Launching Your Acting Career
By Matthew on July 12, 2022
Getting your start in any career can be like getting dropped in a dark maze. Where do you go? What support is there? Every gig wants to see experience but how do you get that initial momentum going? How do you build your personal brand, and when can it start paying your bills?
I recently chatted with Jason from Acclaim Talent, a talent agency located here in Austin. While I have a strong understanding of what goes into a great headshot, I wanted to get his insights on building your brand as an actor, establishing yourself in the local industry, and some do’s and don’ts of navigating the acting world.
Hit the Ground Running
It’s Day 1. What do you do? The top thing Jason recommends to get your career going is to familiarize yourself with the local offerings for small gigs. Picking up paid or unpaid roles from the Texas Film Commission or off of Actors Access will allow you to start building a reel of real media while also getting your sea legs—or set legs—and navigating the world of on-set etiquette with low-risk levels.
There are two big things to be aware of with low-paying or unpaid gigs as you build up your experience and reel. The first thing is being aware of media releases. If a brand doesn’t allow you to use any material in your reel, it isn’t going to do too much to show others what you can do. This shouldn't completely discredit those opportunities, though, as you can still learn a lot from the experience.
The second thing to be aware of is exclusivity. Some brands may require exclusivity to their brand for a set time period or as long as they use the material. So, for example, if you did a low-paying gig for a computer company—let’s call them Orange—that prohibited you from picking up any other technology gigs for 5 years, you’re going to have a hard time gaining experience and building a reputation in that arena.
Tip If you’re going to sign an exclusivity agreement, make sure it:
- Has a well-defined duration, rather than just ending whenever the brand stops using the material.
- Isn’t going to impact your growth as an actor negatively. If a brand makes something super specific and wants to lock you down for three years to something no one else really makes, then it probably won’t have much of an impact on you.
- Make sure it is worth your while. Exclusivity costs money, but you shouldn’t be the one footing the bill for it.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
In any industry, our personal brands come down to how we engage with others and what we bring to the table. As a corporate employee, you may only need to leverage this personal brand in select encounters. As an actor, this personal brand is going to support you from gig to gig. The goal is to make yourself an engaged team member on set. You may find yourself with some downtime at the same time as the best boy. That’s a great opportunity to ask why something was lit a certain way or why their position is called “best boy.” Or maybe ask them their favorite local pizza place. For the record, Pinthouse beats Home Slice any. Day. Of. the. Week.
The key isn’t to learn enough to become a lighting expert, but rather to learn enough of what is going on around you to be competent on set while also making yourself a pleasure to work with. In addition to that, knowing how all of the moving pieces work means that you can make better decisions on- and off-set.
Know the Market and Set Your Expectations
The market for your talents is going to be different from LA to Portland to Austin and Atlanta. It is important to know what to expect so that you can properly prioritize your efforts. While Atlanta may have enough gigs to allow you to focus solely on dramatic work, the market in Austin will require you to create a foundation of commercial gigs to make rent. This isn’t to say that there aren’t non-commercial projects happening in Austin, but rather that they may not be prolific enough to cover the bills month to month.
Don’t Kneecap Your Career
We’ve touched on it previously—your headshot does a ton of heavy lifting throughout the casting process. Not only is it important to have killer headshots that accurately represent you, but they should also represent your range as an actor. Especially if you’re a character actor, it is important to have headshots representing the range of characters you have the skills to portray, as it may take a while for your reel to provide this range. Having a range of headshots also allows you to tailor your submissions to exactly what a CD is looking for.
Leave Your Calling Card
So you’ve made it to the big league, or maybe just the moderately size league. You’re starting to get callbacks for auditions, and you're prepping your heart out for them. You deliver your best audition to date, and as you walk away (you nailed, BTW), your headshot is left to remind the CD of who you are and how awesome you were. Is it up for the task? If your headshot doesn’t match your skill level, it can tarnish all of the hard work you put in.
It's Part Psychology
To the viewer, your headshot conveys a lot about your skills. Are you engaged? Are you pensive? Do you have a smile that can sell toothpaste? These are all conscious assessments that CDs may make when interpreting your acting headshot. But it goes deeper than that. Subconsciously, the quality of your headshot can connote the dedication you have to your craft. If you’ve settled for a subpar headshot, it may tell a CD that you’ll settle for a subpar performance on set.
Turning inward, a killer headshot can remind you that you’ve got this. It can help squelch those negative thoughts and remind yourself that you are a skilled actor—you’ve got the chops for that role you’re eyeing. In turn, this confidence will come forward in your self-tape and audition.
Go Out and Get It
You’ve got the knowledge that you need to launch your acting career. As hard as it is sometimes, the next step is to put everything you know into action. It can be hard sometimes, but I know you’ve got it. When you’re at the point where you’re ready for that killer headshot to convey your killer acting chops, I’ve got you.