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Careers Clinic: How do I make the most of my TV role?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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Earlier this year I did my first prime-time TV job. It was only a few lines in one episode but my scene was with several household names. I really enjoyed my two days on set and although the shoot was months ago, the promotional spots for the series broadcast are only starting to appear now.

This has got me thinking about ways I can use my appearance to bring in more work. I joined some new social media platforms as well as starting to use my existing ones more often, including following casting directors and producers I would like to make aware of my appearance.

The teaser trailer went out recently and although my scene wasn’t there, I want to make sure that I take full advantage when the show itself airs. Can you give me some tips about how best to do that?

John Byrne’s advice

While congratulating you on your first TV job, I’m going to add a note of caution for anyone who has done a screen role that isn’t a lead: it’s all about the edit.

I have known several actors who have wound themselves up to a frenzy of anticipation for their big or small-screen debuts, only to find their scenes were cut out completely or that, in the final edit, their appearances were trimmed to ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ levels.

When this happens, it is not usually because the actor has done a bad job. The cuts will almost always have been made in service of a faster-moving story or more screen time for the leads. Being sidelined in this way is a common rite of passage even for actors who will one day command the close-ups themselves.

It can be easier with commercials to work out how visible you will be ahead of time. Fee payment amounts may increase depending on how prominent you are in the final cut and your agent may get advance warning during the billing process. In comedy or drama productions, your agent’s connection with the project is likely to be with the casting director or the production staff, rather than with the editors. The edit is often finalised close to airtime and can vary depending on region or broadcast platform and format, so what stays in and what gets cut can be hard to predict.

That caution aside, once any press embargoes are lifted you should do all you can to make the most of being associated with the show. To do that effectively, I suggest you apply the ‘under-promise, over-deliver’ rule to your social media posts. Celebrate the show as a whole rather than making a fuss about your own part in it. That’s also likely to get you more traction from fellow actors. While most of us are generally happy to support our fellow theatremakers, someone banging on about their success is likely to get fingers itching for the ‘mute’ rather than the ‘share’ button.

In terms of industry connections, once the show is out there, and you know you are in it, let relevant people know, but privately via emails with links, rather than public tagging. Actors hear ‘no’ much more often than ‘yes’, so celebrating every small victory is important for motivation and mental health. That said, our journey is often not a linear one, so whatever response your appearance gets, your next job may not be as glamorous. Enjoy the anticipation of your prime-time role but keep finding excitement in every job you do. Then, whatever spotlight comes your way will be a bonus.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne

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