Two and a half years ago I received an email from Ben Hodge who teaches acting at his private acting studio, Ben Hodge Studios, and at a high school in York, Pennsylvania. I love a guy with moxie!
Here’s the actual email:
I am an acting teacher and owner of a small acting studio in Central PA. I viewed some of your clips on YouTube, and was interested in possibly setting up a Skype chat for my Acting students. We are always working with bringing in real -world applications and connections, and I feel that you would be a valuable resource to the young actors that I have in my program here at school and the studio.
Let me know what the next steps are!
I ended up teaching his class via Skype. It was something I’d wanted to do for awhile and he reached out and made it happen. They were so eager and ready to learn and the technology made it possible. Over the last couple of years we’ve been trading ideas and learning from each other about Social Media and “all things actor!”
Ben’s been leading the forefront of actor related blogs over the last year and now that I’ve jumped on that platform he approached me with a great idea to talk about scams in the industry. We decided to co-blog and combine our resources.
Ben Hodge: What is the best way to check to see if an organization is a scam?
Google is your friend! With the help of the Internet, you can be your own detective. Be proactive and cover your bases before you shell out your hard-earned money. Just Google the name of the organization or person and put the word “scam” next to it or “reviews” and you’ll probably get a long list of related articles and feedback.
It sorely disappoints me how many people are out there whose sole business model is to take advantage of vulnerable people. You’ve got to arm yourself with some basic logic and business sense. The old adage, “If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.” This absolutely applies to the acting profession. There is NO quick fix. There is NO class or workshop or teacher that can make you a star or “discover” you. It simply doesn’t work that way. Every major actor out there right now has trained for years.
I had a coaching session a couple of months ago with two young sisters who are from a small town in the Southern U.S. Their parents wanted to know if I thought they have “what it takes” to be an actor. A “talent search” company had just rolled through their town and they attended the event. Everyone “tries out” with a very simple audition and then the company gets back to you to say, “You’ve been accepted!!” (everyone gets accepted by the way). In order to attend their “training” camp and meet the “talent executives” there is a fee of $8,000. Yes, you read correctly…$8,000. Each. Notice how I use “training” and “talent executives” in quotes? That’s because the training was non-existent and the talent executives were “D” level at best who were paid handsomely to attend this event and be a Hollywood “expert.” It’s all a scam. They even have the balls to dangle the Disney and Nickelodeon carrot in their advertising. Both Disney and Nickelodeon have absolutely NOTHING to do with this talent search company. Here’s a long list of articles on the subject.
To top it off, I worked with the girls for three hours – they had absolutely no interest in being actors. They just got caught up in the excitement and promise of stardom.
These “talent searches” make their way through our area what seems like every year. I had a recent run-in with one of these organizations a few weeks ago in my local mall which prompted me to put this blog series together. Read about that experience here.
In Los Angeles, there’s a great organization called Biz Parentz who are dedicated to supporting children and parents in the entertainment industry. They are doggedly devoted to uncovering scams where children are concerned. They were also one of the organizations who were instrumental in getting the Krekorian Scam Prevention Act (AB 1319) instituted in California.
Where talent agencies and managers are concerned, you should NEVER pay them to be represented. They take a commission out of the jobs that they procure for you. There should be no up-front fees for representation. If anyone is asking you for a fee to be represented you should report them to your local district attorney and the Better Business Bureau.
A lot of online submission services are cropping up - these services promise to submit your pic/resume to all the casting directors and/or agents and managers for a monthly fee. Frankly, I haven’t seen one that’s effective and their promises seem out of line and unrealistic. If you’re doing your research well, you can do your own submissions and save yourself some money.
I’d like to reiterate the importance of doing your research and questioning before committing to anything. In my case, I have been fortunate enough to find some influential people within the business who are wonderful resources for these questions. I’ve made connections with Marci, Actors Access, and Breakdown Services, Inc. all through email and social media. I can say without a doubt that these connections are worth making, especially if you are in a small market. Small market actors don’t have the excuse of “I can’t make it out to LA/NY” anymore. You might not be able to get there physically or financially yet, but you can get there through the power of technology. Use your social media and online presence to help your research on these issues. You'd be surprised how many ethical and helpful people there are in the acting business.
Ben Hodge: You always hear about actors being told to "spend your money wisely." What are some wise ways that actors can spend their money as they are starting out?
I think the first thing any parent needs to ask their child before they embark on this journey is this: “Why do you want to be an actor?”
If their kid answers, “Because I want to be famous!” - then you’re definitely on the wrong path. The odds of anyone becoming famous are about the same as winning the lottery. Yes, it definitely can happen, but the odds are slim to none. If your child answers something like this: “Because I think it’ll be fun. I’ll learn a lot. I love using my imagination to play different characters. I want to affect people by telling my stories” – then you are definitely on the right path.
When I’m casting kids, I always ask them why they want to be an actor and how’d they get into it. If they say, “I was at the mall and this lady came up to us and said I should get my pictures taken. Then we got an agent and before I knew it I was doing commercials” – most of those kids don’t survive in the long run because they just don’t have the innate passion they’ll need over time. The kids that say, “I’ve wanted to be an actor ever since I was little. I kept asking my parents if I could try and they always said no. After several years of me asking and asking, they finally said yes!” – these are the kids that make it. They act because they have to.
I cannot agree more with this point about being certain about the motivation for getting into acting. Many of my actors end up in my classes or seminars with the dream of becoming famous, well-known and financially successful. They want to escape the small town life for the big-time glitz and glam. I tell my actors that there is nothing wrong with being famous or wanting to be famous. The problem occurs if fame is the main motivator. The main motivator has to be a deep love and respect for performing. Actors should get into acting because they would be miserable if they didn’t, or that a part of them would feel like it was being silenced or shut out from the world. To me, the fame and financial success that can come with acting should always be more of a perk or by-product of artistic and personal success.
Now back to the original question. Whatever market you’re in and wherever you live, you need to be a trained actor. You do this by taking lots and lots of classes and/or going to college or University and majoring in theatre or acting. You’ve got to have a strong foundation and the studying and training never stops. Finding the right teacher for you is very important. For younger actors, I find that too many acting schools seem like glorified babysitting services who use theatre games to make the time go by – rather than teaching an actual skill set and craft. This is not to say that all acting schools/teachers for kids are bad – far from it. You just have to be judicious in finding the right ones that work for you. Word of mouth within your acting community is a great way to get a recommendation for a class or teacher. You can even use Yelp or in Los Angeles Actor Rated is a site dedicated to and run by actors with reviews on everything from head shot photographers to classes.
Speaking of headshots – you’re gonna need them! You’re going to need some great professional head shots that can help sell you to the buyers. I could do a whole blog on head shots alone – but in terms of cost, make sure you look at the photographer’s work ahead of time on their website. Meet the photographer and see if you’re comfortable with them. Talk about what you need from your head shots. These days a photo session costs anywhere from $250-$600 in L.A. and N.Y. and includes a few different looks. Some include hair and makeup, some don’t. I strongly urge you to splurge and get your hair and makeup done by a professional.
There’s really no reason to not have headshots or a resume if you are serious about your acting. Even in a small market, directors and production companies are always interested in an actor’s resume and background. Headshots are used more in marketing and show playbills and it pays to have control over what picture you are putting out there.
A quick note about small market photographers: most of the photographers in small markets are not headshot photographers. Many of them do weddings, senior pictures or other modeling events. There is nothing wrong with photographers doing those things, but just be aware of their portfolio and expertise. Make sure that they have an idea about what makes a good headshot. I’ve seen some headshots that are glorified senior pictures, and that simply won’t work in the long run.
In order to be in touch with what productions are casting, at minimum you need a subscription to Actors Access. Here you will find all the listings (called Breakdowns) that the casting directors send out to the subscribers. You should note that most casting directors send out Breakdowns only to the agents and managers – so if you’re not represented then you won’t see the bulk of the Breakdowns that come out. However (and this is a big however) there are still many Breakdowns that we release to Actors Access because we haven’t found the actor we’re looking for and want to open it up to a wider talent pool.
There are other Breakdown-type services around. Some are more for commercial casting like L.A. Casting/Casting Networks – but I’m not involved with commercials so I can’t really speak to those sites. Some Casting Directors use Now Casting, Let it Cast, and Cast It Talent. I like Cast It Talent a lot because if you are a subscriber, your profile gets embedded in my database and ALL the major CDs databases around the world who use their parent company, Cast It, to upload auditions for their creative team to view..
I blogged extensively about some of these services that Marci mentioned. Click here to read more about Actor’s Access and their other services (ActingLink and Virtual Channels) from Jenna Pass, Director of Media Communications. Click here for more information about Let it Cast from one of the Co-Founders, Yoktan Haddad. I often say to my small market actors that no one is going to know who you are if you don’t start putting yourself out there. “Out there” should be these reputable online CD databases, social media and personal websites.
For anyone interested in finding out more about Actors Access and their services, Actors Access and BHStudios is offering two FREE seminars called "Secrets of the Casting Process" led by Jason Teresi, Director of Regional Services for Actors Access on 9/19/12 in York, PA from 4-6:30pm EST and 7-9:30pm EST. You can register for either session by following the links below:
This event will also be streaming LIVE via the web at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/bhstudiostv
You should also have a subscription to Back Stage Magazine to be up-to-speed on industry news and you can access many casting notices posted there as well. Of course you’re reading the daily trades like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Check in with Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood.com for industry news (and it’s free!)
It’s also wise to have a membership with IMDbPro (the Internet Movie DataBase). It lists all the credits for cast and crew on almost all productions. If you’re going in on an audition, you should do the research on each person you’re going to meet and audition for. Check out the shows they’ve done in the past - know their body of work so you’ll know what they’ll be expecting from you.
Another great tool is Casting About which is an online casting director and production guide. They provide the most up-to-the-minute information on who’s casting what, and their staff info.
Some people will benefit from taking voice lessons to learn how to control their instrument (your voice!). Some will need movement classes so that you have an awareness of your body and how to control it to convey your emotions. Some clients I work with when I’m coaching have little to no training and simply do not know how to stand. Now I know that sounds odd, but we’ll be working on a scene that is a knock-down drag out volatile fight and they’ll be standing, hunched over, with their hands in their pockets. Is that how you’d stand when you’re (verbally) fighting for your life?!
These days you’ll need an online presence. Why not get your own website. At the very least, please secure your domain name for the future when you’re ready to get a website. Make sure to use your name – not something cheesy like starvingactor.com! I’ll bet you know someone right now who’s brilliant at setting up a basic website and you can barter some of your talents (cook them a nice meal, walk their dog, clean their house!) in exchange for setting up your site.
I’d also take a look at your email address. I would set up a new business email account that you will use for your acting-related communications. Save your firstname.lastname@example.org address for your personal use. Go with your first and last name as the user name. The same goes for your social media presence. If you have a personal Twitter handle or Facebook page you should consider creating a business handle and page for any acting-related tweets or posts. Social media is a valuable tool for connecting, educating and advancing your career. Bottom line: keep your personal life personal and your acting business life business.
As you amass more work, you’re going to need a kick-ass demo reel. Check out my earlier blog for what your demo reel should look like in terms of format and content. There are professional companies in every city that can do this for you, or you may know an editor friend who can put it together for you. These days, if you understand the technology, it’s pretty easy to do it yourself on your own computer.
I hope it goes without saying that you’re going to need to take care of your mind and body along the way. Eat right, get plenty of sleep, go to the gym, and spend quality time with your family and friends.
As you can see, there are A LOT of potential expenses and I haven’t even mentioned half of them. Before you buy into any service, make sure you’ve done the due diligence and research them first. Vet everyone you’re going to be paying to (potentially) work with.
For some reason, many people do not see acting as something that should require classes or formal training. Don’t fall into this trap. Finding a good acting class or coach can do wonders for your career. Acting is no different than athletics, music or academics: the more knowledge and practice you get, the better you become at those things. Acting is not something that just naturally happens. Certainly you have to be talented or effective at acting. But acting takes as much training and learning as athletics, academics and music education. Finding good training is crucial and is worth the money. As always, do your research and background checking before you commit to anything. Most acting classes will allow you to vet or audit (sit in on their class) so you can see if it is something you’d be interested in. Vetting a class or instructor is a good idea before you spend your money.
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