Before coming to the Digital Film Academy, Danesha Holmes tried many different career paths. She always knew she wanted to work in entertainment, but didn’t know in what capacity. As a result, in addition to trying acting and stand-up comedy, Holmes spent time in retail, in customer service, as a personal trainer, and even as an EKG technician.
Finally, she came to grips with the fact that TV was what she truly loved, and decided to do what she had to to make it her career. Before she knew it, she was googling film schools in the New York area. When she discovered the Digital Film Academy, she knew it fit the bill.
“The DFA was the best of all available choices, and it got my foot in the door,” Holmes says. Their one-year program was a good fit for her and, most importantly, she was able to receive financial aid. “I got a scholarship, and that really made the difference. Without that, I wouldn’t have been able to go.”
Part of Holmes’ financial aid package involved working off her tuition both by blogging for the school and by working as a receptionist. You can check out her blog posts here, under her pen name, Harley Page.
Most importantly, though, her experience with the DFA helped Holmes decide exactly which job in entertainment was right for her.
“By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to be a video editor,” she says. “I enjoy that environment, enjoy seeing the final product come together, and the creativity and the work that goes into it.”
Throughout her DFA courses, Holmes was given the opportunity to work with rough footage from hit TV shows like Monk and Hell’s Kitchen. She got to put together cuts from multiple cameras to create a finished product. She also completed a co-thesis with another student, Jazmin Young – a web series called Sabotage. The trailer and logo can be viewed below.
She now works for Leftfield Entertainment, transcribing and logging shows such as Pawn Stars, ESPN 30-30, Blood, Sweat, and Heels, and United States of Stuff. She recently interviewed for a promotion to assistant editor.
But her long-term goal? “To be a video editor and to own my own business,” Holmes says with confidence.
“The DFA changed my life completely,” she says. “It helped me choose my career path. I’m definitely going for the stars now. Thank you guys!”
Acting is probably the hardest field to break into in the already very hard world of film.
This really hit home for me when I posted a casting call for just two characters (unpaid) and got over 450 applicants. With numbers like those, anything you can do to get (and improve) an audition is well worth it!
This is Part One of a two-part series. Below are some helpful tips for getting an audition. Granted, for well-know actors, this isn’t a problem. But for anyone just starting out? You need all the help you can get!
1. Have a reel.
450 actors. Let that number sink in. 450. I was able to audition 20. So I needed a way to cut that 450 down to its most promising 20, ASAP.
The easiest way for me to do this was to cut anybody who didn’t have a reel. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Of the 450, maybe 200 had reels, and watching their reels gave me at least some idea of what they could and couldn’t do. Why would I opt to audition one of the 250 people who didn’t have a reel and who only sent generic headshots and resumes listing obscure credits which, for the most part, meant nothing to me? Not only did not having a reel indicate that they were less experienced, but I had no way of telling whether or not they could act their way out of a paper bag.
Just starting out and don’t have any footage to put a reel together? That shouldn’t be a problem. Find local film schools or recruit your film-loving friends to help you. Chances are you’ll find people to help on the cheap, or even for free.
Make sure you include a wide range of emotions in your reel. Pick dramatic scenes, comedic scenes, scenes with tears, scenes with laughter, laid back scenes, etc. That way, no matter what part you want, you can point the casting folks to the right moment on your reel. (Yes, literally – tell them to go to minute 2:55 on the reel to see you cry if what they need is someone crying. They don’t need to see the first 2 minutes and 55 seconds of you singing or dancing or doing handstands or whatever if it’s not relevant to their needs.)
2. Write a real cover letter.
Ok, you might have to weigh the pros and cons of doing this one. I’ve done most of my casting through sites like mandy.com and I understand that it’s common practice to send a pre-written form letter to tons of potential jobs at once, to up your chances that a few reply back. From the perspective of the casting people, though, this can be really annoying.
They wade through hundreds of letters from ‘interested people’ who clearly didn’t even glance at their casting notice. Actors will talk about being great comedic actors when applying for a drama. They’ll talk about their rates when the notice already said the role is unpaid. They’ll be 25 years old when the role is for someone who’s 75. You get the idea. (An extension of this rule is that you should only apply for roles that are right for you.)
This wastes people’s time. (Remember, they have about 450 applications to get through.) For that reason, stuff like this leads to an instant delete.
What does impress? Someone expressing a clear interest in a role. And these letters don’t have to be long and daunting – just a few lines will do it.
Last fall, I was looking for a hard-partying, tough-as-nails, blue-collar woman in her 30s. A woman in her 30s applied and wrote: “I love playing gritty, blue-collar roles and this one sounds amazing.” She was in for an audition, and ultimately got the part. She had a genuine interest in THAT character.
This is one that I don’t see many people doing, but it is helpful. Every actor has (or should have) a basic headshot. But the basic headshot is usually a ‘blank slate.’ The actor’s expression is a faint smile or totally blank, and that’s it.
It’s good to also have pictures of yourself expressing a wide range of emotions. That way, depending on the part, you can attach the one that best suits the character.
Attach your headshot too – but right next to it, attach a photo that lets the casting person ‘see you’ in the part. As these pictures usually appear in the body of the application email, they are the first thing casting people see before clicking to view a reel or looking at a resume. And it doesn’t need to be as dramatic as Dawson sobbing above – but just one innocent-looking/dangerous-looking/capable-looking photo can help.
Overwhelmed by the number of applicants, there were definitely actors that got shut out of my casting process because, at a glance, they just looked wrong for the parts they were applying for. Having these extra photos can help solve that problem.
There you have it – what I think are the top three rules for getting an audition. Apply these, and I promise you that your chances of landing an audition will greatly improve.
Share what you done that helped you get auditions down in the comments!