Whether your child is a new actor just breaking in, or a more experienced actor who needs a little “resume make-over”, this article is for you! Many parents struggle with how to present their child’s work experience in a resume format. Who knew we would ever have to create an employment resume for someone who is 5 years old? It is common for parents to stray away from industry standards, or give unintentional, subtle messages that are negative, while creating a resume.
A MARKETING TOOL
Start with the philosophy. An acting resume is a MARKETING TOOL. It is designed to show what you CAN do and the experience that has been obtained via prior work. It is designed to sell. It needs to be short enough, with big enough print for someone to be able to READ it.
However, it is not necessarily a list of everything your child has ever done. That is an important concept. We all want to list every job our kids have worked so hard on. As a career progresses, you simply can’t. Consider the value of showing a good sampling of what the kids have done–the things you WANT to show the CD. The resume really ends up being ‘the best of’ a body of work. That requires you to make a conscious decision about each credit. What impression will it project to the reader?
Think of it this way: Say you are applying for a Vice President job at Google. Your prior work experience includes three things: a fry cook job during high school at McDonalds, working as a clerk in a law office in college, and then you were a non-paid intern at Microsoft. Would you put the McDonald’s job on your resume? NO. And if for some reason you did, you certainly wouldn’t put it at the TOP of your resume! Why? Because it didn’t have anything to do with the job you do want NOW. It is so low-level, that it would give the impression that you are a fry-cook, not an executive. In the case outlined above, your internships and non-paid jobs were more applicable to the Google job you WANT right? They say, “up and coming…I know what I want and am working toward that…”. So you highlight those and forget you ever worked at McDonalds.
An acting resume should only include ACTING, and things related to ACTING. It is a tool to indicate PROFESSIONAL work experience.
STANDARD RESUME FORMAT
Believe it or not, actor resumes are one area where the entertainment industry is pretty standard. Geography doesn’t make that much difference. That’s why most of the nationwide casting sites give you the same basic format to use when entering your resume.
In printed form, your resume should be in 10 or 12 point font. No script, just clear simple fonts. For the printed resume, cut it down to 8 x 10, so that it can be neatly attached, back to back, to a headshot. These are still used for some in-person callbacks and for theater. You can Google “actor resume template” or use the Bizparentz Word Template here. Pro tip: ours is formatted off-center, so that you can easily cut it down to an 8 x 10 size. Another quick-print idea if you are on the run? Print out your resume from your Actors Access profile.
Acting resumes always start with the actor’s name, contact information (your agent or manager, or your cell phone if you are unrepresented), and union status. Put this stuff in big bold letters at the top. It’s the most important thing! Agents often want you to use their agency logo, and if your agency is A-list, you’ll especially want to do that (remember, this is a marketing thing — associate yourself visually with good people). It is also acceptable to put a thumbnail of your headshot on the back, just in case the photo and the resume get separated.
There are varying opinions about including personal details such as age, height, weight, hair color, etc. Please ask your representative what they prefer. However, guidelines related to safety include NOT putting home phone number, home address, and social security numbers on the resume. Use cell phones, emails, and P.O. boxes.
You do not get to say you are SAG-AFTRA unless you have paid the big bucks and actually joined. This is a big deal, since it may ultimately involve fines for producers if the union status is inaccurate on the resume. You want to be VERY sure of your child’s status, and put SAGe (for SAG eligible) if they are. SAGe is a good thing–you can do both non-union and union work, and producers know they won’t have to file Taft Hartley paperwork for your child. (Of course you have to be ready to join right away if need be). Some agents and managers advise that actors at higher levels do not need to put SAG-AFTRA at the top of their resumes. Their credits make that obvious.
The rest of the resume is done in a 3 column format, and with certain categories. The first column in each category is the name of the project, second is the role/type of role, the third column is some identifying info–the studio, the director.
So it looks like this:
Titanic (space) SUPPORTING (space) Dir James Cameron/Paramount
The sections are always:
- COMMERCIALS (you don’t actually list these unless you have nothing else, but you can say “conflicts available on request” — more tips below)
- SPECIAL SKILLS
Note: In New York , often the THEATRE section is first because the NY market places more value on the theatrical experience of an actor. In Los Angeles it is always in the above the order as the work in LA makes it more of a film/TV town.
You simply eliminate any sections in which you lack credits, or in which you just don’t want to share the info.
FILM categories do not generally list the name of the role, but instead list the level of role. Just one of these:
TELEVISION/STREAMING also does not list the name of the role. TV roles are:
- Series Regular
- Guest Star
THEATRE is a bit different: That section often does list the names of the characters because it is assumed that CDs are trained in classics and the character name of the role gives them more information about the scope of the role. For example, if the resume credit includes the name ”Edward” on Walking Dead, that character name adds no valuable information for a Casting Director. They likely aren’t going to remember a character named Edward from an episode of a show that was on the air for several years. On the other hand, listing “Dorothy” in the Wizard of Oz, rather than ‘lead’ would give them more information about that experience.
A really important element of appropriate credits is to remember that credits are given, earned or negotiated as part of a contract. For films, crediting refers to the ‘order’. Be careful and realistic when assigning lead, supporting or featured/principal to that role. For TV work, the credit is specifically indicated on the contract. There’s no willy-nillying that one. Maybe you feel the work done was really greater than someone else who lists a bigger credit – that doesn’t mean you can just decide to “up” your credit. It’s very common, for example, that a role that might be a guest star for an adult would be categorized as a lower paying and lesser level credit of co-star for a child actor. This isn’t widely abused, but it happens often enough that it’s worth mentioning here. When in doubt, check your contract.
COMMERCIALS – as mentioned above aren’t normally listed on a resume, unless specifically requested by an agent or manager. One reason is that if you list all of the products your child has advertised for – you are also indicating to a Casting Director that there are potential conflicts. You wouldn’t want to list a Kellogg’s Fruit Loops commercial from 5 years ago. Because you aren’t indicating any dates, it might appear that your child has a conflict where they couldn’t do a Post Raisin Bran commercial now. Most people will indicate that “conflicts are available on request”. Then if that information is required, a CD can get the up to date conflicts your child has, if any, from your agent.
TRAINING and SPECIAL SKILLS categories are a bit of a free-for-all, but they also have no dates. You may also want to note here if you are a (name your big city) LOCAL HIRE. “Local hire” means you have a residence (that you can prove) in that geographical area, and you pay taxes in that state. This is important to casting because sometimes tax rebates and budget issues require casting to hire locally. It also means you aren’t going to get paid travel or per diem if they hire you as “local hire”.
9 RULES and TIPS for KID RESUMES
1. Safety first: Remove any mention of churches or schools or your hometown. However, you don’t need to remove the whole item if it is a credit you have decided is useful given the criteria above. Just say the name of the auditorium, rather than the school. For instance, you listed “ XXXX Lutheran School , ANYTOWN”. Just say, something like “Lutheran Theatre, Southern California ” or “Fellowship Auditorium”. Nobody cares about the specifics anyway, but you don’t want to broadcast a credit as being from a SCHOOL. Schools aren’t professional.
You may wonder why this is a concern. You don’t want to give the creeps or overzealous fans a way to find your child, or have a meaningful online conversation with them by using those identifiers on the resume. Always plan for success – you never know what project is waiting around the corner. Your child’s privacy (as well as your families) is of the utmost importance at all times
2. Do not lie on your child’s resume. Ever…. Really. With the expanse of the internet, it is relatively easy for CDs and producers to check the validity of your credits. Every Casting Director has anecdotal stories about seeing a resume with a credit on it for something they cast – and the fact that they know they didn’t cast that person. You can probably imagine that a situation like that isn’t going to have a positive outcome for your child. Beyond that, it is usually pretty obvious to Casting Directors and even to the casual observer. It just isn’t worth the risk, not to mention the life lesson you would be teaching your child. An important skill that child actors master is the ability to answer questions related to the work on their resume. It becomes more and more common the older they are. It would be unwise to create a resume of jobs and experience that they could not talk about if asked.
3. Do not put background (aka extra) work on a professional resume. That is a surprising fact for some people, but it simply isn’t done. Why? It isn’t considered “acting” in the professional world. If that is tough to hear, we understand. Of course kids learn valuable work ethics and on set experience when they are doing background work! So, we have a solution for you. List background work under the “TRAINING” category. Something like, “Worked as a Background Player in over 20 productions” tells the CD that you have some experience, but doesn’t try to pass it off as principal work.
In general, “featured” is interpreted to be extra work. If it wasn’t, you might choose the generic word “principal” instead. *NOTE: The spelling is “princiPAL” not “principle”.
4. There are NEVER dates on an acting resume. Things are ordered by the most important or recognizable roles/projects first…not date order. This is one area that differs from the way we, as adults, do a resume for our own careers. CDs are in a hurry…they are only going to scan a resume in 10 seconds. Put important stuff on top.
5. Hollywood is all about trends and “what have you done lately”. So you will not want to admit to anything very old. Typically, actors take stuff OFF their resume that is no longer on television unless they were a recognizable star. If you still have a co-star on Shake It Up or Pretty Little Liars on the resume, it is time to dump them. It gives away that they were OLD (vs. fresh new hot talent). Just keep reminding yourself…this is a MARKETING TOOL. What impression does that info give to a CD? Leave Hannah Montana in their scrapbook, but not on their current resume.
6. Just finished a project but it is still ultra-secret? That’s OK. Non-disclosure agreements are very common and everyone understands. You need to give them some idea what it is though, and be sure they will ask your agent about it. One way to accomplish this is the list it as: “NDA Feature Film, lead, Marvel Studios”. That way you aren’t violating your promise, but casting directors will understand it is significant.
7. Avoid giving too many locations outside of New York, Atlanta, or LA, (or the market you are seeking work in). If your resume screams “I live in the Kansas and I will have an 8 hour drive to get to work”, that is bad. Try to reword things so that it isn’t so obvious that you are from out of town.
8. Be aware that you don’t want to build up the TRAINING section to a ridiculous extent. There is a feeling in Hollywood that kids can be over-trained, and become too showbizzy, especially if they have done theatre. If they have no on-set credits, a lot of training listed gives the impression that the child is continually reaching for something they can’t do—like a career student that can’t hack it in the real world. There’s a stigma attached to what looks like 10 years of classes with only one credit. Of course there is nothing wrong with ongoing training, just REPLACE older training on your resume. Don’t add more. A couple of acting classes, maybe voice and dance.
Conversely, you may decide not to put training on the resume if your child’s credits are so recognizable that classes are not a positive selling point. Sometimes it is better to let them think you are naturally gifted. Note: If your resume is going to be circulated in Los Angeles or New York , you will take off all direct or hinted information related to a talent competition. This includes awards and training from competition staff.
9. Special Skills…BE CREATIVE. Heck, get a little wacky here (but no where else). Does your child do any dialects/accents? Are they good with animals? Ride a horse? Play sports? Cries on cue? This is the section where you can tell them ANYTHING your child has to offer. If she can burp her ABCs—put it here. If your child has experience with circus arts like aerial silks, put it here. This is your chance to let a little of your child’s unique personality come shining through. Remember to update this area to be age appropriate. While we’re thrilled when we get to list little Johnny, at age 5, can read. When Johnny is 12, that special ‘reading’ skill is going to look a little silly!
Like all of the other marketing tools and decisions we make as parents, these are decisions to discuss with your representation. They may prefer something slightly different and you want to give them the format and information they want to work with.
Remember that a resume is more than just a page filled up with words. As cited earlier, it is quite similar to resumes we use as adults to obtain employment. You want it to be accurate, up to date, neatly done with correct spelling. It, along with a headshot, is truly the first impression a decision maker may have of your child. Also remember to coordinate with your representatives who will be responsible for updating resumes in the various online casting places.
It’s so fun to watch a resume grow and see our children getting opportunities to improve on their skills. Don’t forget to save a few older ones to look back on. You’ll be surprised how quickly things will change!
For additional information and sample resumes, casting director/author Bonnie Gillespie has written several classic articles over the years. In this one, called Starter Resume, she links to other articles, but also provides downloadable resume templates for beginning actors, working actors and “name actors.