Stumbling out into the acting world and realising that 87%* of the world’s population is now made up of actors (*official figure estimated by me), can make new actors panic a little. We are constantly told to bow and scrape for the smallest morsel of an opportunity. Because, if we won’t do it there are at least five hundred other actors within a ten-metre radius who will, and might do a little dance too.
With the chances of landing a decent acting job growing slimmer and slimmer as the talent pool floods its banks, there are many ways in which actors get completely done-over in the hopes of sticking their head above water. So here is a list of tips on how to avoid taking bad bait:
Do your homework. Dig up information on companies you’re auditioning for, or agents who approach you. Being friends with lots of actors helps a lot, as does joining actor groups like the British Actors’ Network on Facebook. If you get an audition for a company and ten of your mates simultaneously chorus, “SWERVE”, you might want to be washing your hair that day.
Be careful with your money. There are thousands of ways for people to make money out of young, hopeful, big-dreaming actors. One is to offer ‘workshops’ with casting directors (CD), which is essentially where you pay (handsomely) to be in a room with one. While meeting a CD might get you cast in something, and at least gets you on their radar, it can be a huge waste of money. You are better off inviting CDs to see you in a show or sending them a show-reel.
Things actors definitely should pay for: headshots, Equity membership (I’ll get to this), casting website memberships (I’ll get to this too), a copy of Contacts, proper training, and selective refresher classes at reputable schools (for example the Actors Centre. Anything else, shop with caution.
Agents. This is going in bold: No reputable agency will charge upfront fees to join. Good agents will take a commission of between 15 and 20% of the pay from any work they find you (although some will take a cut of anything you find for yourself too). Don’t get star struck just because an ‘agent’ rings you up out of nowhere, mispronounces your name and claims to be desperate to sign you on the strength of your one unpaid short film credit. Check them out. And on that note:
Be judgemental. If the website looks like my GCSE IT coursework, if they call you ‘u’ in an email and put ‘lol YOLO xxxxxx’ at the end, judge the hell out of them and do some more digging before you work with them.
Oh yeah I promised to do casting websites. Don’t sign up to every single casting website you can find. But you must be a member of Spotlight – having a Spotlight profile is simply a mark of a professional actor, and many agencies won’t represent clients without one. Dramanic and Casting Call Pro are also worth the money. There are lots of other casting sites, but even just signing up to those three will cost hundreds per year so the fewer the merrier.
Low pay/no pay. By all means do unpaid work (there is plenty out there), but only if you think it might benefit your experience or contacts. It is a great way to get a load of those useful actor friends I mentioned. But know when enough is enough. Once you’ve earned your stripes it’s time to start valuing your own training and experience in monetary terms.
Profit share. Rule of thumb: ‘profit share’ in fringe theatre usually means ‘almost no money’. Don’t expect a tasty cut, even if you sell out.
Films. When making an unpaid film, make sure your expenses will be covered and that you’ll get a copy of the film when it’s made, this is a minimum standard. No one wants to pay to travel to an unpaid shoot out of his or her own pocket, and then not even be able to cry over footage of themselves not being paid afterwards. If you are lucky enough to get a contract (wonder of wonders!) get Equity to check it for you. Yes I promise I’ll get to Equity, it is proper important so it goes at the end.
Choose your auditions wisely. I once paid £90 and spent a total of 12 hours on a train in order to audition for a film in Glasgow. I didn’t get the part. STUPID, STUPID.
Never feel pressured to undress in an audition. Unless you are into that sort of thing.
Don’t count your chickens. You might hear from your agent that you are ‘pencilled’ in for a role, but even if they have got you down for it in black sharpie, oil paint and their own blood, it is not a sure thing until you are there shooting it. And if you are cast, don’t start spending the buyout fee until it is literally in your bank account. A lot has to not screw up between getting cast and money day.
So you know I said about joining Equity? Join Equity . If a shoddy employer knows you are with Equity they’ll think twice about ripping you off. Equity also campaign for better pay for actors. You can help Equity out with this by being vocal about what is being paid by what company. Boycott theatres known not to pay actors, and big up companies that treat them fairly. Respect yourself as a professional, respect other industry professionals, and don’t expect to be exploited in order to succeed. Lol YOLO xxxxxx