Today, we have a guest column from a working actor Lindsay Lucas-Bartlett, who started out her career in London but eventually moved to Los Angeles, California.
In the below article, Lindsay is sharing her experiences about moving to and living in Los Angeles as an actor, and pursuing this career in one of the world’s biggest entertainment cities. She briefly covers many different topics, some of which you can find in greater detail in our book – Acting With No Experience.
If you have any questions for Lindsay, need more details or have ideas for future columns about acting in Los Angeles, leave your thoughts and feedback below in the comments section.
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LA Actor’s Guide to Starting Acting in Los Angeles
I graduated from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama back in 2007. After a while past my graduation, I was presented with an amazing opportunity and I moved to Los Angeles as my very first trip in 2008. I stayed there for five months, looking around what LA was about.
I fell in love with Los Angeles. It felt that this city has so much to offer actors and filmmakers; there were far more opportunities than I ever found in London at the time. So after the five months period has ended, I started working on my acquiring an O-1 visa so that I can move to LA permanently.
It became a long process, which eventually returned great results. I got my O-1 visa! When it finally got approved, there was no hesitation. I packed up and left for Los Angeles, not knowing what I was going to do when I arrived in the City of Angeles.
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Moving to Los Angeles and O-1 Visa
I moved to Los Angeles in 2010, 0-1 visa in hand, a place to stay and car all set up. It took me a while to set everything up as I literally moved over with very little money: just some change for acting headshots and all the bare minimums.
Below I will cover some of the most essential things that I wish people had told me when I first moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting.
First of all – visas. Originally, I came to LA on a student visa and after I fell in love with the place I decided to start my O-1 visa process.
In the UK, getting on Spotlight is a big deal. Most students there are drama school graduates. If you didn’t go to a drama school, that’s fine too, but just make sure you have a nice body of work to show to make up for it if you want to get on Spotlight.com.
IMDb credits can also help a lot. Actually, anything that is going to show larger body of work and put your portfolio in front of people is going to be a huge positive when trying to get an O-1 visa.
Be prepared to start working on your Green Card as early as possible. Unfortunately, a lot of studios and agents in Los Angeles don’t take people with O-1 visas.
I found out about three months after living and trying to get work as an actor in Los Angeles that I needed to start my Green Card process. It’s a whole new mission, but it’s doable as many actors have done this before.
While you’re working toward that goal, you should also start improving up your acting craft over here. There is a lot you can do while you are going through the Green Card process, so take advantage of your time in the US, and the fact you got an O-1 visa in the first place, which is a big deal.
You can also find an agent who will take you on even with an O-1 visa (and particularly if he or she knows you’re working towards acquiring a Green Card) and start getting you out and audition for the smaller acting projects in Los Angeles.
Acting headshots in Los Angeles
You must be willing to get new actor headshots once you moved to LA. The type of headshots that are acceptable in Los Angeles are different to UK standard headshots. NYC shots are similar to London’s style; however, if you’re coming to LA then you’ll need to get new shots because you will be seen as unprofessional.
Personally, I feel like I wasted so much time and money on acting headshots when I first arrived as I did not know what photographer to shoot with and so I went with photographers who were just “meh.” but cheaper.
Based on my own experience, I would suggest looking up each photographer and seeing what style most suits you personally. Some headshot photographers in LA are expensive; that maybe off putting, however, I found that if I had just coughed up the money at the beginning, I would have just had much better headshots that would last me a few years.
Below is a partial list of headshot photographers in Los Angeles. I have shot with a few of these; some are very well-known in LA and I know actors who have had headshot sessions with them and have had absolutely wonderful results.
- Dana Patrick
- Paul Smith
- Lori Dorn
- Headshot Truck
- David Muller
- Matt Stasi
Bear in mind that ultimately, it’s up to you whoever fits your style. It’s possible that none of these above will be a great fit for you, and that a cheaper headshot photographer can turn out a better final result. It’s important to do your research on this one.
Google “headshots in LA” and you’ll get a list of photographers. Scan their work, reviews and find out exactly the look and the work you love.
Acting classes in Los Angeles
After you move to Los Angeles, you need to take action right away. Do not waste time.
I recommend enrolling into an acting class (any class, for now!) even if you only go to Los Angeles for a short period of time (like a few months).
Once you’re part of an acting class in Los Angeles, you’ll meet like-minded people who can provide you with more information, you can start building great friendships and valuable connections. Finally, not only will you be working at becoming a better actor overall in your acting classes, but having plenty of acting classes always looks good on your acting CV/resume.
It’s been said over and over that talent agents and managers like to see what acting teachers you have trained with, and this is particularly true when trying to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles than anywhere else.
I myself ended up doing a lot of short films in LA, some web series and other projects with people I’ve met through my acting classes. It is definitely a great place to connect with other actors and filmmakers.
If you need any recommendations for acting classes in Los Angeles, I’ve got a few. However, remember to audit those classes before joining and make sure that you go where you feel you’ll learn the most. Not every famous acting teacher will be the best for every actor. You need to pick an choose.
Amy Lyndon Class is one of my favorite cold reading acting class in LA. It’s full of people constantly booking roles which is a big positive, and it shows you that you can be booking acting jobs too, which is an amazing energy to be around. Amy also offers consultations and personal coaching where she will help you get your package together and also help you potentially find an agent. I’m a big fan of Amy’s.
Unlike in London, US is focus a lot of specific acting techniques and approaches that allow you to connect with your emotions from within. Below are the three most famous names for studying acting techniques and there are acting schools in Los Angeles that teach those specific techniques.
Honestly, there’s a plethora of acting studios and private acting classes/groups/workshops/sessions/teachers here in LA. You need to find one that you feel will push you in the right direction. A lot of these teachers will have their own acting books so I suggest reading those before joining a class.
Improv schools in Los Angeles
Improv is huge out here, which was great for me personally since comedy is my passion. However, if comedy is not your thing, you should still try doing improve at least once so as to let lose and get yourself out of your head. Not only is improv important for all actors whether they’re doing comedy or not, improv will simply let you have a great time and enjoy the process.
UCB helped me meet some of my best friends in LA, which I formed groups with and we perform as often as we can around Hollywood. Just being active and constantly working as an actor in Los Angeles feels great and being around friends is never going to be a negative.
Aside from UCB and Groundlings, which are the two most popular improv schools in Los Angeles and carry some weight on your resume, there are other schools you can try which may be cheaper.
These three are also great places to hone your improv skills. But if improv is totaly not your thing, you should simply go out to see their improv shows in LA, as they are a lot of fun and a really cheap night out.
Showcases in Los Angeles
Monologue Slam is/was originally based in the UK and I performed in one of the shows about nine years ago when it was first starting up. I just remember I had a great time and was also bricking it as it was quite intimidating being surrounded by such great talent. I suggest – particularly if it scares you – to go out and actually DO IT!
Now, the Monologue Slam is coming to LA in May, 2016 and the auditions are in April so if you are in the area then you should definitely sign up to perform and hone your acting chops.
If you are not in Los Angeles yet, this is a great event that takes place in London, Manchester and Birmingham and I highly recommend going.
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Casting director workshops in Los Angeles
As many actors here in LA, I’m very much on the fence about attending casting director workshops. I have done so many of them in the past and I have never once been called in.
However, a few of my friends have gotten acting jobs from attending casting director workshops in LA, so it is a different experience for everyone. I would say that you should try that out for yourself at least once and see how it goes for you.
The good thing about casting director workshops is that you are in front of the actually working casting directors, usually one on one, which is one of the ways to start building up relationships with people. Connections are absolutely vital here in Los Angeles.
My argument is that if you are getting auditions then you should be meeting and building these relationships anyway. If, however, you’re not getting the auditions then you should ask yourself, are they worth it?
Ultimately, it’s a personal preference. I would say try it if you have the money and if you don’t then spend your money on something that you actually need. I am most certainly divided on these casting director workshops as I feel actors are broke already, and surely that money should go to something that we really need, such as food.
Managers and agents in Los Angeles
Agents and managers in Los Angeles are different when compared to London, or UK in general. It took me a while to figure it out, but managers for actors will help in building their profiles and help with connections.
Managers. For example, what roles you are suited for and what does your acting package – demo reel, acting headshots and acting CV/resume – all say about you and the roles you play? Do you have your own personal acting website and how is it working for promoting you as an actor?
Managers can help with all of these questions. They will help guide you and your acting career. You should be able to have an open dialogue with your manager and you should be able to talk to them whenever you have something going on. Managers will be also submitting and pitching you along with your agent.
Agents. Talent agents, on the other hand, are working more towards getting you out there and submitting you all day long. Making calls, sending emails, pitching you for all types of acting jobs as hard as they can.
Agents don’t (shouldn’t) have as much time to look at your package, analyze it and try to craft all the fine details of it like a manager does. You should, however, be comfortable with your acting agent. If you do not feel comfortable working with someone then trust your gut and move on. You’ll work much better with someone you feel good about.
If you want to find representation and sign with a talent agent in Los Angeles before arriving, there’s a great book Agent Tells All – An Uncensored Look at the Business of Acting. This book helped me immensely.
Or, again, talent agent workshops (similar to casting director workshops) is another potential way to find representation if you have the money and want to try it. Everything is worth a go at least once so that you can form your own opinion.
Some actors say that if you do not have any acting credits from the US, then talent agents and managers will not look at you. That’s not true. If you’re good – you’ll get representation. But you will have to work just as hard when you have a rep because you cannot wait around for them to find you work, and you need to be just as active.
Casting websites in Los Angeles
There are several different casting websites which you can use to find acting jobs in Los Angeles.
One of the most popular is Backstage – they have a large variety of opportunities for actors, singers, dancers, filmmakers and anybody else going into the industry. They’re by far the biggest authority when it comes to casting.
However, there are plenty of other options if this one doesn’t suit you.
Actors Access is another casting website where you can do self-submissions for indie films, student films and web series’. You have headshots, reels, CV and website links up there on your actor’s profile.
If you do not have a demo reel put together yet, or you want more material for your show reel, I highly suggest applying for and doing student thesis films. It will say on the casting breakdown what type of level the students are at, and thesis films are usually the best quality. From my personal experience, student thesis films are generally great as it is the student’s final project so obviously they’re trying extra hard to be professional.
Actors Access also have a platform called Talent Link. With Talent Link, you contact them and ask to be added to specific month’s Talent Link. It’s $35 for the first month and if you do it more than once it goes to $20.
What happens with Talent Link is you get put on a roster with other actors for managers and agents who are actively looking for new clients. If someone is interested in you and your profile, they will contact you through that platform. If it does not work the first time, take a look at your package, adjust anything that’s needed and do it again.
When someone contacts you, do you research on that person/agency – look them up and see who they represent and see what they are about. Meet them if you feel good and trust your instincts. If it does not feel right, then you don’t have to sign with them. There are plenty of scams out there, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
My first advice with regards to acting jobs and submissions is to be very active when you first move to Los Angeles. I can tell you first hand that it is all about making connections in LA.
Always continue working, and be respectful towards everybody. Just because you’re working on a student film, doesn’t mean you can be unprofessional. Remember, these students are the next generation of filmmakers so treat every job equally and be professional.
In the US, there used to be two different actors unions – Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). In 2012, the two organizations have joined together to form one single union – SAG-AFTRA.
SAG-AFTRA is an actors union – similar to Equity in the UK – that you will join eventually. However, unlike UK’s Equity, it can be difficult to get a pass and become a part of SAG-AFTRA. In order to join, you can work on film sets as background artist and you’ll are given union vouchers, if you’re lucky. You will need three of those vouchers to join SAG-AFTRA.
You can also work on a SAG-AFTRA project(s) and get Taft Hartley, which means you automatically become SAG-AFTRA Eligible when the paperwork has been turned in.
Finally, you can make your own project(s) and get a SAG-AFTRA actor to work on it which ultimately makes this a SAG-AFTRA New Media project. That will allow you to Taft Hartley yourself and others in the film and get your SAG-AFTRA eligibility that way.
When going the SAG-AFTRA New Media route, there is a lot of paperwork to be done and it obviously means a lot of work, as you need to write something and get a crew together to shoot the whole thing. Nonetheless, producing your own content is an amazing experience which also presents you with tons of opportunities.
Festivals and producing your own material
Creating your own content and producing your own projects is a great way to not only help you get into the SAG-AFTRA union, but it is also a perfect platform for you to build opportunities for yourself and get yourself and your work seen by the public.
I wrote and produced a web series myself. It’s called This Is Only Temporary and it’s about a Brit moving to Los Angeles, which is very appropriate for anybody reading this column.
With so many online options now, and particularly YouTube, there’s no reason why you cannot create your own web series or short film. There are also tons of small and large film festivals out there which you can utilize to promote yourself and your new project.
Film Freeway and Withoutabox are two known film festival submission web sites that make it very easy for you to submit your completed project(s). There are numerous film festivals worldwide now, which means that creating your own work allows you to get your material and you the actor seen by larger audiences.
I am sure I have missed something on this list that you would like me to address since there is a lot to be said about moving to Los Angeles and pursuing a career in acting.
To recap, my best advice is to keep as active as you can, otherwise you can get sucked into weird depressions of feeling like you’re not doing anything or enough. I know I have been guilty of feeling this way and I know a lot of my actor friends have also been in that hole.
It is not easy to get up and leave your life in the UK or whenever else you may be moving from. However, I can guarantee you that the whole process can be extremely fun. Take the pressure off of yourself and enjoy this acting journey – it is a big step to move to a different country, but nothing can be more exciting.
Once you moved to Los Angeles (or anywhere else you decide to go) for acting, be sure to take time to travel, enjoy weekends off and just live life.
If you’re here, then remember that LA does not always have to be just about acting and pursuing a career in show business. Personally, I took about eight months off at one point; I was getting married and I just needed a break. And as I found out, sometimes taking breaks and reconnecting with why you are pursuing this dream and why you moved to LA in the first place is a great way to reset. You’ll have fresh eyes to look at your work and your approach with.