"Careers, Agents & Show Reels"
For Directors Notes on Playing the Big 'E' CLICK HERE

This letter was received at The Rehearsal Room at the start of the year. It represents questions that actors ask over and over again. It represents the aspiring actor's dilemma's and ambitions. It represents a difficult problem to which there is no easy solution. The letter is printed below and so is my reply … but you may have experience or advice you might like to share on this topic. If so email it to contact@ rehearsalroom.com and we will add it to the discussion.

Dear Richard,

I hope the New Year finds you well. I'm looking for a bit of advice. Do you know anybody who acts as a "career adviser"? I think I need a new agent, but I don't know who's who. I have tapes of all my work but don't know how to put them together to make a show reel. I've been Studying and working for the past 3 years, with a credited role in Child Star, a few national TVC's and a great new 3rd year VCA film, I have all the ingredients to make a career but someone needs to teach me how to bake it!

I'd love to hear from you and your thoughts ...

Many thanks


Dear Russell,

No, I don't know anyone who acts as a career adviser. And anyway, if I did, would they be the right career adviser for you? Finding a career adviser is much like finding a financial adviser - there is no guarantee that they will do much else than pedal their own products to you. If they are doing it on a business footing it is sometimes hard to tell if they are looking after themselves or you. Besides, on occasions I have also heard very bad advice handed out by very experienced people for free.

Agents and Advice
Getting good advice is a tricky business. Do the people who are giving it know your needs better than you do? Probably they don't. In an ideal world your agent would not only have the time, the expertise and the interest to help you but might also know you quite well and therefore be able to select courses of action especially designed for your individual needs. However, the most likely reality is that your agent is probably over worked and, much like you, battling to stay afloat. The best that most actors can hope for from their agents (it seems to me) is that they have a reasonable idea of the actor's performance capabilities and are confident about putting the actor forward for roles.

So it seems as far as career guidance goes it's up to you.

Talking To Your Agent
If your agent doesn't have the confidence to regularly put you forward for roles then clearly there are some career issues to explore. One possible circumstance is that they don't put you forward because their assessment of you is that you don't have a high enough level of skill. If this is the case then they should be discussing this issue with you - for you can improve your skill levels. If I had an agent I would want to have this information so I could be in control of my choices. Being able to talk honestly with your agent would seem to be important. If you currently can't do that, maybe you need to see if you can find an agent with whom you can talk.

The other possibility is that your agent has not seen enough of your recent work to have a confident view of where you are 'at'. Is this because you haven't been doing much or is it because they haven't had the time or didn't bother to see you? If it is the former then maybe you need to find ways to keep working. If it is the latter then maybe you do need a new agent. Being a good agent I imagine is a demanding task. So make your enquiries intelligently. You may end up achieving a move but not making progress.

Seeking Help
I can't tell you who is a good agent and who isn't - as I don't have an actor's perspective on this issue. Actors are best to ask about this. They have agents, they compare notes with other actors and they have the same dilemmas you do. So networking is important. In this regard I understand the Union provides some sort of mentoring scheme - actors helping actors. This may be a good place to enquire. But trust your understanding of your own needs to assess the information you get.

Is the Agent the Problem?
There are many stories of actors who do change agents and feel they are much better off. So a new agent is always one possible avenue for change. But there might be other considerations. One possibility is that your agent does put your name forward but the casting directors and directors are not placing you on the short list for audition because you are not well enough known to them. This is always a 'Catch 22'. How can you be well known if you don't get the work? True! However co-op theatre productions might get you good press. What price a good review? A new reason to remind casting agents you're around. Being in people's minds is an important step towards employment. Directors do forget.

In addition the actor who has been most recently working has a higher chance of doing well in an audition. Confidence is up, skills are up. Self-confidence and trust are big factors. They can make a huge difference to a performer's capabilities.

Preparing a Show Reel
If you are trying to promote an image of yourself as a professional actor then having a professional looking show reel is the aim. This is in itself a difficulty when you don't have much professional material to put on it. It is also sometimes very difficult for you to see which performances show your skills off to best advantage. You have a very subjective view of your achievements. Seeking advice is a good idea. Asking friends and colleagues what they see in your various clips might help. You may be surprise - the ones you think are good they may not. It is a sad reality that often student films with student scripts and student directors don't provide an environment for fantastic performances. They provide great experience and opportunities for growth but aren't necessarily the ones you want to put on your reel.

The Rehearsal Room provides a show reel advisory service - but is this just someone else pedaling their wares. Beware - it can also be a demoralizing if your professional advisor finds there is not much material that should be included. But remember the goal - your reel is an advertisement for you. It should be short, engaging and always show you off to advantage. It needs to be neatly edited.

The Rehearsal Room believes show reels are of limited value. So be careful how you spend your money.

How Good Are You?
The most important ingredient that is going to build a career is your level of competence. This is sometimes hard to assess from the inside too. Obviously if you are getting TVC's your performance process is at some standard of satisfaction - but a TVC performance only has to be sustained for a short period of time.

To have a chance of working more regularly it is not necessary to be a FANTASTIC GENIUS. But it is necessary to be competent. Do you receive advice that plainly tells you where you are 'at' performance-wise and exactly what you need to do to maintain or improve your skills? These kind of assessments might be tough but that is the level of assessment that happens in the audition room.

It's tough being an actor. But there is hope.

The Power of Persistence
Confidence, trust, skill, knowledge and ability are all part of the mix. The mix is always different - the balance hard to achieve - and the career outcomes unpredictable.

Many years ago now an actor came to The Rehearsal Room workshops with a determined career plan. Perhaps it was because there was so much determination and commitment that the performance outcomes were not very good. This actor determinedly got an agent but didn't get much work. Many derogatory things were said about both performance skills and presence. The actor determinedly wrote scripts, made video's and appeared in co-op plays. Workshops were attended and hard work was put in. At one Rehearsal Room workshop some awareness seemed to have been awakened but only with marginal improvement. As time went by, believing that Melbourne casting directors were not going to ever offer employment the actor determinedly change cities and agents - and moved to Sydney. Here work started to happen and became quite regular. This actor now works out of Los Angeles. I am not clear how significant the work is but a full time acting career has been achieved which few thought was possible except of course the actor himself - obviously he found a way.

So I am afraid I can't offer much helpful advice. Being an actor is tough. And only a few get it easy and then probably not all the time. We are only a small acting community with small resources and even less opportunity. But the best advice I can give you is that it is up to you. So good luck.

Keep Working
The Rehearsal Room has recently produced a twenty-page concept for a TV series. At this moment there has been some very enthusiastic response to it. This perhaps means that it now has about a five hundred to one chance of being produced. However, the day after tomorrow it may be eclipsed by someone else's idea and never be heard of again. This is the nature of the industry we aspire to work in. One thing has been learnt from the development of this project. At the beginning it wasn't very good but it wasn't transformed by either genius or talent. It was just hard work. It took nearly two years to prepare those twenty pages. It's the work that has made it happen.

So keep working.

All the very best.

Richard Sarell

February 2003

Copyright © The Rehearsal Room 2003. All rights Reserved.

OTHER READING - "Creating Your Showreel" - A discussion about the approaches and pitfalls when creating a showreel.



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