How to Jump Start Your Career in 2014 – by Rebecca Atwood (TGE)

Actors who are looking to jump-start their career often ask me “what more can I be doing?”  There are so many things you can do to be a self-starter as a performer.  Just a few: Get into a great improv class.  Try stand up comedy.  Write to a few casting directors and offer to be a reader.  Find scripts of new plays that have been recently produced, get some friends together, and read them aloud.  Write a webisode pilot and work with friends to produce it.  Grab a friend and put a few scenes on tape to have at the ready when industry pros ask if you have anything on tape to show them. Get ambitious and start your own theater company.

One mistake I see actors make is thinking along the lines of, “well, so-and-so got their start in improv, so I should do that too… even though I don’t really like doing improv.”  This business is too unpredictable to find success by following the path others have taken.  Instead, think about what gets your creative juices flowing, what seems fun and exciting to you, and do that in the very best way you can.  That’s something that people WILL notice.

(TGE is a NY management company that reps series regulars on SCANDAL, MOM, CHICAGO FIRE, BANSHEE and more).

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Agencies You Should Be Targeting

Actors often ask us if it is worth their time and energy targeting larger agencies.  The answer to that question really depends on your type and where you are in your career.

Top tier agencies like CAA, WME, UTA, and ICM will typically not sign someone who hasn’t yet booked major jobs.  Some of the next tier agencies like Gersh, Paradigm, Innovative, etc do develop talent, but are most typically able to offer representation to developmental clients if they are very young.  For example, if an actor has just graduated from a top training program and seems likely to book major jobs right away (series regulars, leads in features), an agency of that level may very well be interested in working with them.  For actors who have been at it a bit longer or those who might be considered “character actors”, there is a diminished likelihood that an agency like that would sign them without major credits (such as a recurring guest star arc on a series, for example).  These actors should focus on the “boutique” level agencies, though there are certainly no hard-and-fast rules about this kind of thing.

The best way to get educated about the type of actors represented by various agencies is to look at their client list, which is available if you have a pro account on IMDB.  We recommend that all serious actors have this, because you can also put your photo on your IMDB page, which is important!

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Following up with Agents and Managers

One of the most common questions we receive at Actors Insite is, “What is the best way to follow up with and stay in touch with Agents and Managers”?   There are always those lucky few that are signed right out of school, however, for the rest of the community, these relationships take time to build.  We posed this question to a couple of agent and manager friends and here is the general consensus…
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  1. Keep reaching out when you have something worthwhile to share.  If you are doing a new play or booked a role in an indie feature or episodic, that is a good time to reach out.
  2. Updates shouldn’t be sent out more than once every two or three months.
  3. Use a friend or colleague’s name in your correspondence when they are repped by an agency that you are targeting (but only if you have their permission).  That will always give industry pros pause when reviewing their mailings.
  4. If you are fortunate enough to have booked a role through a casting office and have built a relationship there, you can also ask permission to use their name when reaching out to agents or managers.
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How to effectively wrap up a meeting with an Agent or Manager

Rebecca Atwood, Talent Manager from The Group Entertainment, shares a few thoughts on how to effectively wrap up a meeting with an agent or manager at a live workshop or in their office:

“I think that when you meet someone in person, it can be awkward to ask directly if they liked your work.  My advice on how to wrap up a quick meeting is to say something like, “Well it’s so nice meeting with you, do you have any other questions for me?”

Actors sometimes ask me what the best way is of following up with me, or if I’d like to be invited to an upcoming show they’re in, and that can also be a fine cap on the interaction that leaves the actor knowing something about how to be in touch to follow up.

I think that many actors make a mistake in asking some variation of “So, are you interested in me?” or “What do you think?” which is too direct, and feels a bit like asking at the end of the first date, “So, would you like to begin a serious relationship with me?”

Really it is best to just play it out… as an actor, you will usually walk out of a room not completely certain of how your work was received or what the other person is thinking, and it’s just part of the territory.  If an industry person is interested, trust me, they will get in touch, and then you will definitively have your answer.

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Top 5 Expert Tips for Effective Headshots

1.  Find a great photographer who makes you feel comfortable.  Headshots are an investment in your career, so it’s obviously important to find a photographer who takes great, professional, beautiful photos.  But you also want to work with someone who “gets” you, who will make you feel at ease.  Your confidence will be reflected in the pictures.

2.  Just be you – Photographer Taylor Hooper talks about an ideal scenario where your headshot helps you succeed: “You send out a headshot that is 100% you; a casting director looks at it, calls you in to read, you walk in the door and they think, ‘Yes! That is what I was expecting.’; you read for the part and the energy you put into the role is the energy in the headshot – you have met the expectations you set up for yourself.”  On the other hand, if your photo looks vastly different that you do, it might be a beautiful picture, but it won’t help you win a job.  Looking like you (at your best) is crucial.

3.  Look great – You should look like yourself on your best day in your headshot.  It should be natural, not too glam or over the top with lots of makeup or super-styled hair, just you at your best.  Do some research about how to look great on-camera – many of the tips and tricks for headshots are good ideas to keep in mind every time you go on-camera to audition.  One insider tip: don’t forget your lips!  Chapped lips can ruin a headshot session, so moisturize and exfoliate before your photo shoot.

4.  Keep it simple – Sometimes the urge to “stand out from the pack” makes it tempting to wear statement-making clothing or jewelry, but too much embellishment can actually make you look inexperienced.  It’s most effective to wear fitted, tailored clothes without accessories.

5.  It takes a village – Once you’ve had your photo shoot and gotten the proofs, it can be difficult to look at pictures of yourself with a truly objective eye.  Utilize friends to pick their favorite photos from your shoot, and see which photos are selected frequently.  If you have contacts in the industry you can reach out to, narrow down your favorite photos and ask their advice.

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Q&A w/ Michelle Kittrell (Manager, Industry Entertainment)

Q: What is it in a reel or headshot that makes you say “I want to meet that actor”?  

A: For me, I like head shots that look natural and inviting. A little mystery behind the eyes or a smile that looks like this actor is fun, etc.  As far as a reel – we look for good actors, period. In addition to that, it’s helpful when viewing an actor’s work for me to immediately ‘see’ where I think they fit and/or how I think I can help them get to the goal.

Q: When meeting an actor, what is it that makes you want (or not want) to work with them?

A: There are 2 important things for us:  We like when the actors we meet with have a clear vision as to what genre they like/do best, what careers they are most attracted to, etc.  When an actor simply says ‘ I want to work’…it’s not clear, focused or all that helpful.  Of course we realize actors want to work (we want you to work too!) but being clear from the beginning helps from the start get us on the same page.  Also, especially as managers- we want to work with people we click with and personally like.  We spend so much time with our clients- we want to enjoy that time.

Q: What do you think is the best way to get on a Manager’s radar?

A: Do good work and manager’s will notice! We are always open for great talent and want to find it!

Q: What advice do you have for a young actor, just out of school, looking to build a long-term career as an actor?

A: Know that the decisions you make getting started really do spring board you for the career ahead.  So make smart decisions, trust your gut, and know that everyone’s journey is going to be different. Don’t start comparing yourself to others- keep the blinders on!

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Expert Advice for Self-Taping Scenes

Self-taping can be an extremely effective way to show off your skills and type to Casting Directors, Agents and Managers.   Performing material you’ve chosen yourself provides the perfect opportunity to show off what you do best.  Here are some expert tips for making great self-taped performances for the purpose of introducing yourself to industry professionals.

Choosing Material

  • Choose roles that you’re perfect for – roles that you could actually be cast in.
  • Sides from recent pilot projects are a great source for material.   These projects are fresh in the minds of industry professionals.
  • Actors Insite has a library of pilot season sides available for members to use.  If you need material, please contact jon.levine@actorsinsite.com.

Wardrobe

  • Your attire should be simple, and can loosely reflect the character (if you’re playing a cop, don’t wear a uniform!  A simple blue shirt is perfect).
  • Look like yourself on a great day (same rule as headshots) because the camera picks up every little detail.  Attention to wardrobe, hair and makeup is crucial.

Slating

  • Start your tape with a quick slate.  CD’s, Agents and Managers like to see the “real you” for a moment before you go into character.
  • Start by zooming the camera out wide to get a full body shot.
  • Zoom the camera into frame: top of the head to just below the shoulder blade.
  • Look into the camera and state your first and last name.  It’s okay to be conversational, for example, “Hi, I’m Jenny Ramirez.”

Recording Tips

  • Every actor should be able to make a quality tape at home and avoid spending money using a professional studio. It’s a resource that every actor should have at the ready, and it doesn’t have to be a fancy setup to be effective.
  • Make sure that you are framed tight, from just above the top of your head to just below the shoulder blade.
  • Find a quiet room that has very little or no background noise.
  • The wall behind you should ideally be white, blue, or another color that complements your appearance. Try to position yourself a few feet away from the wall to avoid shadows.
  • Make sure the main light source comes from behind the camera. Don’t film in front of a window (this creates a silhouette effect).
  • For multi-character scenes, have an experienced reader read the other lines from off camera.
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Expert Advice For Putting Together Your Reel

We’ve been polling our industry guests about how actors can maximize the impact of their reel.  You may have some great footage, but putting it together so that it makes a clear statement about who you are as an actor is a whole other challenge that can make all the difference in impressing Casting Directors, Agents and Managers:

1. When putting together your reel for the purposes of introducing yourself and your work to Casting Directors, Agents and Managers, it is more important to show what you can do rather than what you have done.  Your reel may showcase an extensive resume, but if it does not showcase your skills, it will not be as effective as it can be.

2.  If you do not have enough quality footage for a reel, don’t hesitate to self-tape.  This provides the invaluable opportunity for you to nail a scene or two that can show you off perfectly.  Also, an industry pro can learn a great deal by seeing how you would audition.

3.  Take a cold, hard, objective look at each scene on your reel and ask yourself if the scene is really centered around your performance and is your performance brilliant?  Scenes that focus more on secondary characters should be left out.   You only have one chance to make a great first impression.

4.  Quickly get to the essence of your performance in each scene on your reel.   Busy CD’s, Agents, and Managers have a very short attention span.   On that note, be sure to keep your reel to 3 minutes or under.  A few amazing clips are more effective than a whole bunch of scenes if some are sub-par.

5.  If you can show a range of dramatic and comedic work, that is ideal.   However, if you are only brilliant at one, own that and only show them what you do brilliantly.    You must show that you know who you are as an actor and what you bring to the table.

6.  Stay away from scenes from indies with poor production quality or writing.  A CD, agent or manager would much rather see a great self-taped performance.

 

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Top 5 things Managers Look For When Meeting an Actor

We recently asked Talent Managers Jill McGrath and Rebecca Atwood from The Group Entertainment, “What are the top 5 things you look for when meeting with an actor for the first time?”  Here are their responses:

1. A healthy, but competitive spirit – a must for success in this business!

2. A realistic sense of self and type.

3. Knowledge about them and their company.

4. Preparation with thoughtful questions to ask.

5. Fearlessness regarding the amount of hard work it takes to build and sustain an amazing career as an actor.

TGE reps series regulars on Scandal, Chicago Fire, Banshee and more.    Clients appear on all major networks, and in many feature films.

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Q&A w/ Michael Francis (Agent, Leading Artists)

Q:  Can you recommend an effective, aggressive (but not pushy) strategy to land meetings with agents and managers (not including blind submissions, referrals, or workshops)? -Eliza A.

A:  I always tell actors and students when asked that question that the best way to find representation or maximize your presence in front of industry is to be working or engaging in the arts community in some way regardless of its in a performance capacity.  Often that means working for free. Take advantage of the opportunities in the particular city you are living in. If you can volunteer or intern at a theater or not for profit, go for it.  If someone needs an actor to run lines with, offer your help.  Put yourself in situations with people who are working professionally as actors and a relationship might develop that could lead to representation.  The constant slog of mailings and blind submissions can often be exhausting for an actor.  Use your time wisely and efficiently!

Q:  What is the most important thing that you look for an actor that makes you decide to sign them (training, look, skills, type etc?) -Bill S.

A:  It’s a combination of look, skill and training and how all of those attributes come together for the particular actor.   We also factor in the current list that we are working with and the trends that arise in particular seasons.

Q:  With shows like “House of Cards,” do you think that the Netflix/Amazon streaming model will change the landscape of TV production and distribution and what does that mean for actors?   -Arnold K.

A:  The streaming model will certainly change the landscape of television and already has. Original programming on these streaming model gives the viewer an opportunity to “binge” on new shows which allows actors a more continuous arch giving their performances better context. Streaming also allows for “industry” to view shows at their own pace therefore extending the relevancy of a booking.  More shows mean more jobs. Amazon and Netflix operate under competitive union contracts which is always a good thing.

Q:  With many action shows like Homeland and Blue bloods on TV, is finding a strong actress who is also trained in the martial arts and a stunt women a plus?  -Daria B.

A:  I think that however you can expand your skill set to diversify as an actor is always a benefit. We can never fully determine the trend of any particular season but having a well rounded base of special skills that you can properly execute puts you ahead.

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