Breaking into Acting For Dummies book cover

Breaking into Acting For Dummies

By: Larry Garrison and Wallace Wang Published: 04-27-2021

Understand the business side of your showbiz career 

We all know acting can be a glittering whirl of glamour—plush red carpets, simply divine outfits, huge sums of money, and oh, the parties! But what a lot of wannabe actors forget is that it takes a lot of practical work to get to the flashbulbs of your first premiere, and that the savviest actors put as much stress on the business side of the profession as they do on the show. Breaking Into Acting For Dummies demystifies the behind-the-curtain side of showbiz to help you understand how it really works, who the decision-makers are, what they’re looking for when they’re picking talent, and how to get them on your side. If you truly want to be the next Emma Stone or Leonardo DiCaprio, you’ll want to have a well-thumbed copy of this book alongside your pile of scripts.   

Written by two friendly insiders, this guide takes you behind the scenes to help you map out your plan of attack, showing you how to open doors—and keep them open—and use your time wisely, so you’re not breaking a leg rushing from one random audition to another. You’ll understand how to flesh out your professional persona as thoroughly as a movie part, craft your resume as minutely as a script, and judge the angle of your headshots and webcam appearances as intimately as any director. Once you’ve mastered these skills, it’s time to go to market as your own publicity department, building your media and online presence until everyone who’s anyone knows exactly who you are.   

  • Understand different acting markets—from theater to commercials 
  • Network in-person and online 
  • Build your image via resumes, head shots, and webcam 
  • Keep a firm grip on the financial side 

Whether you’re studying, a hopeful amateur, or have been treading the boards for a while, this is your breakthrough script for succeeding in the business of acting, and for learning how to play your ultimate role: yourself.  

Articles From Breaking into Acting For Dummies

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Breaking Into Acting For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-25-2022

Breaking into acting takes more than catching a lucky break. Take steps to show up prepared for your acting audition, like keeping your clothes measurements with you. Keep accurate records of your acting expenses so you can deduct them from your taxes. Learn to deal with the frustration of acting, and keep your hopes of becoming an actor alive.

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Getting Acquainted with Producers and Directors

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

There's no business like show business. But show business, like any business, depends on people. And two of the most important types of people that you'll meet in the film and television business are producers and directors. Producers: The champions of every project Show business is full of great ideas, but nothing happens until a producer takes the initiative to turn a good idea into a finished product. Producers are responsible for guiding a project from a raw idea or script to a finished film, play, TV show, or commercial. Producers spend the most time on a project and often risk losing money or their reputation if the project never gets completed (or gets completed poorly). So the overriding goal of a producer is to create a quality product that's both marketable and profitable as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Basically, producers do the following: Search for and obtain the rights to a story or script that has the potential to be both interesting and profitable. Get money to finance the project. (The money can come from a studio, a production company, individual investors, the producer's own bank account, or wherever the producer can get it.) Hire a director and writer to work on the project. Audition actors and ultimately help decide which actors to cast. Oversee the filming, taping, or rehearsals of a film, TV show, play, or commercial. Supervise the editing of the project. Work with studios or distribution companies to market and distribute a project. Producers also have the less than enviable job of soothing frayed egos and dealing with problems that may occur between the director and stars on the set. When directors and stars can't agree on the way a project is developing, one or both of them may threaten to walk out of the project (or actually do it), citing creative differences. Sometimes, the producer has to replace the director or star, and sometimes, the producer can convince the warring parties to stick together long enough to finish the project (and hopefully do a great job despite any professional or personal disagreements between them). Until you're a big star, you may work on a project without ever talking to the producer. When you're on a set and you have a problem, talk to the line producer or one of the line producer's assistants. While the producer takes care of the overall details of finishing a project, a line producer worries about the day-to-day details of getting a project completed, such as telling you what time to return to the set the next day and helping you with any problems involving your costume. Directors: The bosses on the set After the producer, the director is usually the second most powerful person involved with a project. Directors typically do the following: Help the casting director decide which actors to hire for the major roles Control the creative aspects of the set, including lighting, background design, and camera angles Work with the actors on a daily basis to shoot the various scenes inthe script Polish the final film prior to its official release The lighting and set designers may create the actual backgrounds, but the director has the final say on whether to alter the look, add more lighting, or film the set from a particular angle. The director determines the overall mood and tone of the final production. The actors' roles comprise just one of many pieces that the director has to juggle when completing a production. After shooting a film, the director (along with the producer and, occasionally, the writer and an actor or two) remains with the project in post-production, where scenes may be cut or rearranged and sound effects and music added. In some cases, the director may need the actors to dub in their dialogue in scenes where the existing dialogue doesn't sound right due to technical difficulties, an airplane flying overhead at the wrong time, or any number of problems. On a set, any number of things can go wrong, from light bulbs burning out to costumes being torn. Every problem that delays the production is likely to fall on the director to fix, so, as an actor, do your job, stay out of everyone else's way, and be flexible. If you do, the director will remember you as an actor who's easy to work with, which increases the chances that the director will want to use you in the next project he directs.

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Fine-Tuning Your Acting Performance on Film

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

Acting in film and television can require a special set of acting skills. Film and television can show anything from two normal people eating a normal lunch to microscopic people swimming through someone's arteries, and as an actor, you need to be prepared for how different genres of film and television affect how you act out your role. Acting for the camera In film and television acting, you often don't have the luxury of a live audience giving you feedback of any kind. Instead of a theater full of people, your audience is just a camera, the camera operator, the director, and any sound, light, and makeup technicians who happen to be standing around at the time. This means that you need to use your imagination and pretend that the cameraman staring at you is actually your long-lost lover, or that the stern look on the director's face is actually the friendly face of your best friend. When you play to the camera, you have to project emotions to the unblinking eye of the camera. To help you "play to the camera," keep these ideas in mind: Know where the camera (or cameras) are at all times. You can give the best performance of your life, but it will be worthless if the camera can't see your face. Know what the camera is trying to capture. If the camera is capturing a long shot of you off in the distance, concentrating on arching your eyebrow to convey emotion will just be a waste of time since the camera won't be able to see it. Know where the other actors and props are located in relation to the camera. If you step too far forward or back, your body or a simple gesture, such as waving your hand, can block the camera's view of another actor. Watch a television show or movie on video with the sound turned off. Without any dialogue to guide you, can you guess what the actors are trying to say to each other? Body and facial gestures can convey more information to an audience than you may think. By studying films or television shows with the sound off, you can study how gestures can help (or hinder) an actor's performance on-camera. Videotape yourself performing a monologue and look for inconsistent actions that detract from your character. For example, if you're portraying a tough, confident business-person, twirling your hair around your finger and biting your lower lip probably isn't going to support your character portrayal. Ask your acting coach or instructor to watch your videotape and comment on the type of character that he or she thinks you're portraying. If you think that you're portraying a tough guy but your acting coach thinks that your portrayal represents a timid character, you may need to work on your acting skills so that you can portray different types of characters consistently and accurately. Acting consistently with different takes Because everything you do in front of the camera is captured on film or videotape, you just have to deliver the best possible performance once and that's it, right? Wrong. In the world of film and television, you don't just perform a scene once. You perform the same scene over and over again, so the director can capture that scene from different angles, or so the actors can try different variations on their acting. The same scene may be shot three or four or ten different times. If a director wants to shoot the same scene over and over, don't take it personally as if you're doing something wrong. Sometimes, the director just wants to capture several different versions of the same scene, so he can choose the best one to use later. Actor John Ritter once did a commercial where he had to kiss a woman on the beach, and the director made him do it over and over and over again. John Ritter couldn't understand what he was doing wrong, so he asked the director. The director told him that he wasn't doing anything wrong. The director just wanted to capture the different appearances of the sunset in the background. To maintain consistency from take to take (a take is a short scene that is captured on film or videotape), you have to be aware of continuity each time you perform a scene on camera. (Continuity means making sure your body movements and appearance are identical in every take.) From an actor's point of view, the problem with shooting the same scene over and over again is that the actors never know which scene (or parts of each scene) will ultimately be used, so they need to be consistent in appearance, movement, and acting in every scene. Part of the first scene that they filmed may possibly be used followed by part of the last take of that same scene and ending with part of the fourth take of that same scene. When viewed one after another, the different mish-mash of scene takes need to blend together seamlessly as if the camera recorded the whole scene at once from start to finish. To achieve this illusionary blend of reality, film and television actors must know how to act consistently each time they perform a scene, no matter how many times they need to perform it. For example, if an actor is filming a dinner scene and picks up a glass with his right hand, he needs to remember to keep picking up that same glass with his right hand and not suddenly do a retake of the same scene and pick up the glass with his left hand. The script supervisor is supposed to make sure that the actors perform, dress, and act as closely as possible with each retake of a scene. That way, when the director chooses which scene takes to use, the film or television show gives the illusion that every part of the scene was captured at the same time (even if part of the scene was captured in the morning, another part captured in the afternoon, and the beginning part of the scene captured last). When doing multiple takes, you need to know the difference between acting and action. Acting deals with how you portray a character, while action is what you do with your body and any props. When shooting another take, subtly altering your acting is okay, but make sure that your actions remain exactly the same. To see how well you can maintain consistency in front of the camera, videotape yourself and a fellow actor performing a short scene. Shoot the scene three or four times, and if you have a video editing program for your personal computer (such as iMovie found on the iMac), you can mix and match different parts of each take together. Does the entire scene appear to have been filmed at the same time, or can you notice any glaring differences between parts of the scene (such as your hand resting in your lap in one scene but not in another)? If you notice glaring differences, you may need to work on being more consistent when performing in front of the camera, whether it's the first take or the twenty-third take. Successfully acting scenes out of order Besides maintaining continuity throughout multiple takes of the same scene, you also have to worry about continuity between different scenes. For financial reasons, film and TV shows are often shot out of order. For example, if a film opens and ends with a scene on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the director has two choices: He can shoot the beginning scene on the Golden Gate Bridge and then move on to shoot the rest of the film until the end when the film crew and actors will need to travel back to the Golden Gate Bridge to film the ending. Or, he can save travel and lodging expenses by shooting both the beginning and ending of the film on the Golden Gate Bridge at the same time (while the actors and film crew are already set up). Not surprisingly, most directors opt to save money and shoot scenes out of order. As a result, on your first day on the set, you may possibly shoot the last scene of the film. Then on the final day on the set, you may shoot the first scene. If your character is supposed to be timid and shy at the beginning of the film but aggressive and domineering by the end, your acting must reflect these characteristics. If you fail to act appropriately in a scene, your character won't make any sense when someone views the scenes in their correct order. (Many actors mark up their scripts with notes for how their character should be acting and feeling in every scene. That way, when director shoots a scene out of order, the notes in the actors' scripts can remind them how to portray their characters accurately.) Videotape yourself and your fellow actors performing three consecutive scenes from a play. Now perform and record the last scene, take a 10-minute break, record the first scene, take another break, and, finally, record the middle scene. Rearrange these recorded scenes (by using a video editing program on your personal computer, such as iMovie on an iMac) and play them in order. Do the three scenes appear to flow as if they really did occur one after another? Or does the acting appear jumpy and inconsistent from one scene to the other? If your acting is inconsistent between the different scenes, you may need more work acting in front of the camera.

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Figuring Out What You Need to Succeed in Acting

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

If the thought of spending years studying acting, working in bit roles, and getting paid sporadically (if at all) depresses you, then maybe acting isn't for you. On the other hand, if you truly enjoy acting for the sake of acting, the previously mentioned obstacles will be nothing more than minor nuisances on your way to success — whatever form that success may ultimately take. Every successful actor has to have two skills. One is a certain amount (but not necessarily a lot) of acting talent, which usually comes from a combination of natural ability and constant training. The second skill, and perhaps the more important, is knowing how to market yourself as a product. As an actor, you're a salesperson, and the product that you're selling is you. In order to sell yourself to the people in position to pay for your product (you as an actor), you need a head shot (so people know what you look like), a resume (so people know what experience and skills you have), and the necessary talent to wow a casting director when you audition for a role. An attention-grabbing head shot Talent and determination can increase the odds that you'll succeed in show business, but until people know who you are, you're just another face in the crowd. Because you can't possibly introduce yourself to everyone who may be able to advance your career, you have to use a head shot instead. A head shot is a photograph that acts as your calling card by displaying your face for others to see when you can't be present physically. Your head shot should capture your best physical features in order to make casting directors and agents say to themselves, "I've got to meet this person!" Because head shots can be such a crucial promotional tool, you absolutely must have the best head shot possible, which means finding the best photographer and developing a specific image for your head shot to project. A five-star acting resume While your head shot projects your physical characteristics, a resume lists the acting experience and unique skills behind your attractive face. After seeing an actor's head shot, casting directors often study an actor's resume to see whether that actor has the ability to perform in a particular role. A good acting resume answers any questions a casting director may have about an actor's ability to play a certain role and supplies enough evidence to convince a casting director to choose you. By knowing how to create and present your acting experience and skills in the best light possible, you can use your resume to help you land roles again and again. Polished talent Everyone has some talent for acting (think of the last time you called in to work and pretended to be sick so that you could take the day off). Even if you have astounding natural acting talent, you may still want lessons or coaching to nurture and further develop that talent. Here are some of the different ways to polish your acting talent: Majoring in drama in school Attending an acting class or workshop Working with an acting coach Learning on the job If you're serious about becoming an actor and you're already in school, you can't get any better training than performing in your high school or college drama department. Not only does such exposure give you an idea how much fun (and how much of a pain in the neck) acting can be, but it can also teach you all the technical details necessary to put on a play, ranging from creating backdrops and building sets to sewing costumes and marketing the show. If you've already graduated or just want to jump right into the world of acting as soon as possible, you can choose from plenty of acting workshops, classes, and coaches available for varying prices. Once again, some acting teachers have better reputations than others, and some charge outrageous amounts of money while others are more reasonable. The best way to develop your acting skills is to keep looking for acting roles wherever you can find them, whether they're lead roles in small plays or bit roles in larger productions. The more experience and knowledge you can gain by acting in a real role and watching others perform, the more you'll discover about the world of acting that no class or coach can ever duplicate.

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Auditioning for an Acting Role: What to Expect

Article / Updated 04-26-2016

When you're called in for an acting audition, the people present at the audition will include you, the casting director, and maybe a handful of other complete strangers. Some of these other people may be the producer, a camera operator (if they're taping the auditions), the casting director's bored friend or relative, a representative from the advertiser (in the case of a commercial audition), or a dance choreographer or musical director (in the case of a musical). No matter who is in the room, treat everyone in the room with respect. If someone looks like a sloppily dressed janitor, that person could actually be the producer, so play it safe and treat everyone with courtesy. By the time it's your turn to audition, the casting director has probably seen hundreds of other people ahead of you, which means the casting director and anyone else in the room is likely to be tired, bored, and irritable. Make the director's job easy and you increase your chances of having a successful audition. Make the job harder (by not being ready, talking too much, and so on) and you may seriously kill any chances of getting any role. After brief introductions (and make sure you keep them brief), someone may ask for your headshot and resume if you haven't already handed one in. (Don't be afraid to pass out multiple copies of your headshot or resume.) At some auditions, someone may take your picture with a digital camera, so the casting director can review all the people who auditioned that day. Be sure to smile and look your very best. If your picture doesn't look anything like your headshot, you need to get a new headshot. In the world of commercials, the way you look is extremely important because you'll be considered a salesperson for a product. To get a good look at you, the casting director may ask you to pose for a look at your front and side profile. Next, someone tells you where to stand, which is usually a mark on the floor so the casting director and everyone else in the room can see you clearly. If you're auditioning for a TV commercial, the casting director may start by asking you to slate, which simply means to state your full name clearly. When you slate, you may just say your name or your name followed by the agency that represents you. The casting director then tells you to start. (Sometimes they say, "Action!" and other times they'll just say, "Go," "Start," or some other monosyllabic grunt of exasperation.) At this point, you're supposed to start acting the role. If you're auditioning for role in a movie, TV show, or theatrical play, your audition may require you to sit in a chair, walk around, or stand still, depending on the part of the script the casting director asks you to read from. Whenever you audition, expect the unexpected, and be ready to work with unusual situations at a moment's notice. To help prepare for the unexpected, many actors take improvisation classes. With these lessons, actors learn to quickly improvise their way out of any acting situation and still remain in character. Speaking your audition lines When auditioning for a role in a TV commercial, you read from cue cards. Cue cards are like large flash cards that have an actor's script printed on them in big letters. If a TV performer forgets the lines, she ever-so-subtly looks at the cue cards and reads from them. The viewing audience doesn't see cue cards because the person holding them is standing next to (not in front of) the camera. When auditioning for a role in a movie, TV show, or theatrical play, you read from a script. Keep the following script etiquette in mind when auditioning: If you just received your copy of the script moments before your audition, it's okay to ask for a little time to study the role (just don't take too much time and inconvenience the casting director). Don't be afraid to read directly from the script while acting. The important part is to see how well you can interpret the part, not how well you can memorize a script on short notice. Try to say the words of the script correctly, but don't be too worried if you mispronounce a word or two. If you completely mess up your lines, it's okay to ask if you can start from the beginning again. During an open casting call or casting audition, another person may read lines with you. This person could be anyone from the casting director to another actor to the man who just delivered a pizza to the casting director for lunch. Many times, the person reading with you is not a professional actor and, therefore, may not give you much to work with. Don't let any acting inadequacies bother you; stay focused, and give your best audition.During a callback, however, you may be asked to audition and read lines with an actor who already has been cast. The casting director wants to see how you look and sound next to an actor who has already been assigned a role. To avoid confusion and a messy audition, find out where you should focus your attention when you're reading the script. Requesting this information is a good idea if you're not reading with someone or if you have no camera to look at. In general, you want to look near the casting director (so he can see your face) but not directly into the casting director's eyes (so he can evaluate your performance without feeling the need to acknowledge or react to your acting). You may be asked to read the same script several times with the casting director giving you suggestions to be angrier, more forceful, softer, and so on. This direction is a good thing! You want the casting director's attention because it means he (or she) is interested in you. Minding your auditioning manners A lack of courtesy shows disrespect, no matter where you are in life. If directed toward the folks running the audition, however, acting like a spoiled brat can kill an acting opportunity faster than you can say, "Exit stage left." Keep the following pointers in mind whenever you try out for a role: Never touch the casting director or any of his or her possessions, such as the notepad, laptop computer, food, and such. Doing so is rude and definitely works against you. Never smoke or chew gum during your audition. If you must smoke, do it outside where no one can see you and where your smoke won't interfere with others. If you bring a small tape recorder to record and then later evaluate your performance in the comfort of your home, hide the device so that it doesn't distract from your performance. Otherwise, the casting director may be looking at your tape recorder rather than watching you. Don't ask for permission to tape record because it will take time and distract the casting director. Just hide it in your pocket or purse and let it run. Some casting directors frown on actor's tape recording their auditions while others don't care. So if you're going to bring a tape recorder, be aware that its discovery could work against you. Making your exit After you complete your audition, thank everyone (the casting director, the camera operator eating a sandwich in the back, the receptionist who helped you check in, and anyone else who may be sitting in the room). If you read from a script, be sure to hand that script back to the casting director or his assistant. In general, you want to leave the room exactly the way it appeared when you arrived. Before leaving the audition, you may have to sign out and record the time you left. Union rules stipulate that actors can be held for only a certain amount of time at an audition, so the sign-out sheet verifies that you weren't kept for an abnormally long period of time. Even if you don't yet belong to an actors union, signing out shows that you are no longer on the premises. After you sign out, leave as quickly as possible, and congratulate yourself for what you've accomplished.

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How to Prepare for an Acting Audition

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Being prepared for your acting audition can reduce the stress of the experience. These auditioning tips will minimize distractions and help you put together a knockout performance: Prepare and pack plenty of head shots and resumes. Staple your head shot to the back of your resume, so you don’t lose one or the other. Pack a change of clothes in case your outfit gets dirty or torn, or so you can modify your appearance to match the role. Take a copy of sides (the pages of a script that you’ll be reading from) or the script to practice while you wait your turn to audition. Do a final run-through of your monologues to make sure that you have them memorized and are comfortable performing them. Confirm directions to the audition location. Also, plan to leave your residence in plenty of time to get to the audition location early. Clear your personal calendar for the day of the audition, so you can arrive early and stay late with no worries. Make a list of emergency telephone numbers, such as your agent’s number and the audition location number. Get a good night’s sleep.

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How to Deal with Frustration as an Actor

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Don’t give up on your dreams of being an actor when you’re feeling frustrated. To relax and revive your acting aspirations, try some of these suggestions: Meditate or practice yoga Treat yourself to a spa, massage, or a hot bath Take a class to overcome your weaknesses as an actor Look for a day job that you may actually like Participate in non-show business activities, such as sports, volunteering at a hospital or charity, or enjoying a hobby Work off some steam — take a karate, boxing, or aerobic workout class Start or join a support group with fellow actors See a movie, go to a play, or read a good book Read a positive-thinking book or listen to motivational tapes Browse through one of the trade publications such as Variety or Hollywood Reporter Pursue an additional show business career (writing, stand-up comedy, filmmaking, and so on) Take a vacation (It can be as simple as a one day trip to the beach or a two week trip to Europe.) Take time to develop a plan for advancing your acting career

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Taking Clothing Measurements to Your Acting Audition

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

A casting director may need your clothes measurements for costume fittings at your acting audition. Keep your measurements handy and take them to your audition. Height: _____ Females: Bust: _____ Males: Suit: _____ Weight: _____ Hips: _____ Shirt: _____ Shoe size: _____ Dress: _____ Inseam: _____ Waist: _____ Blouse: _____ Blouse: _____ Pants: _____

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Tax Deductions for Acting Expenses

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Since acting is a business, you’re allowed to write off tax deductions for some acting expenses up to the acting income you’ve earned. Consult your tax advisor about tax deductions and keep accurate records of your acting expenses. Possible tax deductions include: Travel expenses to and from auditions (including meals and lodging) Admissions to movies and plays (save your ticket stubs) Acting classes, workshops, and seminars Acting books and magazines Office supplies Mailing expenses Telephone bills, including the cost of an answering machine or service, a pager, or cellular phone Union dues Head shots (photographer’s fees and duplication costs) Resume (printing and duplication costs) Videotape and DVD rentals Television set, VCR, DVD player, and the cost of cable subscription service Makeup and clothing specifically used for acting (including dry cleaning expenses) Cost of creating and duplicating a demo tape

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