Resume Rules

3432418Putting together an acting resume can be an activity as mundane as compiling a grocery list, or as tense and fearful as slaying a fire breathing dragon (alright, that last bit might be a tad overdramatic…but what are actors if not dramatic?!) Your resume can come together seamlessly and painlessly, though, as long as you keep in mind a few very simple rules…

1. Align your formatting with your market. Different cities are different markets for actors, and as such, will each require a specific focus. Your resume should reflect this, which is done by the order in which you list credits. If you are an actor in New York City (or in a smaller market where you’re pursuing mainly theatre), you will want to list your theatre credits first, followed by whatever else you may have under film, television, or commercials. In Los Angeles (or a place where you’re pursuing film and television) it will be just the opposite. If you’d like, you can make and print up 2 different versions of your resume, and use them accordingly depending on the type of project for which you’re submitting.

2. Know the lingo. In the film and television worlds, there are standard terms used for the various levels of roles actors play. In film, these roles are- in order of descending importance- lead (principal character), supporting (character important to the storyline, but not quite the lead), featured (character that has at least one line, but whose character could still quite easily be cut out of the film in editing), and extra (a background player- no lines and no billing). In television, it is series regular (principal character who is a contract role, exclusive to the series for a year or longer), recurring (character appearing in a number of episodes), guest star (character appearing in a single episode, and whose storyline is critical to that episode’s plot), co-star (character also appearing in a single episode, but whose storyline is not necessarily critical), under 5 (character with 5 lines or fewer), and extra. Generally, actors will find themselves climbing a career ladder of sorts, landing roles as an under 5 before (hopefully) graduating to some co-star parts, then consistently proving their reliability and skill as a co-star before being (again, hopefully) cast in their first guest starring role, and so on. When filling out your resume, it is important to know the billing of the different roles you’ve played, and to list them truthfully and accurately. It is most standard to list simply the billing (“XYZ Film – Supporting – XYZ Production Company”), instead of the name of the role, as the reader of the resume is unlikely to be familiar with the project unless it is a big name, mainstream production. The exception to this is in the theatre credits, where a more relatively universal repertoire of shows makes it likely that the reader will recognize a project by name. Because of this, when recording theatre credits, actors will often directly list the name of the character they played.

3. Keep it current. This part is something that is hard for many actors to swallow, but swallow it we must: It is important to know when to remove outdated roles from your resume. If you are a 45 year old woman currently playing middle-aged moms and experienced business professionals? For goodness sake, your musical run as Little Orphan Annie better not still be on your resume! No doubt, it was a smashing success…in 1978. Now I realize that this is an extreme and comical example, but the point is clear that just as you evolve as a person and a performer, your resume should also be constantly evolving. Having credits that are clearly out-of-date signal several things. For starters, instead of making you look more experienced, you actually wind up looking less. Listing every last thing you’ve ever done serves to make the person reading your resume assume (perhaps rightly) that this is absolutely all there is. A skillful honing and shaping of your credits, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect of conveying to them that you are a seasoned performer with experience. Secondly, these badly outdated credits are going to make you look insecure- as if you are clinging to a painfully long-passed past- as well as unprofessional- as if you do not know any better. Lastly- and perhaps most importantly- listing everything you’ve done for the last 50 years, back to and including the time you were Shrub #6 in your elementary school Christmas play, will simply make it flat difficult for the person reading it to understand how best to cast you. Yes, it’s great that you can be (and according to that overstuffed resume, have been) every sort of role under the sun, but in reality, it is highly beneficial to instead be leading with a resume that cleanly and adroitly markets you as your best self. Because in the end, isn’t that what a resume ultimately is- a marketing tool? Of course, it’s a list of your previous work. But just like your headshot and your demo reel, your acting resume is a tangible tool that you’ll be handing to casting directors in the process of working to get yourself cast in projects. And just like that headshot or demo reel, your acting resume will be conveying to others who you are, and how to cast you. You may be an attractive 21 year old young woman, but are you the sweet and innocent girl next door or the conniving and seductive femme fatale? It’s easy to make the mistake of simply claiming you should play both (and sure, as far as acting skills go, you likely can), but from a marketing standpoint, you want to show that you are solidly one or the other. The reason for this is simple: if a casting director has to deliberate too long and hard about how to cast you- especially in large markets with tons of competition– they’ll simply move on to someone whose type they can easily see. Tough, but true. So, relating this back to your resume- use this list of credits to explain to casting directors how to cast you. Let them see a strong message and a clear trend- “ah, this guy is the big bad
villain!”- and you’ve created for yourself one more solid tool for your arsenal.

4. Never lie. This one is BIG. If you’re an actor just starting out, without a lot of credits- or even a more seasoned actor who feels like their resume looks a bit on the lean side- it can possibly be tempting to pad your resume a little to beef up your perceived experience. Do not do this. I’ll go ahead and say it louder: DO NOT DO THIS. Whether you’re doing a little billing switcheroo and promoting yourself from “under 5” to “co-star”…or taking a situation where you were in the chorus of a musical and giving yourself a name (“sure, I bet I looked like a Betty back there!”)…or even going so far as to fabricate a credit entirely– casting directors have seen it all. And they don’t like it at all. Contrary to how it may often seem, the show business world is really quite small. And the people in it have long, long memories. Print on your resume that you were in a production of “The Glass Menagerie” at Seacoast Repertory Theatre, and the casting director you’re auditioning for might just call up his old college roommate- the one who’s spent the last 15 years directing shows out in Portsmouth- and ask him how you were. Oh, wait…you weren’t in that show at all? Busted. You can bet you won’t ever be working for that casting director now. And while yes, I realize that the odds of being found out over a single falsified credit aren’t all that huge…do you really want to take the chance? Be genuine. Be honest. Keep everything truthful, and you won’t have anything to worry about.

5. Know what to exclude. Just as it is important to know what to put on your resume, it is just about as critical to know what to leave off. At the top of that list- much to the chagrin of beginning actors, I’m afraid- is extra work. What is an extra? An extra, or background player, is a person whose role in a film or TV show is that of human scenery. He or she fills in a crowd, or may be seen walking down the street, but the defining point is that the actor is not part of the story’s action, and has no lines at all. Extras are certainly important- just how silly would a football stadium in a movie look if the only fans in the stand were the 2 leads cheering and having their conversation?- but they are not billed as actors in the project, and as such, this work does not belong on your resume. It doesn’t matter if this is a student production or a multimillion dollar studio picture; use the job as a day’s paycheck and some valuable experience, but that’s it. Other things that do not belong on your resume include: your age/birthdate (the exception may be child actors under the age of 18, for whom age is an actual matter of legal importance), your address (you never know where that resume may wind up; do you really want John Q. Dumpster-Diver showing up at your front door?), your social security number (yep, it’s happened), or any and all items under the Special Skills section which may be dreamed up as sexy or memorable, but which just come across as tasteless and vulgar (this is objective, sure, but do try to use your best judgement. If the reader of the resume could easily be made uncomfortable by the idea of being in a room alone with someone performing said “Skill”, that might be a clue that it’s something best to leave out).

6. Enlist a proof-reader. This last part may sound like a complete no-brainer, yet somehow there are a frightening number of resumes floating around out there that contain glaring mistakes! So please remember to always proofread your resume. Better yet? Enlist the help of a trusted friend (or three) to proofread, as well. Your very best bet would also entail recruiting a casting professional, if you happen to know one who would like to do you a very nice favor. He or she sees actor resumes all day long, and can surely spot mistakes that might slip past a less-trained eye. Your resume will be seen by many people before they ever even meet you, and it’s awful to imagine losing an opportunity because you made a bad impression with a thoughtless- and totally preventable- error.

And with that, my friends, may you all go forth and create impeccable and dazzling acting resumes with which to propel your careers!

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Elizabeth Elizabeth Sekora is an actress and classically trained soprano living in Los Angeles. She has 24 years of experience in theatre, film, opera, television, and voiceover work, and holds a Bachelor of Music degree from University of Nevada, Las Vegas.