Terrance Contemplates How to Get Into Acting and Start an Acting Career

It's a question that a lot of folks have asked over the years: How to get into acting?

Two of the main characters in the humorous novel non-Hollywod are struggling with this very question. Have a listen (or read along) as author Neal A. Yeager narrates a few chapters of the novel dealing with topics from tips on becoming an actor, to the acting industry to just generally wondering how to start acting.

It's a struggle and it's a wild ride, so join us as young aspiring actor Terrance contemplates how to start an acting career.

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Hollywood Education

Chapter 10: Hollywood Education

Twenty years, five months and fifteen days before being stabbed while acting on the set of a vampire movie, Terrance, 23, and Melanie, 22, stood together in the enormous lobby of an enormous talent agency in Beverly Hills. It was in this building that the agents of actors worked. It was in this building that the multi-million dollar deals were made which kept Hollywood turning. This was an amazing place. A sacred place.

“Jesus, Mel,” said Terrance, “this place is as big as an airport.”


“Yeah,” Terrance agreed.

He walked up to the gigantic marble counter at the far side of the room and caught the attention of a young woman there. She greeted him with a smile, “Hi. Can I help you?”

“Yeah,” said Terrance, “I’d like to talk to an agent.”

“Which agent? Do you have an appointment?”

“Um, no appointment. I’d just like to talk to somebody. See if I could see what’s going on.”

“Well, the agents… They don’t just come out and talk to people. You need an appointment.”

“Then can I make an appointment with one of them? I’m new in town. I’m an actor and I’d just like to talk to an agent. See what I can find out.”

The young woman started to laugh but caught herself and kept her composure. “It doesn’t work like that. You can’t just ask for an appointment. That’s not the way it’s done.”

“Okay,” said Terrance, “Then how’s it done?”

“It’s… Well, this is one of the largest agencies in the business. People — actors — work for years to get an appointment with one of these agents. Beginners don’t just stroll in off the street. That’s not how it works.”

“I’m not a beginner. I did a movie in Indianapolis.”

“And that’s great. But this is the big leagues. You need to start in the minor leagues.”

“And how do I do that?”

The young woman looked at him closely and asked, “Did you just load up your car and drive out here? Did you not do any kind of research?”

Terrance chuckled and said, “I wouldn’t know where to research. There was only one book on acting in our library and it was from the 1950s and focused on the theater. But like I say, I had a part in a film in Indianapolis… And yes, we did load up the car and drive here.”

“Well, you need to research.”

“Hmmm,” said Terrance, “I guess that first I need to research where to research. Because I have no idea where to research… Where should I research?”

The young woman said, “If I were you, I would start with Samuel French.”

“Who’s Samuel French?”

“Not a ‘who.’ Samuel French is a bookstore in Hollywood. It’s geared toward actors and filmmakers and such. That’s where I would start if I were you.”


“I didn’t know there were this many books on acting,” said Terrance as they made their way through the cramped aisles of the bookstore. “Do you think they could cram any more books into this space? I feel like I could get buried under an avalanche of books.”

Melanie looked around and said, “I don’t see a point in going to college for acting. Just get a job here.”

“No kidding.”

“Look Mel, this whole wall is books on the business part of acting. Is it that complicated that you need a hundred different books?”

“Try to find one written by somebody you’ve heard of,” said Melanie, “Oh! See if Christian Slater has one!”

They both began to laugh. Through his laughter Terrance said, “Jesus Mel. You’re carrying my baby. Can you stop with Christian Slater?”

“You’d better hope that I don’t bump into him in person. I’m pretty sure I’d do something pretty embarrassing.”

“Okay, if that’s the way you’re gonna be then you need to know what I might do if I see Justine Bateman.”

“Oh, not her again.”

“Oh yes, her again… But I don’t see a book written by Christian Slater or by Justine Bateman. Or by anybody else I’ve heard of. So I guess I’ll have to ask somebody which one to pick.”

So they did. The clerk was pretty excited about the topic of the business of acting and actually recommended several books, which he kept piling into Terrance’s arms, plus a copy of a magazine called Dramalogue in which Terrance was told that he could find casting notices of films he might audition for. Eventually Terrance carried the stack up to the cash register and the books were rung up. The total was very nearly $300.

“Whoa!” said Terrance.

“Oh my God,” echoed Melanie.

“Um… Maybe I should put some of these back.”

“No,” said Melanie, “No. It’s important. It’s like an investment. You need this.” She looked back at the cashier and asked, “Would you take travelers’ checks?”

He replied, “We can, but only up to two hundred dollars.”

“That’s fine, I’ve got enough cash for the rest.” She pulled a few travelers’ checks and the cash out of her purse and handed both to the cashier.

“Thanks,” said Terrance, “I guess we’re gonna have to rethink our budget aren’t we?”

“Yeah, no kidding. At this rate we’re not gonna make it anywhere near as long as we thought.”

“I suppose that I’ll just have to get famous faster.”

“Yeah. Please.”

“You got it. And thanks for the books.”


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Terrance.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 14 ]

How to get into acting when you know nothing about The Business

Everyone has to start somewhere, and if it is a question of how to start an acting career, then it is time for a Hollywood Education.

Like a lot of aspiring actors, Terrance just loads up the car and heads for LA. That is quite often exactly how it is done. Knowledge of the film industry is often not taken into account. Just get in the car and go.

But at some point, whether that point is before or after the move to LA, at some point the question of how to get started in acting must be addressed. And for Terrance, that time comes when he impulsively walks into the office of a large Hollywood talent agency, expecting something to happen when he does.

It is the helpful receptionist who, instead of angrily throwing him out of the building, gives him the helpful advice on where to research the acting industry. And her suggestion is a suggestion that has been offered to many new actors in Hollywood: a trip to the Samuel French bookstore.

It is at the bookstore that Terrance discovers just how much information there actually is on subject of how to start acting. The aisles of Samuel French are overflowing with books about acting. There are simply tons of them. And it is Terrance's hope that somewhere in that avalanche of books about acting, there will be the key to his arrival in the world of the film business.

Remembering that this section of the novel non-Hollywood takes place in the pre-internet age, really brings home the point of how important it was at that time to find the right books on the acting business. A bookstore employee guides Terrance to the best acting books for him. And with his wife fronting the pricey pricetag, he heads out the door, his arms full of a few thousand words on the subject of how to start an acting career.

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Professional Headshots

Chapter 14: Professional Headshots

Twenty years, four months and twelve days before being stabbed while acting on the set of a vampire movie, Terrance, 23, sat on the floor of their new apartment highlighting casting notices in the latest copy of Dramalogue magazine. These casting notices were like little classified ads, little “help wanted” ads if you will, that had been placed by movie producers who were looking for actors to star in their projects.

Terrance and Melanie had finally managed to land an apartment after about a month of trying. They had quickly learned to avoid mentioning the whole “acting” thing when applying for apartments. For some reason, the apartment managers’ moods would change when that word was mentioned. And they were shocked that a few of the places actually charged an “application fee,” which was something that they’d never heard of. And when they were finally approved for this place, the deposit had been hefty and had taken a bigger chunk out of their savings — Melanie’s savings — than they had planned for.

But finally they had an apartment. Not a great one, mind you, and at about half again as much as they had budgeted before leaving Indiana.

Terrance had learned from his acting books that before he started submitting himself for roles he would first need to have a “headshot,” a professional-quality photo that would show casting agents and directors what he looked like before they met him. He had done a few local commercial in Indy and had gotten that role in the film without a headshot, but this was Hollywood and this was different.

Of course he wasn’t worried about this part of the process, as people had been commenting on his looks since he was 5 years old. So, a few days previously they had gone to the photographer’s studio in West Hollywood and Terrance had spent a few hours getting his photos taken. The proofs hadn’t come back yet, but again, he wasn’t worried.

What he hadn’t counted on was just how expensive a photo session would be. He had been tempted to just let Melanie take his photo and go from there but all of the acting books had advised against this. So they had the pro photos done.

And Melanie had paid for them.

She was also going to pay for the photo duplication — another unexpected expense, and a big one at that.

And, he supposed, if you got right down to it, it would also be Melanie’s stamps and envelopes that would send out the submissions.

This fame thing was looking to be expensive.


The next complication for Terrance was the resume. The complication being that he didn’t really have one. He had this small part in a movie which wasn’t out yet. In addition, he had a few local commercials in Indianapolis (which, unfortunately, he had no video copies of). But that was it. He had not been a theater major. Nor in the drama club in high school. So he couldn’t claim to have played the lead in Our Town. Truth be told, he really didn’t care that he didn’t have those types of credits. He had no real interest in theater. He wanted to be a movie star. What the hell did that have to do with theater?

But not having copies of the commercials he had done and especially not having a copy of his few lines from the movie — that was a bad thing there. He could have included a VHS with his submissions if he had copies. Since he wanted to act on camera, a copy of him acting on camera would seem to be something that would help. But he had nothing.

And he had nothing that he could really put on a resume either. So, like many actors before him — and many more actors to come — he did the only logical thing: he made some stuff up.

Looked good to him.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Terrance.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 17 ]

Start an acting career by first getting headshots

One of the first steps in getting on with starting an acting career is the ritual of the headshot shoot.

For Terrance, this part of the process of making it in Hollywood was not a problem. A good-looking guy, he had already done some modeling in Chicago. So having his picture taken was not really a problem.

What was a problem was how expensive getting those photos happened to be. According to his new books about acting, the first step to getting those acting jobs was to get a high-quality, professional headshot. Though he is tempted to go the amateur route and just have his wife take the photos, all of the books advise him against this. Plus, in the pre-internet age headshots were physically mailed out. Meaning that there was photo reproduction involved, and that photo reproduction carried a heavy cost.

But this was part of the deal. If he wanted to get the acting jobs he first had to get the acting auditions. And to get those auditions he needed a headshot.

Another expense for the beginning actor. Another time when he would just have to bite the bullet.

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Cattle Call Audition

Chapter 17: Cattle Call Audition

Twenty years, two months and twenty seven days before being stabbed while acting on the set of a vampire movie, Terrance, 23, and Melanie, 22, had been in L.A. for about three months when Terrance got a phone call asking him to come in for his first audition. His first step toward being a legitimate Hollywood actor.

The two had celebrated by taking another drive out to the beach. Relaxing in the sun, Melanie was definitely “showing” now. Though she was not happy about the whole “maternity clothes” phase of her life, she was thrilled to see the physical evidence that the baby was indeed on the way. And she was happy that her young husband was finally getting an audition out of those expensive photos.

“Babe?” she said to Terrance, who was half asleep beside her on the beach blanket, his hat pulled down over his eyes, “We really need to talk about this trip.”

He didn’t move and didn’t remove the hat from over his eyes. “Mel, I’m enjoying the sunshine. I’m enjoying the news of the audition…”

“I know. I am too. But we’ve got to discuss this.”

“Ugh… Okay.”

Melanie began, “Unless something changes, we’re gonna be broke right about the time the baby comes. We can’t afford to have the baby here. That’s all there is to it.”

“I know, but…”

“Now I’m still on my parents’ insurance. Going back home to have the baby just makes sense.”

“‘Home?’ This is ‘home.’ L.A. is ‘home.’”

“You know what I mean. And you know we need my parents’ insurance. We just do.”

Terrance sighed, “I can’t go back there yet. It’s been like 3 months and nothing’s happened yet. I can’t go back.”

“It’s not like you’re giving up. Nobody’s saying to give up. We can come back here once the baby’s born and the doctor feels the baby can travel. We’re not giving up. I’m a hundred percent supportive. Nobody’s giving up.”

“I can’t do it Mel. I can’t.”

“Well it’s either that or you’re gonna have to go get a job and some insurance because there isn’t anybody who’s gonna hire a pregnant chick.”

“Fine. That’s what I’ll do.”

Melanie shook her head, sighed, and put on her headphones.


Well, this was it. Terrance’s first Hollywood audition! Yes!

It took him a while to find a parking spot in the area. And once he had found a spot he simply sat in the car for a moment. He wanted to savor this. This was the beginning. He was ready. He would nail this. He would get this. And there would be no looking back.

Melanie had bought him a new shirt for this audition. The role was as a cocky college student, so they had spent a few hours trying to find the shirt which would perfectly portray that character.

With a smile into his rear-view mirror, Terrance got out of the car and walked into the building where the auditions were being held.

The first thing that he noticed upon entering was that the lobby was jam-packed. The place seemed wall-to-wall with guys in the 18 - 25 range. Just tons of them. The room was loud with conversation.

At the far end of the room he could see a large hand-lettered poster board which proclaimed “Sign In.” He made his way through the crowd to the end of the room and caught the attention of the frazzled-looking young woman who was sitting there. “Excuse me,” he said, raising his voice to a near-shout in order to be heard over the noise in the room “I’ve got a two o’clock appointment.” To Terrance’s right a young man gave a loud, obviously sarcastic laugh and said, “You have a two o’clock? Imagine that.”

The young woman at the desk just pointed at a sheet on the desk. She told Terrance to sign it and wait until his name was called.

The laughing man called out above the din of the room. “Yeah, maybe they’ll call you in a few hours. Maybe.”

Terrance was puzzled. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“You’ve got a two o’clock. I’ve got a two o’clock. He’s got a two o’clock. Every damned person in this room’s got a two o’clock.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Cattle Call my friend. I can’t believe that they still do this crap, but here we are.”

Terrance had read about ‘cattle calls’ in one of his acting books. Basically, whoever was casting had simply brought in a few hundred people to audition and would let them sit around in the lobby until they got around to calling them in the room.

“Too damned rude,” shouted the laughing man again. “I tell ya, a production like this is not one we want to work on. They’ve got zero respect for actors. You think that they’ll respect whoever they end up picking out of this mess? This is a complete load of b.s.!”

“Then why don’t you leave?” said another nearby young man who was dressed in a purple sweater, “Give the rest of us a better chance!”

“Why don’t we all leave?” replied the laughing man, “That’s what should happen here. These people have no respect for us. Cattle calls are insulting. They’re humiliating. And we should all just walk out of here and show them what we think of it!’

“Then do it!” said the guy in the purple sweater.

“Yes, please,” chimed in another young man.

“You guys don’t get what I’m saying. I’m saying that we should all do it! Every damned one of us should walk out of here. Let them know how we feel about it!”

Terrance shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, I’ll wait. I want to do the audition. And if this is how it is, then this is how it is.”

“Then you’re a damned fool! And you’re contributing to a pattern of behavior that is wrong and insulting and…”

“Then why don’t you just leave?” repeated the guy in the purple sweater.

“Maybe I will!

“Please do so!”

For a moment Terrance was pretty sure that he was going to see a fight. Then the laughing man simply turned and walked away. However, he did not, Terrance noticed, leave the building. And in fact, an hour and forty five minutes later Terrance saw this young man entering the audition room after his name had been called.

Terrance had ended up waiting close to three hours before his name was called (and there were plenty of actors who had signed in after him, so who knows how long this was to go on).

The three hours in the lobby had given him ample time to memorize the few lines that he was to read. He walked confidently into the room and saw a few people at the back of the room, chatting and eating some Chinese take-out. There were two chairs at the front of the room and in one was sitting a woman who looked… well, she looked like someone who had been sitting and reading actors for three hours straight. She looked tired.

The woman asked Terrance to sit down and to start the read whenever he felt ready. Terrance looked back at the folks at the back of the room. They looked up at him but continued to eat their lunch and chat.

Terrance read the lines. The woman read the other lines with him. And it was all quickly over with.

The woman said “thank you” and Terrance stood up and left the room. As he walked back out into the lobby Terrance noticed that it was just as full of young men as it had been when he had first arrived.

His first Hollywood audition was done.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Terrance.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 20 ]

Casting calls for acting jobs

A big part of the process of getting those acting jobs is going to acting auditions.

But unfortunately some of those will still be the proverbial "cattle calls." Basically a mass gathering where any actor who happens to walk in the door does an audition. And usually there area quite a few actors walking through the door.

In his eagerness to get acting jobs, Terrance is not the least bit bothered by the idea of a cattle call. He just wants to audition. And this one has given him the chance to do so.

It is his thought that as an aspiring actor in LA, he needs to do whatever he can to get that part, even if it means crowding in with a few hundred other actors in an unsupportive audition environment. In his mind, it is the sacrifices that get you ahead in your career quest. And he wants to get ahead in his career quest. He wants to start an acting career.

And it is his first audition after all. Who cares if he has to wait hours for the opportunity to read? Who cares that his chances of landing this part are even more remote than the usual long-shot chances of landing a role.

It is an audition. And that is that.

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Is Dennys Hiring Actors?

Chapter 20: Is Dennys Hiring Actors?

Twenty years, one month and twenty three days before being stabbed while acting on the set of a vampire movie, Terrance, 23, was being rejected by another restaurant manager. “Well, the fact of the matter is that we’re fully staffed at the moment,” said the restaurant manager. Nothing had yet started for Terrance acting-wise, so he had started the search for a day job to help out until his acting thing started to happen.

“Okay,” said Terrance, “Well, will you keep that application and keep me in mind if anything opens up?”

“Will do Lawrence,” said the restaurant manager.


“Sorry. Terrance.”

Terrance turned to walk from the restaurant, then paused and turned back toward the manager. “Would you mind if I asked you something?”

“No. Not at all.”

“This is the 11th restaurant I’ve gone to and no one’s hiring servers. Is it the time of year, or what?”

“It’s L.A. is what.”

“I don’t understand,” said Terrance.

The manager sighed, apparently contemplating whether he wanted to take the time to get into this. “So you’re new to L.A.?”


“Okay” said the restaurant manager. He looked down at Terrance’s application, “Well, problem number one is that you don’t have any experience.”

“Experience? To work in a restaurant? I’ve had a bunch of friends who just walked in and got jobs in restaurants.”

“In L.A.?”

“Well, no. In Indiana.”

“Okay,” repeated the restaurant manager, “This is L.A. And in L.A. you need experience to land a job like this. Lots of experience. Years of experience”

Terrance was still puzzled. “I’m still confused. ‘Years of experience?’ It’s not like I’m applying to be a doctor or something. We’re talking about waiting tables.”

“You’d have better luck if you were applying to be a doctor. Not nearly as much competition as there is to be a waiter.”


“Really. Now I see that you’re a good-looking young guy who’s just moved here from another state and you’re looking for jobs as a server. Let me take a wild guess here: by chance did you come to L.A. to be an actor?”


“Okay. On the same day that you rolled into town there were probably a few thousand others just like you rolling into town. And sooner or later everybody realizes that a good way to pay the rent while waiting for their dream role would be to wait tables. It’s the perfect job for an actor: it pays pretty well on a flexible part-time schedule and requires someone with a personality. That’s why we all do it. Me too. I’ve been there just like you. I came to L.A. from Idaho 11 years ago myself.”

Eleven years? thought Terrance. Eleven Years… Jesus, what a loser.

“The competition for these jobs in this area is fierce.” continued the manager, “If you want me to be completely blunt, I get guys and gals coming in every day filling out applications — literally every day. But truth be told I’ve never hired anyone who wasn’t referred by one of my current servers.”

“Never?” asked Terrance.

“Never had to. So my advice is to get some experience, say at Denny’s or Norm’s, places like that will sometimes hire people with no experience — though even at that level there’s still a lot of competition. Then ask around in your acting class. Make some connections there. Maybe at some point one of your acting friends can hook you up with a back-server job at someplace nice like this and you can go from there.”

“Denny’s? I should work at Denny’s?”

“You’ve gotta start somewhere. Look, I have to get back to the kitchen. It was nice talking to you. And good luck.”

“Okay, thank you,” said Terrance. As he walked back out into the afternoon sunlight Terrance pictured himself serving up Grand Slams to drunks at three a.m. and he suddenly felt quite depressed.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Terrance.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 23 ]

Other jobs besides acting jobs

It's a fact. If you want to break into acting it will take some time. Usually, a lot of time.

And while an actor is taking the time that it takes to break into acting, there is still the matter of making money to stay alive. Sure you've got the acting books to read, the acting courses to attend and the auditions to show up for, but you've also got to eat.

And live somewhere.

For lots of actors, the obvious solution to this problem is to get a job as a server in a restaurant. Get into a decent restaurant and you make decent money, and the hours tend to have the flexibility that an actor needs.

But with so many actors in LA, that restaurant job becomes almost as competitive as the acting jobs that they're actually here to do. And this, Terrance discovers, is a bit of a problem.

In this chapter of non-Hollywood, Terrance is confronted with the idea that the day job he expected is actually out of reach for him. Starting an acting career is hard enough without being told that you first need to serve in the minor leagues of serving.

But there it is. All part of the life of an aspiring actor in LA.

How to get into acting