Advice and Tips for Actors Helpful thoughts on acting from someone who wasn't the least successful actor of all time.

April 27, 2010


The second suggestion when you type “Actorsaccess” into Google after is the phrase “Actorsaccess Scam.”  Well, is a scam?

The answer is no.

What is ActorsAccess?  AA (as I like to call it) is the publicly published section of Breakdown Services.  Breakdown Services is the system on which anyone casting a project can accept submissions from managers and agents.  When publishing they are also given the option to post to Actors Access where any actor can go and look at the parts they are casting and submit online.  The yearly cost for unlimited submissions (as of 2010) is $68.  It’s been the same rate for years.  If you want to pay per-submission the cost is $2.

Now, the better question is “why do people think Actors Access is a scam?”  I think there are several reasons:

Pay Per Submission: Many people use this for their first option when signing up for AA and see how quickly the charges add up.  Why would it cost this much for an online submission?  Truth is, it doesn’t really.  Personally I think they’d rather you sign up and have a subscription account (which also grants you access to audition sides).  In the past four months I’ve done a total of 74 submissions and I only submit on non-student film union projects.  If you were just starting out you’d probably double or triple that number of submissions.  Totally worth every penny.

Few “Big Name” Projects: There are many scam casting sites out there that either make up or steal casting information for major shows.  They let actors submit on these projects but no one ever sees the submissions so actors get no response.   Since the vast majority of big name projects are actually cast through Breakdown Services there’s little need to put out a call to the actors at large unless a production company needs something very specific.  I’ve yet to see a major production put out a call for “Beautiful Blond 25-30 Guest Star” roles on Actors Access because they simply don’t need the extra submissions to successfully cast the part.  Is that unfair?  I’ll talk about that in another review.

They Submit Two or Three Times and Get No Calls: Believe it or not, this is the one I hear the most.  Someone in Nebraska wants to be an actor so they sign up figuring they’ll fly in if they ever get a major audition.  They spend six bucks to submit a photo they took with a camera phone and a resume that says, “Tree #3 Elementary School Production of Snow White” for roles they’re not right for and they get pissed because no one calls them in.  What they don’t know is that they were one of 3,000 submissions for that role from Actors Access and there were another 2,000 from agents/mangers who are more likely to have a relationship with the casting director.  I submit on Actors Access all the time (and I have a couple credits and good headsh0ts) but still only get a few calls.  Agents and managers have the same problem, they submit actors all day (it’s their job) but there is so much competition for even a one line role on a Nickelodeon show that they don’t get as many calls as actors think they do.

Both of these boil down to one point:  many people (particularly beginners) have no idea how the industry works.  They expect there to be shortcuts and there aren’t.  You’re unlikely to book a major role from Actors Access that will define your career but you are likely (if your photos are good enough) to get called in for plenty of shorts, web series and low budget films to make the $68 worth it.

Even if you have an agent it’s worth it to check on AA for projects you might want to do for little to no pay and your agent won’t be pursuing.  There’s some quality work on there.

AA also offers add-on services like the ability to upload a demo reel and to record video for you to use in lieu of a demo reel.  I have a demo up (haven’t had them record anything) and the cost wasn’t super cheap but I get to include it on all my submissions (included in the yearly subscription).  It sets me apart from the other submissions and lets me show my work.

And as an added bonus an Actors Access page can stand in for a free acting website if you haven’t put one together yet.

I could probably write a few dozen more glowing things about Actors Access but I won’t.  I’ll simply say it’s one of the few bargains for actors out there and an essential part of building a career.

April 12, 2010

REVIEW: Groundlings Improv and Writing Classes

The Groundlings are a sketch and improvisation troupe and theater in Los Angeles on Melrose Boulevard.  Their alumni include famous people such as Will Farrell and Conan O’Brien as well as a huge chunk of the Saturday Night Life cast members.  They offer classes in improvisation technique as well as writing.  From these classes they pick the “best” and with hard work, luck and lots of time the students can become members of The Groundlings troupe.

I absolutely loved every class, every teacher and every lesson I had at The Groundlings.  I took a total of five classes there (Basic level twice, Intermediate twice and Writing Lab once) and would not trade it for anything.  I learned so much about improvisation and having their name on my resume has been very helpful.

Let’s start out with a very quick lesson about how the school is run:  There are essentially seven class levels at The Groundlings.  The first two are for people with no improv experience, ability or desire to ever perform.  They can be skipped by auditioning for the “third level” class called Basic.  I did this and was accepted into Basic.  Here you learn the basics of improv.  From there, with your teachers OK, you move on to Intermediate Improvisation.  The title of the class gives away what you learn there, more improv.  With that done you have to get approval to take the Writing Lab.  This used to be done by the teacher’s OK but from what I hear now it’s done with another audition.  From there you move on to Advanced and then to a member of The Sunday Company which feeds into the main company but I’ll consider it still a class.  Along the way there are several times you can be cut (like me, after writing lab) and other extension classes you can take even if you’re no longer in classes there.

The most important thing to know about The Groundlings is that it is not a shortcut to being on SNL.  You will most likely be cut.  The joke around LA is that there are more famous people who were cut from The Groundlings than actually made it through to the main company.  Being cut says nothing about your talent as an actor (or writer or improviser).  Don’t go to classes there expecting Lorne Michaels to be waiting for you when you’re done.  Making it to the main company is as much timing and luck as skill, there has to be an opening and there can’t be someone else like you on the company at the time.  Do the classes for the education, not to try to skip to the front of the comedy line.

The Groundlings have a very specific style of comedy that they like to perform.  They favor huge characters and all their writing and most improv is driven by characters.  They don’t like jokes, they like funny characters (like Peewee, another alum).  The characters I write tend to be the kind you wouldn’t be terrified of if you met them on the subway.  I’m not the right style for the Groundlings.

The biggest complaint people have is that the company emphasizes this and pushes it during the writing classes and it’s true.  You will rarely be called upon to do such insane characters in normal acting situations so people dismiss The Groundlings as not useful for actors and I find that not to be the case.  The truth is you still learn the same rules of improv, you learn a lot about creating characters and if you get cut (which you will) you can still use what you learned to create less insane characters in your work.  The techniques work even if you don’t like the company’s style.

My biggest complaint with The Groundlings is how little the students perform.  I got to do exactly one show in my time there (which I rocked, if I must say so myself).  Second City (another big improv training place) is known for having students perform many times along their path and there’s real benefit from that.  I do honestly believe you learn more during a show than during weeks of classes but there’s also something painful about putting beginner improvisational actors up on stage.  Bad improv in class is fine but on stage it’s deadly and could convince people to quit.  The Groundlings definitely doesn’t put you up until you’re ready, but they wait a little too long and give too few opportunities.

Another problem with The Groundlings is how popular they are.  I had to wait over a year between taking Intermediate and Writing Lab.  Some people told me they waited over two years.  If I had passed through Writing Lab to Advanced I would have waited another year for that class.  It can easily take half a decade to make it through the Groundlings program in its entirety.  You can take extension classes (single classes sometimes taught by alumni on a very specific topic) but it’s hard to keep up on improv without actually doing it.

To this date The Groundlings is my only improv training and I’ve never felt that I lacked in that area.  I feel comfortable enough improving on set and during auditions because of these classes.  It’s a large commitment of time and money but I felt it was totally worth it.  Yes, I’m the guy who says acting class is a waste of time but specific technique classes are the exception and improv is definitely a technique that every actor needs to be familiar with.

This is my second review, my first was of Margie Haber’s Cold Reading Classes.

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