A Hollywood acting career is a progressive system just like most other careers. At the bottom, there are hundreds of thousands of wannabes working for free just to get reel footage and an IMDb credit. On the other end of the spectrum are the superstars, earning millions of dollars and winning global admiration for their talents.
Naturally, everyone starts out at the bottom, working a crummy survival job to pay the rent while they wait for their big break. But it's not a 0-60 transition. That "big break" isn't a jump from acting in student films to starring in blockbusters. It's a ladder that you have to climb.
Want to be a movie star in Hollywood's biggest blockbusters? Then you have to prove yourself in smaller leading roles and supporting roles. How do you get those roles? You have to prove yourself in even smaller supporting roles and on regular roles on TV. How do you get those small supporting roles and regular roles on TV? You have to prove yourself with even smaller(!) supporting roles and in guest spots on TV. And on and on until, looking at things in reverse, you're back where you're at now.
Moreover, Hollywood is a series of gatekeepers. To get a good audition you first need an agent to decide to work with you, and then you need a casting director to think you could be right for the part. If you have a good audition, then you need to audition again so the director can decide if he wants you. And in many cases, you need to audition at least one more time so that the producers (and maybe even representatives from the studio or network) can decide if they like you or not.
The gatekeepers work in other ways, too. You can't just get an agent and then you'll be auditioning for the next Star Wars sequel. Different levels of agencies handle different levels of roles. The biggest agencies in town get the auditions for all the lead roles and big supporting roles in movies. They also tend to represent the actors and actresses who star in the biggest TV shows.
The next level of agencies get the auditions for the medium-sized supporting roles and some TV leads and pilots. The mid-level agencies might get some small supporting roles and pilots, and a lot of TV guest spots, while the low-level agencies are only good for guest spots and bit parts.
So how do you get into the big agencies that have access to the big roles? You gotta do the smaller roles while you're with the next lower level of agencies. And how do you get into those agencies? You do the roles that you get from the agencies below them, and you continue this process on down the list until you're starting with being a newbie, fresh off the bus, with stars in your eyes, a dream in your heart, and no idea where to start.
Again, everybody starts at the bottom. Every successful actor and actress once waited tables or worked the graveyard shift while they paid for acting classes and dreamed of the day that they would be free. Most have no idea what they're doing, but for the ones who make it, the rewards can be tremendous, even from the beginning.
Starting out, you won't make anything. Really, you'll be losing money, since you'll be paying for the opportunity to audition for roles that won't pay you a dime. But it's necessary and worth it, because, again with reference to those gatekeepers, you need to have résumé/IMDb credits and reel footage before anyone will give you a chance. And it's once you've crossed out of that phase that things really start to get sweet.
For instance, your very first TV role, even if it's the tiniest one-line co-star will pay you roughly $900...for a single day of work! A proper guest starring role will pay you between $5,000 and $8,000 per episode. If you book a national commercial, from the residuals, you can expect to earn $25,000 or more from a single day of work. And this is just the stuff that you'll get in the beginning of your career!
As you well know, it gets so much better than that, but the question is: how do you even get started with the beginning roles and the starter agencies and the low-level casting directors that will put you on TV and in movies? How do you finally get away from the student films and acting classes and finally break into Hollywood?
Well, that takes a bit of an explanation, and you'll learn everything you need to know by watching the video below.