The entertainment industry is a lucrative business.
I don't think by any stretch that I have "made it" however I do get strangers asking in my DMs or people I meet these questions...
How do you get started?
More importantly, how do you keep the momentum going?
Frankly, I don’t know the real answer to those questions but I will tell you how I got started.
Like most well-adjusted humans who have a dream, I had a part-time job when I first started my journey, a credit card that was almost maxed out from going travelling and the hunger to make it happen.
I also knew I had a lot of catching up to do so I made a list of things that I know are important to starting a career. This was my list.
- Get a portfolio & showreel; You're talented, you look great but there's no proof. An agent couldn't just take your word for it.
- Get training - Acting classes do help; even if you feel silly in them. It will make you more comfortable once you get into that room.
- Get on Spotlight - it's the yellow book of talent; casting directors won't take you seriously if you're not on it.
- Get an agent - they're pretty handy with getting you into the audition door
- Set up a website so your SEO is on point - IG is great but what if they want to see showreels? more of you?
Bartending/barista/receptionist was my side hustle before I went full time.
First and foremost there isn’t much wrong with having a side hustle to have guaranteed revenue flowing in to pay your bills, acting classes, travel and whatever other vices you keep. Around the time I started acting, I also gave up drinking and going out so I didn’t really have those expenses coming out on top- totally made this entire thing easier btw.
I was signed to a couple of extras agency that got me some cameos in music videos and background work but of course, that wasn’t enough for me. I still felt like a kid on the other side of the fence looking in. I wanted real roles. Roles that were specifically mine.
After this horrid thought that I was going to become a ‘professional extra’, I decided to take a more proactive approach. Having looked around StarNow for any photographer looking to do TFP, I found myself with a new portfolio which didn’t cost me a thing.
While building on a portfolio I knew I’d need a showreel so again, I searched for listings that were doing short films (Mandy.com & Starnow have been a godsend for these). There was definitely been a fair share of dead ends but the ones that came to fruition helped me gain showreel content.
Equally, I'd sent emails to casting directors and looked for open castings. If you can’t land any starter jobs for one reason or another, there are also showreel companies that you can book. They find you a scene partner and provide a script tailored to the genre you want! Google is your friend.
By this point, I’d had at least one acting job a week from direct booking and maybe a handful of castings a month. Which at the time seemed good enough since it was extra money coming in and I still had my part-time job. There was also a small part of me that felt quite pleased to say I was an actor.
However, my ex-boyfriend’s friend, at the time gave a snide ‘what else do you do?’ after I had said I’m an actress as if the idea of being an actress wasn’t viable. Maybe I was just touchy but this invited a rather ugly side of me.
Shortly after this, I flew to India for a stunt job with a few friends and around the same time I landed my first ever campaign with BooHoo from an open casting -after bravely emailing casting directors if they were looking for someone like me.
After splitting my time between my part time work, doing auditions and actual acting jobs. An agency approached me about signing with them - I was completely beside myself when they made the offer.
They also got me on Spotlight without any problem. I landed my first career-defining short-film (Silence the Demons- still one of my favourite projects to have worked because the topic was very personal to me) with them and a couple of commercials but they were so far and few in between. I needed to spread my reach.
So even though I was signed, I was still looking for jobs myself. Luckily I wasn't signed to an exclusive contract which meant any freelance work I did was completely off my own back and the agency couldn't take a cut.
Since I got around to having done my first big campaign, I thought it was a good setting to get signed with an agency. The great thing about the internet is that information is free. So I searched for actors that had a similar look to me and emailed the agencies they were signed with. After spending a good few days scouring the internet for suitable agencies.
I emailed a number of agencies that I knew would represent me well and equally other agencies that don’t have anyone in their books like me. Specifically emailed agencies that could represent a petite girl like me too! This made me aware that my look was somewhat edgy enough to be quirky but not too much to polarise myself from other jobs.
The first 6 months of working essentially full time was definitely a learning curve; I was attending castings every week but landing only a few. Most of the jobs I got were ones I had found myself through direct bookings and open castings. So I thought I’d invest a little, I went to a part-time acting school.
Balancing a part-time job, last minute and often unpredictable castings, acting jobs and training (aerial hoop & competitive cheerleading) while maintaining a somewhat dire social life wasn't the easiest. Now I was about to take up classes on top. I had to give up one of them. So I got sloppy at my part-time job and got really drunk- not on purpose I swear... And got fired.
I was doing enough acting jobs by this point that I didn't entirely need a part-time job, really what made this an easy decision to quit (/get fired) my part-time job was the fact that I often had to call and say I can't make it to work because of the reasons listed in the paragraph above. To be quite candid I really would rather work a low paid acting job than a dead-end barista / receptionist / bartending job. There was a little voice that told me the sacrifices I made will pay off. But this meant that I had to reassess my finances.
During the time I went to a part-time acting school, I was finding the majority of my own work which put the 'agency' agenda on the back burner. Around then my focus was solely on getting my work credits up. There was definitely a change in pace with work after doing the classes. More commercial work came my way, I started to land more of the auditions I'd go to. Then one day one of the agencies I'd email got back to me. I was signed to a modelling agency that niched in commercials, shortly after.
The work hasn't stopped just there. Yes, my agency landed me my most prominent jobs but it didn't make me less hardworking. This was the only job I had now so I don't have anything to fall back to. Every time I was asked to go out the night before casting or a shoot, I'd decline. If I had a casting/job that required a speciality skill I would drop everything and take myself to the studio or a gymnasium to train so no one can fault my skills. My diet was strict - everything I ate had to be good for me. Luckily I had already cut out the fun stuff so it wasn't such a hard transition.
So since I had already been working freelance for a while and knew how to get more work, I carried on emailing casting directors, applying to open castings and now also attending the castings & jobs my agent sends me to. Creating your own work is key too so I made an effort with my social media. I put out the kind of work that I wanted to get hired for. Using whatever job I've done that I liked. Work became steadier.
I also found my niche in the market and aimed for the jobs that I knew fit me best. I learnt what market works for me and that having something outside of work to set you apart from everyone is key. Whether you're a writer, painter or a sports-oriented. It really helps to have your party trick- whatever it is that makes you, you.
Setting up your website is also a no brainer, there are loads of website building sites out there to help you. The easier you are to find, the easier you are to book for jobs. Investing a little so you have your own domain too makes you more professional too. After all, you should be your own first investor.
Even though work has been steadier, I still live on the same budget as I did as if I was only working a part-time job. I never spend more than my means. Which meant I was able to pay off my credit card and start saving for rainy days.
Today I often get asked... How do you find work or how do you feel about this agency, how do I get started. Honestly, I can only say, take all the chances you can. You might have to make a few sacrifices for what you want but nothing good comes easy. Every agency works differently for different people too so really find one that can work for you.
I gave up going out, sacrificed immediate monetary gain and I'm not ashamed of the risks I took. Along the way, I've learnt the type of things I'm not comfortable working on and learnt to also say no.
All this took place in the last 2 years I would say, there was so much to catch up on since I was already watching all my friends get on with their dream and I had spent a good few years of doing absolutely nothing with my life before I went travelling. So I had to buckle down and really make the best with what I have.
There's also just having a sense of humour. I've stopped romanticising the kind of work I'd want to do to and more than anything it's made it easier. Not every acting job is glamorous but if it's fun, why not?
Here are the top things I live by.
1. Your agent gets you 25% there, the rest is up to you.
2. Everyone's journey is different, water your own grass and don't watch other people's lawn.
3. Enter a casting with all your heart and when you leave, forget that you even went.
4. Enjoy every job you get, be you & be nice, you've already got the job! You might also end up working with these people again so there's no room for being a diva.
I'm not where I want to be yet but I'm definitely not afraid of hard work. Also helps to have a thick skin -not literally- but the rejection is daily and it's like doing job interviews every week. Staying consistent is the other half of the battle. See me in 5 years. haha.