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5 Things You Should Know Before Getting Started in the Acting Industry

Dani Alicia is an actress, writer, and entrepreneur. She writes about topics that interest her.

Before you start sending out your headshots, read this!

Before you start sending out your headshots, read this!

Things to Know About Acting

Breaking into the acting industry can be confusing and frustrating. Who do you talk to? How do you get started? Is this a scam? These are a few common questions that most beginners encounter when they decide that they want to give acting a shot.

The truth is, there is no single, set-in-stone way to get started in the acting industry. There are, however, a few things that you should know and a few basic tools that you will need. Here are some tips that will help you to get started.

1. Consider Your Acting Career a Business

A lot of people don't look at their acting career from the right perspective. When people say, "I want to be an actor," they only look at a small part of the picture. They see themselves in front of a camera or on stage reading scripts. They think about Hollywood and red carpets. They usually think of acting as a verb—simply something that you do. But having an acting career is very similar to owning a business. As an actor, the first (and possibly the most important) thing that you must understand is that your acting career is a business and the product that you sell is yourself.

What does this mean? Well, if you have experience managing a business, you probably understand where I'm coming from with this, but let's assume that you don't have that experience. In the acting industry, directors cast roles based on character descriptions. For example, say a director posts this casting:

Role: Melissa

Description: Open to all ethnicities, late 20s

This is a very general description. Many actresses would be able to fit this role. The casting director may get hundreds of submissions from actresses for this role, and he/she has to narrow it down to one person. This is where you have to think of yourself as the product. Why would this casting director want to "buy" you instead of some other actress?

It is important to make investments in your business so that you will be able to compete with the competition. What type of investments, you ask? Just as a store has to market its products, keep its stores and products clean and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, hire managers to make sure it runs smoothly, provide training, and budget finances, you, as an actor, will have to do the same for your acting career. These topics are covered in a little more detail below.

2. If You're Going to Be a Serious Actor, You Need an Agent

This doesn't mean that you need one when you first start. The vast majority of people start their acting careers without an agent. But although it is possible to land some roles without an agent, the chances of landing a high-paying primary role without an agent are slim. Also, having an agent reduces your chances of running into problems or scams.

If you are a serious actor, not having an agent is like running a delivery service with a bike. But what about those people who get their "big break" because they were discovered walking in the mall? The chances that you will be "discovered" are also slim to none. If you are going to be a serious actor, you need to eventually get an agent. Now, this raises the question of: "How do I get an agent?"

How to Get an Agent

Getting an agent is no easy task. First and foremost, you have to seek out legitimate agencies. There are many scam artists out there preying on people like you, beginning actors who have big dreams and a small amount of knowledge about the industry. There are a few things about agencies that can help you determine whether or not they are legitimate.

Agents do not charge you money for representation. Agents get paid a certain percentage (a commission) of what you make when you book an acting job. Generally, agents usually take a commission of 10–20%.

This is not to say that you won't spend any money at all when you get started. For example, the very first agency that decided to represent me charged a $65 orientation fee. They told me that the charge covers the cost of marketing my materials. It was only a one-time fee, and since it was just a little bit of money, I decided to take a chance and pay it. The agency turned out to be very legitimate, and I had a wonderful experience during my time working with them.

Not all agencies charge an orientation fee. Some agencies may not charge anything at all. However, it is important to remember that if they say something like: "We'd love to represent you (your child). All it costs to register for our services is xxx amount of dollars . . . " then they are not an agency. They are selling you a service.

Avoid Scams

If they hold a huge open call, take a whole hour to tell you about their services, and then tell you that you have to have a one-on-one interview before they can tell you how much their services cost (like when they advertise those ads on the radio about meeting the agency at your local Holiday Inn), run out of the building as fast as you can. It's a scam.

If a so-called agent promises you that they are going to make you a star, chances are that they are not a legitimate agent. Any good agent will tell you that there are no guarantees in the industry.

How Agencies Interview

Agencies have several different ways of interviewing new talent. They may hold open calls. They may only take mail submissions. Maybe they only schedule one on one appointments. But I can guarantee you that a legitimate agent will not require you to send in any nude photos or to come into their "office" and pose nude or take nude photos. Also, if they tell you to meet them at their home or in some old, abandoned building, just remember all those crazy slasher movies that you've watched.

Although you will have to make an investment in acting classes and photos, a legitimate agency will never require you to use a specific photographer, spend a certain amount on headshots, or take specific classes. If they tell you something like, "We'd love to represent you! All you have to do is sign up for our classes......" chances are they are a school, not an agency.

If they say, "All you have to do is have your photos taken by (name of photographer or photography studio), chances are they are not an agency. Legitimate agencies may, however, recommend a good photographer, and they may also prefer certain headshots over others.

Make sure that you research the agencies that you are interested in. Check with the Better Business Bureau, check blogs and/or message boards, and research their success stories. And most importantly, trust your instincts.

One of my personal headshots

One of my personal headshots

3. Serious Actor or Not, You Will Still Need Headshots

A headshot is an 8x10 professional photograph of an actor, normally taken from the shoulders up to the head. Some actors also use three-quarter shots taken from the knees up to the head. They usually have the actor's name printed on them. Actors staple resumes to the back, or you can get your resume printed directly on the back. Headshots can be black and white or color (although color headshots are very popular now).

Headshots are your business cards in the acting industry. You have to have them. No questions asked. Getting a really good headshot can be very frustrating. First, you have to choose a good photographer. Research the photographer. Call the BBB, and check out the photographer's portfolio.

Remember, not all photographers are experienced with actors' headshots! This is something that I learned the hard way. If you are viewing their portfolio and you don't see any headshots, chances are that they don't know about headshots, even if they tell you they can do it. Headshots prices range from photographer to photographer. Shop around before settling on one photographer.

Also, some headshot sessions include hair and makeup, and some don't. If they don't, you will have to get these done on your own. Some headshot sessions include reproductions (physical prints) of the headshots, and some don't. There also may be what the photographer calls a "sitting fee."

I have no clue what the purpose of this fee is. I think it may be just a way for the photographer to earn some extra money for nothing. It's important to know everything that your headshot session includes. Ask the photographer to explain all of the pricing and details of the session in full before you take your pictures.

A typical casting call (casting call for "Tetherball")

A typical casting call (casting call for "Tetherball")

4. There Are Thousands of Acting Roles, but There Are Tens of Thousands of Actors

According to, there are approximately 40,000 productions per year in NYC alone. There are about 100 productions daily in NYC. According to NYC Filmmakers and Actors Collective, there are approximately 60,000 actors in NYC alone. In other words, the competition is fierce. There will always be lots of people auditioning for the same role(s) that you are. Make sure you always bring your A-game.

There are a few things that will help you to have a fighting chance in this industry. Take acting classes. Yes, I know you have that natural acting ability, but no one knows everything. After all, if you did, you probably wouldn't be reading this. Acting classes aren't always just about acting.


Some teach you general information about the industry, accent reduction classes, acting techniques, audition techniques, improvisation, voiceover, etc. Acting classes range in price. There are also acting schools that offer a full-time program. Basically, get some type of training under your belt.

Stay in Shape

Staying in shape can boost your career tremendously. This doesn't mean losing 100 pounds and becoming a size 2. It means to be healthy. If you can't walk up a flight of stairs without being light-headed by the time you reach the top, chances are that your career isn't going to go very far, and you need to get in shape. Do you smoke? Stop, or at least cut back. You don't want to walk into an audition smelling like you just walked out of a bar.

Also, smoking stains your teeth, not to mention the fact that it's just plain unhealthy. Get the proper amount of rest, drink lots of water, exercise . . . I could list a hundred ways to be healthy, but I'm sure you get the general idea.


Network with people. Knowing people in the acting industry definitely pays off. Get phone numbers, become Facebook friends, and do what it takes to keep in touch. This includes other actors/actresses, directors, agents, producers, etc. Please keep in mind that directors, agents, producers, etc. are very busy individuals, so you may not be able to keep a close, personal relationship with these people, but you can keep in touch by getting their website addresses, business cards, following them on Twitter, etc. You get the idea.

5. Having Some Sort of Skill Goes a Long Way

You've seen action movies where some or all of the actors are doing martial arts, military-related roles, biking, running, swimming, playing tennis, soccer, baseball, shooting a weapon, playing the piano, guitar, drums, etc. Chances are that these actors had some sort of experience with the actions that they are performing on television or on stage.

A casting director is more likely to cast someone who already knows how to play the piano versus casting someone that they have to teach. This isn't set in stone; I'm simply saying that having a skill goes a long way.

Some people try to think of some exceptional skills that they have, but almost any skill can be put on a resume. I recently ran across a casting that was looking for people who could play Texas hold 'em. Didn't think that was a skill, did you?

Also, having different types of outfits and costumes can go a long way also. Many roles require the actor to bring their own outfits. It may say something like "bring two outfits, one upscale, one casual," or maybe "actors with their own clown costume is a plus." So before you throw away that old Halloween costume, think about your acting career.

Being a part of the entertainment industry doesn't have to be frustrating. Don't expect to become a star overnight. Do your research, be smart, and stay motivated in order to succeed.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Roy on October 06, 2019:

Hii Thanks for your helpful advice

tumelo komane on January 14, 2014:

I'm all the way from South Africa And This Has Been So Helpfuly In So Many Ways,Thanks #Aspiring Actor

mary on December 04, 2013:

thanks i learnt a lot

Tina C on July 28, 2012:

Thank you so much for the knowledge, I shall use tools. wish everyone success in their career.

Skyler on May 24, 2012:

So helpful I will definitely use this!

titis on March 25, 2012:

that's great

ayzia on February 29, 2012:

This helped me with my acting career project at the spur of the moment a lot thanks soo much.

yvette on January 24, 2012:

I'm so glade that I took the time to read this. I really want to be an actress and much more . Thanks again. Yvette

George on September 27, 2011:

Hi my name is George I am trying to become an actor,I have not taken any training as of yet,should I take training first before headshots my email is Gwiz

Daniel on January 24, 2011:

Thank you. You have no idea how much this helped.

katrina on July 15, 2010:

thanks,this will be very helpful if i try to go into the acting industry!!!!!

Mark from Alabama,USA on June 02, 2010:

Very nice hub , well written and it give you something to think about