Saturday, May 19, 2012

Acting - Where to Start and What now!?

Last weekend I officially graduated from my Advanced Diploma of Screen and Stage Acting in Brisbane. I finished the two year course last July, but the institution only holds one ceremony per year. While I was talking to the other graduates at the ceremony, I heard a lot of them asking a very important question;  

Acting...what now?!

My class, being the first round of graduates for the 2011-2012 bunch, have had nine months in the "real world". I am taking this opportunity to pass on the key elements that I have learned for acting and where to start.

The amount of questions I received from fellow graduates made me realise how important it is to get this information out there. This information covers how to get an agent, how to create a show reel, what should you do for headshots, how to market yourself, how to keep proactive and even what to study further. I am not speaking as a veteran, but more as somebody who was and still is in a similar boat; an actor starting out in an industry that is tough (especially if you have no idea where to start!). I can only speak from my own experiences, but in the three years since I started acting I feel I have learned a lot. So here goes! *the following are in no particular order being just as important as each other!  

Showreel
During 2010/2011 I acted in around twenty short films, two independent features, had a role on a national tele-movie and a few commercials. It took me over a year to compile all my work, from various independent and student films, but when I finally did I edited my first showreel. I bought Adobe Premiere Elements and with the help of a few people and a lot of trial and error, I edited my showreel. I have since re-edited it with more up to date work. The key thing I have learnt is to have three strong and contrasting scenes and have a link to your website/agent at the end. Montages and music is up to the individual, but three strong dramatic scenes is advisable. A showreel is best usually no longer than three minutes maximum. Always aim to keep your reel updated on all the different sites below:  

Showcast, At2, IMDB pro, Starnow
Having a membership on these websites will allow for professional casting directors as well as independent producers to browse your acting profiles and potentially select you for auditions. Keeping them up to date with headshots, bios, resume credits and showreels is vital!

Starnow
Starnow is a terrific website, with a very cheap membership for the year. You can create a profile and apply for short films, independent films, promo work, ads, theatre etc. You have to sort through the dodgy stuff but there is also a lot of good work that can come out of it. I even received some paid work through this website. You can keep an eye on the different productions shooting throughout the year and get involved in many student films across the different universities. (I have done about twenty short films across QLD/Sydney in the last three years.)  

Headshots
Keeping your headshots up to date is key! I am lucky to have a housemate who is a photographer, but really all it takes is some natural lighting, a few outfit changes, some natural makeup, a good camera and a smile and "something behind the eyes". Make your shots interesting by having different emotions as apposed to model shots. When you get some money together, research the good photographers in your area and get some more professional ones.  

Website, Blog, Business Cards
Having my own website, blog and business cards for my acting has been a vital part of my acting as a business. Not only does it show your professionalism, but it helps you keep people up to date with your work and shows you are serious about this industry. You can create your own website and buy a domain quite cheaply, or get a website designer to do it for you (this can be a little more pricey but worth it in the long run). From there you can upload your showreel, credits, resume, and attach it to your facebook page and blog. I created my own business cards with my contact details and agent through vistaprints.com.au .The cheapest option is about $25 for 250 prints. You can add your own photos, quotes, website etc.

Blog
As you can see, I like to keep my blog up to date and relevant to what I have been doing with my acting/life. It's a way to reach people and keep them in the know of your past, present and future plans for your acting.  

Social Media
I have a separate facebook page for my acting, "Meisha Lowe - Actor". That way I can keep my personal life, separate from my acting facebook profile and again keep people in the industry (for those that are interested) up to date on my latest feats. I am sure you could also use linkdn and twitter, but I don't personally use those myself.  

Networking
One of the biggest things I've learned since moving to Sydney is networking! No one is going to know about you if you don't talk to people! It's your job to promote yourself (with dignity of course). When people ask you what you do, be proud of who you are, what you have achieved and what goals you have for the future. If you don't believe in yourself, no one will! Always take a few business cards to film premieres as you never know who you might meet! Also take interest in what others do. Ask about their films, projects and of course just get to know them as a person. No one likes someone who only talks about themselves...a lesson for us all (myself included!).  

Getting An Agent
Research the agents in your area, send out your showreel,headshots, bio and resume (and link to your website if you have one) and try and book some meetings with them. Be confident and show your enthusiasm for the industry and your craft. Getting an agent can take some time, but persistence is key!  

Study - Books, Films and Tv Series
  It's your job as an actor to be as up to date on current films/tv series not only from a production perspective but from a study perspective. Choose a few A-list actors/actresses and use them as a guide on what kinds of roles they play and how you would like to model yourself as an actor. I have been using my time whilst on tour to watch as many movies as I can. Study why you like some actors and why you don't. What do they do that interests you physically and emotionally? I particularly benefit from watching Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Naomi Watts and my latest favourite is Abbey Cornish (go Aussies!). I like to research the actors that I watch (on IMDB), particularly the new comers - asking "where did they grow up, where did they study and what did they do to get to where they are now?". I have also been reading a lot of different acting books from Larry Moss' "The Intent to Live", Ivana Chubbuck's "The Power of the Actor", Stella Adler's "The Art of Acting". I am currently reading "The Great Acting Teachers and Their Methods" by Richard Brestoff - which is a fantastic insight into the history of acting. I am yet to read many more acting books, but what I have read so far has been amazing for my own technique and skill-set.  

Classes/Workshops
Research the different workshops and classes in your city area. When I was based in Brisbane I did weekly classes with Tom McSweeney Productions. They were screen based audition classes with a new script each week. I found these classes invaluable. When I moved to Sydney I did some Tafta screen audition workshops, Anthony Wong's Ivana Chubbuck workshop and I did a term with Sandra Lee Paterson at On Camera Connections. These were all beneficial and kept me inspired. Since working with Brainstorm I have been lucky to perform theatre on a daily basis, which is of course another way to keep your skill set going and experiment with new techniques.

Proactivity!
Keeping on top of all these things can seem daunting, but you just have to take it one step at a time. One of my mottos is "Take each day in steps; each day being one step closer towards your goals." Every little thing you do towards your acting will help. Stay positive and proactive. *The following are my own little extras which I have found useful as an actor.

Video Diary
It might sound crazy, but keeping a video diary helps you become aware of your facial mannerisms, ticks and emotional triggers. Often when I have been away on tour, in a town in the middle of no where, I will record a video diary. I will even practice accents and watch them back and see how believable I think they are. For further work on accents of course a professional accent coach is preferable.  

Diary Entries
Since I was eighteen, I have been keeping a diary. I recently read through my last five years which was documented on a weekly and sometimes even a daily basis. Knowing your emotional triggers, ups and downs, and even just keeping track of your acting journey can be invaluable to you as a person. Who knows, you might just be able to use it as a autobiography when you are an established Oscar winning actor 20 years down the track! We can all have dreams :)

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Lastly I want to stress that I am no veteran; I merely want to share the acting knowledge that I have accumulated over the past few years. I wouldn't be where I am without the ones who shared their acting knowledge with me. So, I thought it's only fair to share it with those who wish to read this!
Keep well and smile :)

Any questions visit my website www.meishalowe.com or email me: meisha@meishalowe.com 

Meisha Lowe

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"Take life in steps; each one is a journey to learn from." ~ Meisha