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Hollywood Jobs: Lead in a Minor Production or Minor Part in a Major Production?

Updated on December 12, 2017
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna worked on many productions as PA, Craft Services, Talent Scout, Grip, and Producer. Credits include Bowling for Columbine, Wallace.


Acting: Landing a Role

Actors, of course, perform in front of the cameras rather than behind the scenes, but it's important to know about the jobs that actors do even if you plan on working behind the camera or if you want to work in front of the camera -- especially as some very famous ones have become writers, producers, and directors (and combinations thereof).

It is, in fact, becoming quite a commonplace for actors to take on multiple roles in film, both behind and in front of the camera. Prime examples of these "Renaissance People" include stars such as Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, John Travolta, Woody Allen, Angelica Huston, Tim Robbins, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Mel Gibson. I am sure you can think of some “Renaissance People” too.

Actors entertain and communicate with the audience through their interpretation of dramatic roles. They learn lines, lean how to be in the light, learn how to act in front of the camera and lean how to take direction.

Only a small number of actors achieve tremendous amount of recognition in motion pictures. On the majority, most actors live very comfortable playing roles on television, film or stage and are recognized here and there on occasions. Screen Actors Guild is a very strong union that takes good care of it’s members, so even small parts or supporting roles keep an actor well feed with excellent health care and other benefits.

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Would you work as an extra to break into the film industry?

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Feature Extra or Stunt Work

Some actors start as "extras" (the people in the background of the film) with no lines to deliver, while others are cast in supporting roles or as walk-ons. Walk-ons usually have five lines and work one day. A "feature extra" may be used for the same film repeatedly, with no lines but lots of camera time and many days of work – making good money!

Then there are stunt people who take on the more dangerous work, performing such stunts as driving cars in chase scenes, falling from buildings and other high places, or "fighting" in place of the principal actors. I met a stuntwoman who also worked as an actor. Sometimes a film will require a stunt person to be an actor in addition, because of how the scene is shot by the director.

Most acting jobs are found through agents. Beginners and lesser-known actors, if they are non-union, usually will register themselves, for a slight fee, with several casting directors, who invite them to auditions, which may lead to acting assignments.

Need a Casting Director or Agent?

Sometimes new actors get casting directors and agents mixed up because the casting director casts the movie while the agent gets the actor to be in the movie. It can be a bit confusing at first; but remember in a union town these two hats are well separated. In non-union towns, casting director may wear both hats as a casting director and as an agent because that is the only way the movie production can be cast – it’s rare but does happen.

Although a few actors find parts in feature films straight out of drama school, most spend many years supporting themselves by working at jobs inside or outside the industry. Some work behind the camera to learn the film business. Some actors have gotten jobs at talent agencies or casting companies. Here they learn the process of setting up auditions and casting for commercials, film and television. Hence, they get the whole picture of how the audition process works, which could help the actor nail an audition and get a role in a film.

I met a casting director who used to be an actor; so careers can change around either way. The key is never give up and keep working in the business.

© 2007 Kenna McHugh


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