There isn’t actually that much published on selling yourself specifically as a screen actor to the UK market. ‘Make Acting Work’ by Chrys Salt covers the full range of getting work in theatre, radio, film and TV as well as in less traditional areas such as voice-overs, role play and even murder-mystery weekends! In Chapter 2 (‘A Marketing Package’), she covers ‘Your CV’, ‘Photographs’, ‘Portfolios’, ‘Demo-Tapes’ and ‘Showreels’. She also includes sections on ‘Television’, ‘Film’ and ‘Commercials’ in Chapter 6 (‘The Conventional Marketplace’). Overall, masses of practical advice to get work in all areas of acting. ‘An Actor’s Guide to Getting Work’ (Fifth Edition) by Simon Dunmore, is an up-to-date (2012) comprehensive survey of promotional material, audition technique and even lo/no-pay options.
Although aimed primarily at the US market, there is much valuable, down-to-earth advice in ‘Acting: Make It Your Business’ by casting director Paul Russell, including marketing, audition behaviour, approaching agents, dealing with rejection, negotiating contracts, financial survival, maintaining health, as well as managing the strong and varied personalities found along the way. There’s a number of really useful practical examples of head shots, CVs business cards and cover letters in Chapters 4 and 5. It’s skewed pretty much to getting screen work as most American books of this type are.
Another American book worth looking at is ‘Self-Managment for Actors’ by Bonnie Gillespie. Some great ideas for head shots, CVs and producing a showreel. Although the system is somewhat different in the States, there are recommended approaches to casting directors wherever you are based, and these tend to be the same on both sides of the Atlantic!
The following books deal with areas connected with marketing:
As you can’t expect acting to pay a living wage at the start and, as no one knows how long the process will take to get established, it’s important to get the right day job in order to maintain a secure base from which to operate. This cannot be a career job in the normal sense of the word, as it needs to allow you to go off to auditions at often very short notice and then to allow you time away to do the acting work if you get the role. Actors mostly often find this work as waiters or bartenders, but there are many more options, as outlined in ‘Survival Jobs’ by Deborah Jacobson. It’s an American book, but she covers many other areas which you may want to consider. The book is subtitled: ‘154 ways to make money while pursuing your dreams.’
In fact, the very best position to be in as an actor is self-employed. If you can find a skill or asset you can sell (apart from acting!), then you can take complete control of your time and energies, which is the best place to be. Another American book, ‘Making A Living Without A Job’ by Barbara J. Winter, is full of brilliant ideas about how to take financial control of your life, including sections on how to use the internet to open the door to fresh opportunities and how to find the best resources to help you create and grow a business of your own.
Networking is such a vital part of marketing yourself but there doesn’t seem to be much available on how to do it right. The problem seems to be that too many people feel uncomfortable doing it because the process is misunderstood. The perception seems to be that if you chat someone up at a networking event then there will be an immediate pay off of them offering you a job or an opportunity, and it doesn’t work that way. Networking pays off over time once people get to know you. At best it works on the principle outlined in ‘The Gift’ by Lewis Hyde, whereby good networking is like giving someone a gift – in this case, a gift of conversation where you make their day, and then move on – a gift given without expecting anything in return (like Christmas). Hyde shows that this ancient wisdom principle requires at least three participants – it doesn’t work with only two. The first gives a gift to the second (because it’s better to give than receive), the second then gives to the third, and the third to the first. The gift received by the first person (from the third) is then unexpected and appears to come ‘out of the blue’, but in fact would not have happened had s/he not initiated the process of giving in the first place. Networking works in the same way. You have no idea at all when or where the pay off will come, but it will come! You will get an useful introduction or a recommendation or some other kind of help seemingly by chance.
If there are only two participants then what changes hands is not a gift but some sort of exchange, like when a child gives a Christmas present to one of his parents and then demands to know, “Where’s mine?” It’s no longer a genuine gift and good networking (like Christmas) has to be about giving.
A less philosophical and more hands on approach can be found in ‘How To Work a Room’ by Susan RoAne. If you are worried about how to go up and chat with a complete stranger, this is the book for you.
Next: Lo-Budget Filmmaking