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  • Writer's pictureRay Watters


Updated: Mar 3, 2023

Many times, friends and acquaintances have asked how to get into the acting business.Some think all they need do is have a photo, put themselves out to be discovered, and voila…they’re on screen! Well, for some people, that can work if your desire is to be a background actor (AKA Extra), but doesn't really work if you want to be a serious actor.

Film and television rely on people to be in the background. Look at any film or TV show and you will see people walking on the streets, in restaurants, or perhaps working in an office. These people are essential to the film since having no background activity would look unnatural. The people you see are known as Extras, or Background Artists. While they are essential to the production, being an Extra requires no training and anyone can sign up to a service that casts Extras. Examples include Central Casting in Los Angeles, Legacy Casting in Dallas, Third Coast Casting in Austin, or Extras Casting in Atlanta, just to name a few. If you want to get into the business of acting, being an extra is a great way to start. You not only make money, but you get to experience what happens on a film or TV set. Many people enjoy being an extra, love hanging around celebrities and have done well financially and choose to continue in this pursuit, especially if they have managed some union work as an extra and have joined SAG/AFTRA, the performers union. Do understand that in the hierarchy of the set, the Extra is at the very low end and some times not treated very well.

However, if you really want to pursue the craft of acting, there is work to be done. First, if you are working as an extra and have reached the point of being eligible to join SAG/AFTRA, I would highly recommend against it. Training and experience are very important.There are many student and non-union films that look for aspiring actors. Working in these projects can build your resumé and give you valuable experience. If you were a member of a performer’s union, you would not be able to work any non-union project, So…if you want to join the union, wait until you gain experience.

Finding a good headshot photographer is a must! You will need theatrical and commercial headshots. You can look online and on Facebook for recommendations.

I cannot emphasize enough the value of training.If you have no formal college training in theater, look for acting classes in your locale.There are many great acting coaches in several cities, but I would strongly suggest doing some research first. Look for recommendations online. Training never stops if you want to be professional. Professional actors should "keep the instrument tuned" by attending ongoing acting classes. Many agencies make this a requirement.

When you get to the point of having training and experience and feel it is time to look for a talent agent…be very very careful.There is a plethora of dishonest folks out there who will promise you fame and fortune and be very happy to part you with your money. Rule of thumb…if they want money…run away! There are “talent agencies” who will tell you that you have tremendous potential and want you to take their classes and use their photographers for headshots.They will happily take thousands of dollars from you and give you nothing but promises.

Reputable talent agencies do not charge for representing actors.They make their money by taking a percentage of your earnings.Typically, talent agents will take ten percent of your earnings in union jobs and twenty percent for non-union jobs. It is not easy to get representation since talent agencies choose their clients carefully.They want to be sure the actor is serious in the profession and continues to improve their craft through training.They don't make money unless you book and you don't book unless you're serious about your craft.Talent agencies have websites that explain how to submit. Be sure you have current, professional headshots and that your resumé is up-to-date before submitting.

You can, if you choose, skip getting an agent and self-submit. There is Actors Access and Casting Networks (you should have both, even with an agent), however most large roles go straight to agents. If you're serious about acting as a career, you should seek representation. That's a separate blog.

There is nothing I would rather do as a vocation other than acting. Being on a film set is a total joy for me. But it is hard work that many times require long hours on set with a lot of time spent waiting and running your lines for the next scene. As an example, one episode of a TV series normally takes about eight days to complete and the hours each day can be very long.

I love every minute of it!

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