Covid means opportunity for aspiring actors in Midwest, small towns
Photo of Eliseo Arreola
Amidst a legendary election and a global pandemic, there is one benefit to this season that is lesser known but could be meaningful for many: the opportunity to act remotely.
Previously, most people had to relocate to Los Angeles, New York, and more recently, Atlanta, if they wanted many opportunities to work in the film industry.
Now, in response to the coronavirus, a surprisingly large proportion of video content is shot remotely, meaning that if you have a plain white wall, a tripod, a window or light, and an up-to-date cell phone — news flash, you can get paid to act.
Before the quarantine, most of the job postings on casting sites were based in major city markets, but now, plenty of gigs on even the most city-centric sites, such as LA Casting, are actually “work from home” gigs. This means that aspiring stars who live in rural areas, small towns or midwestern cities that have no film companies for miles around can now star in commercials and other productions, without even leaving the house.
No training, no problem
Even if you don’t consider yourself a trained, excellent actor, plenty of remote “acting” work is basically hosting, where you just memorize a few lines about a product and say it to the camera. If you could give presentations in school and you are able to read aloud, then you can do it!
I didn’t have any official training before I started acting on screen in Los Angeles, and the same is true for many actors I have met who are getting paid to act, without any education in the craft.
Originally from Kansas, I moved to Los Angeles in October 2018. In my pre-covid days, I frequently traversed Greater Los Angeles to act on film sets for movies, TV shows and commercials. Now, I still go to some in-person shoots, but a high proportion of my work is shot “from home.”
My director-producer fiancé, Anthony Salerno, helps with some of the shoots, but even if you don’t have that kind of connection, don’t worry — you don’t need it. There are many others that I do without him. I shoot those on my own phone, watch the video (and sometimes send to family and friends for their advice), re-shoot it and submit my best take.
All you need for this is a tripod and a connector clip. (Be sure to get that clip; otherwise your cell phone could fall off the tripod.)
If you’re not ready to jump into paid work, or you want to pursue education alongside your potential new acting gigs, you can even take online acting classes. Workshops that were formerly held in person in LA or New York are now online, which means anyone, anywhere, can sign up.
Go with the flow like Eliseo
Eliseo Arreola, who now resides in Dodge City, Kansas, directed events and catering in
a hospitality management position in Kansas City that had become unreasonably
demanding. After a year in that position, Arreola resigned.
Shortly before the coronavirus outbreak, Arreola found himself hitting the job search
almost like an actor — dressing up, playing the part, auditioning for the role. Though he
had a bachelor of science in hospitality management, the job hunt was tough. After
various interviews, Arreola realized, “You know what? Life’s too short. I’m going to
pursue my dream.”
Previously, he had been too afraid to jump out and try, but when he realized he had
nothing holding him back, he knew it was time to make the leap. The 28-year-old started
researching online how to get started in acting, and when the world stopped, he
discovered that for the first time ever, some of the best acting schools in Los Angeles
were offering their classes online.
He is now taking classes from the Speiser/Sturges Acting Studio.
“The acting classes have been a blessing during a time of uncertainty,” Arreola said.
“Aside from my faith and my family, acting has been one of my anchors.”
Arreola pointed out that taking acting classes online from anywhere is not only possible
because studios haven’t been able to hold classes normally but also because many
people have more time on their hands while their work hours are reduced or their jobs
are furloughed or even cut due to layoffs.
“During this pandemic some have received the gift of time, so if you’re not able to work
as much right now, it’s a great opportunity to get in a couple of hours of learning a new
skill,” Arreola said.
Beyond quarantine beards and no-shave Novembers, Arreola said out-of-work or work-
from-home seasons like this one are a great time for people to try out different looks
and hairdos and upgrade their health and fitness, all of which can be helpful for acting.
For anyone who has wanted to reinvent themselves — either as a character to play or a
new look for their real selves — now could be the time.
Arreola advises anyone who is interested in acting but doesn’t live in a big city to sign
up for an online acting class, start reading scripts, and find a monologue online to study
Ultimately, Arreola said to simply go for it.
“Take that first step. It’s not impossible. The ‘impossible’ is possible. You can achieve
anything you set your mind to,” he said. “I’m just a kid from Dodge City, Kansas. Once
things start opening back up, I want to get involved with programs for at risk youth and
inspire those who may not see the potential they have in themselves. I want to make a
positive impact in this world.”
For basic setup, as I mentioned previously, you will need a tripod and a connector clip for your smartphone. For lighting, it can be helpful to get a light such as a GVM LED (just type that into eBay or Amazon), or you can make your own (type “DIY Light Diffusion” into a search engine or YouTube).
But as long as you have a normal-strength light and a window, thereby providing two light sources, you don’t necessarily need an additional light. I shoot most of my videos with a window, a ceiling light, a tripod, a connector piece and my phone, in front of a plain white wall in mid to late morning. Depending on which way your window faces, late afternoon may work better.
Unless otherwise stated, shoot your videos horizontal, also known as landscape, rather than vertical.
You will usually upload your videos to YouTube or sometimes send them via a file transferring service like WeTransfer. Don’t worry; it isn’t difficult. Both of these sites give directions as you go to keep it simple. I find that life often favors those who go ahead and try before being overly ready and then learn along the way, so if you want to try it, don’t let what you don’t already know hold you back.
How would you ever learn anything new if you didn’t try?
What to sign up for
Since I live in Los Angeles, I am most familiar with LA Casting, Backstage and Actors Access. During covid, I am getting the most work from Backstage, so if you were to start with just one site, I would recommend that one.
There is a cost to the monthly membership, but I have found that it pays for itself. I have consistently made more than the cost of the fee. And if you don’t break even, well — you just paid for a new hobby, to keep yourself engaged and learn new things during this down-time in our society.
Photo of Jennifer Abban, by Tiffany Roney
The one other thing you will need when signing up is a headshot. You don’t need to pay a professional photographer for your first headshot.
All you need is a well-lit (not directly overhead, harshly bright noon lighting; nor dim lighting) picture of yourself in a plain-colored, basic top, with a plain background. You can have a friend shoot it with your phone on portrait mode, or you can even shoot it yourself with that trusty tripod-and-clip setup I mentioned earlier.
I recently took a new headshot for myself that way, actually! Though that pic is serious and moody for dramatic roles, I get most of my best work with a smiling, friendly headshot. Show your teeth and smile like you’re seeing someone you love. This is the kind of shot that will land you in commercials and in most of the user-generated content that companies are currently looking for.
(By the way, I take headshots! Click here to see some samples of my work! Please reach out to me for a covid discount on headshots!)