I know, you’re saying “Larry, you just said several times that this is a business! Why would I act for free?” Great question. The answer is because no one is going to pay you without any experience AND there is a lot of very valuable experience to be gained out there – experience you desperately need (if you’re starting out). Seriously, you can’t submit to a talent agency (a topic I will cover in my Seven Steps To A Professional Acting Careerposts) when you have no acting resume’ to show them. They simply won’t consider you. Not only is this a highly competitive business, it is also a close-knit business. That means that your work builds on itself. Once people see you, hire you, and are happy with your work they often ask for you again and/or talk about you to other door-openers! That’s good and bad. It’s good for obvious reasons – free positive press and more work. But it’s also bad because 1) there are lots of others out there with experience that door-openers are already talking about and it’s not you; and 2) if people see you, hire you, and are not happy with your work (hence the need for solid training!) they may ask to not see you again – free negative press and less work (boo!).
So, the moral of the story is get out there and get some experience even if you’re doing it for free at first. There does come a point where you would not act for free anymore, but that point is not when you’re starting out.
“Alright,” you might be saying, “But where do I find this ‘free experience’.” Another solid question! In Atlanta and most other major metropolitan areas there are literally hundreds to thousands of filmmakers, photographers, and other behind-the-camera artists looking to make art. The problem they often have is a lack of funds to support their art and can’t pay an actor for their movie, photoshoot, etc. Their problem is your opportunity. You can find these artists through reputable trade organizations and independent film festivals like FilmAtlanta, 48 Hour Film Project, and Atlanta Performs. This is just a smattering and I’m sure in the comments below, others will list more (I welcome that!). As you start to dive into this realm, you’ll find lots of opportunity.
One last mention for experience that actually does pay something but is helpful only for actors brand new to film – extras work. If you have never been on a major film set – or any film set – this is a good idea for you. Companies like Extras Casting and Bill Marinella Casting are good places to start (if you live in the Atlanta area). Being an extra will give you a good idea of how things work on a set and make you familiar with some film lingo. You’ll also get paid (usually minimum wage) and walk away with a credit for your resume. More on extra credits later. Instructions on how to submit yourself to be an extra are on the respective casting websites.
So that’s it. Go out there and get some experience! For those of you who have lots of experience with a full resume’ but no agent, stay tuned for the upcoming post Seven Steps To A Professional Acting Career – Part 2.