Advice for the Beginning Actor Part 9 – What Tools Does An Actor Need?

Special thanks to the actors who have taken time out of their busy schedules to graciously provide advice for new actors for Wannabe Pride, including Regen Wilson, Chris Pentzell, David DeBoy, Ken Arnold, Mercedes Rose, Gabriel Voss, Brittany Baratz, Laura Hunter, Lance Carter, Stephon Fuller, and Rachel F. Hirsch.

What Tools Does an Actor Need?

 “For starters you need a good headshot and an up-to-date resume. Eventually you need a good audio demo, a good video demo, and a great website. But none of those tools are worth anything if you don’t use marketing tools. Marketing tools are the most valuable tools of all. And you are your best marketing tool.”- David Deboy (email) (website)

“Headshots, a head for business, and a headstart on the competition through a strong work ethic, friendly demeanor and artistic integrity.” -Regen Wilson (website)

“Headshots — both theatrical and commercial (smiling).  Nowadays they have to be almost close-ups, since casting agents go through thumbnails on their computers.  No full body shots unless they ask.  Acting classes are good for your own personal craft, but casting directors nowadays love to see improv training — Groundlings, Second City, UCB.  Even commercial casting directors look for it.  Also, have a reel if you submit on Actors Access — even if all the clips are from the same project.  Even if it’s only one clip!  Submitting with a reel on Actors Access moves you up in the order.” – Chris Pentzell (email)

“Beginning actors need to have a headshot and resume. Even if the resume just lists their contact info to start. Also beginning actors should immerse themselves in learning as much about the craft as they can by either reading books, taking classes etc. The problem I have seen from actors in this market is after they book that first industrial or indie film role they stop training. Acting is an ongoing process of growth. You must always have someone coaching you and pushing you to get better. Look at Olympic Athletes. They wouldn’t dare coach themselves. To be elite, you must train like the elite. And that means having a mentor, taking workshops, classes and constantly improving upon your skills. I have seen the actors who do become very successful and the actors who don’t stay right where they are. Complaining about not enough work or why don’t they get better gigs. You always need to practice. Its keeps you at the top.” – Ken Arnold ( STUDIO BOH)

“I always recommend the book Breaking into Acting for Dummies for newbies. Yes, seriously. A good headshot is necessary. Acting class for beginners. An improv class. And a flexible day job. “-  Mercedes Rose (Imdb)  (website)

 “You must have decent headshots and a resume of some sort. Acting training is important but you have to start with what you look like and what you’ve done and/or what your skills are. ” – Gabriel Voss (website, imdb, facebook, twitter)

“A best tools a beginning actor can have are passion and perseverance! If you are serious about this industry, you have to have the personal fortitude to let all the “no’s” roll off your back. A clear, well-lit, natural headshot that shows your personality in the eyes will help get you on casting-director’s radar. You’ll need well laid out resume that honestly shows your experience. If you don’t have a lot of credits; that is okay. Don’t ever lie about your experience, and make sure you proof-read for typos!”- Brittany Baratz (website, twitter, Knuffle Bunny National Tour)

 “New actors need headshots, a resume, and some training. I went to a well-known arts college and acting conservatories, and got a lot out of that experience. However, I don’t think that’s the only way, or maybe even the best way, to go about getting a career. The best way to get a career is to start working. Beyond the basics, new actors need to learn how to self-promote. This often feels awkward or pushy… get over that feeling as fast as you can, its necessary. You also need a realistic way to make money while pursuing this career that isn’t going to get in the way of that pursuit.” Laura Hunter (email, website, twitter, facebook, youtube, contributor to NonSociety.com)

“Definitely headshots. And not headshots that your neighbor/friend/girlfriend or boyfriend took. It doesn’t matter if they take good pictures, you need professional headshots. If you’re close to a big city, take a trip there and get some done. Spend the money. It’ll make you stand out from the wanna-be’s. [Not that there’s anything wrong with wannabes! – LF] Take classes or better yet, do plays or musicals. Get to be the best actor you can be.” – Lance Carter website, twitter, Facebook)

“Here is the conventional wisdom (and it’s all correct):

                        – TRAINING! Work with quality coaches and instructors that suit your learning needs. And know that your training is never finished. Even the biggest stars continue to go back to their coaches. 

                        -A headshot that really looks like you, a clean and organized resume, audition materials (music rep book for musical theater, monologues for plays, copy or film for tv and commercials). 

            Here’s what you may not know already:

                        -Be extremely googleable. Video and/or audio footage of your work (put it all on youtube!), a LinkedIn account, twitter account, and website are all a must. If you Google Rachel F. Hirsch a million different things come up. I’ve been meeting with a lot of industry people lately that I’ve never met. Yet, by the time we get together, they already have seen my headshot and resume, know where I’m from and have heard me sing. They can find all of that information  online. – Rachel F. Hirsch twitter, website, acting website, website)

 “Ideally, a great, realistic attitude; training in scene study, commercials, voice, improv; great photos and an incredible amount of desire to succeed.  At least.”- Stephon Fuller (twitter, blog, website)

Advice for Beginning Actors – Part 6 – Do you have to live in New York or Los Angeles?

Special thanks to the actors who have taken time out of their busy schedules to graciously provide advice for new actors for Wannabe Pride, including Regen Wilson, Chris Pentzell, David DeBoy, Ken Arnold, Mercedes Rose, Gabriel Voss, Brittany Baratz, Laura Hunter, Lance Carter, Stephon Fuller, and Rachel F. Hirsch.

Do you think it is vital to live in New York and/or Los Angeles to make it as an actor?

I think it’s vital to live in NYC or L.A. if you want to be a STAR. If you want to be a working actor, you can do that most anywhere. So you need to figure what “making it” means to you. I don’t need to be famous. But I do want to be respected for the work I do. – David Deboy (email) (website)

No, but it can help.  However, the Baltimore-Washington, DC, area is probably the third-best place to be an actor, which is something very few people know.  In addition to the films and television shows which visit, there’s also a significant amount of commercials.  When you also consider DC is the documentary capital of the country as well as home to dozens of government agencies and contractors shooting industrials AND the third-largest regional theatre market in the U.S…you can see the opportunity for growth here.  And since there’s less competition than LA or NY there’s also more work to be had.  Whether it PAYS as well is another matter entirely due to the fact that casting directors are used to having a glut of perfectly acceptable non-union talent so why pay union scale wages?

 – Regen Wilson (website)

It depends on what “making it” is to you.  I know a lot of actors who have moved away from LA to a decent sized city (e.g. Spokane, WA or Austin, TX) and they suddenly found themselves with more auditions and, more importantly, more actual work.- Chris Pentzell (email)

No. It is becoming easier to just send in auditions via the internet. The last 3 big roles I’ve gotten have all been sent via email/casting web sites auditions. Obviously there is more opportunity in those markets and it helps to be there if needed quickly but is it an absolute. No. You can be an actor anywhere. – Ken Arnold ( STUDIO BOH)

Well, since I do NOT live in either of those places I would say I think…no. I have made a very nice little living for myself not living in a large market. Do I think it is easier to do it in NYC or LA? Sure. Maybe. I like being a medium size fish in a small bowl.-  Mercedes Rose (Imdb)  (website)

Yes. While there is a lot of really good work in markets outside NY and LA, living in LA, I can now see that casting directors here never look outside the city for talent. Since the biggest roles in the biggest stuff is cast from here, you can only go so far elsewhere. – Gabriel Voss (website, imdb, facebook, twitter)

If you want to make acting your full-time career, then you need to be where the action is. New York and LA are not the only vibrant acting communities. You can also check out Washington, D.C./Baltimore/Philly, or Chicago. New York and LA have the highest concentration of opportunities. It can make it easier to find work, but there are also more people looking for work. I think you’ve “made it” if you are creating art and happy. You could do that in a community theater or with a student film.- Brittany Baratz (website, twitter, Knuffle Bunny National Tour)

– I think everyone needs to define “success” for themselves. It depends on the level you want to reach. If you want to be on television, your best shot is living in LA. Shows shoot all over the place, but most lead roles are still cast here. If you want to be on Broadway, you need to be in New York for the same reason. You can work occasionally as an actor in other markets, but I don’t think you can make a living doing it. I’ve lived in both New York and LA, I went to NYU Tisch for college to train as an actor and then moved to LA to pursue my film/tv career.- Laura Hunter (email, website, twitter, facebook, youtube, contributor to NonSociety.com)

 Not at all. I got my start in the Baltimore/Washington. I was working there non-stop, making some good money. More than I am now actually living in LA. As long as you know (or don’t want to get famous), you’ll be fine. I know plenty of actors all around the country who make their living acting. – Lance Carter website, twitter, Facebook)

The instability. My husband and I have the hardest time planning our life because I never know when some amazing opportunity might come up. You have to be willing to completely change directions at a moments notice. 

Absolutely not. It’s all about what your goals are. Yes, if you want to be on Broadway then New York is the place for you. And if you want to be a movie or sitcom star than most likely you need to be in LA. But if what you want is to be a professional actor you just need to find a town that has a few professional theater companies. With a little research you’ll find that there are plenty of options.

            I started my professional acting career in Birmingham, AL. My goal is Broadway, so the move to New York was important. But I still know many incredibly talented people who stayed and have constant work because of it. (Believe it or not, you sometimes avail yourself to more work opportunities in a smaller environment because their are fewer actors). – Rachel F. Hirsch twitter, website, acting website, website)

Professionally?  To qualify for P&H consistently over the course of a career?  Yes, for the most part.  There are exceptions of course.
Stephon Fuller (twitter, blog, website)