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Acting Tip: Acting Resumes, Cover Letters, and Headshots, Oh My!

If you want to really stand out as an actor (and I think you do), you will have to make your resume stand out for you.

Your resume, cover letter, and headshot are really the first impressions you’ll ever make. They act as your agent–good ones get you auditions, bad ones don’t…

So, how does one go about standing out from the rest of the crowd? Well, first of all, you have to think like a marketer. What makes YOU interesting and unique as an actor? This is you USP (Unique Selling Point). Your resume and cover letter act as your USP…

In order to make your resume and cover letters really effective, you must follow a few simple guidelines:

For your resume, divide the page into two parts–one part for your actual resume, one part for testimonials (yes, testimonials!). Testimonials should be from former directors, playwrights, etc. and they shouldn’t be hard to get. Just ask! (but be sure to get their permission to use their testimonial on your resume) Include the name and position of the person underneath each testimonial quote.

If you are just starting out, include EVERYTHING acting-related on your resume–list every acting job you’ve ever had–no matter how small or big the part (yes, even the non-speaking parts!). Remember, you are trying to fill out your resume–list as much as you can. As time goes by, pick off the less glamorous acting parts and replace them with the true gems that highlight your best work.

Include a small thumbnail headshot of yourself on your resume. This will ensure that if your headshot and resume ever do get separated, your photo will be forever intact ON your resume.

Actors have little time to spend on marketing themselves–let alone anything else non-acting related. For this reason, you should have two form letters ready to go at all times–one for theater, one for film/television. Keep it short and sweet. Your letter should include a brief introduction, your purpose for writing in, your recent endeavors, and a friendly closing. For example, my cover letter states: I’m writing you today because I am very interested in auditioning for your play (or ‘film’ or ‘project’–depending on what you’re submitting for) . I know your time is valuable, so I’ll make this short: I would really appreciate it if you could take a moment to review my headshot and resume and let me know if you’d like to meet with me. Again, your letter should include your most recent or current work (try to include pictures within the body of the letter), what classes you’re taking, etc. Then wrap it up with something short and sweet like: Thank you for your time and consideration. I’d love to meet with you. I can be reached at XXX-XXX-XXXX. I hope to hear from you soon. And then, sign your name to it.

When sending a headshot and resume via email, use the same cover letter used in regular mailings–simply cut and paste it into the text portion of your email (remember, you’re trying to save time, so make it easy on yourself!). Don’t forget to attach your headshot–and make sure to size the headshot appropriately.

Headshots should look like how you look right now. If your headshot doesn’t look like how you look now, get a new one…

You don’t have to spend a big chunk of change on a reputable, big deal, bells-and-whistles photographer to get a nice headshot. Just look around and find someone who has a pretty good portfolio and low prices. I got my headshot done by a photographer who was just starting out. I got a great deal on my headshots and she used my images in her portfolio. A win-win situation!

Get an 8″ x 10″, black and white headshot (which is standard).

I recommend keeping it simple–your clothing, jewelry, etc. You want YOU (not your clothing and accouterments) to stand out.

That wraps up our section on resumes, cover letters, and headshots. I hope this section has inspired you to make your HS/resume kit brilliant!

The Other Big “A” Word – Agents!

Agents. Everybody wants one, but how do you get one? At the risk of repeating myself yet again… preparation is key. What does that mean?

First off, that means get some training. I think a solid theatrical foundation is invaluable. Maybe if you’re college age, you can look into a great undergraduate theatre program. Or perhaps you might want to start weekly lessons with an acting or singing coach. ( I continued to study voice for 20 years, taking a lesson once a week without fail!) There are also lots of great classes that offer package deals for ongoing study. I always recommend one-day or weekend workshops with casting directors. These get you in front of professionals whose job it is to remember actors, and their insight is priceless. Whatever form you choose, please, please study!

Along with training you need to start building a resume by gaining experience. Try out for a community theatre show, and if you’re under 18 check out the local youth theatre in your area. Contact colleges to find young directors who need talent for their student films. You might sign up for extra work. While you don’t necessarily want to make a career out of it, it is experience and it puts you in a setting where you can make contacts. There are also industry sites (and publications) like backstage.com, showbusinessweekly.com or playbill.com that list castings. If you’re in a city such as San Francisco, check out sites like bayareacasting.com, or sign up to be in a local casting director’s database. I used to tell young actors to get a list of local production companies and send them a photo and resume. You are responsible for the career you want to have, so you have to do your homework.

No training or experience yet? Make sure you have a fabulous headshot that shows your personality. A great photo can often get you in the door (young kids can submit snapshots). Sometimes an agency needs a specific “look” for print work and commercials. Often they are short on a “type,” and if your photo crosses their desk, you’re in luck! A headshot is your calling card, so get the best professional photo possible. You’ll want to attach your resume to the back of your photo when you’re ready to submit.

Follow each agency’s submission guidelines. Standard procedure is usually to mail a photo and resume along with a short cover letter that tells them a little something about you and your experience (now’s a good time to mention if you just got cast in something or have a film coming out). Some agencies accept submissions online.

If an agency is interested in you, then they will call you in for an interview. Be prepared to do a cold reading and have a monologue ready in case they ask for either. Having been on both sides of an agency meeting myself, I want to stress the importance of bringing the real “you” to the interview. Be a real person who can carry on a real conversation. I always tell the story of the time I landed a general interview with a top NYC casting director and we never discussed me or my resume the entire time I was in his office. I mean, wasn’t it all about me? We wound up chatting about a painting hanging above his desk and various other things which I can’t remember now! But when the conversation turns to you and your resume, be very clear about who you are and where you fit into the business. As an agent I was very impressed with actors who had confidence and a clear sense of who they were and what they could bring to the partnership.

And after all this, you can still walk into a party and coincidentally meet a talent agent who expresses interest in you. But I would just say this: make sure you can deliver the goods when you get the opportunity to interview. Know your stuff.

Oh! And one last thing. You do not get an agent by signing up for thousands of dollars worth of classes and photographs with a company/school that promises you representation. Nothing wrong with paying for training and headshots; that’s always your choice. But a legitimate agency will never ask you for money up front for any reason. A legitimate agency gets paid a commission only when you work. So, please, don’t fall for we’ll make you a star if you just pay X amount of dollars.

So there you have it. Be prepared, be persistent, know who you are, keep a good attitude, and you’ll get there!