How to Break Into Showbiz Without Going Broke
by Bob Luke

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Bob Luke is the Director of the Bob Luke Acting Studio located in the heart of Manhattan?s theater district on 47th Steet. An accomplished actor in his own right, he performed over 80 stage and film roles and has trained thousands of actors ranging in age from 3 to 87. He is recommended by casting directors, agents, and managers across the country for commercial acting instruction, sitcom technique, audition preparation, and actor development. Mr. Luke is also on the Advisory Board to the Screen Actors Guild - Young Performers Committee. Specialty assignments have included On-set Acting Coach for Ron Howard?s Ransom (with Mel Gibson), The Cosby Show, As the World Turns, the syndicated teen soap-opera Swans Crossing and numerous TV pilots, music videos, and independent film projects, as well as directing and casting several sitcom pilots in the past year. Bob has also discovered and developed many new talents. His students include many Ford and Wilhemina models, Miss USA?s, Miss America?s and professional and Olympic athletes. A sampling of his clients include Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Zachary Ty Bryon (Home Improvement), Brawley Nolte (Ransom), and many more who have won awards.

There are a lot of myths about how to get started in show business and the ?quick start to stardom.? If you know someone, and everyone says you're good looking, and if you pay enough for different classes and lots of pictures, you can be a star in months, right? Wrong! That will lead you to disaster. How do you really break into show business without going broke either financially or emotionally? Answer: Common Sense!

No one can become a star overnight, and we often find that the people who charge you a certain amount of money ?up front? to ?represent? you, hurt more than help.

Becoming a professional actor or model takes time... Time to learn how to act, how to look, and probably most important, how to conduct the business of being an actor. There are no quick starts. However, there will always be someone out there who will tell you they can make all your dreams come true ? for the right amount of money. This won?t happen. No one can become a star overnight, and we often find that the people who charge you a certain amount of money ?up front? to ?represent? you, hurt more than help. Here are some basic rules to keep in mind based on questions I?m often asked:

1. SCAMS: Watch out for scams! Be cautious; get as much information as you can on anyone claiming to be a talent representative or scout. Take the time to ask other sources (like the actors?s unions) for references. Especially ? never pay money up front to someone wanting to represent you. Legitimate agents and managers make their money on commission. They get paid when you get paid.

2. LOCATION (Where to Work): Keep in mind that agents in any market need you available for auditions on a daily basis in order for you to be successful. You do not, however, need to jump into New York or Los Angeles immediately. Start by working with the legitimate agents in a smaller market near you to find out if your look is workable, if you are trained enough to handle the job, and if you even like the audition process. And when you think you are ready for the big move ? prepare for it in advance. Many child actors have begun successful careers by moving to New York City or Los Angeles for the summer months when out of school. This allowed them to test the waters without making a permanent (and perhaps financially disastrous) move.

3. FINDING AN AGENT: Agents can be found almost everywhere in the country... finding the right agent is the hard part! Union-franchised agencies are allowed to take a 10% commission of the actor?s individual job income for submitting them to casting opportunities, negotiating their contracts, etc. Model agents are not franchised by performers? unions, so they?ll regularly receive a 20% commission. Actors in major markets may also have managers who receive a 15% commission from their job income for providing guidance and introducing them to agents. Managers are not usually necessary in the smaller markets, though, as the local agents will conduct these more personal services. Yet they all work through the use of pictures (headshots) and resumes!

A general rule is to look for talent representatives who are exclusively that, and not school-photographer-agency combinations. Casting Directors show a tendency to use agents who only represent talent, under the impression that their actors are more talented. This does not mean, however, that some acting or modeling schools have not established successful, legitimate agencies. They just generally operate independently of each other.

Many of these local agencies participate in model and talent conventions in New York and Los Angeles, offering the opportunity to meet major agents and managers from these markets. You have to determine if you?re prepared talent wise and financially for a move to these markets should you get the offer. And just because an agent is from a big city, that doesn?t automatically make them legitimate. You must still use common sense to determine if this is someone you can trust to guide you appropriately and who takes the union approved commissions.

4. UNIONS and FILM COMMISSIONS: There are three primary actors? unions which were established to protect the performer from unfair hiring practices and improper treatment on the job: The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) for actors working in projects shot on film (commercials, movies, and some TV shows), the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) for actors working in taped TV projects and in radio/ voice overs, and the Actors Equity Association (AEA) for performers working on stage in theatrical and cabaret productions (including Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional, Stock and ?guest artist? contracts). When in doubt about the status of an agency or production, take the time to contact the appropriate union. They all have offices in New York and Los Angeles and in many working states throughout the country.

Many states are ?Right To Work? states based on the Taft-Hartley Law. This law basically stipulates that union affiliation is not necessary to work in a union project shot in that location! This provides a great opportunity for non-union actors to work alongside experienced performers and gain the knowledge and experience that will help them to grow and become strong, working union actors.

Most states also have a Film Commission Office which can provide information on locally shot film productions and the union affiliations involved. They also can inform you of the agencies that are known, and even more important, utilized by the casting directors and productions within the state. Again, take time to call these offices for information and with any questions you may have. Not calling is the first sign of a series of mistakes and not using your common sense.

5. PHOTOS: Pictures are necessary, however, maybe not as many as you think. Many actors start with a snapshot sent to local agents to see if anyone is interested. A good headshot or three-quarter (partial body) shot is used in big markets. Portfolios and composite cards are used by models and those doing commercial print. Different cities want different kinds of photos. Take time to find a photographer who knows what that demand is and who is recognized by the agents and casting people.

Moreover, do not pay to have your picture put in a book by someone who comes to your hometown and says you?ll be seen in all the major markets. Experience has shown us that this generally does not work! Agents want to contact and see you, not a book.

6. RESUM?: This should be attached to the back of your headshot so that we know your name, phone number (or agent?s number), your performing experience, training in the area we are looking to hire you for, and special skills... those things you do well that might prompt us to hire you for special uses (roller-blading, motorcycle-riding, impressions, and in NYC, even being a licensed driver).

7. CLASSES: Training is necessary. Know who your teachers are and what their experience is. And take classes that prepare you for the media you intend to work in... stage, film, TV, commercials, modeling, etc. Be patient. Investigate the schools available, audit if allowed, talk to other students and to the agents who represent you. Again, different markets require different techniques. So train in the marketplace you intend to work! Again, common sense!

8. SUCCESS: ?The most important part of an actor?s body is not the eyes, teeth, voice, or even brain... it?s the foot! Because if you can?t get your foot in the door, no one will ever know that the rest of you exists!?

Having talent is not enough ? marketing yourself can make all the difference! Learn the business as though it was any other. You must learn how to be interviewed, write cover letters for your photos, follow up your ?sales? pitch, be dedicated and persistent, and take it step by step. Just as you would prepare for any other career ? an accountant, doctor, pro athlete ? you must prepare for this. And there are many good teachers, agents, and managers out there who can help guide you. Find these legitimate people you trust for their honesty, integrity, business sense, and who have your best interests at heart!

How do you find all of these: the legitimate agents, the right teachers for the right medium, the best photographers, where to have your pictures reproduced and resumes typed, even where you find an answering service, tax service, or a cosmetic dentist? My studio uses the National Casting Guide and the International Directory of Model & Talent Agencies & Schools by Peter Glenn Publications. They have been a valuable resource for my clients, both in New York and across the country, providing legitimate information to answer every show-business need.

FINAL THOUGHTS: We are always looking for someone with unyielding desire and commitment, a sense of humor, a sense of reality, security in their own talent and potential, and the ability to walk through a room without knocking over all of the furniture. ?You can teach someone to act, but you can?t make them an actor. It must already be inside them... labeled desire!?

In a business so full of excessively high expectations and equally deep disappointments, the most important thing to remember is to ?just have fun.? My clients are reminded that Elvis once said, ?Angels can fly because they take everything so lightly.?

But remember, there is no substitute for hard work, for putting yourself in the right marketplace, for working with legitimate people to guide you the right way (step by step), and for using your common sense! Call me at (212) 245-2831 with any questions or just click below to e-mail your questions to Bob Luke at

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