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Surviving Actors Manual

Surviving Actors Manual

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Surviving Actors Manual

173 pagine
2 ore
Oct 8, 2015


The essential, one-stop handbook for actors, with everything you need to survive and thrive, from the team behind the internationally successful Surviving Actors conventions.

Being an actor is a vocation, but it’s also a real-life job. Talent, determination and passion are vital, but will only get you so far. In addition to developing the craft of acting, actors have to remember that it is a career, and so the business side needs to be taken just as seriously.

This manual covers the day-to-day essentials you need to succeed in the industry, with sections that cover:

  • Establishing your personal brand and business plan
  • Getting great headshots, showreels, voicereels and a website
  • Dealing with agents, casting directors and auditions
  • Developing your networking skills
  • And managing your money

Honest, straightforward, but also empowering, it will help you unlock your potential and focus on being the best, most employable - and, hopefully, successful - actor you can be.

Compiled by the team at Surviving Actors, and drawing on a wide range of other experienced professionals, theSurviving Actors Manual is designed to help you develop and sustain your career and to create your own new opportunities.

Felicity Jackson and Lianne Robertson both trained as actors. Together they run Surviving Actors, founded in 2009 to help and encourage other actors in all areas of their professional lives.

Oct 8, 2015

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  • First impressions matter! The interview is a great opportunity for an agent to see how you would come across in auditions, how serious you are about your career, and if you have a good sense of your own personal brand and likely casting.

  • This can be based on your body language, attitude, dress code or appearance. It’s important to be aware of your first impression in this industry, as you are being judged at every audition, rehearsal, production and more.

  • Potential employers want to see an actor’s range and ability, so pieces should be carefully se-lected with the strongest material up first.

  • It is important to promote yourself, but sometimes it is more important to engage a person and create a bond.

  • Women should do their hair similar to how it is in their headshot and try to keep make-up consistent.

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Surviving Actors Manual - Felicity Jackson




Your Personal Brand

Creating and developing your own personal brand, and being aware of exactly who you are, is a crucial start to fine-tuning your craft and focusing your career goals. But in order to develop your own brand, you first need to know what it is!

The first step would be to look at your image, the roles you’ve been called in for, and even the ones you have gained. Who is the person the rest of the world sees when it looks at you? Be careful not to focus on who you want it to see, but who it really sees. Think about what it is about you that people notice first. When identifying your brand, be wary of taking the easy route by copying someone else or by trying to be another generic actor. You are really looking for a unique factor about yourself that you can promote and ensure people remember. Be careful not to make your ‘unique selling point’ so niche that it rules you out of too many jobs. Find a unique feature that works in film, television and theatre.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help with your branding – speak to your agent, or if you don’t have an agent, perhaps a dramaschool teacher or a friend who has experience in the industry. Look at what you like and what excites you. Read through your CV and think about the work you’ve done. Look at your appearance, your skills, your background, your voice. Look at what you perceive as your potential strengths – but also your potential weaknesses, and use them to your advantage. What experiences do you have that are slightly different from many of your peers?

What is the common factor in the roles you have previously been cast in?

Your brand is not completely set in stone, and you can certainly tweak it to fit the type of actor you want to be – within reason. Consider these key questions:

What roles can you see yourself playing in five years’ time, and why?

Which directors would you really like to work with in the future, and why?

Which actors have the career you want, and why? Remember these don’t have to be famous faces – they can just be working actors you admire.

Write down your answers to these questions – it will help focus your mind – and then start to look for the links between your answers. Is there a particular sort of work they specialise in, for instance? Connections between certain actors and the roles they have played? If you can find a few common factors, this will help you determine what type of actor you might already be, or want to be in the future. It’s another way of focusing on what your brand is.

If you have recently graduated from drama school and do not yet have any professional experience, be careful not to refer back only to your time at drama school for key factors and common themes in roles you’ve been cast in. Training is a great opportunity to play with various roles and be cast in a way you may never be again in the professional world. Directing a drama-school production involves picking from a very small pool of people, meaning that there are many roles you may play during your training that are out of your casting range once you’ve graduated. Developing your personal brand is all about experience, so don’t rush this process. You may need to live outside the bubble of drama school for a year or longer before you can really start to identify and hone your own personal brand. You are on a journey throughout your acting career and your learning certainly doesn’t end when you walk out of the drama school for the last time.

Here, Melody Hossaini, founder of InspirEngage International, a social enterprise training people to develop skills for social impact and success, explains why your personal brand is your greatest asset and how you can create you own in four steps:

Let’s look at what ‘brand’ means. The dictionary defines it as ‘a particular identity regarded as an asset’ – so why do so many of us make the mistake of thinking this is only relevant in connection to products or services?

In my experience, there’s no asset of greater value than your personal brand. If we trust the individual, and like or respect what they stand for, we are more likely to buy in to what they have to sell. There are examples of very strong personal brands out there. It’s good to take inspiration from successful people, but don’t waste your efforts trying to be the next Kate Winslet or Leonard DiCaprio – they’re already taken.

Each individual has their own unique path to success, and that path will only be determined by a clear sense of identity and establishing your personal brand. These are the four key steps to developing and communicating yours:


What’s your story? What are your values? What makes you unique? These are questions you should consider when discovering your personal brand. As part of this journey, you’ll also discover your passion. If you can then turn your passion into a career, you don’t have to work a day in your life! Your brand is a mixture of professional and personal factors. It’s not only who you are in terms of qualifications, experience and skill set, but also who you are in terms of being an introvert or extrovert, a leader or a deputy, a details person or a blue-sky thinker.


The second stage is creating your brand – how would you want it to be manifested, and on what platforms? The important thing here is to be consistent. Your brand values are the filter through which you run all of your decision-making: what’s right and wrong, what’s worthy of your time, focus and resources, and who you choose to surround yourself with.


You’ve discovered and created your brand – now you need to let people know you exist and what you offer. I would strongly recommend using social media to build the brand behind your cause. The various platforms such as blogs, Twitter and YouTube can reach huge numbers in a short space of time. I’ve found that through communicating my personal brand using interactive methods, people are a lot more likely to engage with me.


Your brand needs maintaining, so if you’re using social and digital media to manifest your brand, you should update your content and monitor feedback. It should also reflect your work with your beneficiaries.

I once read: ‘Wealth is what you have when you’ve lost everything.’ I would say that if one day you lost everything, the one thing no one can ever take away from you would be your personal brand. That’s what sets you apart from the other seven billion people on the planet.

It can take a long time to fine-tune your personal brand, but once you’ve decided what type of actor you are, and the brand that you want to portray, look at the material you are using to support this, such as your headshots, showreel, business cards and website. All the tools you use to communicate and to market yourself need to be in keeping with your personal brand.



Your Business Plan

In this chapter, Rebekah Daven Watson from The Actors’ Café outlines why a strong, well-constructed business plan is essential for every actor (many areas that she describes are expanded and developed throughout this book):

‘I’m not a business,’ you may say, ‘I’m an actor!’ But you have a product and customers, and you make sales and file a tax return every year because you are registered as self-employed with HMRC. Therefore, you are a business. It’s a tough mindset to take on, but once you do, it will help inform how you run this business from day to day.

The acting industry has changed a great deal over the last few years. These days it’s not necessarily the most talented actor who succeeds; it’s the one who has a business plan, who knows the industry, and who knows how to be seen and cast. During an interview, LA acting coach Bernard Hiller was asked, ‘What are some of the most common mistakes that you see actors make?’ He replied, ‘I can say the biggest mistake is that you have to know first of all it’s called show business. It’s not called show up, it’s not called show off, it’s called show business.’

You need to understand your product and your customers and to have a marketing strategy, solid businesses values, set goals and a financial plan. You need to work on your business every day. Having a business plan will stop your acting from becoming a very expensive hobby.

My brother James rode a motorbike from London to Cape Town. He had a meticulously laid-out plan that included safe roads, fuel stops, accommodation and places to buy parts for his bike. He knew what visas he needed for where and when, and any changes in currency. He had backup options should things go wrong. He had a plan, a very detailed one in fact.

You could try thinking of your business plan as a road map. If you’re going on a long journey, you need to know how to get from A to B. If you struggle with the concept of a business plan, call it something else – your road map, your blueprint or your game plan. It doesn’t matter how you got to where you are currently, perhaps you went to drama school or university, or you went straight into work with a theatre-in-education company. What’s important is where you’re going, and how you are going to get there.

Your business plan needs to be just as detailed as a road map, but it’s also a living and breathing document. Like a list of directions to get you from London to Cape Town, you might have to make adjustments. There might be roadworks or other obstacles, and you’ll need to adjust your plan to keep going. James had an unexpected issue with his visa and had to make changes en route, but he calmly sorted it out and then set off again because he had a plan in place.

Things can change not only in your career, but in life too. You should refer to your business plan on a regular basis so that you can check your progress and adjust your route if necessary. Your business plan should include some, if not all, of the following sections. Experiment and find a plan that sits comfortably with you – and one that you can stick to.

Your Product

When you start writing your business plan, the first thing to consider is: What is the product that you are selling? What’s special about you? What do you bring to the industry that no one else does? Most people don’t know what’s special or unique about them, and they are therefore going into the business without knowing what they are selling or what their gifts really are. That is the biggest mistake, because if you’re a salesman and you don’t know what you’re selling, then you’re out of business.

In addition to working with your agent to find opportunities, create your own product. Don’t leave your career up to chance – take charge of it: put on a fringe production, create a short film or produce a web-series. With the resources out there, there are many things you can do to propel your career forward.

Your Big Hairy Audacious Goal

This is your overall business statement similar to a vision statement (or a super-objective). It focuses on a single, medium-to-long-term, audacious goal. It’s what gets you out of bed in the morning, the one goal that drives you when you have to do another shift at your day job. It is the reason you are an actor in the first place, and it’s entirely your goal, no one else’s. Each actor will have different goals, none of which is wrong. The only thing to make sure is that it’s big and bold. What’s your Mount Everest?

Your Goals

Once you’ve decided upon your ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ – or your ‘Long-term Vision’ if you prefer that term – you need to break this down into lots of mini-goals. You can’t just take one stride up the mountain to the top – you have to take lots of little steps that are more manageable. The best way to set a goal is to follow the acronym ‘SMART‘, which stands for:

Specific: Be clear and precise about what you need to achieve.

Measurable: Your goal should contain an element that can be measured (e.g. quantity or time).

Achievable: It is important to set a goal that can be achieved…

Realistic: …and is realistic in terms of your other commitments.

Time-framed: You should be able to set a time by which you will achieve this goal (e.g. in a week or by 1

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