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A lot of people want to become actors. Some are drawn to the idea of acting by thoughts of fame, wealth, and adulation. These are not the right reasons to pursue a professional acting career because these things are a long shot. The goal is to work. If fame is to come, it will come.
Most people come to acting from a desire for attention, validation, and acceptance. I know I did as did most everyone else I know. There is nothing like standing before an audience and being showered with applause or being able to point to yourself on screen. Your reason for STAYING with acting through rejection, tedium, and grueling pursuit of work, however, must come from another source. As you begin your career you will likely encounter a teacher that replaces those early needs with something larger and more meaningful - a love of the CRAFT and the ART of acting - the immersion in the imaginary and living through the lives of others to explore their humanity and to explore yourself. These are central to a lifelong relationship with the art I have come to love to my core.
Getting started in the field is shrouded in mystery deliberately... because if you don't understand it, people can easily separate you from your money, ESPECIALLY if you are seeking fame and attention. People will post ads declaring that they are offering "opportunities to get in front of real casting directors" or "audition for Disney, Nickelodeon, etc." They might lure you in by "scouting you out" in a mall or public place. None of this is how the industry really works. The days of being "discovered" while hanging out in a mall or showing up at a convention center are long gone. What all of these have in common is a hefty price tag for entry into the competition. Sure, you'll be "talented" and they'll "want to represent you" then they'll tell you that you'll need to travel to LA, NY, or MIAMI and audition in the "next round" for thousands of dollars. They'll press you to sign a contract on the spot lest you "lose your spot." They might be a "modeling agency" that will claim to have once represented someone that ended up on a well known show.... then you'll sign their contract and be stuck for thousands of dollars of classes in "modeling and acting" that teach you nothing really useful.... and those classes will not be taught by someone with first hand knowledge of the career. So many rip-offs.... and all you really want is to honestly and earnestly become an actor.
The kind of work you imagine getting - speaking roles in film and tv shows - is obtained, in most cases, through an agent (see our article on getting an agent) though some casting directors will also deal directly with talent. The problem with this is that, should something go amiss, you have nobody in your corner acting in your interests and any attempt to defend your position jeopardizes your relation with the very casting director for whom you are auditioning for work.
Before you can get an agent, you should try to secure some opportunities for yourself by meeting other filmmakers in your area. You can do this a number of ways:
1. By connecting with a community of production professionals. Every state has a Film Office and often a regional Production Alliance as well. These groups promote film production in their regions and are reliable sources of legitimate information about the industry where you live. Here in Virginia, we have the VA Film Office (www.film.virginia.org) and the VA Production Alliance (www.virginiaproductionalliance.org) along with many online Facebook communities.
2. By seeking out student filmmakers at nearby universities and colleges. They always have projects due and need actors for them.
3. By meeting people a local and regional film festivals or filmmakers seeking actors for their projects in online communities (be careful here until you can learn more about their reputation by talking to others in your community).
4. By meeting people in your community who participate in filmmaking competitions like the 48 Hour Film Project (www.48hourfilm.com) Not only are these competitions fun and of limited duration but you can really get to know who in your area is just as enthusiastic about filmmaking as you are and make films with them. Some of these teams also have production companies that make local or regional commercials, industrial/training films, or independent web-series and short films.
5. More than anything else, you must be prepared to help others with their projects as much as you would like yu to help them.
By doing this, you start to build a positive reputation and on-set experience that makes you more ready for larger work. Nobody starts with large opportunities... everyone builds from the bottom up just like every other profession. Forget shortcuts. Forget making a living from acting in the first year... or even a while after that. You can get a head start on all of this with actor training. Many universities have good basic acting classes though they may not be focused on camera work. Acting for the stage and acting for the camera are different.
The camera can get close and the film actors relationship with the lens is one of vulnerability and authenticity. If anything is "acted" and not rooted in true emotional impulse, your work will not be believable. On stage, because of the distance between audience and performers, there is more room for "acting" and more room for a disconnect between the emotions you display and those you actually feel because of having to communicate those feelings to the back of the theatre. Learning to act for film is about finding classes that focus on camera work. Performances require an understanding of how you communicate for different camera framing, the use of eyeline, and how to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances while being watched by a multitude of crew surrounding you as you forget they're there. This is no small feat.
A teacher that has worked in the industry her/him self is your best bet. Someone who brings current knowledge back to the classroom to share so that you can learn from that teacher's own successes and mistakes. That kind of training will accelerate the amount of time it takes to get from starting your career to earning money because there is less learning to do on the job with fewer pitfalls because you have been taught to look out for them.