What Does It Take To Be An Actor or Model?


Basically a good 8 x 10 photo, a supply of 9 x 11 manila envelopes, a resume, an answering service, pager or cell phone. These are the essential tools used by everyone from bit players to major actors. A black and white head shot works best for actors, but for models a color head shot and color head to toe shot may often be better tools.

The resume is often the hard part for most people, but if you work at things you start to actually build one!

Every major city has lots of trade shows each and every year and all of these trade shows often have a pretty girl to help pass out pamphlets and draw in the audience. They often call this girl a “model” and she’s often paid, maybe not more than $25 or $50 for each day of the show, but it’s a start.

One girl I knew started off as a waitress at one restaurant and eventually became the hostess. She was pretty and the restaurant featured her face in their newspaper ads. That qualifies as model. It’s a least something legitimate you can put on a resume.

When I wrote a piece on a beer and wine making shop for Valley Magazine I originally submitted color pictures of the little boutique of wine racks at the shop. The editor didn’t like it, he wanted a picture of a guy and gal with a glass of beer! So I went to the local photo shop and asked they salesman if he knew any models and he offered up himself and a girlfriend! They were both SAG actors and they did the shoot for simple credit, especially since Valley Magazine is a big, glossy, major serial publication for the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles and wins journalism awards on a regular basis. That is a very good credit line for any model.

As for your pictures, you can get those for free and learn a little about modeling if you live in a fairly large city. The Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation has a Photo Center, with lots of backdrops, professional lighting and each month they bring in pretty girls to be models. Each photographer is supposed to make an 8 x 10 available to the girls for their resume or portfolio. All the girl need do is show up on her own time and stay the night. She could easily end up with 10 to 50 pictures in color or black and white to choose from.

Speaking of photography, each of the big companies (Kodak, Minolta, Nikon, Vivitar, Canon, Pentax, Konica, etc.) hold annual trade shows in places like Las Vegas, Atlantic City, San Diego, Chicago, Seattle and they may want a pretty model for that show. They usually pick a cute, young local girl.

Parades and beauty contests can also be a good starting ground for both actors and models. Each year in Pasadena the search goes on for the Rose Parade Queen and her Princesses. The competition is open to any girl in the immediate Pasadena area between the age of generally 16 and 20. You get on that float (or any of the other floats, all floats like to have some pretty girls on them and there are hundreds of floats) and you get national network television exposure. That’s a credit worth having on an otherwise empty resume! You don't have to live in a large city that is associated with a major television event such as the Rose Parade. Troy, New York (population 50,000 people) has an annual Flag Day parade, complete with pretty girls who also sit on a float. It's a major, half a day event covered by local press from the state capital in Albany.

High school plays are getting more TV and news coverage these days. Out in Wolcott, New York (population 5,000) local cable television recently covered their Central High School production of a musical play showing the leading actor and actress on television over a weekly period of time. This is a credit good enough to start a resume. You build from here.

Actor-singer Elzabeth Clift (cousin of Academy award winning actor Montogomery Clift) started working the Seattle theater circuit as a young teeanger. She eventually got her Equity (stage actor union) card, better roles and finally featured solo on the cover of the Seattle Times Sunday Magazine promotiong her leading role in the Civic Theater production of "Bye, Bye Birdie." Liz had done all of this by the age of 17. By 20 she had signed a contract to do a television series, got her Screen Actors Guild Card and moved to Los Angeles. She also toured the country fronting her own band as lead singer, which was booked by the prestigious American Booking Company (ABC). Today she has her MA in Theater, works with Actors Alley and teaches acting at Los Angeles area colleges. She is an example of a huge success in the business, but she's not a super star. She is a bread and butter actor who is doing better than 90% of the people in the business.

It's a matter of starting somewhere and then building from there by promotion. The major tool of promotion is the 8 x 10 shot and your resume.

Some actors and models also print up business cards and postcards (sometime known as Zed Cards) with their pictures on them as part of promoting their careers. These days you can actually print your materials on any good ink jet printer, although for 8 x 10 glossy pictures a roll printing service on real photographic paper can sometimes be more economical (as little as 25 cents per print if you order 1,000 or more at one time).

Next it is a matter of getting these into the hands of casting directors, theater groups, agents, managers and even advertising departments at smaller stores. Many local stores sometimes generate their own advertising. I once did a bid for May Company in Los Angeles, who was looking to do some local television work (despite the fact the main office did national or regional network advertising). They may also do local print work for inserts in the Sunday paper.

It’s simply a matter of going through the local phone book and hitting all the advertising agencies, all the casting directors in the weekly Hollywood Reporter or copy of Backstage magazine, all the agents who book print work, all the local commercial photographers who do the print work for advertisers and then hope you get a phone call, just don’t hold your breath you might turn bright blue!

Most of these people we just mentioned don’t want to hear from you, will probably throw out your picture and never remember your name. They work with “regulars” they know and count on, but every now and then a regular becomes too big to continue working with them or simply leaves the business. On that day they need to start filling a vacancy with a new face and the first face that comes though the door might get that slot!

It is best if you can find a legitimate agent or manager to do a lot of this work for you, but in the beginning you are going to have to do it yourself. Yes, you will find a lot of service companies out there willing to handle this for a fee, but the fee to send one package at a cost of $2 will get billed back to you at a rate of $25 or $50. If you can afford this comfortably, go for it. Less work for you, although it can take years to reach the break even point when you consider that in a small town like Sodus, New York, it is possible to send out 100 – 200 packages just to capture the local trade! That’s several hundred dollars if you do it yourself or closer to $10,000 if you let a company do this for you.

Do you have to live in a big city or especially someplace like Los Angeles? It can help, especially for movies and television. Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver, London, Auckland, Sydney and several other big cities around the world are where television and films originate. You stand a better shot at this if you are close enough to drive in for an audition on a moment’s notice.

For print model work you can get that most anywhere! Every county has business big enough to publish corporate reports, do color magazine advertising or support clothing stores with enough of a budget to do some newspaper display ads. These are where your first jobs come from. This is where you make $50 a session then eventually work up to $150 an hour. Do enough of this and a larger, more regional agency may take you on, but then you’ll need to travel. For print work it will largely be New York City or London. Generally in the summer is when a lot of major auditions are held.

You go in for the audition with your picture and resume. They may spend all of 10 seconds looking at you, taking your $2 package and you’ll never hear back from then. Worse, they may call you back for a second audition and then not give you the job!

This is something the model or actor has to learn to put up with. This is one of those little “costs” you have to bear in the business. You will also have to supply your agent with cards and pictures, which they will give away, often with no results. That happens, even to big agents!

An agent is simply a licensed employment agency who is well known to a circle of “users” who come to them (and other agents) to find faces to put in front of the people who make decisions. The agent gets a call from a “flunky” in the office at the advertising place or casting director, looking for a certain type of person. The agent picks people from his pool (good agents handle as many as 500 models and actors), calls them up and sees if they can do the audition date. If they can he fixes them up with the client. The rest is up to the actor or model. If the “buyer” likes a model or actor, then they call up the agent and provide all the particulars. The agent then calls you up to see if you can do the job and will take the fee.

If it is a local shoot it is up to you to get there, early not late and in good shape. You must be the same size on the shoot date as you were when they fitted you. Be prepared to work the entire day and into the night.

You are either paid on the spot or a check is sent to the agent a week later. The agent takes a 10 to 20% commission and you get the rest.

A valid Taxpayer ID number is required for work in the U.S. Your payment can either be as a commissioned independent sub-contractor (you are responsible for paying taxes) or as a temporary employee (they withhold tax money and contribute to social security in the U.S.).

As for size, age or type, the field is wide open for advertising, television, film, commercials, print or catalog work, although it helps to be somewhat young, somewhat slim and fit into a dress size between 0 and 4, but that is not a law. Many women of all shapes and sizes do quite well in modeling work. The field for men, however, can be a bit more limited. They generally like them tall (6’ to 6’3”) and slim. Runway females usually have to be 5'8" or taller.

For modeling work the model should include all particulars including height, weight, all measurements including inseam, shoes, rings, wrists and biceps. You better be accurate and update these as your size changes, because the agent relies on this for booking you. If you claim to fit a size 4, be 5’5” and weight 115 and it turns out you are really are 128 and wear closer to a size 5, then you might be wasting everyone’s time including your own. Many girls lie, thinking that’s what everyone does, but in modeling this can hurt you more than help. You might get less job offers in a given size or shape, but they will be job offers you may actually qualify for rather than ones you don’t have the first shot at getting!

For many print and catalog jobs they only have clothes in certain sizes. The models have to fit into these.

If they are looking for someone who looks 20 and you’re 30 and look it, they will not be happy to see you, especially in model work. If you're an actor, better make yourself up to look 20, because if you can fool them you can fool the audience and maybe get the part!

Our Model and Acting Special Issues Continues With...

What you Need | Life On The Set As An Actor | Talent Scouts, Junkets, Model Schools
The Model Release | Breaking Into Acting | Extra Work in TV and Movies | Teen Modeling Sites
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