Advice From A Professional SAG-AFTRA Actor
BY JIJI HISE
As a professional SAG-AFTRA actor, I’m often asked by people, “How do I break into the business?” or, “How can my son/daughter get work as an actor in this state?” Well, that answer is many-fold.
My first suggestion is always training. There are several local reputable acting instructors in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area, including the Albuquerque Actors’ Studio and Sol Acting Academy.
You can also find workshops taught by local casting directors. I highly recommend taking workshops from each casting director at least once. You can often find out when these workshops are being offered at nmfilm.com.
New Mexico’s colleges also provide good acting training, both in film and theater. I attended the theater program at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, so I have some bias for their program. Eastern New Mexico University in Portales also has a very good theater program. Then there’s the theater program at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
However, if you really just want to go straight for the film training, Central New Mexico Community College has a great film program, but it offers only an associate’s degree. There’s also a film program at the Santa Fe Community College. And, finally, my alma mater, NMSU, now has a full film degree program.
Then there are individuals who teach there own classes and workshops. You can also find these advertised on the NM Film website.
However, I recommend doing research on any individual teacher or unrecognized teaching institution. There are many scammers and they’re looking to prey on new, inexperienced actors who don’t know better.
Which brings me to my next suggestion: background work. Now don’t be fooled, background isn’t a fast-track to speaking roles. I know you may have heard of someone in the background suddenly being giving a line, which is union work. If that happens to you, congratulations! You are now SAG-AFTRA eligible. But I wouldn’t count on it.
The reason I recommend doing background work when you’re starting out is so you can get a feeling for what it’s like on set. Pay attention to what the director is saying to the actors (if you’re lucky enough to be close to the main actors), and do exactly what the assistant directors and production assistants tell you. Be mindful not to get in the way of the main action.
And whatever you do, do not approach the lead actors and ask them for an autograph or picture. That is a very good way to get yourself thrown off the set and never asked to work background again.
Some of the main background casting directors in the area are White Turtle Casting, Elizabeth Gable Casting, and Latham Casting.
You can also do stand-in work. A stand-in is the person who stands in for the actors while the crew is setting up the lights and camera for a scene. If you are offered stand-in work, take it. Stand-ins get to watch the director talk to the actors and give them blocking for the scene.
There’s so much valuable information you can learn as a stand-in on a film or TV show. You also get paid more than a background actor, and you are treated more like one of the crew than a background.
“But I want start acting now!” you say. Well, here are some of the best ways to get started. NMfilm.com is going to be one of your best resources. There are constantly new casting calls being posted on their website.
Facebook can also be a good resource. There are several groups solely for local actors. You can also try out for a play at any of the number of local playhouses.
Once you’ve started these steps you need to start thinking about your headshot and resume.