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.

Acting Resume 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.

Acting Resume 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

Acting Resume 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).

If you work as an extra, your character probably won’t have a name anyway. If you are a beginning actor or you are preparing a resume for a child actor who works as a background performer or extra, it’s ok to provide a description instead of a name, but don’t attempt to mislead about the size of the role by naming a character if you are an “unrecognizable talent”. My teen actor, for example, was very visible in the trailer and a couple of scenes in a TV show — or at least his back, profile, and body (minus his head) were. He got an IMDB credit for the role, but it isn’t on his resume for the simple reason that no one could tell it was him. The kid standing next to him, who was equally unrecognizable, lists the role on his resume and named his character. That’s his family’s choice, but I don’t recommend it.

Acting Resume 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.

Acting Resume 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

Other information, such as the season and episode name or number, is optional.  For instance, you might list a credit like this to make it easier for someone to reference a specific role:

X-Men: The Gifted — Guest Star (Pilot,  High School Student) — Director, Bryan Singer

Salem — Supporting (Season 3, Black Sabbath, Refugee Kid) — Director,  Nick Copus

The production company or network is optional.  If you use it, this is how it’s formatted.

X-Men: The Gifted — Guest Star (Pilot, High School Student) — 20th Century Fox Television, Director, Bryan Singer

Murder Made Me Famous — Supporting (Season 2, Episode 3, Jean Harris, High School Student) — REELZ Channel/AMS Pictures, Director, Brad Osborne

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

Note that, just as in a television series, adding the name of the studio or production company is optional. Also note that if you work as a part of the crew (as in the stunt coordinator example above), the format is the same as it is for an actor.

Commercial:

JC Penny — Principal, Back to School 2017

JP Morgan/Chase — Supporting, College Savings Campaign 2017

Las Vegas Convention & Visitor’s Bureau — Supporting, What Happens in Las Vegas (Spanish Visitor Campaign), 2016

Note that the director is not listed on commercial credits, although if you know the director’s name, or it is an award-winning campaign, it is perfectly acceptable to list the ad agency and/or the director. If the commercial is part of a long-running campaign, be sure to specify what ad you are in unless you are the principal in the series.

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.

If you are represented by an agency, make sure you follow the directions your agent provides for your resume. Some, for example, want only their contact information on a resume while others allow non-union actors to submit themselves for projects that aren’t being cast through the agency, such as student films, roles as an extra, and other unpaid or low-paid projects.

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 thanks to military service?

How to Deliver an Actor’s Resume to Casting

When asked to bring a resume and headshot to a face-to-face audition, most actors use 8X10″ headshots (more of head-and-shoulder shots, as casting wants to see more than your face so they can get an idea of your body type), with their resume printed out and affixed to the back.

Many of the companies that print headshots will print your resume on the back of your photo if you are willing to pay the price. That works for established actors/actresses who have major credits that won’t change quickly, but it doesn’t usually work for child actors or those who are trying to quickly upgrade and update their resume to improve the quality of their credits.

So type your resume on plain white paper. Use a sans serif font, and 11 or 12 point type. Keep the resume to less than one page.  Once you’ve printed it out, neatly trim off the margins neatly. (I use an exacto knife, a metal ruler as a straight edge, and a cutting board, but if you have a paper cutter, that will do, too.)

Then use a glue stick to attach it to the back of the photo. Don’t overdo the glue — you don’t want it wrinkled.  If you have one, use a rolling pin or “brayer” (a tool designed specifically to keep paper flat as it’s glued down) to make the edges smooth.  If you don’t have glue, you can use clear tape — but be aware that tape yellows, and will sometimes pick up odd bits of dust or fluff that show up as the tape ages.

Don’t use staples. You don’t want YOUR resume to be the one that causes a casting director to bleed when a staple punctures a finger rifling through a stack of paper.

Don’t prepare a lot of extra resumes unless you have a lot of scheduled auditions/meetings with agents of managers.

If you are submitting yourself through one of the online casting sites, the resume they see will be the one formatted by their site, and your headshot will be submitted in the size and format it is hosted on that site.

If you are submitting a headshot and resume via email, make sure that (a) your resume is formatted as an Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word file, and that if you are submitting a Word file all of the changes/corrections you’ve made have been “accepted” so that the recipient can’t view earlier versions of the resume. Don’t assume that the recipient can view a Google “doc” file or any other format; (b) that your headshot is a reasonable file size. Don’t try to send a 4 or 5 gigabyte file, as many email systems can’t handle them and casting directors don’t want to fill their hard drives up with huge photo files.

It shouldn’t have to be said, but have someone else proofread the resume CAREFULLY, double checking phone numbers, hyperlinks (if used) and email addresses to make sure they work.

Update Casting Sites When You Update Your Resume

Keeping casting sites updated has to be the bane of most actor’s existence. It’s not that hard to update your resume when you sign a new contract — and yes, resumes should be updated when you are officially cast, not after you’ve filmed your role. But if you have profiles on four or five sites, each with their own unique content management system and format, it’s a pain to update all of them.  Do it anyway, and do it when you sign a contract.

Why? Because a signed contract could preclude you from consideration for another role, and you don’t want to waste your time or the casting director’s time. For example, a friend of my grandson’s signed to film a very well paid commercial for a video game. In the two months after he signed the contract, but before he filmed the commercial, he was cast in and filmed an industrial for a computer company.

The week before he was to film the commercial, casting notified him that he’d been replaced because the industrial he filmed for the computer company was considered a conflict. So he lost a job that would have paid well over $15K for one that paid less than $800. Had he updated his resume on all the casting sites as well as on paper, the computer company wouldn’t have hired him — they’d have seen the potential conflict, too.

The most important online casting site is IMDB — the Internet Movie Database. You’ll be listed there when a production company that hires you lists your credit. Once that happens, you can sign up for an IMDB Pro account and begin keeping photos and credits online, even when the producer doesn’t list your credit with IMDB. I’ve never known anyone to actually be cast because they were on IMDB. So why is it the most important? Because it ranks first in Google searches, and having a profile there marks you as a “professional” actor in the minds of many — including the Internal Revenue Service. (You can only deduct certain expenses on your taxes if the IRS decides you’re a “professional” actor.)

The other casting sites you should be registered with, and keep updated are:

If you are registered with MyCastingFile.com, Central Casting, or any of the other databases for movie extras, make sure you keep those resume sites updated as well. Note that the casting sites listed here are all free. Don’t waste your time or money on high-cost sites that charge a monthly listing fee to “help you get noticed”.

It’s particularly important to keep your agent up to date on any jobs you accept as an extra, because working as an extra on a television series or film franchise (a multi-part film, like Star Wars) can block you from later being cast in a bigger part. Agents don’t want to look bad by submitting someone who’s already worked on a project — and you don’t want to waste the time and effort auditioning only to be told you can’t be cast.

As always, make sure you follow your agent’s instructions on how and where to list your credits online, and make sure that you are listed correctly in the databases with your representation clearly stated — especially if you have multiple agents for multiple regions, or different agents for commercials, film, modeling, etc.

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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