When you are starting out as a freelance actor (or crew member!), you have an enormous amount of competition. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have more experience, more training and more credits than you. There are a lot of other things that producers and directors will look at. Are you pleasant and reliable to work with? Someone engaging in bullying, aggression or abuse, or who is unreliable and doesn't turn up, can cost a production a fortune or even destroy a production costing thousands - or in the case of a big film or TV drama, millions. Productions will therefore often err on hiring people they know to be reliable and good to work with.
People who have been unreliable or caused problems, will not be looked at twice.
Sadly, that also means that people who are an "unknown" will also be frequently overlooked as a "risk". That is one of the huge glass ceilings to get through.
What I see, are common pitfalls which people fall into, or miss. I would also like to reiterate that this covers amateur (unpaid) and professional (paid) and anything in between!
What needs to happen, is that whatever you do is treated with the same level of commitment and seriousness. I have often seen people become involved in an amateur or student production and say that "it doesn't matter" - but many other professionals may be involved in those projects (it is much better to be honing your skills and working on something, than not) and word gets around. People talk. People notice. And, those students or first-time filmmakers may be the ones offering paid work in a few years.
So, for whatever productions you commit to, needs to be treated as in a professional manner. In the cases of a theatre show or film, expect that people will be paying good money to come and be entertained / educated by your work and performance. (And it is not unknown that producers and directors are in that audience and also talent scouting!)
The first pitfall is the number of people who don't read casting or crewing briefs when looking to apply. When you see a casting call, check the location: (can you physically get there?). Check the dates for rehearsals and performance (are you available on those dates?). Check the pay/ expenses/ copy details (are you happy with those?). Check the genre (Don't email a casting director or producer asking to be in their movie when it is a stage show) . Check any specialist skills required: (if you cant swim, don't apply for a film needing an actor who can swim, and if the role requires you to ride a horse, don't apply if you have never ridden a horse!) .
It is very tempting to apply to "everything", but productions will look at applications to check that you have read the brief, and may ask for evidence.
If you are really interested in working with a particular production company or casting director, and they are not advertising something suitable, send them a polite email, with a good clear photo (NOT a selfie!), and a video showing some of your recent performance work or a well-performed monologue, introducing yourself asking to be contacted if they have anything suitable in future.
The second common pitfall is in auditions.
Missing an audition will mean that you will be very unlikely to be looked at again. Common red flags in auditions are when someone behaves inappropriately in the auditions. (It is why I like to audition in person, it weeds out many of those issues). Over the years I have seen people try to belittle the other people in the room even attempting to belittle the casting panel members - for example demanding the lead role because you once danced in a panto chorus elsewhere, will not earn you any favours; I have seen people behave sexually inappropriately to others (verbally and physically) , and even violently manhandle people without permission. However good their acting skills, those kinds of behaviours mean that the culprit will not be considered in the casting. A casting panel will also look at good time keeping, and pleasant demeanor, as well as at your suitability for the role. A good casting panel will also let you ask questions about the production.
The third pitfall you see, is people missing as many rehearsals as possible - not for reasons like other work, or illness, or emergency, which are entirely fair, but for less critical reasons "catching up on the TV" or "going to the pub". Effectively treating the production as a social club/ drop-in club instead of a place where serious work is taking place. This means that other people cannot rehearse the dynamics of character interplay with them, in cases of group choreography; nobody can learn it effectively (nor can it be "winged" at the last minute) lines and stage direction may be missed. Even if you feel you know all your lines or "you will just pick it up in a session or two", you need to remember that a dramatic show is a group effort and everyone else who may learn in a completely different way, needs to practice with you - they are relying on you to be there as much as you actually rely on them to be there.
It also destroys other people's morale when someone misses most rehearsals, and ultimately it is likely that you will be recast and removed from the production.
If you cannot commit to rehearsals and the show, don't audition. Don't be one of the people to gain a reputation for unreliability. You will only badly affect your fledgling career before you even begin.
So, when you are starting out (and it is always worthwhile maintaining this) what you need to do, to stand out, is establish a known name. Remember that however small the project, it is an opportunity to market yourself as a good freelancer.
- Create yourself a professional facebook page, twitter account, and website. This is a lot less complicated than it sounds (why not use weebly's simple drag and drop interface) to build your acting website? Update with good photos showing a range of expressions, monologue videos, updates about any roles or training.
- Network online. Follow production companies and directors/ producers in your area. Talk to other actors, casting directors, producers and theatre/ film makers. There are dozens of groups on Facebook, and good contacts on Twitter. Some creatives may be open to adding on social media, some may not, but make sure you interact. Don't just demand to be trained for free (a common type of DM I get in my inbox), but discuss, learn, and also watch other discussions and work. Also post fairly often with your news, work and questions in these groups, so that people see your name.
- Apply for castings. Get on Mandy.com, and casting/ crewing Facebook groups to start with, to find castings to help build your portfolio. Ultimately, for UK actors, you will want to get onto Spotlight, which allows you to sign to larger casting agents, who will help you find more work. However Spotlight is exclusive, and you need evidence of paid work fitting certain criteria, in order to be able to join.
- Keep safe: As soon as you have earned £500 in theatre/ film, join Equity, the creatives trade union, which gives you insurance, advice & help if anything goes wrong, and a myriad of further networking opportunities. Equity is open to actors, directors, costumiers, stage managers, dance/ fight directors, and variety performers.
- Always be reliable, pleasant and communicative in any work. Never " not turn up", bully or harrass or intimidate others.
- If, like me, you have a disability (visible or non-visible) where you may face challenges with something, discuss it with the producers of the project early on, and what "reasonable accommodations" (within the ability of the project and work) can be made . For example, I am autistic with additional linked conditions, and while theatre and film is the one "thing" in life that I know very well and where I need least support, I still need to know "what to expect" in advance, have calm reminders if I miss any information or misinterpret something; and I do panic and meltdown if I feel someone is being angry, abrupt or aggressive towards me (for real that is, I don't worry in the slightest if it is in an acting role), or if I am not fully clear on what to expect, so clear explanations, and being spoken to calmly and succinctly, with the room to ask questions, and be reminded about something, are the accommodations I usually need.
Being open and upfront about these things removes the likelihood of misunderstandings.
Ultimately, you need to build a reputation for reliability, professionalism, willingness to learn, and being someone who is genuinely pleasant to work with, to stand out. And remember that every time you network or perform or create work, on however large or small scale, you are advertising your skills, and people are seeing what you can do.