William Mapother

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I Know It When I See It

Posted on: April 15th, 2012 by wmapother 2 Comments

(Another in a series of posts to actors.  For more of these check out the ‘Info to Actors’ category at left.)

Recently, I discussed with a casting director how much more competitive
it’s become for actors in Hollywood. She was sympathetic—up to a point. Because when actors face more competition, it’s also means that her job has become that much more difficult, i.e., she’s drowning in photos and phone calls. (I was sympathetic—up to a point.) Her rough numbers, which, per other CD’s, are very representative:

Submissions for one guest star role on a TV episode:  1,000.
Number of those actors she has time to audition: 10-15.

Okay, pull yourself up off the ground and get some caffeine.

A few takeaways from this example:

A. It explains why it’s tough to get seen for roles that you’re not known for or a natural at:  The CD has a very limited opportunity to find the right actor for the role.
B. The general odds:  1) of booking an audition:  one in 12, and 2) of getting an audition: one in 83.  Lesson: It’s far harder to get #2.
C. You must be sure to allocate efforts to just getting auditions—it’s the best way to boost your chances of booking. Duh, right? Of course you need an audition in order to book a job. It seems obvious, but in my experience most actors don’t focus nearly enough on this step.

So how, exactly, do you increase your chances of getting an audition?  [Note: Whether or not you have an agent or manager, many of the steps are the same.] There are a number of things you can do, and each slightly increases your chances. And that’s what you’re looking for: anything that will give you an edge. Of all the steps you can take, though, perhaps the most important tool of all is your reel.*  

Reels are important because the casting director needs proof that you’re worth that prized audition slot. It’s not enough to have just headshot plus the word of honour from your rep (i.e., agent or manager). Further, reps themselves usually need that very same proof before they’re willing to take you on as a client. They need to know a) that you’re good, and b) that you’ll provide them with the tools to peddle, er, hawk, er, sell, er promote you. So you need a reel to get a rep, then the rep needs the reel to get you an audition. In this respect Hollywood’s like everywhere else:  They know it—and believe it—only when they see it. Lesson:  You. Need. A. Reel.

So if you already have filmed scenes, cut them together. (Or find someone who can do it for you. No need for fancy transitions; just fade out at the end of the scenes.)  If you’ve shot some things but don’t have copies, contact the director/producer to get a copy. And when you shoot in the future, be sure to get their contact info at the time and be clear that you’d like your scenes as soon as possible.

When selecting the material, aim for a balance between including your best work and showing your range (of characters, genres and appearances). There are lots of different opinions on the best length for a reel, but somewhere around 3-5 minutes is safe.  That should cover a few different scenes.

But this raises a common issue among actors, who often see reels as a catch-22:  If I need a reel to book a job, how do I get a reel before I’ve got a job? And that’s the point of this post: Just get yourself on tape. It doesn’t have to be a polished production, just good enough to show what you can do. And who cares if it’s from? If you’re good in it, the source is of secondary importance.

You must be proactive about this. Find listings for student and short films which are looking for actors.  Check with film schools, local papers, Craig’s List, etc. You may have to make a few films to get some usable footage, but even the non-usable material has benefits:  you got acting experience and did what you (hopefully) love, right?

No luck finding a short film? Then maybe hire someone to shoot your work.  Companies in NYC and LA specialize in shooting actors for auditions.  It costs money, but the lighting and camerawork is usually good. And it’s better to at least have a monologue on tape than nothing at all.  (If you’re not in NYC or LA, check with a local commercial house.)

Or you can be extra-proactive and produce the shoot yourself. Find a director and someone to shoot it, and they’ll usually know other crew members. Directors and cinematographers use reels, too, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find some who would love to shoot just for that purpose, same as yourself.  

For material for the scene, you can either write something new yourself or find someone who will, or use something already written. In that case, though, it’s usually best to avoid something very recognizable. Maybe find a great older play, or a good movie that might not have been too widely seen. 

The point is to get yourself on tape, even if the production quality is not ideal. That’s okay, because you’ll use that to get cast in better productions, which you’ll then put on your reel to get cast in even better ones. Think of using your reel as a way of boosting yourself up to the next level of production. It’s a powerful means of self-leverage. But you can’t start with nothing. You need tape to get better tape. So get thee in front of a camera.


*A reel is simply a video collection of your scenes. [The individual scene/s are sometimes called ‘footage’ or ‘tape’ (eg, “My reel’s a bit outdated. I need to find some new tape for it.”).] Because video files are usually too big to email, most reels are now stored online—either on the rep’s or actor’s website, or, if necessary, on YouTubeVimeo, etc. This allows the rep (or you) email just a link.

[This is another in a continuing series of potentially helpful, hopefully practical posts to actors on practicing their craft or surviving the trying.  I bear no responsibility for how this or any of my posts might ruin your life, lead you to law school, or make your parents sick with worry.  For more of the same, click the ‘Info to Actors’ category at left.]

Posted in Acting Tips & Info, Video (Online & Home)

2 Responses

  1. Hello William,
    you could record these ideas /instructions !

    creativity seems to be all about trying out new ways, finding your own . also in writing, photography , painting .. and ,in fact , in all areas of life where one is facing a challenge / problem / handicap . it’s great to make things work . and it’s great to inspire people how to do that. i admire your energy .
    btw. Did you mean: “And who cares *where* it’s from?” ( ..”Whether it’s a feature or..”. ) ?

    PS . a recent article about yet another interesting way for- short-term- crowd-funding , here : http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-cash-mob-20120414,0,1127668.story

    greetz & good wishes

  2. Roberta says:

    Happy Birthday!

    I wish that all your dreams become reality.

    Peace,health,love and much success.

    Love you 😀


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