So You Want to Be a TV and Movie Actor? (5 Tips to Help You Succeed)

Updated on October 2, 2019
WH Thomas profile image

As an actor and a parent of actors, I have been through the audition process countless times, so I know how it all works.

All the world’s a stage, at least according to William Shakespeare. Life is like a movie with highs and lows, love and loss, and tons of drama. We all have a part to play, and there are no auditions. We already have the role and we act it for life.

But what about acting for a living? Can you really make it in the movie industry? There are no guarantees with anything, but if you work hard and smart, you can increase your chances of success.

My Acting Story

In the ‘90s, I started working background with my wife and kids and then booked a recurring actor role on a series. I really enjoyed it, but as I was married and raising a family, I needed to work full time and bring in a steady paycheck.

How can I give you acting advice then? I am fortunate to also have two children in the industry. Both were successful child actors and I have seen the industry from an actor and a parent of an actor. I have been through the audition process countless times and on hundreds of sets so I know how it all works.

Buckle your seatbelt, because I’m gonna give you a crash course in how to become an actor in TV and movies.

Where Do You Start?

Before you become an actor, you need to ask yourself, “Is this really what I want to do?”

It’s actually hard to answer that question when you have zero knowledge of how the industry works. My advice is to begin by becoming a movie extra. This is the easiest way to get on set and see what it’s all about. You don’t have to audition, and there is lots of work in the major filming cities like NY, LA, and Vancouver.

Extra work is fun; there’s lots of food and you get paid. You need to start here so you can get a feel for the industry. This is just the on-set experience you are getting, but it lets you know what happens when you book an actor role. Long days and lots of waiting around, that’s for sure.

Now that you know what being on set is like, what should you do next?

1. Learn the Trade

It’s time to get schooled. You can enroll in full time acting courses or take some night classes. You can even sign up for a workshop or get 1-on-1 training.

We’ve all heard stories of people getting discovered at the mall or the coffee shop but that is rare. That also has nothing to do with acting skill, it’s all about the look. You can bet my next pay check that those “new discoveries” are in classes right away.

Student films are also a great way to get experience in front of the camera. You will work with eager crew people that want to make it like you. It’s also a great place to network. You never know if the next Spielberg is filming you.

You need to get some skills and honestly, it’s vital. When you approach an agent they will ask you if you’ve had training. You can confidently say yes and use those new skills right away on your first audition.

2. Find an Agent

Ok, you’ve been on set, you’ve got some skills, now is the time to contact some agents.

You should call several and try to set up appointments. Agents' rosters change all the time and they may not want to take on your type. Don’t take it personally, just move on to the next one. Once you get a few to meet with go in there confidently but humble. You also want to make sure they are a good fit for both of you.

Bring in your resume and headshots if you have them. The reason I didn’t ask you to get headshots first is because you don’t want to get them twice. Your new agent may prefer the photographer of their choice. They may also suggest acting lessons from someone they know or a coach for auditions.

You don’t have to follow their advice but remember: They have trusted contacts in the industry that know what it takes to get booked. If you can afford it follow through on what they recommend. It will also tell them you are willing to take their advice and be at your best.

Remember, they only get paid when you get paid. They want you to succeed.

Now you have an agent. They will start sending you out to auditions—usually for commercials first to get your feet wet. There will be cattle calls so it’s you and 20 other people that look like you. It’s pretty humbling, but don’t sweat it. Just go in there and do your best.

3. Network

There’s nothing wrong with getting a helping hand. People you meet in the industry are all working towards the same goal: working. If you can connect with someone that can help you book a gig then that’s what you need to do. Always be genuine and never use anybody. Friends are vital in this business and enemies are crushing.

Make sure casting directors get to know you. They are the ones bringing you in to audition. Go to industry events and union meetings and make friends. One day you could be the one to help someone else, too.

4. Nail the Reading (How to Prepare for an Audition)

You should have a good skill set from your training, but here are a few more tips to be ready.

Memorize Your Lines

As soon as you get your sides, burn them into your memory. Don’t wait until the last minute. Memorizing them isn’t enough. You have to act them. Understand your character and work it several ways.

If you need a coach then get one. They have experience working on audition lines so use them when you can. Once you have the script memorized and a few ways to deliver them, add one more that’s a little out there. You never know what they are going to ask in the room. Be over-prepared!

Know Your Character's Wardrobe

Take the time to figure out what your character would wear. You only get one first impression so help the casting directors “see” the character. When you get home, write down what you wore for the audition. If you get a callback, you need to wear the same outfit.

Be on Time

There’s nothing worse than being late for an audition. Even worse is being late on set. Make a point of getting there early, wherever there is. Go an hour early and rest in your car. It will also give you time to run lines. Also the night before make sure you get to bed early. You can go give 'er on another night. Your friends will get over it. Make your acting career your priority.

5. Learn to Handle Rejection

There will be many auditions and they will stick in your head. Ones you nail may never happen and ones you think you blew you might book. Have a thick skin and don’t get hung up on the losses. Most will be losses. That’s the nature of the beast.

Don’t forget that you may not have the look they are looking for. And if you do, they may have to match you up with other actors. There are also lots of politics involved, so don’t take it personally. Just nail the audition and move on to the next.

What Else Is Left to Say?

How about never give up. It’s going to be a long, hard road with lots of pitfalls. Do it anyway. This is what you want to do with your life. Take it seriously and give it your all. What’s the worst that can happen?

Pursuing your dreams always comes with a cost, but it’s a price worth paying. Even if you don’t make it to the destination you had in mind, you will certainly enjoy the journey; I sure have.

Now go out there and act up a storm. You never know when a hurricane might pick you up and drop you off at the Oscars!

© 2018 WH Thomas


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