Now let’s talk about your first professional steps and how to get into acting business. I will assume that you’ve read my previous two parts of how to get into acting (if not, here they are: part 1 and part 2).
How to Get Into Acting — First Steps in the Business
If you’ve made a decision and was accepted into drama school, then by the time you’ve graduated, you might have received some good and, I’m sure, some bad advice on how to make it in the entertainment industry. Right off the bat I must say that you have to take things that you’re told at the drama school with a grain of salt; while the tutors of accredited drama schools are absolutely magnificent actors, not all of them know about the changing ways of the industry as some of them haven’t worked for years. If, of course, you’re getting advice from a teacher that is a constantly working actor, then it’s worth to listen.
One way or the other, in London and the United Kingdom in general, acting schools don’t dedicate much time to teaching students about the business and the marketing side, which is a big mistake, I think. In my list of best acting schools in the world, I talk about two Los Angeles schools and one San Francisco school: their 4 year acting based degree courses dedicated a big part to modules about the business side of acting, that is “how to market yourself”, “how to get an agent”, “acting in commercials”, etc. That’s because acting is 50% craft, and 50% marketing! It’s very unlikely that you’ll become successful on your talent alone. You might be the greatest actor since Spencer Tracy, but what good will come out of this if nobody can see you?
How to Get Into Acting — First Steps
First and foremost, if you’re ready to really start working as an actor and you’re already here in London, I say download my free handbook Acting In London — I cover a lot of ground in this short “essay” there. You’ll be more familiar with how the whole entertainment business in London works and what you need to do as soon as you get here.
Those who have gone to drama school and graduated might have found their agents right after the showcase. Now you’ve got very lucky if you’re agency is based in London; for the first few years, your agent will guide you towards the right steps, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to learn the subtleties of the business and look for work yourself either. Anyway, for the purpose of those who haven’t gone to drama school, let’s assume that none of you got an agent, and came to London (or graduated drama school in London) without having one.
First job. Now try and not lose your momentum that you’ve built up while in drama school, or if you’ve just came to London, try and build up your momentum in the first six months you’re here. To do so, start off with applying for parts in student films, small amateur plays, commercials, and anything else small.
There’s a reason I’m not suggesting to apply for anything big from the very start — some casting directors have a good memory, even though they see hundreds of people. That means if you’re very fresh in this business, you reek of amateurism, which is something you DON’T want a casting director to remember. Spend the first three months sniffing the surface and learning everything you can about being a professional in this business. Then, when you’re ready, and have some actual experience and good training under your belt, go for those bigger parts.
How to Get Into Acting — Additional Information
Background/extra work. Now I talk more about it in the handbook, so I’m going to mention this in short — there’s only one reason you would like to do background work, and that is to see how the film set works. This means try it once or twice tops, and then get out. Background work is NOT acting, and it does NOT go onto your resume. You’re wasting your time doing it, plus the more often you appear as an extra, the bigger the change you’re going to be remembered as one, which isn’t a very good thing for an actor (to put it lightly).
Screen or stage. This is something you have to decide early one, which is going to be the main path to follow. While both categories can be pursued at the same type, one has to have priority over the other, and after you choose — you cannot change back, unless you want to lose some of that momentum and credit. There’s a reason why ANY type of theatre work doesn’t count in Hollywood market for those looking to get into films; it’s because stage acting is different from screen acting.
I would like to remember Mr. Simon Dunmore once again, because I assume his books for actors are one of the most popular ones in the United Kingdom, and respectfully disagree that stage acting is directly correlated to screen acting and vice versa. They are NOT. While both are acting, the technicalities differ like day and night.
I’ve seen some great stage actors (my teachers included) trying screen acting, and they were terrible; on stage, however, you can’t take your eyes of them. Basically, if you switch from one to another late in your career, it’s like taking some huge steps backwards — you have to learn new things to be as good as you were in your previous path. Don’t do it, give priorities early on: stage or screen?
London is the best theatre city in the world, right next to New York City, and the stage dominates here. But it’s not to say that film industry is dead here, not at all — there are plenty of studios in and around London that are making movies, and of course a lot of overseas studios are coming here and hiring British actors for their productions.
Basically, I’d say you can go either way and not miss. Wherever your heart sets, go with it. A lot of my good actor friends are strictly stage actors, doing some occasional TV and film work while they’re not in a production, but I myself always have been interested in film work; that also explains my soon-to-happen relocation to Los Angeles.
How to Get Into Acting — Prepare Yourself…
…for the fact that nothing might be happening for you for the first six months. Nothing will go the way you planned: no agent, no serious work, nobody will be interested. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Actually, it’s the standard path of most actors. Yes, of course, some actors do get a shot at a big screen as soon as they get out of drama school, others might get cast in RSC production in the first three months; others, however, will have to stay patient and keep working hard.
The important part is to not give up. Yes, you will be getting rejected. Yes, you will not get the part that you were perfect for. You might not find an agent for years, but who cares? You’re doing what you love to do, right? So carry on doing that in any way possible — acting classes, drama clubs, community theatre, student films, writing and producing your own stuff. Just make sure you’re not sitting on your ass waiting for that phone to ring or email to come through. It will NOT until you start doing something by yourself. Put your name on the map, get yourself onto agents’ and casting directors’ radars!
How to Get Into Acting — Stuff You’ll Need
Now here’s what you better get in the first month you’re here in London ready to pursue a career of an actor. Or better yet, if you’ve been in drama school, take care of this even before you graduate. So, top 10 things you’ll require:
- Headshots: theatrical and commercial (black&white and color)
- Professional resume
- Stack of business cards
- A list of contacts (and possibly a book Contacts)
- A “never-dying” smartphone
- Personal computer/laptop
- A dozen of monologues/dialogues/audition speeches
- Equity card
- Spotlight membership
- A survival job
These are essential of how to get into acting. I cover all of this in my free handbook Acting In London, if you’re interested, so I will not repeat myself again here. Mostly it’s all straightforward, but make sure you do have all of this; it’s not optional, it’s a necessity for an actor in London (except for number 10, in case you don’t need to support yourself financially).
How to Get Into Acting — Top Sum Up…
This was the basics of what you’ll need to know and have as soon as you get to London or graduate from drama school. These and my free handbook that I will be trying to update on a monthly basis are essential if you want to know how to get into acting.
After all of this, I want to say: make sure you have thick enough skin and you’re patient enough. These are the two main traits an newbie actor MUST have, because nothing will happen as often as rejection and silent phone. I hope you found these tips on how to get into acting useful.