor in Hollywood?

How much of this acting guide do I need to read?

If you’re serious about improving your acting skills, Hollywood career, and are unfamiliar with the entertainment industry, we recommend reading this guide front-to-back. We’ve tried to make it as concise and easy to understand as possible, and learning the basics of acting is a vital first step in achieving your career goals.

Go through the acting guide at the pace that works for you best, and be sure to take note of the hundreds of resources we link to throughout the chapters — they’re also essential and can help you with your acting career.

Are you getting excited yet? You should be! Acting is an amazing and fascinating field and can be lots of fun! If you get confused, don’t give up; we have a daily newsletter that can give you the latest news and information you need to succeed.

Chapter 1

Actor Training

Acting Classes_ Actor's Guide to Training

What is it, and why is training for actors essential?

If you already have a solid understanding of actor training and why it’s essential, you can skip to Chapter 2: Marketing for Actors (though we’d still recommend skimming the best practices for actors to understand and master; they’re useful refreshers).

For everyone else, this chapter will help build your foundational Actor training knowledge and confidence as you move forward.


What is Actor Training?

Actors need to consistently train to become a successful talent, which is why acting is like physical sport. Without proper practice and training, actors will fail when it comes to acting auditions or working on set. Receiving coaching before auditions and acting jobs help you discover other parts of the character you may have overlooked.

Actor Accents

The most important thing actors should know how to do is a standard American accent. Across the United States, there are a wide array of accents. Individuals from the Northern States sound different in comparison to people from the South. Here are the most common American Accents:

  • Northern (Canadian)
  • East Coast (Boston and New York)
  • Mid-west (Chicago)
  • Southern (Georgia and Texas)

Each of the accents mentioned above is different from one another and very specific. However, the standard accent for film and television is a Californian accent, which is spoken by most characters on TV and film.

While some roles may require an accent, a vast majority of acting jobs are looking for actors with a standard American accent. But, it begs the question – why would a casting director not be interested in hearing someone without a standard American accent? Mainly, producers do not want to change the plot of an entire TV show, movie or scene, to explain why a character with very few lines has a Southern accent. Consequently, if you are unable to do a standard American accent, you are less likely to land acting jobs.

Arguably, mastering a neutral Californian accent is far more critical to landing work in TV shows and movies than acting classes. If you’re an aspiring actor from overseas, it is crucial to master a standard American accent. Find a dialect coach and get a test. You may need coaching or try watching videos on YouTube. There are dozens of videos that provide an informative guide on how to master the American accent.

Another way to learn an accent is by watching a movie where the main character speaks with an accent from that area. After every scene, pause the film and repeat what you heard and how you heard it. Then try practicing the accent out. Read out loud in the dialect. Once you are confident in your pronunciation, try speaking in a standard American accent in public and around other people.

Acting Classes

Acting Classes

Once you have mastered the standard American accent, the next thing you should focus on is finding the right acting teacher, coach, or instructor. It is essential to find someone you trust. As a result, it is vital to research the acting coach and look at their professional work history – have they worked on noteworthy productions?

That said, it is essential to note a talented acting coach does not necessarily have to be an actor. Some of the best basketball coaches are not the best players. However, they can spot talent, refine it, and make decisions that lead to results. Someone who is providing acting coach but has only worked in small budget projects or have several off-Broadway credits is arguably not worth your time.


What to look for in an acting coach

  • Review testimonials.
  • Does the acting coach have celebrity alumni? If so, how long did those actor train at the school?
  • Research to see what projects have the acting coach worked.

Most acting classes allow new students to attend their first course for free. Take advantage of this opportunity. It is important to know if the class is on camera. Many of the basic acting classes are not on camera. But, it is essential to take on-camera acting classes to learn how you appear on the screen as it may not come across as well as it does in person. Look over the material used in the acting class and pay attention to how the acting instructor breaks down the scene to learn if it matches with your acting style. After your first class, you may want to stick around and ask the students about the course. Be wary of acting coaches that praise untalented actors. You want someone who is going to push you to become a better actor and not provide you with a false sense of confidence.

You should also make sure you are not the smartest person in the room. Being the best actor in an acting class may make you feel great, but, you want to become a better actor. Most actors perform better when they are tasked to work with someone better than themselves. Boxers, boxers who are looking to improve their skills are often tasked to box boxers who are bigger and better than they are. Also, if everyone in the class is thriving and talented, you are more likely to become successful. Networking is a crucial part of becoming a better actor in Hollywood, which could lead to more referrals for finding a talent agent or other auditions. It is not unheard of an aspiring actor to take up writing and filmmaking and then to cast their friends.

Scene study versus acting classes

It is vital to highlight the differences between a scene study class and an acting class. A scene study class will work on improving your acting skills in specific scenes. While an acting class will work on improving your overall acting ability. A scene study course is something you may want to consider after you have mastered the basics of acting. Especially before auditioning certain roles.

Acting methods

As we have discussed in the past, here are the acting techniques most commonly taught and used in Hollywood. 

Stanislavski vs. Meisner Method Acting

In the early 1900s, Constantin Stanislavski was a Russian theater actor and director. His technique centered around actors using their actual memories to relive and access emotions for a scene. In his later years, he focused on how to access those emotions. Meisner later summarized Stanislavski’s beliefs by saying an actor should “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Two of the main acting methods you will hear in Hollywood are “Meisner” and “Stanislavski”. Both of these acting methods derive themselves from Constantin Stanislavski.

Improv Acting Classes

Improvisation, also known as improv, is any time during an acting performance where an actor is saying or doing something that is not planned or scripted. Traditionally, improv is connected to comedy. Groundlings, Second City, UCB and iO West are the most well known improv groups in Los Angeles. Dad’s Garage is also popular in Atlanta, Georgia.

Casting directors look for improv training schools on resumes and attend improv shows to find new talent. If you are looking for a comedic role but do not have very much experience, having training from one of the popular acting schools will definitely improve your chances. For example, NBC sponsors the Groundlings Diversity Scholarship. NBC has sponsored Groundlings Diversity Scholarship and those selected and granted a full scholarship will be able to take acting classes at the world-renowned Groundlings theater and school in Los Angeles, California.

The school is known as the training comedy ground in Hollywood and has helped launch dozens of careers including:

  • Will Ferrell
  • Kristen Wiig
  • Lisa Kudrow
  • Kathy Griffin
  • and much more

Private Coaching

Most talented actors may opt for private coaching before a big audition and during acting jobs. Margot Robbie had acting coachwork with her on set. She says, ”I get excited when there’s a skill set you get to learn, and we’re so lucky and spoiled that they get someone really good to teach you. Like when I did [2015’s] Focus, I had a real-life pickpocket teach me how to pickpocket. I was like, ‘This is exciting’… Beyond that, I am kind of a crazy person when I prep. I do timelines and backstories, I work with a dialect coach, a movement coach, and an acting coach. I do a lot before so I can throw it out the window when I get on set. But if I hadn’t done the work before, I’d be too scared.”

Usually, an hour of private coaching is enough to get the job done. The acting coach should be able to give you good direction for a particular scene and they should be able to provide additional perspectives to a character. However, it is important for you not to take advice from an acting coach that you do not feel comfortable with. If you express that you really do not want to play the scene or character in a certain way and you are be forced to take that character in that direction, it is time to find a new acting coach.

Stunt Training

Have a wide array of talents to add to your Skills section of your resume will make you a more versatile actor. Stunt training is another acting class aspiring actors should consider. Some stunt coordinators teach acting classes, which are a great networking tool because stunt coordinators often hire stunt performers for projects and speaking roles. Stunt coordinators typically skip the traditional casting process since the stunt ability is arguably more important than acting talent.

Combat training

Action films dominate the box office. Actors on these projects often train for months in fight training or weapons training. So if the actor already has martial arts or fight experience, they are more likely to get cast in projects. Combat classes in Hollywood are also taught by stunt coordinators, so they can also double as a great networking opportunity.

Other types of acting classes actors could consider taking include:

  • Singing and dancing training
  • Musical training
  • Sports

Overall

It is important, to be honest. Skills like singing and dancing are often falsely added because actors believe it would improve their chances. But, landing an acting job and then being unable to perform could ruin your acting career. Moreover, it is important to not lie to a casting director. If you can not do something, then do not do it. It is a lie that will make everyone look bad and stop you from building an acting career.

Actor Marketing & Representation

Actor Marketing Representation

Marketing for actors from headshots to social media – why is it important?

The goal of Chapter 2 is to provide a detailed look into marketing, and the materials actors need to succeed in Hollywood. We will be discussing resumes, headshots, demo reels, social media profiles, online profiles, and websites. We will also look into representation in the entertainment industry by focusing on talent agencies and managers

It is essential to understand, filmmaking is a business, and an actor has to sell themselves as a product that is worth the investment. As a result, your headshot, resume, demo reels, and social media profiles should be focused on giving casting directors, directors, and producers the information they need to make a decision as quickly as possible. Ultimately, your marketing materials must display what you look, what other projects you have worked on, and how talented you are as an actor.

What is your type?

Before starting on a breakdown into actor marketing materials, it is essential to identify what kind of characters you will be hired to play in a TV show, movie or commercial. By knowing your “type,” it will allow you to create marketing materials that will enable you to succeed in Hollywood.

Typically, your type will focus on two things, your age range, your body type, looks, and previous experience. For example, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is 6’5 and over 250 pounds. His physique and size lead him to more prominent action star roles.


What is my type? Actor’s Exercise

An easy way to figure out what your brand is by doing the following exercise:

  1. List five actors you resemble
  2. Find what past projects they worked
  3. What was their character? More specifically, what is their type?
  4. How do their headshots look?
  5. What type of magazines has covered the actor?

By following this exercise, you can create a template for your actor marketing toolkit.

Breakdown of common types

Kids and Teen roles (ages 13 to 24)
  • Bully (mean, tough, bully)
  • Sidekick (funny, nerdy, shy)
  • Lead (charming, attractive, smart)
Ages 25 to 50
  • Bully (mean, tough, bully)
  • Sidekick (funny, nerdy, shy)
  • Lead (charming, beautiful, smart)
  • Parent
  • Antagonist (Thug, gang member, outlaw)
  • Strong character (cops, lawyers, detectives, coach)
  • Comic relief
  • Attractive (girlfriend, girl next door)
50 and older
  • Grandparents
  • Mentor
  • Bully
  • Lead
  • Bully (mean, tough, bully)
  • Sidekick (funny, nerdy, shy)
  • Lead (charming, attractive, smart)
  • Parent
  • Antagonist (Thug, gang member, outlaw)
  • Strong character (cops, lawyers, detectives, coach)
  • Comic relief
  • Attractive (girlfriend, girl next door)

Understanding your type is an essential step to landing acting jobs. Casting directors and producers want to know your brand and how to market it. While you may believe you can do every role, it is essential to figure out what kind of roles producers and casting directors want you to play. As a result, it is necessary to understand that you can not be everything. Understand what kind of roles you can play and market yourself accordingly.


Headshots

Actor Headshots

After you identify your type, the next step is to get a headshot. In Hollywood, all headshots should be in color and must look like you. Too many headshots will undergo vast amounts of photoshop, color editing, and more, which may not make you look like yourself. Ultimately, your headshot should tell the producers, casting directors, and writers, this is what you look like.

The headshot should include the top of your chest and the top of your head. It should also include your shoulders to give casting directors an idea of your body type and overall look. You also do not want your head to cover the entire 8″ x 10″ page. Your photos should also appear in high resolution with your face in clear focus. Your headshot should also be well lit and fully visible. A background could make your headshot stand out and help you showcase your type but, it should not be distracting.

The bottom should include a name banner for your printed headshot. This will allow for casting directors to see your name, which is a great thing as you want to be remembered.

Your headshot should reflect the type of characters you are looking to play. Whether it is an outfit you are wearing, the lighting, to the tones. However, you want to have headshots that show different looks. For example, you may want to consider having different headshots if you have facial hair or different hairstyles. What you want to avoid is suggestive poses, lingerie or shirtless photos, and bikini photos.

Profile photos

Online casting sites are requiring profile photos. These headshot photos should clearly show your type and what you look like without requiring casting directors, producers and managers to squint to see what you look like.

Actor Resume

Your resume is clear, professional, and most importantly concise. Instead of listing every project you have worked on, you should focus on 10 recognizable credits. Here is a list of resume guidelines.

  • Only one page
  • Display your name
  • Your stats should appear at the top, followed by your credits, training, and special skills.
  • Staple your headshot to the back of the resume
  • The text should be in black
  • All text should be around 12pt font
  • Separate TV and Film credits
  • Align all of your columns so that each section matches the section above.
  • Add your manager and talent agency
  • Add training and skills to the bottom of your resume

Training

The training section of your resume should not be long and should focus on the top three or the biggest coaches and acting schools you have trained with. It should include the type of class, name of the teacher, and name of the school.

Special Skills

Special skills should be separated by commas and should include stunt training, accents, or any other special skills. Unique talents may be what separates you from your competition.

Credits

Your credits should clearly explain what role you did and at what capacity. For example, an extra play a non-speaking role in a TV show or movie. Some consider this to not be an acting role, however, a featured background acting role could be included in a resume.

Types of Roles

TV Speaking Roles
  • Co-Star Speaking Role – A co-star is a minor TV speaking role and will have an actor appear in one or two scenes.
  • Guest Star – A “guest star” suggests your character only appears in one episode. Guest star roles typically have at least three or a single substantial scene in a TV show. If you appear in multiple episodes as a “Guest Star”, you may list your role as a “Recurring Role”.
  • Special Guest Star / Starring / Special Appearance By – These roles are offered to popular actors who appear in one or more episode of the show. These credits imply that the actor is playing a leading role and when they appear in the show’s credits is often negotiated by their manager and talent agency.
  • Recurring – When you play a role that is not a series regular but appears in more than one episode of a TV show, your role is considered recurring.
  • Series Regular – A series regular role means your character is featured in most if not all of the episodes of the show.
  • Series Lead – Series lead roles are the characters that a TV show is centered around. Typically, they appear in nearly every episode.

What does it mean for an have to have representation in the entertainment industry?

Traditionally, representation refers to having a talent agency or management firm who represents you for jobs related to the entertainment industry.

There are two ways actors make it in the entertainment industry. Either they have a fabulous talent agent who gives them access to auditions, networking events, and other opportunities. This track traditionally applies to actors who have high-level connections, has a long history in the entertainment industry, or is an influencer in other parts of the media industry. If you are lucky enough to land representation by a major outlet, then you will be able to gain access to some of the biggest jobs in the entertainment industry. However, for many aspiring actors, this is not the case. 

How to get represented by a talent agent or manager

Talent Agency

Read our full guide here.

  1. Contact the talent agency or manager director with your headshot, resume, and cover letter
  2. Have your existing manager or talent agent give you a referral
  3. Attend a showcase
  4. Get a reference from another actor
  5. Meet an agent or manager

Actors need to know who are the major companies in the entertainment industry. A great way to find out who is an influencer in the industry for representation is to check out our guide here. 

How to choose who to represent you?

Choosing who to represent you is a significant decision. An agent at an influential talent agency may be able to gain access to a ton of opportunities. You do not want to sign with a principal talent agency as they may not be able to give you the attention you need to succeed. Sometimes, a boutique agency will provide you with the right opportunities to build your acting resume to help your career grow. 

Overall, it is all about how high you rank on their priority list of actors to pitch for each role.

Where to find representation?
  • The Talent Managers Association and the Association of Talent Agents are the two unions that some of the most prominent managers and talent agents are affiliated.

Representation Referrals

  • A referral is the best way to get representation. There are hundreds of actors who have significant representation thanks to an excellent reference by a casting director, actor, and manager.
  • That said, a referral gets you started. You will need to be marketable and talented enough to allow for the opportunity to grow into something special.
  • If someone does not refer you to one of their contacts, do not be upset. A referral is worth a lot in the entertainment industry, and giving them out to everyone is a bad look. 

What should you do when meeting with someone interested in representing you?

It is essential to be relaxed and confident when meeting with potential talent agent or manager. The talent agent or manager should have read your resume and seen what you can do. They should already know if you are a potential fit. 

If the talent agent or manager is interested in meeting with you, they will sell their skills and services to you. That said, they are connecting with you to see what kind of person you are. For example, are you anxious, nervous, desperate, or a poor communicator? You should also be looking for any red flags. Are they educated in the entertainment business, have connections and access to significant opportunities? 

Try to make it a conversation and less of a formality. Ask questions about their interests, such as, “How did you become a talent agent?”, “What kind of movies pique your interests?”

The most important question you should ask the talent agent or manager are the following: 

  • What kind of tv shows, movies, or opportunities do you see me doing in the future? 
  • What business strategy do you believe we should follow to make sure we are successful?
What is the difference between an aspiring actor and a working actor?
  • Once you have played at least two guest roles, one recurring role, or a series regular role on a major network or platform, then you are considered a “working actor”.
  • Until then, you are considered an aspiring actor is otherwise known as a “Development client”.

It is a lot easier to land bigger auditions when you are considered a working actor. It is also easier for a manager and talent agency to represent you for bigger opportunities. The reasoning behind this is there is a certain level of trust that casting directors can now look at your previous body of work and confidently suggest you to the director and producer of the project. The more recent credits you have, the more likely you will land bigger auditions.

Until you are a working actor you are essentially an aspiring actor. Your network and acting career are just getting started as you need to be introduced to Hollywood and the influencers making decisions in the industry.

When a talent agency signs a contract with an aspiring actor they have to use their reputation to suggest you for an audition. The agent has to use their connections rather than using your demo reel for a chance to audition. This means more work for the agent, which may not work in your benefit if an agency has a large roster of established actors.  As a result, it is not unheard of agencies to not sign aspiring actors.

What is the difference between an aspiring actor and a working actor?
Hollywood - become an actor
Young woman at the top of Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
  • A working actor is someone who has had at least two guest roles, a recurring role, or a regular series role.
  • Until then, you are considered an aspiring actor who is otherwise known as a “Development client.”

It is a lot easier to land bigger auditions when you are considered a working actor. It is also easier for a manager and talent agency to represent you for more significant opportunities. There is a certain level of trust that casting directors can now look at your previous body of work, and confidently suggest you to the director and producer of the project. The more recent credits you have, the more likely you will land bigger auditions.

Until you are a working actor, you are mostly an aspiring actor. Your network and acting career are just getting started as you need to introduce yourself to Hollywood and the influencers making decisions in the industry. 

When a talent agency signs a contract with an aspiring actor, they have to use their reputation to suggest you for an audition. The agent has to use connections instead of using your experience for a chance to audition, means more work for the agent. It may not work in your benefit if an agency has an extensive roster of established actors. As a result, it is not unheard of agencies to not sign aspiring actors.

How does a talent agency submit an actor for a role?
  • A vast majority of auditions are online. As a result, talent agencies gain access to a confidential list of acting opportunities.
  • Your agent or manager can click on the character name on the list of roles. Then, the agency views and clicks from a list of talent who fits the parameters set by the casting director for the part. 
  • There is an option to include a note with each submission and an opportunity to submit a video audition. The whole submission process is quick and a lot faster than they used to be nearly a decade ago.
What does it mean to pitch an actor for a role?
  • A manager is mostly known for pitching an actor for a role. Typically a manager will pitch you for a part by calling or emailing the casting director saying something like ” You have to see my client for a role because they are …”

It is the job of the manager to sell their client for a role by highlighting what the casting director is looking for and sharing why they would be perfect for the part. There are hundreds of reasons, including experience, looks, and special skills.

How to find acting jobs without a talent agent or manager

You can read our guide to finding acting auditions and casting calls here.

  • Use your connections. Ask acting coaches, fellow actors, and friends if they know of any acting opportunities in your area.
  • Search for casting calls. You can find auditions, acting jobs, and casting calls online.
  • Use social media. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are an excellent resource for getting auditions.
  • Create an account on audition sites. Visit websites like ProjectCasting.com and sign up for their free newsletter, profile, and platform.
  • Contact your local film office
Should you tell your agent or manager about a role?

Agents and managers make a career looking at potential opportunities for their clients. However, it may be offensive for an actor to ask for a possible job. 

That said, sometimes contacting your agent for a role you believe is right for you can help you land an acting opportunity. But, it’s probably in your best interest to not push your luck and contact your agent multiple times a month.

Do you need an agent?

If your agent is abusive, a fraud, or lazy, then it is not your best interest to stick around with that company. However, some representation is usually better than none. Finding an agent will gain you access to a network of opportunities you may not have had working in the industry alone.

Firing your agent or manager?

At the beginning of a relationship with a manager or agent, an actor gains access to a ton of opportunities. However, over time, agents are moving on to newer clients and managers are focusing on the next big thing. As a result, you may want to move on to new representation. It is important to remember this is a business and you need to treat yourself like a Fortune 100 company.

If you ever decide to leave your current agent, then it is in your best interest to already have a second agent in mind.

Do not take the contract between your agent or manager lightly. It is a legally binding document. If you break a contract, you could be on the hook for a lot of money including lost commissions. If your a working actor and you decide to leave the agency earlier than expected, you will most likely be expected to pay their commission until the end of the agreement. If not, they will most likely take you to court.

How to end your contract:

  1. Send a letter or an email with an attachment stating you are ending the agreement
  2. Do not sign an agreement that is longer than 3 years and be aware of auto-renew language in the document.
  3. Make sure you are able to cancel at the end of the agreement
Do you have to pay to sign with a manager or talent agency?

Never pay money to audition or join a talent agency or management company

Many people do not know this but, it is important to note agencies and management companies are never paid unless you land a job. This applies for all opportunities including agencies who charge fees for showcases, photoshoots, and networking opportunities. Representation earns money from the commissions they make by getting their talent jobs. If they need to charge you to join their agency, then they are not a real agency and are a scam.

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