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Acting Resumes for Beginners
Written By: Tess Stofko
Over the years, the craft of acting has been mystified and mythologized as an elusive and unattainable goal. In truth, there are actionable steps a beginning actor or actress can take in order to break into the business. Acting, simply put, is a job, much like a mailman, a lawyer or a barista. Actors perform the role of the characters in a story or film and are a cog in the machine that is the film and television industry. That being said, like any other job requires, an actor needs a resume in order to “book roles,” as in “get hired.”
The unemployment rate for actors is at a whopping 98%. This is because actors must constantly renew their employment. Once a project has been completed, the actor is out of work once again. This is why most actors are constantly looking for work, always searching for a role that fits them.
An actor’s resume differs from an ordinary resume. As a business, filmmakers are looking for someone with a particular look, depending on how they envision the character. It stands to reason that an actor's headshot is in fact their true resume. A picture is worth a thousand words. Headshots concisely convey to the casting director your look. This speeds up the elimination process. If they already have a brunette actress cast in another role, they may throw an actor’s headshot out as the onus is on the casting director to find a blonde and a red-head. I give this example because while actors do face a lot of rejection, it usually is not anything personal, rather an arbitrary detail the casting directors are seeking. Much of an actor’s success is based on chance: right place, right time, and luck. Keeping this in mind, an actor’s headshot ought to be industry standard. It is worth it to pay a professional photographer to take your headshots. If you cannot afford a professional photographer, seeking out a student building their portfolio is another option.
The next aspect of an actor’s resume is their (video) reel. Along with a headshot, an actor can submit what is essentially a demo reel. This is a compilation of films the actor has been in. It is typically about 2 minutes, and shows contrasting samples of acting. The beginner actor should aim to have about 10-20 seconds of each film, whether it’s a feature film, an indie film, or even a student film. Ideally, they will demonstrate the actor’s range, from comedy to tragedy. Like the headshot conveys the actor’s look, the reel conveys evidence that they can in fact act. Enlisting the help of an editor/sound designer is extremely helpful in this endeavor, if the actor themselves has no editing experience. Editing is a very difficult craft, and while it usually goes unnoticed, it will have a huge impact on the flow of an actor’s reel.
The last item of an actor’s resume is the written resume. This resume resembles our more traditional notion of a resume. This details the actor’s experience. It should list the production company or school, the name of the film or play, the name of the role the actor performed as, and the year it was made. The written resume is even more so necessary for actors who may not have film experience, but theatre experience exclusively, such as: plays, immersive theatre, community theatre, school productions, main stage plays, off-off-off broadway shows etc. The formatting of the actor’s resume is very important. It should start off with the actors name at the top, followed by their union status. In America, union status is either SAG-AFTRA (for film and television), equity (for theatre), or simply “non-union.” Below this, actors then detail their statistics, that is height, hair color, and eye color. Next is the contact information of the actor’s agent. If they do not have an agent, then the actor can simply put their own information down, either their phone number, email, or both, so they can get in contact with them in some shape or form. Actors can also link their website onto their resume, as a website can contact their headshots, reel and resume all in one place. All of this information must be at the top of the actor’s resume. Past that are the actor’s credits. The first section of the resume must begin with television credits. In the first column is the series or show title. The second column is for billing, that is whether the actor was a costar, a guest star, a recurring character or a series regular. The third column will be the network name or the streaming service name, and the director. The second section of the resume is then dedicated to film credits. Much like the first section, the actor writes the film title, the billing, in the case of film: lead, supporting or principal actor, and then the name of the director in the third column. Background work DOES NOT go on an acting resume. Many beginner actors may think that adding their background experience may be valued and show their professionalism in the business, however this is seen as a faux pas indicating that the actor is in fact UNPROFESSIONAL, as professional actors understand that background work is not considered relevant experience.
In short, the holy trinity of an actor’s resume is the actual physical resume detailing their credits, their video reel demonstrating their ability to act, and of course, the OG resume for actors: their headshot, a portrait of the actor. These three items together are what make an actor a formidable contender in the business. Hard work beats talent any day, and putting all this together doesn’t happen overnight.