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top 10 tips on becoming successful in film and television

Discussion in 'Drama and performing arts' started by obsteve, Dec 30, 2010.

  1. I spend a lot of time and effort telling my kids how unlikely it is that they will become the "household name" they fantasise about.
    However, I get asked so often, "How can I make it?" that I have compiled a list of how to go about becoming a successful worker in film and televison.
    Am I being realistic? Have I missed anything obvious?
  2. You missed out the most important qualifications:
    1 a rich mummy and daddy.
    2. being connected/go out with/sleep with someone who works in the industry.
    3. have a mummy and/or daddy or close relative who works in the industry.
    4. go to a well connected public school.
    5. talent.
    If all they want to is to 'make it' then they are unlikely to. If they want to make a living as an actor or musician doing something they enjoy then they just might succeed in doing that; anything else is down to pure luck..
  3. Hi Flora,
    At the moment we're looking at recruiting 8-18's, but purely because I feel comfortable teaching this age range.
    Hi Ralf, you old cynic! Monied parents is not something our kids have much influence over. I understand where you're coming from, but I don't think I could happily advise my kids to get a rich benefactor to or sleep with someone in the industry! ;)
    Hi Gruoch, yes, I am always wary of making it sound easy. If you read on to the other questions below, I think I have laboured how hard it actually is, ie:
    "Only 6% of actors earn more than £30,000 per year. A recent survey
    found that nearly half of those working in the UK film and television
    industry earned less than £6,000 a year from the profession. Many actors and film makers work for very
    little, especially at the beginning of their careers. Most jobs are
    short term. Many experienced actors and film makers need to do other
    work to supplement their income."
    No matter how hard it is to break into, and to make a living at, I do think that some encouragement is needed somewhere (albeit balanced and realistic)
    I think the main point is to define and redefine what you consider to be successful. I get the occasional bit part now and again- it's not the glorious Hollywood career I envisaged as a teenager- but it keeps me happy :)

  4. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    I think the first question to ask anyone who wants to go into the business is 'Why?'
    If it's for the magic and glamour, then shoo them in another direction. If it's to be famous, likewise.
    I have one friend who is making a very good living on stage, having been in 'Oliver' since it opened. I don't think he's ever done any TV, though.
    Who you know can also be make or break. I got into stage management because of who I knew and my daughter was offered the part of Michelle's baby in East Enders when she was still a bump because my best friend was casting (I said 'No', very firmly!).
    It's also a good idea to be able to take rejection and be strong enough to be able to bounce back. Very few actors are actually offered jobs and auditioning and failing can be soul destroying. I once worked on a play where a very well-known actor actually flew to London from the States because he had heard that the piece was being made (it was partly set and shot in the US) and was keen to play a specific part. The producer had already turned him down, but he appeared in reception and refused to leave till he had been given the opportunity to read.
    Yes - he was cast!
  5. JTL

    JTL Occasional commenter

    I have an actor son and daughter, 24 and 27. Both became interested at about 8 years and then took acting, singing and dance lessons. They got involved in as much local drama as they could and one put his name down with a local agent, who incidently did not charge for them to be on their books. He did get a couple of adverts and a small part in a BBC documentary for schools which paid quite well.
    One did a course with the National Youth Theatre, which she says was brilliant and they both got into shows with the National Youth Music Theatre which were very good but both proved incredibly expensive.
    Both then went onto train at London Drama schools for 3 years. They were well aware of how difficult it was and still is to 'make it' in the business, but who are we to spoil their dreams? Just having auditions for Drama schools is expensive, maybe £50 or more a time, let alone the cost of travel and accommodation. It is not easy to get in.
    Some courses are funded like uni courses so they are eligible for student loans, others require you to pay unless you manage to get a Dance and Drama award which covers a lot of the course fees. Accommodation has to be paid for and it is worth saying that Acting courses are full on, so it is not usually possible to get part-time jobs while you are training.
    After all that, getting an agent to represent you is also a major achievement if you manage it. They put you up for jobs but there is no guarantee you will get an audition. You usually pay your own travel and accommodation costs to go to auditions and sometimes you are called more than once. Your agent takes a percentage of what you earn and you have to do your own tax assessments which means budgeting for that at the end of the year and maybe paying for an accountant to help.
    You need to join the Actors' union, pay for professional photos and for your photo to be in 'Spotlight', an actors' directory which casting directors use. Showreels which some send to agencies cost and it is depressing to have them returned with no comment or not returned at all.
    It can be soul destroying going for auditions as you usually only hear if you are successful and rarely get feedback.You need to be tough to take the knocks.
    There is a lot of luck involved in getting a job, and connections help. It is not always about talent!
    You need to think about how you are actually going to survive when not in an acting job, especially as most people have loans and overdrafts to pay. What about day to day living costs? Living in London is so expensive and so few jobs are flexible enough to allow you time off to go to auditions. Basically you are down to mimimum wage jobs in catering and such. Having other transferable skills helps, such as IT skills so you could do temp work in offices.
    So, having supportive parents is a must, financially and emotionally. My daughter initially had theatre work in London, but when this finished she was working for a catering agency all hours just to pay the rent and had little time or money for anything else. She eventually came home to live for a while and worked locally until something else came up.
    Adverts are usually the best paid though obviously not so rewarding. Theatre work is rewarding, but a long tour is exhausting, so you need to take care of yourself. If you do have your own accommodation and get a tour, you will be paying while not there. You get an allowance for travel and accommodation, but that means spending a lot of time booking in advance and living out of a suitcase. It is not glamorous! You are not well paid enough to afford to eat out at lovely restaurants all the time and you usually only stay in cheap B&Bs. Your social life revolves around the rest of the cast, so relationships are difficult to maintain, even more so if your other half is also an actor.
    Having said all this, they do love their craft and are happiest when employed. The 27 year old is gradually getting more work and contacts and has no debt, but having said that, she also has no savings and no chance of settling down for a while yet! Her life is full of uncertainties, rather like being a Supply teacher in fact! It is difficult to plan or afford holidays and she is lucky that her room is always here for her. The 24 year old has had 6 acting jobs since he finished training 18 months ago, but spent from April 'til November at home working locally in a pub kitchen. Now his panto has finished he is back home, worrying how he is going to meet his Career Development loan repayments and sort out his overdraft, while travelling up to London occasionally for auditions. Also looking for local temp work to tide him over. We have obviously supported them while training and there is always a place for them here, and they do contribute to bills when they can, but we know they would be more fulfilled and would rather be in London among similar peers.
    It's maybe worth saying now that neither kid desires fame and notoriety, just to be successful and to make a living doing something they love.
    Sadly, some actors having trained, despite maybe even having had a glowing review in the Stage after their Acting showcase, never 'make it'. They have talent but struggle on doing acting for free and minimum wage jobs to survive, and then are forced to give up. Some try teaching, working for an acting agency or something completely divorced from Acting. So sad to have their dreams and ambitions shattered.
    However, some people get that 'lucky break' out of the blue having done no formal training. Some never go to Drama college but somehow get a chance and things lead on from there. But how many? Again down to luck or connections.
    I think if someone is really interested in the business they need to be realistic and go in with their eyes open. Get involved in as much locally as they can and try to be as broad as possible to widen their experiences. Boys might have more opportunities than girls, but they shouldn't be afraid to try things, dance being a good example. My son was teased for a while in yr 8 for doing dance, but that all changed later on when the boys started going out and my son knew lots of girls through dance and he could dance!
    I hope some of this is helpful. As others have said, you have to be realistic and and not think that being in the entertainment business is always like it is portrayed in the media, exciting and glamorous. Some don't 'make it' until much later in life when they may be about to give up. How many may have given up too soon?

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    Hi, I trained for 3 years at a Drama school in Manchester, going to
    auditions and all that jazz.

    It is hard work.

    However if I was to give any tips on 'how to make it' it would go
    something like this.

    1 - Learn your craft. Like being a builder or a welder, acting is a craft.
    Not everyone can or should act. Read as many plays as you can and go to the
    theatre regularly. Do voice and dance lessons, even if you just want to

    2 - Be disciplined. Do acting and vocal warm ups everyday to keep your
    voice at it's peak. Your voice is your tool.

    3- Go to Drama School - The hours are long, I did almost 40 hours a week
    plus a job at weekends. You have to be dedicated.

    4 - Network - This comes with going to the theatre. You get your face
    seen, talk to directors, producers, other actors.

    5 - Get a good agent. Getting a good agent is hard, if you get a bad one it
    looks bad on you when you haven't turned up for an audition, even though you
    didn't know about it.

    6 - Be resilient. It's a harsh job, you have to have a thick skin. A
    panel will think nothing of telling you that you are 'too large' for a role or
    just that it wasn't very good. Often you won’t hear a thing unless you get a

    7 - Do as much as you can. Get involved with Drama groups, as said earlier
    if you can get involved with the National Youth Theatre that's brilliant.

    8 - Be prepared - When someone says learn your lines, learn them. Be
    punctual, never be late. Take time to prepare audition speeches.

    9 - Save up - Ok, so here I mean for once you leave drama school, the
    main reason why I stopped acting was that I spent all my money going to
    auditions in London and I just had to take a job to get me out of debt. It's
    very rare that you will be in constant work as an actor, unless you are very
    lucky so it's always good to have some savings.

    10 - Go for it!

    People can tell you until they are blue in the face that you wont get work but if it's what you
    want to do you will do it regardless of the bad points.

    Wanting to be an actor is not enough, you have to live and breathe it and go
    for it with every fibre of your being.

    I hope this has been helpful.

    If you haven't asked them already might be worth asking if they want to be
    famous or whether they want to be an actor, there are jobs that people don't
    think about like TIE, Voiceover work, a lot of actors make their own work with people they meet at drama school so there are options.

  7. JTL

    JTL Occasional commenter

    I think eskimo sal has summed it up well, having trained as an actor herself.
    I think that I would add, have self belief but be prepared along the way to meet many amazing actors in the same frustrating position as you. You have maybe been fortunate enough to have had lots of main parts locally in youth drama but once you get out into the big wide world you realise that you are only a small fish in a big pond!
    Acting is a life long learning profession. Drama School can be a big shock if you think you already know it all! Be prepared to re-learn all you thought you already knew. You may not like the feedback you get at first but you have to pick yourself up and get on with it. No place for prima donnas!
    It is not all about having the main part. You need to be able to work as a team as many plays are ensemble pieces. You may only have one speaking line in a piece, but make the most of it so that it is memorable.
    Practice regional accents. A good excuse to watch certain soaps! Practice when you are out and about and see how it changes people's perception of you!
    Practice in front of a mirror. Subtle facial expressions and body language. More realistic.
    If you are learning a musical instrument, keep it up. Some plays require actor/musicians, think of Sweeny Todd, and The National once did a fantastic tour of The Wind in the Willows where most of the actors were also musicians. Kneehigh Theatre use actor/musicians in many of their productions, eg Brief Encounter and The Red Shoes. Actually, their productions are amazing and worth seeing if you really want to know what acting is all about in my opinion.
    Try to maintain your individuality as directors are often looking for something 'different'. Use your imagination when rehearsing; don't just go for the safe option. Keep your acting 'real'. No need to overact as you are used to seeing in some popular soaps.

  8. Steve suggested I was cynical because I suggested that being privately educated, having rich parents and being connected were very important if you want to succeed in the arts. Did anyone see 'Who gets the best jobs' on BBC2 last night? It isn't my cynicism it's a statement of reality. One of my offspring works for a well known theatre company - everyone they work with went to private school; in my offspring's particular field almost everyone went to Oxbridge. It isn't impossible to succeed if you come from the state sector but it is a lot harder. It isn't made any easier by the idiot combination of 'A' levels some students are encouraged to take. And it is getting harder as arts council cuts begin to bite.
  9. ralf - i never doubted your analysis for one minute

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