Professional advice and guidance for aspiring actors.
Picture this: you're a working actor at an in person audition. You’re in the waiting room, surrounded by all of the other actors auditioning for the same project as you; maybe even the same role as you. Some of these actors, you recognize. You’ve been out for similar roles in the past; maybe you even see your friend from acting class. You aren’t thinking “What are they even doing here? I’m the best actor in this room, everyone else should just go home, this job is mine.” Because the reality is if you’re all in the audition room, you’ve already proven that you’re all good actors.
To really make it in this industry, it’s not enough to be a good actor, or even to be training to become a better actor. You have to be a smarter actor.
Here are 10 tips to help you become a better (smarter) actor and land the acting roles you’ve always wanted!
How do you get the acting career of your dreams?
Step one: Specify the outcome you want and set goals that influence that outcome. Focus on building the habits that move you towards accomplishing your goals and the outcomes you desire become as predictable as a hallmark Christmas romance.
So Specify in a Measurable, Attainable way with Realistic expectations of how much you can do with your Time. Doesn’t that sound SMART?
You may have heard of SMART goals from any number of great coaches and business leaders. By following these simple principles, you can set yourself up to do so much more than accomplish your acting career goals, but can set yourself up to enjoy the process.
When setting acting career goals, ask yourself;
Is this goal:
What’s SMARTER? “_My goal is to get better at acting” or “my goal is to go to acting class twice a week for 3 months_”?
“Getting better at acting” is an OUTCOME. And you can’t act outcomes, you can only act ACTIONS ( Pro tip: that’s also true in acting scene work…)
Taking an acting class is an action fully in your control that influences your chances of achieving your desired outcomes.
Setting SMART goals is key for actors at any stage of their career, but especially for newer aspiring actors. Building your acting career is a one step at a time process. It’s easy to get excited about setting goals and working your butt off to accomplish them, but excitement is a temporary feeling and if you want to be a working actor, you gotta set yourself up to succeed when the excitement wears off.
Take stock of what fills your time currently and ask yourself how much time you want to dedicate to the next step of becoming a better (smarter) actor. 3 or 4 hours a week is all it takes.
SMART goals aren’t just for acting classes, they can apply to anything in your life! Building your community, learning a new skill, curbing your social media usage, developing a consistent exercise routine - you name it, you can accomplish it.
Give it a try yourself - What are 3 steps you can start taking to become a better actor? Write them down by the end of the day today! Now that’s a smart goal.
If you’ve ever listened to an actor giving an acceptance speech at an awards show, you know that 99% of the time they have a long list of names that they have to mention because they would not be there without them. Because it’s true, they would not be there without them. Success in this industry is not a solo operation, lone wolfing it, is simply not an option. We are at our core, story tellers, and without a community to tell and share stories with, there is no purpose, and no industry.
Every actor needs 4 types of people in their corner:
Teammates, Business Partners, Mentors, and Tough Lovers
Teammates: Other actors at your level who are going in the same direction as you and set similar SMART goals. These are the people who will root for you when the times get rough and keep you accountable to yourself.
With teammates lifting you up, you will always find a path forward.
Business partners: The people work adjacent to actors. Managers, agents, casting, producers, directors, network executives, camera ops, lighting ops, grips, sound ops, hair and makeup artists, costume stylists, art department, set dec, props, construction, visual effects, playback, transportation, locations, craft service, catering, security, first aid, post production, accountants, lawyers, PR reps, photographers, stylists, assistants.
Look like a lot of people? It’s cuz it is! How do you build positive relationships with all of them? Maintain the simple adage: How can I, as the actor, be a benefit to them?
Mentors: Mentors are actors who have been where you are now in your acting career, and have journeyed to a place in their careers that you admire. A great acting mentor will point you in the right direction and save you years of guesswork.
Make sure to respect mentor/mentee acting relationships and handle them with care. While your acting mentors will undoubtedly get satisfaction and joy from helping you, keep in mind that they are NOT your teammates. Respect their time, because they are likely busy doing all the things you’ll be busy with when you reach the same level in your acting career.
Tough Lovers: These relationships may be the most important of all because while you likely interact with them the least, when you need someone to tell you the honest truth that you can’t see; your tough lovers are life savers.
Go to them when you need to know what’s in your blindspot and are ready for whatever they say to maybe sting a bit. Never go to your tough lovers for validation; it’s not their forte. If you need a great pep talk, head back to your teammates!
Make a list of all the people in your life who fit in each of these categories; what do you discover? Do you have gaps in your list? No problem! You know what SMART goals to set next.
The first step of any new business is to understand how that business will be a benefit to their market and as an actor, you’re no different. This has to be the motivation behind every choice you make. Each step of the way, at the back of your mind, you must ask yourself, how am I benefiting the other members of my acting community?
A great way to start is building your confidence through being of service to the people in your community. Reach out to one of your teammates and let them know you can be available to be their reader. Some actors even volunteer at casting houses to read for real auditions. It's a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of your market AND to gain a reputation as a working actor who is a benefit to their community.
Step back from your view as an actor and examine what the day to day of the industry looks like from the perspective of the other key players in your community.
Think about the day to day of Agents, Casting, and Directors and Producers:
What problems do they have that need to be solved?
How can you become the solution to all the problems these key players in our business are facing?
The key to great marketing material starts by examining your answers to How you are a Benefit from Acting Tip 3 and understanding exactly who you are as an actor.
Once you know where you fit, it’s your job as the actor to make sure that your marketing material represents just that.
What does your acting headshot say about you as an actor?
What do your demo scenes or reels say about your career progress?
Who are you as an actor or performer?
How do others see you? How do you see yourself?
What type of roles do you generally audition for?
Which ones do you want to audition for more?
Discovering this intersection is integral and only after you’ve started to find answers to this and reflect that in your marketing materials will you find success.
If you think you're the “funny best friend” character, but casting only brings you in for the romantic love interest, start looking at what your marketing material is saying.
If you know comedy inside and out and know you’d really kill it as a guest star for a sitcom, then why is your demo reel only dramatic scenes? Or your resume highlighting the four years of Shakespeare in the park you did right after college?
There is so much to say about marketing materials and they are discussed and worked on at length in the Laura Mac Method online Foundations acting class.
If you want to be a better (smarter) actor; examine your current marketing material and set a SMART goal to improve them.
In order to be SMART about how you train, how you market yourself, who you align yourself with; You first have to know: What is happening in your local market?
What projects are filming right now?
What production companies are located in your area and what type of projects do they make?
Are you at a hub for procedural tv shows, or Movies of the Week?
Who always comes to your town to shoot?
Do you have a ton of studios who handle a bit of everything?
Or is your town known and used for its outdoor natural scenery?
What is your market?
And how are you a benefit to it?
Film labor unions (SAG-AFTRA, ACTRA, IATSE, DGA, DGC) in most major cities keep updated “What’s Shooting in ___?” lists online. These lists show all the productions currently shooting in your market and the major players of the production teams.
To stay updated, create your own production “Show Log” of the projects that are filming near you with information about who’s behind it, what kind of project it is, what genre of story and the basic storyline. This way, when you get an audition for the show, you immediately know everything about the show just from the title - that’s a powerful place to start your audition process from!
Start keeping track of not only every audition you get, but also every class you take, every scene you throw on tape just for fun.
Track how you get ready, how your performance went, and how you feel about each kick you take at the acting can.
Over time, your logbook becomes an indispensable source of information for your acting career. You will start to see trends in:
Through tracking your acting work in a logbook, you’ll begin to reveal information you can share with your agent or manager that can help you adapt and align with the roles you’ll be perfect for.
A special note here on what not to focus on in your Audition Logbooks: DON’T look too closely at the number callbacks, pins or bookings you get. It’s okay to make a note of it, but keep in mind that according to SAG; for a working member to make their primary living from acting work, they generally book 1 in 82 auditions.
Seeing the other 81 auditions as failures is just not the truth. Your auditions are your acting work. So keep track of the quality of your work in a critical way and guarantee that you keep moving forward in your craft, your acting career and your life.
Every audition starts with a breakdown.
Your agent submitted you for a role on a tv show, film or commercial , casting saw your great headshot and decided to send you an audition tape request.
Your agent sends you an email with all the logistics info for your self tape with a project breakdown that looks like this:
If you want to be a better (smarter) actor, It’s imperative that you look for more than just your audition time or self tape deadline. You need to look for any clues that will inform your preparation and performance BEFORE you open your sides.
Who are the storytellers?
What is the director known for?
What are the producers known for?
What are the writers known for?
This is especially important if you’re auditioning for a new show or movie. Properly dissecting your breakdown is integral to understanding the tone and genre your audition performance is serving. Often a full script isn’t available, but by reading through the character breakdowns of all the other roles, you get a ton of information that supports the choices you’ll make when preparing your audition tape.
Without studying the breakdown, you might read the scene in your audition sides and think it’s a scene between two lovers. But the breakdown revealed that they are actually siblings. Those are two very different scenes.
Get all the information you can from the sides before you read the scene, and prime yourself to give an audition performance that offers a solid casting solution for production.
Welcome to the Era of the self tape! Where in the old world, self taping was generally reserved for actors who were on set and couldn’t make it to the casting studio for auditions, or for actors, agents and managers to use as a tool to build relationships, now almost all the first rounds of auditions are self tapes and that’s here to stay. Self taping works! So you can either get on board or miss the boat!
There are a lot of advantages to self tapes. And as the actor, you need to be prepared in a whole new way.
If you don’t have a self tape set up at home, then you’ll need to have a few great taping studios you can contact when auditions pop up. But beware, that means paying anywhere from $30-$150 per session. You’ll get a killer professional quality result, but that adds up over time.
Investing in building a good set up for yourself at home, will not only save you money long term, but set you up for the best possible chance of succeeding in this industry.
When you have access to the equipment you need to make great audition tapes, nothing is stopping you from making them regardless of whether or not you have an audition.
Acting is a muscle and to make this skill grow stronger and fuller, it takes time and dedication. As with any business, the key to a successful acting career is perseverance. A rabid commitment to improving the quality of your acting work for the long haul.
What if you are in a financial strain and you can't afford classes?
What if there aren’t many (or any!) auditions coming your way right now?
You can still put yourself on tape!
Ask a friend to read with you, find sides from the many free online scene databases, or even better ask a teammate if they have sides from any of the productions in your Show Log from Acting tip 5!
If you can’t afford a coach or teacher right now, read books on acting, watch youtube videos, study actors performances in film and tv shows that inspire you. But one thing that is in your control is practicing anywhere you go. In fact, here’s something you can do right now! Read the next sentence out loud:
“_Being a better actor means being a smarter actor and to be a smarter actor, all I have to do is practice and learn._“
Nothing like a little “cold read” exercise that doubles as a motivational moment!
An actor is a human being. If you don’t experience life outside of acting, you have very little to draw from in your work.
If you go into a commercial audition and the casting director asks you to tell a story about yourself and the only thing you’ve got is industry anecdotes, or if they ask about your hobbies and the only thing you say is acting- well that’s not really as good as you might think. We are playing real people when we audition for roles, so we have to live experiences beyond our industry bubble.
Set boundaries for your acting work. Join a rec league, hang out with your friends, take a rock climbing class. Read a self-help book. Take a trip. Take 2 years off to start a family. Do anything you want! Everything in your life outside the realm of acting will strengthen and inform your work long term.
And sometimes it’s nice to have a little break.
And voila! These 10 tips will help you become a smarter actor and therefore a better actor.
An actor who is a benefit to the team you’ve built and to the local filming industry that exists around you.
Many people let the ups and downs of their careers get to them. And that’s because so many things can feel outside of your control. With these tips, you’re on your way to taking back the control. But it’s not always easy.
If you’re feeling like your acting career is going downhill or questioning your decision to pursue an acting career in the first place, wondering whether things will ever get better - Just remember there are many great acting coaches out there willing to offer guidance that will get you back on track.
Whatever you’re doing for your acting career, just make sure you’re having fun! It’s called “entertainment” for a reason. You got this!