Several years ago, a director spotted my grandson juggling at a local festival, and asked him to come in for a part in a national commercial. The casting director sent an email: “Arrive at 10 a.m., and bring a headshot and resume.”
I had NO idea what an actor’s resume should look like, and the tips I found online weren’t very helpful since they focused on people who actually had credits. My 8-year-old did not.
Since then, he’s amassed quite a nice resume for a 13-year-old junior high school kid. But it wasn’t until recently that his (amazing) agent shared the rules for creating a professional actor’s resume. I’m sharing them here, because I think a lot of other parents and beginning actors are as clueless as I was about them.
Rule # 1: Divide your credits by type.
List feature films, short films, industrials, television, theater, and commercials in separate categories. Most actors have a commercial resume and a theatrical resume. Most film and television actors do not list modelling, theater or commercial credits on their resume.
You should talk to your agent about what to include on your resume – and what to leave off. Awhile back, I was waiting outside an acting class listening to one mother bemoaning the fact that her son was only cast as a bully or a gang member. She showed a copy of his resume to the parents in the room, and it was obvious why casting people thought of him for those roles first: half of the one-page resume consisted of the karate, mixed martial arts, and boxing titles he’d won. Another parent suggested eliminating most of that and simply listing karate, mixed martial arts, and boxing among her child’s other skills on the resume.
Among the other things that your agent might (or might not) want you to omit from your child’s resume are academic achievements, child beauty pageant titles, and catalog or print modeling jobs. The key here is to ask your agent – and if you don’t have an agent, ask an experienced professional acting coach.
Rule #2: Use the right terminology.
Television, film, and commercials use different terms, and none of them use the same terms as theater. There are no Principals in film, and no Leads in a commercial. (Note that the word is principal, not principle. Spelling counts.)
The following terms are generally accepted.
FILM: Lead (or Starring), Supporting Lead, Supporting Featured, Supporting, Extra
TV: Series Regular, Guest Star, Co-Star, Featured, Supporting Note: Co-star and Guest Star roles can also recur, just add it (i.e. Recurring Guest Star, 6 episodes, Season 2).
Commercial: Principal, Featured
Rule #3: No one knows your character’s name.
Most of the casting directors who see your resume will have no clue about your character’s name — and even fewer will care.
All they care about is whether you were the lead, a supporting actor, or an extra. If you want the name of your character in your credits, list it as Lead/Mary or Supporting (Mary). Be consistent in your formatting. If you list one role as Lead/Mary, don’t list the next one as Supporting (Hannah).
Rule #4: Don’t guess — don’t lie.
If you aren’t sure what kind of role you booked, ask your agent. No agent? Check IMDB or Google. You can bet the casting director will!
I once overheard a casting director chewing a parent out. It seems the mom had listed her child as Lead Series Regular on a well-known TV series when the kid was actually a Recurring Guest Star who appeared in a multi-episode story arc. The mom was in tears when she came out. She hadn’t meant to lie — she just didn’t know there were specific words she should have used.
If you don’t have any credits to put on your resume, list your training and amateur experience (by amateur, I mean things like school or college plays, community theater, and student films), and get some experience as quickly as you can. Unpaid roles, student films, work as an extra, and other “blink and you miss him” parts won’t stay on your resume long — just enough to let the casting director know that you’re fresh talent looking for that all-important break. Replace them when you have more impressive credits to list.
Rule # 5: Always include the director’s name.
When you list your film and TV credits, the key information is the name of the film or television show, your role (lead, supporting, etc.), and the director’s name.
Other information, such as a particular TV show season or episode name, and the name of the production company, is optional.
Here are some correctly formatted examples.
The Mentalist — Guest Star – Director, Chris Long
Dallas – Extra – Director, Steve Robin
Salem — Series Regular (Season 3) — Directors, David Von Ancken, Alex Zakrewski
Daylight’s End – Supporting – Director, William Kaufman
Bonnie and Clyde: Dead and Alive – Supporting – Director, Bruce Beresford
Bernie — Supporting, Carthage Texas Police Officer — Castlerock Entertainment, Mandalay Pictures, Director, Richard Linklater
The Hobbit — Stunt Coordinator, An Unexpected Journey — New Line Cinema, Directors, Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis
What Goes on a Resume (Besides Credits)
Besides your credits, here are the things that should be on an ADULT actor’s resume: Name, email, phone number, agent’s name & contact information, union status (SAG, SAG-eligible, non-union, etc.), height, weight, eye and hair color, and other “vital statistics”. Note that age is not on this list for adult actors.
A CHILD or TEEN actor’s resume has the same requirements as an adult’s resume, but must also include the child’s age, a parent or agent’s email and phone number instead of the child’s direct contact details, work permit status (state, expiration date if your state requires an annual permit), and Coogan Trust status (some states like California and New York require that a portion of a child or teen actor’s earnings go into a special trust fund that neither the child nor his/her parents can touch until the child is an adult, and you must have one set up in order to work in those states). Note that age is REQUIRED for anyone under the age of 18.
Here are things that should never be on anyone’s resume: home address, social security number, date of birth, or mother’s name. Why? Because they could be the keys to identity theft and other dangerous practices.
Last, but not least, your acting resume should have sections for Special Skills & Talents (this is where you list things like military training, and the sports & performing skills that might make you sought-after for a role — anything from horseback riding to surfing, archery to juggling can be listed here), Training (acting-related education & classes/workshops go here if they are significant), and links to your online demo reel and any important sites like IMDB where a casting director could learn more about you.
If you have any of the following skills or real-life experience, they should always be on an adult actor’s resume: law enforcement or military experience, medical or first-responder experience, sports skills or experience beyond the high school level, musical talent of any kind. Think about how many TV shows and movies need prison guards, police officers, crime scene technicians, doctors, nurses, firemen, or coaches, athletes, referees or officials. There are almost always parts for extras or actors who can play these parts — and who better to play a cop or security guard than someone with real-world experience? Who better to handle a prop weapon than someone who knows how to handle the real thing things to military service?