It’s not La La Land, but the Emerald City does have its share of film, TV and industrial gigs.
Seattle-based actor Lowell Deo, 52, spent 20 years as a TV reporter before pursuing the acting bug. He started with voice-overs.
“I was horrible,” he says. “I could speak loudly, but I couldn’t act.” So he headed into an acting coach’s office, where he learned about the importance of language, both spoken and physical.
It’s working — and so’s he. Among other projects, Deo will appear on the popular television show “Grimm” in May and in the upcoming film “Heartthrob,” starring Ione Skye, Keir Gilchrist and Peter Facinelli.
Acting jobs in the Pacific Northwest aren’t always plentiful, but they’re rewarding for those determined to show up. Deo is represented by Big Fish Talent Agency, which worked on 21 film projects in 2016 throughout the Seattle area, with roles for principal actors, photo doubles, stand-ins and background characters.
Lisa Coronado, 37, has been working in independent film since her 20s, while also a stay-at-home-mom. Recently, she’s been booking speaking roles in shows such as “Z Nation” and the “Twin Peaks” reboot, but most of her income arrives via commercial and corporate work, including Papa Murphy’s and Snoqualmie Casino commercials.
Like most actors, Coronado has an agent who submits her for roles and helps negotiate contracts. The agent, in turn, is paid a percentage of Coronado’s income. The money is OK as a second income, she says, but so far, there’s not enough work to solely support herself, her husband and two kids.
“For me, acting can’t be about the money or the fame,” Coronado says. “Those are uncontrollable byproducts. It’s about the craft. I will be an actor my whole life, whether that’s doing plays or web series or TV shows. It doesn’t matter what form my work takes, as long as I’m working at it.”
Despite landing work, Deo says he continues to take acting training with voice-over and on-camera coaches.
In classes, actors often learn “proper protocol,” says Patti Kalles, a Seattle-based casting director with 34 years of experience. Agents want to represent someone who knows how to behave on set. “Get the training and get the proper tools, professional headshot photos, and résumé,” she says.
Even those with stage experience probably need a class, she says. “Theater training is good, but stage commercial and film is as different as cross country, downhill and waterskiing,” Kalles says.
Avoid classes that promise to make you a star, try to pressure you into a decision or charge exorbitant fees. “A good agent will offer you choices of places to take classes or where to get your pictures taken,” she says.
And, of course, local institutions, including the University of Washington, also offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in drama and acting.
Most opportunities in Seattle are in industrial (training or internal videos for corporations) or commercial film, due to competitive film incentives from nearby locations like Oregon and British Columbia. “Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon keep us busy,” Kalles says.
Actors tend to work locally or in Portland, Deo notes. “We know that stretch of I-5 quite well,” he says.
“We find work any number of ways,” Deo says. “Friends of friends, producers and directors we’ve worked with in the past, even lucky conversations we might have in the supermarket.”
But the typical method is via an agent.
“Clients with upcoming projects will reach out to agents with a list of what they need for movies, TV shows, plays or corporate videos,” Deo says. Agents review their roster to find actors that meet the “specs” regarding race, gender, age or special abilities. These “selects” then audition, with the role going to one lucky actor.
To build a résumé, working as an extra is a great way to start, Kalles says, or perhaps working for free in a web series or indie films. She says it’s important that even unpaid work bestows an IMDb credit or a copy of your work to start building a reel (a live-action résumé of sorts).
Getting involved with action groups like Washington Film Works can help build an actor’s network and promotes the feature-film industry in Washington, she says.
Shane Regan, program manager at Theatre Puget Sound (TPS), says the TPS board has a variety of acting opportunities, ranging from commercial to small theaters, and even student film projects.
“Higher-paid film work typically goes through agencies, but they might go through us if they’re trying to find a very specific type of person,” Regan says.
TPS hosts its annual Unified General Auditions March 27–30, when an estimated 400 actors will audition in front of 50-60 auditors from theater, along with some talent agencies and independent directors.
Nabbing acting work can be a tough process. Deo says it’s been a rough 10-year road for him, but he’s grateful for this method of creative expression. “It’s cliché,” he says, “but the ‘walking a tight rope above a flimsy net’ analogy fits best.”