5 Unbreakable Acting Resume Rules


Kameron Badgers on a commercial set

Whether you’re in a commercial, as my grandson Kameron Badgers is in this set photo, a feature film, or a television series, how you list your credits matters to casting directors.

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.

Series Television:

The Mentalist — Guest Star  – Director, Chris Long

Dallas – Extra – Director, Steve Robin

Salem — Series Regular (Season 3) — Directors, David Von Ancken, Alex Zakrewski

Film:

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.

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?

 

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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10 Responses to 5 Unbreakable Acting Resume Rules

  1. marsattacksearth says:

    What would you list as a featured extra role? If you were a couple?

    • debmcalister says:

      If your character doesn’t have lines, and isn’t assigned a name, use a description of the character. “Art Show Patron”, “wedding guest”, “kissing couple”.

      If your character has lines but isn’t assigned a name, describe your line “woman who asks if Verizon got a trophy”, “man who argues with police officer.”

      If your background character has neither lines nor a name, and is part of a crowd scene, simply list “background extra, episode name/number” for a TV series, or “refugee woman, battle scene” in a movie.

      Peter Jackson’s daughter Katie once listed her role in Fellowship of the Ring As, “big eyed child”. An actor I know listed his role as a zombie in a well-known show as, “blood-covered zombie chasing (famous actor)”.

      Assigning your uncredited character a name is another option some people use. “Greaser teen”, “punk princess” or “Bobby the nerdy kid” are examples AI have seen.

      Ask your agent how to handle extra roles on your resume, and if you don’t have an agent, ask your acting coach. Different parts of the country seem to handle it in different ways. The goal, of course is to get to a point where you don’t need to list extra roles.

      Be sure you get the name of the production company, the casting company, the project, and the AD or Director for your scenes — you’ll need them for some of the online casting sites and to get an uncredited listing onto IMDB.

  2. Pingback: Actor Resume Commercial – Company Resume

  3. Maurice Walker says:

    On my acting resume, I mostly have work as an extra, but I use the word “background” in place of the word “extra”, is this acceptable on an acting resume?

    • debmcalister says:

      Hi, Maurice —

      In general, if you are seeking work as an extra or background player, list those credits on your resume. But if you are putting together a general resume for a featured or lead role, many experts say not to list them. Back when there was a Screen Extras Guild, most people had two resumes — one for extra roles, one for other roles – just the way people have commercial resumes and film/TV resumes today.

      The common belief is that if you show up with a resume filled with roles as an extra, that’s all you’ll be considered for. So most experts say, “Take the paycheck, don’t list the credit.”

      I live in a smaller market (Dallas, TX), and the actor in my household is only in the 8th grade. He doesn’t list his extra credits on his main resume, and has separate credit lists for different kinds of roles. This week, for example, he is filming a recurring role in a TV series, and the resume that he gave to the casting director had no roles as an extra listed — but this weekend, he’s working as a “featured background player” (an extra guaranteed screen time) on a film, and the resume he used to get that gig did list a number of roles as an extra. That’s the way his agency suggested we do it.

      I have an adult son who has worked as a stunt performer for many y ears, and he does not list all of his credits on his resume, either — just the ones he thinks are relevant for a particular casting director or role. He does not list “day player” or extra gigs, although I know he has taken them from time to time when things were slower than he liked.

      Ask your agent about this, and if you don’t have an agent, talk to your acting coach. They’ll know what casting directors in your area want. I do know that it’s different in smaller markets than in LA or New York, largely because in smaller markets casting directors know that actors have fewer opportunities to work at their craft.

      If you are listing your work as an extra, I don’t think it matters whether you call it being an extra or being a background player. I’ve seen it done both ways. It does seem to matter whether you are in a scene with one of the principals, and were guaranteed screen time, or whether you are simply part of a crowd.

      Sorry I don’t have a definitive answer for you!

      Regards, Deb

  4. Bri Holmes-Nick says:

    Thanks this was very helpful. My daughter virtually no experience. She was an extra in 2 movies coming out within the next 2 years. She was in multiple scenes, but as an extra. I read somewhere not to put in extra work so I was unsure. Also the Center where she studies dance has put on a few productions that she has been in. Would I include them or just leave them blank. I don’t want to pad her resume or anything, but I would like to show she can dance and has been in front of a large audience in a theater production, and has been on a set before. OR should I just leave it blank or put No Experience. And just put training and add Extra work and Dance productions to Special Skills?Thank you in Advance for your reply.

    • debmcalister says:

      Hi, Bri —

      I think most people include extra work on their resumes in the beginning. If your daughter worked as an extra in a TV series, here are a couple of ways to list it on her resume:
      Dallas, Season 9, Episode 2, Extra, Director, John Smith
      Salem, Season 1, 6 episodes, Servant Girl (Recurring Background), Directors, Susan Jones, James Washington

      In a film, you’d like the extra credit the same way as a regular role, just identify it as being an extra.

      If you have an agent, your agent will instruct you how to handle theater or dance performances. If you don’t, it seems to be a matter of personal preference. If your daughter performs with a well-known dance company, or is cast in a theatrical production as a dancer, then it should be listed in a category like “Theater/Live Performances” –this is also where you’d put things like performing at a theme park, or any other live show. If it’s just a dance-school recital, then it probably shouldn’t be listed unless that is (literally) all you have to start with.

      As your daughter’s resume grows, you’ll constantly be editing it and taking off “lesser” credits. It’s important to keep the resume to one page, including contact information, so it won’t be long before you’remmaking choices about what to put on, and what to leave off.

      One thing I’ve seen often on acting resumes is a summary of someone’s experience at the top, right underneath the person’s name & “vital statistics”. Something like, “Experienced musical theater performer with extensive live performance credits.” This is followed by the standard film/TV resume.

      I’ve also seen kid’s resumes with a summary that say things like, “Misty began performing with the Dallas Ballet Theater at age 4, and earned rave reviews for her performance as Clara in the Fort Worth Ballet’s Nutcracker.” Or “In addition to the film and TV credits listed here, Darla has a range of theater, dance, and gymnastics credits available on request.”

      Best of luck to you and your talented daughter! Regards, Deb

  5. Jill Adler says:

    How do you distinguish supporting lead from supporting featured? Number of lines? Scenes?

    • debmcalister says:

      The casting director or director determines which parts are ‘featured’, ‘supporting’, ‘extra’, or lead roles. It isn’t the number of lines — Jane Wyman won a Best Actress Oscar for “Johnnie Belinda” without uttering a single line. (She played a deaf mute.)

      Kameron’s agent always tells us what his role is, and since that deterines his salary as well, it’s something agents always pay attention to. One thing that surprised me is that the listings on IMDB aren’t done according to how important the role is — actors are listed by popularity (that is how many searches on IMDB have been done for their nae). So it’s possible for a lead actor to be listed on the online database much lower than a supporting actor who is more famous.

      When in doubt, ask your agent. If you don’t have an agent, ask the director. Just say, “I want to put this on my resume. How should I list the part?” Most people are more than willing to help new actors by sharing information and help!

      Regards, Deb

  6. paulineheath says:

    This is a perfectly written article, very informative and helpful, thanks for sharing these acting resume writing tips. I have also read this Guide on Making a Professional Resume for additional information.

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