When showbiz knocks, how do I open the door?
September 25, 2019 1:15 AM   Subscribe

After learning that a highly-anticipated film with big-name stars and a celebrated director was to begin shooting in Europe this year, I decided to send in an audition video on a whim, got a callback, then was offered a bit role in the movie a few months later. The experience was amazing and I'd like to do more of this, if not make a second career out of it. However, I have no formal training (other than a few amateur theater classes), have no connections in the entertainment industry, and have a completely unrelated day job doing admin stuff in a research institute. Where and how do I start? Most of the advice I find online is aimed at aspiring and more experienced actors, not at middle-aged office workers who suddenly find themselves thrust into show business. I'm a female POC EU national based in a Western European capital and have no dependents.

Getting this role was a total surprise and a big deal; there was fierce competition to get into the film (several persons traveled from all over Europe and the US at their own expense to be extras.) A number of professionals I met on set told me I had a gift for acting and that I should pursue this further. I would love to! But how? Should I try to enroll in a proper drama school? Audition for every darn thing I can find henceforth? Look for an agent on the basis of this role? Wait until the film is out (it's expected to debut in a major film festival) and then...what? I can't afford to quit the day job entirely, though I can afford to switch to a part-time position and my employer offers me that flexibility.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you still in touch with any of the people you met on the film? It seems like that would be a great way to stay connected to the business and potentially pursue a non-traditional route of getting additional roles. Sometimes it's about who you know. Otherwise, yes, audition for anything that sounds interesting and start looking for an agent. You can be a part-time actor (at least until you get your BIG big break and no longer have to work a day job. Don't forget to thank AskMeFi in your Oscar speech:)
posted by adastra at 8:57 AM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

If what you want is motion picture speaking roles, get an agent. Their lifeblood is making and maintaining connections, knowing who's shooting what when and where; the good ones know which roles you're suited for and which would (probably) be a waste of your time and effort. They get a percentage cut of your paycheck, but that's their incentive to get you cast. No way are you going to be able to stay up to date on the entire European film industry.

In the interim, I'd sign up with local casting agencies to keep your hand in—background, commercials, voice talent if that's a thing you can do? The kind of low time commitment day player work you can hopefully fit-in around your flexible "real job." The more sets you get on, the more opportunities to meet and network, and in my experience, the industry is less stratified than you'd think. In your local market, the guy who directs you in a pizza commercial one day will turn out to be the 1st AD on a TV series or a smaller-budget movie the next month, and you'll see the same crew faces again and again. Understanding how a set works and getting comfortable with its unique workplace culture will help you become someone easy and desirable to work with.

Drama school seems like a big leap. Maybe try some evening improv classes?

(Caveat: my experience is all US-based. Could be things are topsy-turvy in the EU)
posted by mumkin at 10:05 AM on September 25, 2019

Sign up for a reputable acting class. While there, talk to the other students, go to shows, make connections to find the BEST acting school in your area. They may offer things like a placement audition to get you into the right class, or a performance where reputable agents are present (really - not just promised), etc. -- you'll get a feel for that as you look closely at ALL the acting schools.

Once you find a good program, consider doing that while simultaneously performing.
posted by amtho at 1:57 PM on September 25, 2019

I hesitated to post because I don’t feel fully qualified to answer - I’ve done a lot of acting classes over the years but only been in short low/no budget films and an advert - there’s a lot that I don’t know I don’t know. But given you haven’t been swamped with replies...

Ultimately you need an agent but it can be hard to get signed up with one. Maybe they would take you based solely on this one role - obviously they’d need to see your performance - but I imagine it’d need to be something special and you’d have to fill a gap in their books. Generally you’ll need to show some experience and effort/dedication (or get lucky / be just right / be brilliant) before one will sign you up. (As far as I know; I don’t have an agent.)

If you haven’t already, you’ll need some headshots in order to apply for roles - maybe you’ve got some if you applied for the role you got. If not, get someone who takes actors’ headshots (not a friend, not someone who does other kinds of headshots) to do them.

You’ll need a showreel, ideally featuring more than your single appearance in this film, but you have to start somewhere and it sounds like this is a great start! There are companies who will write and shoot scenes with you in specifically to add to a showreel - the quality varies a lot and scenes from actual films, TV, etc would be better, ideally. But it’s a bit chicken and egg - you need a showreel to get roles to put them on your showreel!

I wouldn’t bother with drama school, unless you are already really keen to pack in your job and study for a few years. First, you’ve done one thing and enjoyed it, and that’s brilliant, but it’s not much to base an expensive existing-career-changing decision on. Second, if you want to try and start an acting career based on the momentum from this role, going to drama school for some years doesn’t seem a good way of getting started. Third, I suspect that any drama school worth going to will keep you very busy and you’re unlikely to have much time to find acting work outside of it (just a guess, based on what I’ve heard ex-drama-school people say).

But there are loads of places offering acting classes of different kinds in cities everywhere, evenings, daytimes, weekends, weeks-at-a-time... I would look/ask around and try out different places, techniques and teachers before committing to anything too lengthy/intensive. Techniques, styles of teaching, quality of teaching, and dedication of other students varies enormously, and it can take time to find what is right for you. Even not-very-good teachers can develop a keen following among students, so don’t go purely on one person’s enthusiasm! (Memail me if you’re in London and want some suggestions.)

Different countries have their own ways of showing yourself off online. In the UK you should aim to get a page on Spotlight, but they require a few professional roles, or particular drama school training, before they’ll let you pay £150 or so a year for a page. Another chicken and egg situation! Once signed up you’ll be able to see a lot of roles advertised that you can apply for, although (in my experience, and unless I’m doing something wrong) they’re rarely interesting parts in big TV/movies - you need an agent for those I guess.

Again, in the UK, there are other platforms such as Mandy (which I also use) and StarNow for similar prices, which tend to have less good roles - short films, student films, online advertising, etc - but you can get a lot of experience and showreel material from this. There’s also IMDb of course, although I’m not sure it’s used for showing yourself off for roles in the UK - might be more important in other countries, I don’t know.

I have heard that if you want to be an actor then it’s best to avoid doing work as an extra, because then people will only think of you as an extra (and the chance of you getting “noticed” and pulled out from the crowd for a speaking role and all your dreams coming true is very slim). But, as I say, this is hearsay.

In short, you need to “get yourself out there”, do as much as you can, get more experience, do some training to improve and expand on your existing talent, and enjoy yourself!
posted by fabius at 7:44 PM on September 25, 2019

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