The challenge is real (or reel?). There are zillions of actors out there all vying for the same small number of roles.
It’s common knowledge that not having a reel can hurt your chances of getting into auditions, but what do you do when you don’t have a reel and creating one is just not an option right now?
Are you destined to just do background roles and free student films, having to wait YEARS to get your footage back?
You can VASTLY increase your chances of being called in just by making some minor tweaks to your submissions process and even shooting your own footage for a reel for free!
In this guide, I'll lay out a few key things you can do to start booking more auditions right away, without having to wait for a professional reel.
It’s really not as hard as you might think!
Martin's Quick Win:
Casting directors want you to have footage. It doesn't matter if the footage is professional or not – they just want to know what you look and sounds like on camera, and whether you can act.
Follow the steps below to immediately see a noticeable difference in how many auditions you're called in for:
There is plenty of free video editing software out there in case you'd like to edit the clip down a bit, adding a fade in and fade out at the beginning and end.
You can also consider adding a slate if necessary to the beginning of the clip.
Now that you've got some footage, you'll start to see a noticeable uptick in the number of auditions you're called in for. And if you want to go deeper and get even MORE opportunities, continue reading the rest of this article!
Step 1. Define Your Brand
You’ve heard it over and over again. You need a strong brand.
Well first off, what is a brand, and how do you make it “strong?” And how are you supposed to know what your brand is if you haven’t been acting for a long time?
Well, fortunately there are a few simple things you can do to get clear on it right now - even if you’re just starting out.
Find or Refine Your Brand
The first step to getting clear on your brand is to ask yourself four simple questions:
Once you figure out what all those characters have in common, try to narrow it down to about 4-5 words.
For instance, we recently did a branding session with an actor and we discovered that his brand was “African American strength, pride, and compassion.”
Once you find your brand, ask yourself whether the words you’ve uncovered really resonate with you. You want to feel a sense of pride in your brand, and feel like it’s authentically YOU.
If it feels correct, you can move on to the next section.
Own Your Brand & Connect it to Your Type
Now that you’ve found your brand, it’s time to connect it to your “type.” “What is a ‘type?’” you ask?
A type is basically what you look like.
The best way to find your type is to first think about your appearance. Are you young? Old? Thin? Heavyset? Feminine? Masculine? Long haired? Short haired? Scruffy or clean shaven?
All these aspects combine together to give you a look. Looking at yourself in the mirror, come up with a list of 5 different types of people you could imagine yourself playing.
Be honest and think... can I play a cop or detective? Or am I too young for that? Can I play a student? An intern? A delinquent teenager? Or am I older and I could play a grandmother?
After you come up with five ideas of character types you could play, send an email to at least 10 people you know (ideally other actors or teachers, but they don't have to be). Ask them to suggest three different types of characters they could see you playing.
Ask them to be honest and to suggest characters you can play now, not 5 or 10 years from now. And tell them not to be fearful of saying things that might come across as negative, like a “delinquent.”
Feel free to give them a couple of examples you wrote down, but tell them to try to come up with them on their own and not to copy yours (unless they ABSOLUTELY agree with one of the ones you wrote down).
When you receive their responses, take a look through all of them. What's the most common character type people wrote?
If 5 or 6 people wrote that they could see you playing an army sergeant, then try it!
Keep Your Brand Until it Stops Working for You
Now that you know your type, you know exactly how the industry probably sees you based on what you look like.
The trick, however, is to combine your type with your brand.
So for instance, with the recent actor who worked with us on finding his brand, we determined that he most often looks like a cop, so we decided that his final brand would be based around an African American law enforcement agent who is known for his pride, strength, and compassion.
Note: If you'd like to go deeper on your brand and learn about my in-depth nine step branding process, check out the video below:
Step 2: Shoot Your Own Footage
If you don’t have any professional footage of yourself, you can shoot something unprofessional and use it as a placeholder.
Most casting directors and agents will agree that anything is better than nothing, so if it’s completely out of your budget right now to shoot a professional scene for your reel and you don’t want to wait around for years to get footage back from student directors, you can take matters into your own hands and shoot some footage for your reel.
You’ll just want to find a monologue or scene (or write something yourself) and then ask a friend to use your smartphone camera to record it. A simple single-angle shot on you looking off-camera or into the camera can work fine.
Make sure the scene you choose to shoot fits perfectly with your brand. You don’t want to do just any monologue - everything should be tailored!
Light it Properly
When you shoot something for your reel, one thing that really bugs casting directors is the fact that the footage is lit terribly.
To get better lighting, shoot near a window or underneath some sort of overhang. You want to control the directionality of the light so it’s not hitting you from above, but from in front or to the side.
When light comes down from an overhead light or the sky, your eyes will look darker than they are. When light comes from in front or from a lower angle, your eyes will be much brighter and the footage will look more professional.
Record Sound Properly
Another huge problem most actors have, especially with self-tapes, is when the footage has echoey sound.
If we can’t hear you clearly, what’s the point?
Make sure that your audio sounds clear by either investing a little money into a lavaliere (they sell wired-lav mics for $50 and up) or by recording somewhere quiet and putting a rug or blanket on the ground so it absorbs echoes.
If you’re not sure whether your sound is good, ask a friend to watch the video and see if they can easily tell what you’re saying in it.
Ensure Your Background & Clothing Are Not Distracting
What’s behind you is just as important as what you choose to wear in the video. Make sure the background is either a solid-colored wall or something interesting and supportive of the scene.
If you’re shooting a scene that’s supposed to take place in a bedroom, clean up your bedroom so it’s very neat and then shoot there.
If you’re shooting a scene that’s supposed to take place in a courtroom, chances are you won’t have access to that type of space, so just record yourself against a flat wall.
And make sure to wear a solid-colored, darker shirt. Try to avoid pale colors like white or yellow and definitely stay away from logos or strong patterns.
Click here to learn about what to wear on-camera.
Ask a Friend for Help
Having a friend help you shoot is very important if you want your footage to look more professional.
When you try to shoot yourself, it’s probably going to take you way longer. With a friend, they can operate the camera and let you know how it looks, and they can move the camera with you as you move in the scene.
They can also give you feedback on whether your performance looked genuine or if you should do another take. For all these reasons, it’s extremely helpful to have someone there to give you that third-person perspective.
After you’ve shot the footage, it’s time to edit out the unnecessary stuff at the beginning and end of the clip.
Choose your favorite take and use your smartphone or computer software to clip the beginning and end of the scene.
Make sure when you watch it that it starts right at the slate and ends right when the scene finishes. We don’t want to see unnecessary camera movement at the beginning or end as you set up, or hear your friend calling “Cut!”
Upload it Onto Actor’s Access
Now that you’ve got your footage, you can upload it to Actor’s Access, and that’s it, you’re all finished!
Note: If you'd like to learn more about reels and shooting footage for yourself, check out the video below:
Step 3: Target Your Submissions
Once you know your brand and type, it becomes very easy to see why you’re probably not booking the right roles.
Take a look back at the last 10 projects you submitted for. Do they fit your brand and type properly?
Chances are they don’t.
Well no need to worry! Now that you’re clear, things will be much easier for you.
Find the Right Projects
It’s time to decide which specific projects you want to focus on.
Think about projects you’ve submitted for in the past and ones that you will submit for now. Which specific projects should you NO LONGER submit for? Write down a list and get clear on the ones you should avoid.
Remember - the more you avoid the wrong projects, the more time and focus you’ll have to give to the RIGHT projects.
Next, let’s focus on the right projects.
Based on your brand and type, which roles and projects should you be submitting for? Come up with a list of 3-5 primary types of characters you want to start focusing on.
Now that you’re clear, the next time you see opportunities for these projects on Actor’s Access or other online submissions sites, submit for them right away.
Connect With the Casting Directors for Those Projects
Now that you’re clear on the types of projects you want to audition for, it’s time to do a little research online.
If you really want to start booking work more consistently without a reel, you’ll need to form relationships with casting directors who are working on those types of projects.
Search online for who is casting, and then use Google to find out if those casting directors are holding any seminars or events in the near future where you might be able to meet them in person through a Pay to Play audition class.
Legitimate Pay to Pay classes are a great opportunity for you to network with people in the industry.
Assuming your acting and auditioning technique is up to par, you’ll be able to attend these classes for a small fee, and then when the class ends, you can ask the casting director if they are open to you keeping in touch with them.
Ask them how they prefer to be contacted - email or postcards?
They’ll tell you the best method, and then you can set a reminder for yourself so you remember to follow up with them occasionally.
Note: If a casting director tells you they don’t want you to stay in touch, don’t worry. Occasionally this happens, so just move on to someone else.
Keep in Touch
To make it easier to remember to stay in touch with all the casting directors and other industry people you’ll meet through your career, we want to introduce you to a great (and FREE) tool:
This is not a sales pitch - we are in no way affiliated with them and we don’t get commission if you upgrade to their paid plans.
FollowUpThen is an automatic system that works when you BCC certain email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Or even firstname.lastname@example.org.
You basically just get an email back from FollowUpThen on the date you pick saying, “It’s time to follow up.” And it contains the original message and who it was sent to.
It’s the perfect tool for remembering to keep in touch with casting directors and other industry people you meet because you can essentially send an email to them saying, “It was great meeting you at the casting class last week, I learned a lot.” And then you’ll BCC email@example.com and get a reminder email every three months to follow up with them.
It’s a VERY simple way to keep organized for people who hate complex technology systems like Project Management Software (Asana, etc.) or CRM Software (Hubspot, etc.).
Send a blank email right now to firstname.lastname@example.org. They’ll email you back very simple instructions on how to set up a free account where you’ll get up to 50 followup reminders per month.
And then we highly recommend sending another email to email@example.com that says the following:
“Don’t forget to use FollowUpThen!”
This way it keeps reminding you to use it until you manually cancel the reminder.
Note: If you'd like to learn more about networking and how to connect with people without coming off as needy or desperate, check out the video below:
Hey I'm Martin, and my goal is to help you reach yours. I love writing content about career advancement, marketing strategies, productivity, and much more.
For guest posts, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.