Is an Acting Career Right for You?

Breaking into the Biz: Getting started in TV & Film in Canada

Written by Graeme Petrie

When hard work, perseverance and luck meet opportunity,…a star is born.

Spoiler alert: There is no “secret formula” for getting started in TV & Film in Canada, but making the necessary preparations, continually working on developing your craft and taking advantage of any opportunity that comes your way is key.

Step 1: Be honest with yourself

If you want to become an actor, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself, Why? If your answer is “for the fame and fortune”, then you are going into it for all the wrong reasons.

People who go into acting do it becomes they thrive on the exhilaration they feel when they have a chance to perform. They love exploring a character and sometimes find new things about themselves in that process. And, while some people may be natural performers, a lot of technique is involved in learning how to act well. It takes time, dedication, perseverance, sacrifice and hard work.

“If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

– Tom Hanks, Actor

Step 2: Take Acting Classes in School

Many of us first experienced the fun of performing at an early age while taking part in elementary school plays, and others may have first been introduced to acting in high school.

High school drama teachers play a pivotal role in fuelling a young person’s passion for the arts and, depending on the program offered, most curriculum will focus on acting for the stage/theatre. Classes commonly include introduction to warm up exercises, movement activities, improv exercises, use of masks, and an opportunity to take part in one or two major productions. Students might also be asked to choose a one act scene from a favourite movie and work in groups to prepare and present it. National Improv Competitions and Provincial High School Drama Festivals have recently created tremendous enthusiasm for young people to get involved in acting and this is great to see.

Few high schools however offer training in on-camera acting techniques. While stage acting and on-camera acting both derive from the theatre, acting for TV & Film is a beast on its own.

See: Differences between Stage vs Screen Acting.

Step 3: Try signing up to do some paid extra work

Getting a chance to be on a TV/Film production set can be both a thrilling and eyeopening experience. Working as a background actor (an extra aka “living prop”), offers a chance to see the incredible amount of planning and meticulous effort that goes into setting up a scene. It can be painstakingly slow, and there is a lot of waiting around, so if you are thinking about becoming an actor, you had better get used to being patient and working long hours.

With the large amount of productions taking place in BC, opportunity for paid extra work is plentiful. Companies that provide background actors get paid by the production company to find them and do not require a fee to sign up with. If ever asked to pay a fee for signing up with a background casting company, walk away… quickly. You’ll simply be asked to fill out their online form, send in a couple of pictures of yourself, and (hopefully) if they need someone your type, you’ll get a call.

Step 4: Enrol in TV & Film acting school to get training

No matter how much of a ‘natural actor’ you may think you are, to be good at it takes time and dedication. This will never be more apparent than when you answer an ad for an ‘open call audition’ and find yourself standing in a room with the Casting Director, Producer and Cameraman all waiting for you to show what you can do. If you have ever seen a deer in the headlights at night, then that pretty much sums up how you’ll look without proper training under your belt in the audition room.

There is simply no way around putting in the necessary time and effort to learn how to act, so find a specialized TV & Film Acting school that allows you to learn how to work on camera and help you to discover who you are as an actor.

See: Finding the right acting school for YOU!

Step 5: Create a professional package for agents

In oder to get yourself ‘out there’ you’ll need representation, and that means finding an agent. Hopefully the school you attend is willing to assist you with this process.

Firstly, you need to put together a professional package that intrigues a Talent Agency enough to want to sign you and place you on their roster. Their job is to market you to Casting Directors, and they don’t get paid unless you get paid, so you need to show them that you are worth investing their time and money.

An actor’s professional package will usually consist of two head shots (Commercial & Main (or Legit); Acting Resume and Demo Reel. For those who complete a Diploma program, schools will usually provide clips for your demo reel, which should consist of two contrasting scenes showing you playing different kinds of roles (e.g. nice guy vs darker character).

Resume: Starting out as an actor, you’ll have few (if any) previous acting credits to note on your resume, however you can still note amateur productions, student films and roles you’ve played. You can also note ‘specialty skills’ you possess (other languages, singing, dancing, handling weapons, etc) and your level of ability. Lastly, you include your education, where you studied acting and any workshops you have attended.

See: Getting the Perfect Headshot

Step 6: Location…Location…Location

Fact: If you are serious about becoming a TV/Film actor in Canada, you need to live around Vancouver to get steady work, because that is where the work is. This may sound overly simple, but it’s the truth. Toronto and Montreal pale in comparison to the amount of productions taking place in BC.

In North America there are three primary production centres:

  • #1 Los Angeles
  • #2 New York
  • #3 Vancouver

Americans will need to choose which US location suits them best, however for Canadians, the choice is clear. Vancouver is the hotbed for productions in Canada and has even surpassed New York for pilots being shot in North America. Vancouver is within easy access to decision makers and high priced talent in LA, has an abundance of experienced crews and a favourable exchange rate, so you can expect productions to keep on coming here.

And “Yes” Canadians CAN work in the US (as seen by many Canadian actors in Hollywood nowadays), but there are prerequisites for doing so, THAT however is a topic for future blog.

Step 7: Audition… Audition… Audition…

If you want to become a professional actor, you need to embrace each and every opportunity to audition. Taking a few classes specifically focusing on Audition Techniques doesn’t hurt either. You’ll learn strategy and techniques for use “in the room” and this will help build confidence to be ready when opportunity knocks.

Availability will also be very important since you may get a call from your agent only a day (or night) before. Usually you’ll get your lines in advance (unless it’s a cold reading audition, where you’ll receive them at the audition just prior to being asked to perform).

Remember that, even if you give a flawless performance, it may still come down to the fact you don’t look as young, old, edgy or rugged as the character they are envisioning. Just be happy you had the chance to show them your acting chops and leave a good impression. You never know…they may like you for a different role they are casting in the same production.

See: Audition Tips

Step 8: Build up your acting portfolio

Sure…you may get lucky and be discovered when your picture gets flashed on a stadium Jumbo screen (see Pamela Anderson), more likely though you’re going to have to build up a body of work that shows what you can do. If you visit the IMDB page of aspiring and establish actors, you’ll see not only names of the latest production they’ve worked on, but also some short films of note they did when they were just starting out. Be humble when you are starting out and seize opportunities to do student films, indie work or commercials. All will go into building your acting portfolio.

Step 9: Build your brand

As an actor you are your own brand, so you need to be aware of how you are presenting yourself to the public. Google yourself to ensure you are presenting yourself consistently across all social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc) and check your privacy settings. Consider creating an IMDB account as well as your own website and a bio that honestly describes you, what you’ve been doing and your evolution as an actor. You may even consider creating your own content through a personal You Tube or Vimeo Channel.

Step 10: Don’t quite your day job just yet…

There is a big misconception held by many that, once you complete an acting program, you’ll do nothing else but spend time pursuing acting opportunities. OK…so here is where a reality check comes into play.

Just like anything else you want to do in life, it takes time to learn how to do it well enough to become successful at it. Sure, the long term goal is to survive on income derived only from acting, but every successful actor has stories about working a parttime job, waiting tables, working in bars, etc. Keep working at your day job, and taking acting classes at night to continue developing your craft. Be ready for the day your agent calls to say… “YOU GOT THE PART!”

Break a leg!

“I never stopped believing. Ever. Don’t give up. Apply constant pressure for as long as it takes. It will break before you do. Go get it..”

– Chris Pratt, Actor