TOOLS OF THE TRADE: Your Acting CV

What do you put on your CV? What happens if you don’t have a lot to list? What should you include and omit? This is a short guide on how to put together a professional CV – no matter how many credits you have.

Whereas a good photo may persuade a casting director you have the right ‘look’ for the part, it’s the CV that convinces them of your professionalism. Therefore how you present the facts of your history, is critical to success.

An actor’s CV should not simply be a matter of “shoving down anything and everything you’ve ever done”. Selectivity and a positive approach are essential. Some things should be omitted, others amplified, or elevated to centre stage, whilst others down-played. Put simply, a CV should inspire confidence.

So, it is best to have a CV that you can change and move sections around. I have two CV’s – one that features my theatre work first for theatre auditions and another that features my film and television work first for screen audition submissions. Both CV’s contain all my credits from 1996 onwards. While I have a lot of credits from before then, it’s best to keep a CV as short as possible – in my case, two pages, but actually, one page is usually better.

However, you should always include all your training – no matter from when it dates. This shows a commitment to your craft and your business of being an actor – it can also show that when times are quiet in the industry, you’re continuing to prepare for when work picks up again by training in a new skill, or refreshing your existing ones.

When you’re starting out, you won’t have a lot of professional credits on your CV , so include amateur theatre credits and school drama credits. Also include any community radio credits, student film, etc. As you get more gigs, you can start dropping off these early credits, but when starting it is important to put anything you’ve done in relation to acting on your CV. And don’t forget to add your training – every workshop and every weekly class – it’s all important.

Casting someone whose work you don’t know is a risk. If the CV indicates to the Casting Director that the risk is likely to be minimal, then you’re much more likely to get cast, or at least auditioned.

Also, in your ‘Skills’ section, make sure you put down everything that’s relevant – which will be a lot more than you realise. Done a Secretarial course? Put down what you learnt from that – i.e. typing (and at what speed), shorthand, dictaphone, etc. Worked as a labourer? Put down those skills – i.e. carpentry, cabinet-making, etc. Worked in IT or web development? Put down those skills – i.e. computer literate, programming knowledge, web design, etc.

Why do you include these kind of things?

Let’s look at it from the Casting Director’s point of view. You’ve just been sent a brief by a director or production company looking for an actor of a certain age and look, who looks like he can build a brick wall, as the character is a labourer. What are you, as the Casting Director, going to do? Well, first you’ll pull out all the actors who match the age and look of the character, then you’re going to go to their skills section and see if any of them have listed ‘building/labourer’ as an acquired skill. Guess who’s going to be top of the list for an audition? Yep, you got it – the actor who not only matches the character description, but also has the skills the character requires.

Now, I’m sure you’re saying “I’m an actor! I can LEARN to do all that!” and that’s true – and in certain cases there will be an expectation that you’ll have to be trained in a certain skill for a role as it’s unlikely that ANYONE has the ability in that area already. But one thing Casting Director’s go for (apart from talent and looks required) is “authenticity” – this is expecially true for commercials. So, they will naturally go for the actor who actually has some experience in the area the character needs. It’s just the way it is. Will this guarantee you the job? No. Lots of other factors can enter into the final decision on who they cast, but it will at least give you a good chance at getting the audition to be able to then dazzle them with your acting ability. And that’s half the battle.

HOWEVER – this comes with a warning. DO NOT CLAIM TO BE ABLE TO DO SOMETHING THAT YOU CAN’T DO AT ALL!!

I had an actor friend who put down she could ride horses. She felt her skills section was a little light and figured that every other actor she knew put down horseriding, so she would too, thinking she could learn the basics fairly quickly if she got called in for an audition that required that skill. Guess what?

Yep, she got called in for an audition for a TV show in Australia set on a farm for one of the lead roles. She matched what the Producers and Director were looking for looks and acting experience-wise, but she also got called in because she could ride a horse. Ooops. Guess who was frantically trying to cram in horse riding lessons with only a week between her round of auditions for the role and having to turn up to the final callback (which included riding a horse)? My friend. Did she learn to ride a horse to the level required in time? No. Did she get the job? No. Why? Well, it could have been lots of things, but I suspect a part of it was that she lied on her CV. She gave them an expectation of a skill level that didn’t exist.

NEVER LIE ON YOUR CV!!

This doesn’t just go for your ‘Skills’ section – this is a golden rule for your entire CV.

Do NOT say you played a guest role on a TV show that you haven’t even done extra work on. Do NOT say that a bit part was a lead role, do NOT say that you did a film as a 50-worder when you were ‘Spear Carrier No. 120’ right on the edge of frame – i.e. an extra. Also, do not make up a name for a character that didn’t have one.

I’ve done several roles that were Guest Roles on TV with names like “TV Interviewer” or “London Madame” – and while they may sound like bit part or even (heaven forbid!) extra jobs, they were roles that had a good chunk of dialogue, were important to the episode, but sadly, no-one gave them a ‘real’ name. The industry is too small – people will know the director, producer or another member of cast or crew – these things can be checked. Worse still, a lot of Casting Directors make the effort to watch bigger TV shows and films and if they’ve seen the episode, they’ll know what size role you had (or didn’t have). If you’ve talked up what the role was – it won’t win you any respect and may count against you for castings.

So, I say again … DO NOT LIE ON YOUR CV!!

Just put down what you have done – with the correct name. Put down the skills you have to date. You can always learn more, and when you do, you can add them to your CV. You will continue to get roles (in student film or fringe theatre at least), so keep adding them to your CV as they are completed. And, in time, you will have the wonderful dilemma of what to drop off your CV as it’s becoming too big.

Just be honest, be factual and keep working on your acting skills as well as other skills that interest you – and keep adding these things to your CV – just like any other business.

Originally published in March 2007 © Sally McLean. All rights reserved.

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