Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Getting Back Into Acting? Here's What You Need To Know!

Another question from one of my Blog readers:

I'm thinking of getting back into acting, but I haven't done it since Jr. High. I was good, too! I won an award or two, until I got the music bug. I want to check it out, just not sure how to go about it.  – Mike Rose, Simi Valley, CA

The Business of Acting
The acting industry has changed over the years.  The majority of submissions are now done online.  Social media has made it easier to connect with casting directors, 
directors and producers, and find out what’s currently casting.  Although emails have made contacting potential employers faster, good old-fashioned post office mailings and networking are still necessary.

But first . . .
You’ll need to get new professional headshots and update your resume.
Resumes you can do on your home computer, but don’t skimp on your 8x10.  Put your best face forward with an awesome photo. 

Ask around for good photographers, and view the photographer’s portfolio, either online or in person.  Get clear about how you want to sell yourself.  Watch TV and notice where you fit in.  Are you a mom or dad type, business type, blue collar or model type?  You may be more than one type, but you may also find that you book more in one area than another.  When you choose wardrobe, keep it simple.  If you need glasses, wear them in the photo.  And if you have contacts, make sure to take some photos without your glasses.  For women, keep your make-up natural.  Hiring a make-up artist is a good idea, as long as they understand that you need to look like you, not a glamorous model or hooker.  The overly made-up look isn’t going to work for commercial acting, and it’s not appropriate for theatre, television series, or feature films.  Often the photographer you hire will have a make-up artist that they like to work with.  I always go with their recommendation. 

Update your resume.  If you don’t have recent credits, list everything you’ve done in prior years.  Embellishing is okay, but avoid lying.  It will eventually catch up with you.  Let the casting director know that you’ve been onstage or in front of the camera.  And if you haven’t, you’ll need to create credits by actually getting work, either at a local theatre or in an independent film.  The best thing you can do is to generate legitimate credits, which will also give you a chance to improve your skills and hone your talent.  In Mike’s case, it would be beneficial to include his music credits because it shows the casting director that he’s been in a creative mode even though it wasn’t necessarily as an actor.  You can list your awards, too.  Be sure to include your height, weight, hair color, eye color, website address, and contact information.

Demo Reels
One actress I know sat down and wrote herself a funny ten-minute short film.  She didn’t have any video on herself, so she created it, enlisting her actor friends to assist her in front of the camera.  She hired a director and camera operator, who also had knowledge about lighting and sound, to shoot it.  The film turned out great and she was able to use a lot of the different clips from the short, which made her demo reel look like she’d done a variety of projects.  Plus, she produced a good short film, which is the first of her webisode series.  She’s written another ten-minute script and plans to film that soon.  Developing projects for yourself is a great idea, and it keeps you creatively fulfilled.  Whether it’s a one-person show, a stand-up routine, a film, or a play, keep those creative juices flowing and get your work seen.

Websites & Business Cards
Websites are your calling card.  If you don’t already have one, purchase your domain name, and get to work on designing your site.  Make sure that your website has all your contact info.  You’ll also benefit from utilizing video clips, with you talking about yourself, or various clips of your work, or both.  Keep the video short and fast-paced.  Be sure to include your bio, photos, and resume on the website.  Design a color business card with your photo, email address, phone number, and website, and hand them out!

Marketing and Networking
Read my last blog entry on marketing titled, Marketing Nuggets: Mining For Gold.  You’ll find some excellent tools to help you succeed.  Implement them and watch the work flow in!

Online Casting Services
List yourself on casting sites, such as LA Casting, Actors Access, and NOW Casting.  Search online for auditions in your area.  Google is awesome! 

Theatre Companies
If there’s a local theatre group in your area, get involved.  Whether you’re part of the crew, passing out programs, or performing onstage, it’s all a great way to find out what’s going on.  Become part of the acting community and share information. Take acting classes and workshops to hone your skills.

I have a friend who has a regular 9-5 job working as a financial planner, but he also has a commercial agent and once in awhile they send him on an audition.  He enjoys getting out of the office and in front of the camera, and manages to book a commercial every three years or so.  That’s enough for him.  It’s not a way to make a living, but it’s a fun hobby.  Maybe that’s enough for you, too.  For me, acting is a full-time job, and I love every minute of it.  I started in the theatre at the age of four, playing the youngest of the Snow children in “Carousel” at the Ottumwa Heights Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa.  Being onstage feels like home to me.

Have Fun
The main thing is to have fun.  If you don’t enjoy acting, it’ll show, and there are too many competitors out there who love it.  I’m one of them.  It helps to have a positive attitude and optimistic outlook.  Being a successful actor requires work, so be prepared to spend some time and energy on marketing yourself.  My recent post on marketing is filled with great information.  Agents are very helpful, but you can do a lot without one.  My next blog will be about Agents, how to get one and what to expect from them. 

Anne Marie Howard is the Queen of Everything.  Sort of.  As the President of Queen of Everything, Inc, she wears the crowns of actress, writer, producer, director, and exhibited artist.  Acting professionally for over 30 years, Anne Marie is best-known  as Nicole Love on Another World and Kimberly Brady on Days Of Our Lives.  She frequently guest stars on primetime television in series such as Desperate Housewives, Criminal Minds, Castle, Nip/Tuck, Cold Case, and Make It Or Break It, and has been seen in hundreds of television commercials.  You may recognize her as the recent Spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors.  She’s hosted talk shows and infomercials, interviewing celebrities such as Donald Trump, Vanessa Williams, Melissa Etheridge, Frances Fisher, and James Cromwell.  She also appears regularly on the big screen in films such as The Weather Man w/Nicolas Cage and You Don’t Mess With The Zohan w/Adam Sandler.  For a complete resume and video clips, visit her website at  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Marketing Nuggets: Mining for Gold

I’ve been receiving questions in response to my Blog postings via Facebook.  Here’s a great one from Derwin White:
Hi Anne Marie,
I was wondering if you could impart some tips that you use on how to effectively promote oneself, in a way that would make one stand out from the others.  If there are ANY nuggets you could share, I'd be appreciative.  I’m looking forward to getting a piece of the GOLD that has helped you to make a living in Hollywood. 
Thanks!  - Derwin White, Serra Mesa, CA

My answer to Derwin’s question is 6 pages long, single-spaced, and there’s still so much more to say.  I hope you enjoy this GOLD from the Queen!

There are many talented performers in the world.  What separates successful artists from all the others is the ability to market their product well.

Think of yourself as a product.  See yourself on the shelf.  What type of packaging will you use to draw attention to what you do?  If you’re an actor, musician, director, writer, or producer, you may choose to use your best headshot.  If you’re in a band, maybe it’s a group shot or logo.  If you’re a voice-over artist you may have created an animated image with a catchy phrase that lets the producer know your specialty.  Producers need to know where they can peg you.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself in a specific category.  You may think you’re boxing yourself in, but what you’re really doing is giving them a clear idea of how you can be cast.  There will aways be room to branch out and expand.  Give yourself a specific starting point to assist those who haven’t a clue who you are.  Yet, that is!

Create a website.  Brand yourself.  Whether you design your website yourself or hire an expert, make sure it’s awesome.  This is your calling card.  You’ll include your bio, photos, resume, contact info, and video or audio clips.  You want to be at the very top on the first page of entries when your name is Googled.  You may need to enlist someone who is web savvy to assist you with this. 

If you can’t afford to set up your own website with a professional web designer, check out NOW Casting or Argentum Photo Lab.  They offer templates that make it easy to upload your information and charge a monthly fee to host your website.  Make the investment because it will pay off. 

Design a logo.  It can be your initials or your name in an interesting font & color, a colorful emblem or company crest, or an image that represents who you are.  I used my initials at one point because my agents often referred to me as AMH.  Now I use a headshot with my Queen of Everything crown logo beneath it.  If you’ve already done this and it’s been over ten years, you may want to rebrand yourself.  Keep it fresh.

When I was Corn Fed, Inc, my logo was  corn cob.  It represented the fact that I was from Iowa which helped me book roles.  I was new to the commercial acting world and Midwestern actors were a hot commodity in the New York City casting circuit.  Now that I’m Queen of Everything, Inc I use a crown for my logo with the log line, Creativity Rules.  It represents the fact that I wear many different crowns, that of actor, writer, producer, director, painter, teacher, and overall creative artist. 

Once you establish your chosen logo, stick with it.  Use it everywhere.  On Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, YouTube, your website, stationery, envelopes, business cards, postcards, Constant Contact or other emailing service.  Use it as your email signature, on your Blog, and anywhere and everywhere else you can think of.  Be sure to include your website address with the logo.

Demo and Audio Reels are a must.  If you don’t have any video, create it.  Videotape a nice warm welcome for your website, or shoot a scene with other actors.  Put together something that shows you off well.  Actors Access has a service called Actor Slate, a sixty-second general interview.  If you don’t have a demo reel, this is a great way to be seen by casting directors.  If you do have a demo reel, keep it up-to-date, putting your high profile scenes up front, and keeping the DVD only a few minutes long, with a variety of scenes progressing at a nice energetic pace.  One-minute demo reels are currently the rage.  Voice-Over artists absolutely must have a one-minute audio reel.  You can create one from scratch.  Once you have a VO demo, get it out in the world.  There are many online voice casting services such as Voice Bank, Voice123, Voices, and more.

Keep your info updated.  Be diligent about updating your website, resume, IMDB credits, Social Media, and all your other info listed online or elsewhere.  Keep it current. 

Send correspondence regularly.  Whether it’s 8x10 mailings, or 4x6 postcards, mailings are a must.  You don’t have to have anything important to say.  It’s about getting your photo, or company logo, across the desk of those you’re trying to meet or stay in touch with.  A simple “Just wanted to say Hi!” will do if you don’t have anything new to mention.  It’s all about the reminder.  You want to get your image across their desk so they keep thinking of you.  Whether you choose to send your postcards, or email notices, once a week or once a month, stick to a plan and make sure you do it.  There are online services, such as Overnight Prints and Vista, that offer excellent prices on picture postcards.  When you do have something to brag about, have a special postcard made and send it to everyone you can think of. 

Actors, check out Envelopenz at Actor Tips online.  They’re large white envelopes with a clear plastic opening on one side so your 8x10 can be seen.  This is a good way to introduce yourself.  After the initial mailing, you can send follow up postcards, using the same photo so you can be easily indentified.  Always include your website & let them know they can view your work there. 

Create Email Blasts.  Blast out several hundred notices with the touch of a button.  I use Constant Contact, but there are many excellent email marketing services available.  Some offer free services, others have monthly fees, depending on your needs.  Gather emails and enter them in the database.  I create newsletters, notices, invitations, updates, etc.  It’s a great way for actors to let a large group of people know when you’re going to be on television or in a film.  The templates they offer are easy to use and since it’s creative, I enjoy doing it.   They also offer classes which I have found to be very helpful.

Think outside the box.  Stand out from the crowd.  An actor friend of mine got a huge role in Apollo 13 because he found out the casting directors liked chocolate chip cookies.  He ordered a box from their favorite cookie company, taped his photo on the lid, and took it over to their office with a note saying that he wanted to audition for them.  He got the appointment and booked the job.  He even got to go to the Academy Awards when the film was nominated.  You want to avoid being obnoxious or desperate, but if you take the time to find out something specific about who you’re going to meet, you can make a good impression on them.  With the help of Google, social media, and word of mouth, you can come up with something that will get you noticed in a good way.  Put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re contacting.  Make sure the item you choose to give is something that you would be comfortable receiving.  You don’t have to do this every time.  I rarely give gifts.  I like to find other ways in, such as a referral.  Facebook is great for this because it lets you know which of your friends know each other.  Ask for a favor nicely and be okay with a no.  Don’t ever let a no get you down.  You’re not putting yourself out there if you’re not getting turned down here and there.  Let a rejection spur you on.  And be sure to express gratitude when a door is opened.  Thank you notes are wonderful and hand-written notes are especially nice.  

Be persistent in a nice way.  When I want footage from a TV show or  film that I’ve worked on, I’ll call the production office and ask nicely for a copy of the episode or feature.  They may not be able to help you out, but if they say yes, and you still haven’t received your DVD a week later, give them another call.  Ask nicely again.  Sometimes they need a gentle reminder.  If they’re unable to provide you with material, you’ll almost always be able to find it online.  Though with feature films, I’ve often had to wait until they’re released in video stores and purchase the film  there or online at Amazon. 

Derwin White, who wrote the question that prompted these words you’re now  reading, is a great example of being persistent in a good way.  It took awhile for me to write this article.  His first email arrived on August 24th.  I responded, letting him know that I was planning to answer his question in a few days.  When he didn’t hear back from me for awhile, he sent a nice follow up message, saying he knew that I was busy, but that he was looking forward to getting a piece of the gold that has helped me make a living in Hollywood.  His Facebook messages not only inspired me to sit down and write, but also supplied me with the title! 

Keep track of networking and appointments.  I have an assortment of 3-ring binders with insert tabs that have the names of the projects I’ve worked on.  I use separate binders for each category: Theatrical, Voice-Overs, Commercials, and Hosting.  I also have a 3-hole puncher and the minute I get home from an audition or shoot, I punch holes in the sides, directions, call sheet, contract, and any other information I’ve received, and put it into my binder.  Every year I create new binders, saving those from prior years so I can refer back to them when necessary.  This way, I have all the information I need right at my fingertips.

Make sure your photo looks like you.  There’s nothing worse than presenting yourself other than how you actually look.  You won’t do well on a dating website with a photo that misrepresents you and you certainly won’t do well when you go in to take a meeting with a casting director, producer, director, or network executive.  Get new photos taken a minimum of every three years, more often if you change your look.  Be sure to use a professional photographer and refrain from doing too much retouching.  You want to put your best face forward, but you want it to look like you.

Go to events.  I attend a lot of plays and always run into directors, casting directors, producers, or agents at the theatre.  It’s good to be seen, and even better to attend shows that will inspire you and spark your creative juices. 

Make a Map of Relationships.  Put yourself in the center of the page, and then put your closest industry relationships in the next circle around you, and so on, until you get to the outer circle, which would include business associates you don’t know that well.  Find their contact info if you don’t have it handy.  Get back in contact with those you’ve lost touch with, and make it a habit to stay connected with those you know well. 

Make requests.  Learn to get good at asking for help.  Find a mentor, someone you admire and respect.  They don’t have to be famous.  It could be someone who has a career that is further along than yours.  Contact them with specific questions.  Social media is a great way to connect. 

Target the top 10 people you want to meet.  For actors it may be the top 10 shows you’d like to work on.  Send to the casting directors of those shows regularly.  Make requests for a meeting or audition.  If you’re a musician and want them to listen to your music, offer an easy way to sample it via YouTube, Vimeo, MySpace, your website, or other online source.  I can’t tell you how many contacts I’ve made through Facebook and Twitter.  These are the top two social media networking sites.  Get familiar with them.  When you post new info, ask your Facebook friends and Twitter followers to spread the word. 

Find a way to make marketing fun.  Most artists would rather be creating than networking, and honing their talent rather than their business skills.  But you need to find a way to make the ‘business’ of your career enjoyable.  It doesn’t do you any good to put your work out into the world with resentment.  You need to do your mailings and marketing with a joyous intention.  The best way to do that is to make it easy.  Most industry bigwigs don’t have time to read lengthy letters.  Just send a short personal note with your photo.  Here are a few examples:  “_______ suggested we meet.  I’ll call you next week to schedule an appointment.”   “I’d love to meet you for the role of _________ in the film you’re casting, _______.”  “Visit my website to view clips & learn more.”  Whatever it is, a short handwritten note attached to your mailing will be sufficient. 

Utilize online casting services.  There are numerous online casting services, such as Actors Access, LA Casting, NOW Casting, and more.  Purchase the CD Directory and the Ross Reports for updated casting addresses.  There’s also an excellent app called Actor Genie.  Get the trade papers, also accessible online and as apps: the Hollywood Reporter, Daily Variety, BackStage West, and more.  Read as much as you can about your field.  There are so many great books, classes, and workshops.  Stay on top of what’s going on in your industry.  Keep learning and growing. 

Set up a company.  I have my own company that I use for production purposes.  It’s a sub-chapter S Corporation, and it’s a tremendous asset when I present myself as a professional offering services. 
I know a group of actors who got together and set up a management company.  They pooled their money together to cover expenses.  Because they formed a legitimate company, they were able to receive Breakdown Services, which is the best source of casting information available.  Each actor was designated one day a week, searching for roles in the breakdowns that would be right for their fellow actors as well as themselves, and mailing or hand-delivering packages to the casting directors. 

Get an Agent or Manager.  When I started out, I didn’t have referrals so I had to get creative.  I wrote letters to agents telling them a little about myself, and requested a meeting.  Because I was young and fresh out of Iowa, this approach worked well.  Later, when I decided to change agents, I went to the Screen Actors Guild, opened their thick books of Agent Client lists and wrote down the names of the women I didn’t know, then looked them up in the Player’s Directory, noting if they were direct competition.  I wrote personal letters to the agents I was targeting, stating that they didn’t have anyone on their roster like me and that I would be a good asset and looked forward to meeting them.  This approach worked for me as well.  The agent I have now was recommended by a casting director.  She opened the door by making a phone call.  There are Agent and Manager books available at Samuel French.  A manager usually has fewer clients and can offer personal attention.  Whatever you do, know that marketing doesn’t stop just because you have representation.  You still need to do as much as you can to let others know about your awesome product, which is YOU!

Hire a Pro.  It takes a lot of time and energy to get ahead.  If you really hate the idea of marketing yourself, have a friend help you or better yet, hire a pro.  It will be worth the investment.  I had a girlfriend who came over to my house one evening a week after her secretarial job at Disney.  She sat at my computer and entered hundreds of contacts, helping me create a new database.  I also had her help me with fan mail.  She took my autographed headshots home with her and sent them out to fans who had requested them.  I paid a small fee for her services, but you can make a trade with a friend.  Be creative.
Shake it up.  If you’ve tried every one of these things and you’re still not getting work, or at the very least, meetings, appointments, or auditions, then reassess what you’re putting out into the world.  Maybe it’s time for a new look, a new website, and a new approach.  Shake it up.  Rebrand.  Make a change.  Think about who you are and what you want to say.  Express yourself in a way that is clear and concise.

Mine for Gold.  Hopefully, one of these gold nuggets will inspire you to mine for more gold.  Let me know how you do.  I’m building a roster of career breakthroughs and I want to put your name on the list of success stories! 

Anne Marie Howard blogs regularly at
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Friday, September 2, 2011

Letting Go Is Key

One of the biggest mistakes I made early on in my career involved coaching. I went to a big film audition to read for an important casting director. She liked what I did at the initial meeting and so I was given a callback to meet the director & producers. I was really excited and wanted to be the best I could so I decided to hire a private acting coach and work on the material before the callback. We rehearsed the sides to the point of exhaustion and talked at length about the role. I was thinking about the part very differently now and was looking forward to bringing this new take on the role back to the casting director.
The next morning at the callback session, I did my audition and felt good about it. The casting director wasn’t friendly, but I just assumed that she was busy and preoccupied with all the actors she had sitting in the waiting room. I had a personal manager at the time and he was really good about getting feedback, so he called her office to inquire how I’d done at the callback.
“I don’t know what happened,” she told him. “Anne was excellent at the audition but when she came back, it was very different. She changed everything and it was all wrong.”
After thanking her, he hung up the phone and called me.
“She said you did something completely different at the callback. What happened?”
“I went to an acting coach.”
“Well, don’t ever do that again. She liked what you did at the audition. That’s why she brought you back. She didn’t want you to change it. She wanted to show the director what you had done for her.”
“Oh,” I said, taking a deep breath. “I thought what I did at the callback was better.”
“It wasn’t,” he said.
We hung up and I didn’t see that casting director again for over fifteen years.
When I finally saw her again she still wasn’t friendly. There were about twenty girls sitting on the floor in the long narrow hallway outside her office door. The few folding chairs were filled with bodies and there were women standing, leaning against the walls, and sitting on the floor, all waiting their turn to audition. She was behind schedule casting another big feature. After taking a long break, where we all started wondering what was going on, she came out of her office and passed out new dialogue. All of the actresses had learned a lot of dialogue for the audition, but she handed us completely new material, and I was up next. As actors, all we can do is roll with what we’re given and do our best. Then let it go when we leave. And that’s what I did. Months later, when I saw the movie, a male actor had been cast in the role. Good thing I didn’t waste time and energy dwelling on that audition.
A casting director friend of mine told me recently that most actors don’t do as well at the callback session. When I asked her why, she said she wasn’t sure, but that it was almost always the case. “Maybe the actor feels there’s more at stake because they’re closer to getting the role,” I volunteered. She thought about it for a minute and then replied, “Maybe.”
When I think about making changes, I think about a high school girlfriend who signed my yearbook. She wrote in really big letters right in the front, “Don’t ever change!” I took one look at it and thought, “God, I hope I do!” I was heading off to New York City to study acting and, more than anything, I wanted to change, and I anticipated big changes occurring in my life.
Change is good, for the most part. But to make big changes between an audition and callback was a mistake. I’m not opposed to private coaching. After all, I teach private hosting. It just needs to happen from the start.
Holly Powell, an LA-based acting teacher and former casting director for twenty-three years said in the August 18-24, 2011 issue of BackStage West, “When you choose to become an actor, you have really chosen a career as a professional auditioner.” It's our job as actors to get good at the audition process. When we're put in a difficult position, we need to flow with whatever comes our way.
I learn something from every experience. Here’s the wisdom I gained from this one.
When going to a callback session:
Do the same thing you did the first time around. (If you’re going to hire an acting coach, do it before your first audition.)
Wear the same outfit, if you still feel good in it.
Go with the flow. Flow with what you’re given, including direction, comments, amount of time spent waiting to go in the audition room & the waiting room conditions, and any changes that are made.
Stay focused.
Do your best.
When you leave the room, let it go.
Get feedback when you can, listen to it, and apply it.
Don’t beat yourself up. Learn from your mistakes, and apply the lesson to your next audition.
Onto the next . . .
I did my best that day. When I got the feedback, I didn’t beat myself up. I took it in, digested it, figured out how to apply it to my next audition to make it better, then let it go. It takes practice, but letting go is key.