Unconventional path and place: Navigating the acting industry in Florida

Art by Adam Spector

By Adam Spector

Although Hollywood might be the ultimate goal for aspiring actors just starting out, Florida can be a good place to get some early screen time and make industry connections.

Many may not be aware, but Florida has been the sight for many of the movie industry’s blockbusters. Some big-name productions include Scarface, Miami Vice and The Marvelous Ms. Maisel, just to name a few. There are also numerous opportunities for live-acting as Florida is a hub for some of the world’s largest theme parks. 

Jeff Williams is an experienced producer and actor in Orlando’s entertainment industry. In addition to 41 acting credentials on IMDB, he leads a team of creatives at Unity Films. Although it can be difficult to work as a full-time actor in Florida, he said that the state can be a good place for the early career stages.

Jeff Williams suggested fellow actors in Florida have an alternate profession and look into live performance venues. Illustration by Adam Spector

“There are ways to make it wherever you are, you just have to make use of the resources that you have available,” Williams said. “It’s much easier to keep yourself busy with live stage performances in a state or city where little is filmed,” he said. “You’ve got a tremendous amount of work for live performances in Florida. With all the different amusement parks that we have on top of local theaters and playhouses.”

There are benefits of having many educational facilities in Florida, including university film programs – such as University of Miami – that could connect new actors with emerging industry professionals who are on their way to establishing themselves outside of the state. In addition to connections, this could also mean gaining acting experience by working on student projects, Williams said.

Student acting projects can help up-and-coming actors “build a reel,” said Miami-based actress Arlyn Broche, best known for her recurring role in NBC’s Young Rock. For actors starting out, a reel is like a video resume that shows the performer in different works and characters. Much of Broche’s old reel footage was from her unpaid work on student projects. 

Arlyn Broche talks about her role on NBC’s Young Rock at the 2022 MMFM event. Photo by Adam Spector

“For actors in the early stages of their careers, working on college thesis films is a great way to start,” Broche said. “Unlike many early student films, the thesis projects often utilize high-end tools such as professional lighting and cameras, resulting in a reel that looks polished and professional.”

While these higher-level student projects may not offer monetary compensation, the experience gained and the footage obtained can prove invaluable for auditions and landing future roles.

“You’re not getting paid,” she said, adding that students are doing it for the experience. Once the project is done, you have to track them down for the footage, Broche said. “Footage of me in thesis projects was all I’ve had up until now. A great audition combined with that type of reel can get actual work.”

When creating a reel, Broche suggested exploring various websites – such as Actor’s Access– and seeking assistance from professionals once they’ve secured enough work to produce a strong demo reel. 

While it’s possible to work full-time as an actor in Florida, Williams said that actors in the state should have multiple streams of income. 

“There was a time that I told myself I was living off being an actor full time, but I didn’t really earn enough to make it as an actor,” Williams said. “Once you do a few things and you’re bitten by the bug, you’ll probably always have your heart in it,” he said. 

“I just don’t aggressively audition as much as I used to because I’ve got other things that I’m working on right now,” Williams said. “I’m still an actor, producer, writer and other things like that.”

Williams said he has worked with a handful of people who act as a side hustle, almost like a hobby. “Some people take up wood carving, some people take up gardening, and some people take up acting,” he said.

Art by Adam Spector

In addition to strong auditions and demo reels, working actors often have to find agents to help them get more work. Newcomers should look for a boutique agency that is a small, mid-level place with someone that’s going to focus on their smaller roster of clients, Broche said.

“Unlike the huge agencies, these smaller agencies probably don’t have someone exactly like you in their roster, so you would be more likely to stand out,” she said. The better relationship you establish with your agent, the better for the actor. “If they know you, they will submit and pitch you for the right projects. So that’s the key thing about finding the right representation. It has to be very intentional and strategic.”

However, many young actors may get caught up in the idea that finding an agent is a scary, hard task. “A lot of people are intimidated or feel like the agent is doing them a favor,” Broche said. “You’re bringing a lot to the table with your work, so it’s important to have a good relationship and not be intimidated.”

Having representation is important for an actor’s career. “It’s important to have a great agent, regardless of where that agent is,” Williams said. “Mine happens to be in Florida, but I feel that you can use an agent that you know is anywhere geographically because we can telecommute so much more effectively today,” he said.

“In general, agents look for those who have an array of credits and are unique compared to others they represent,” said Glenn Burton of the Fort Myers-based Burton & Robinson Agency. He added that Florida is a good place to get started because most auditions are for non-union projects.

“It’s difficult to start in Hollywood because it’s in a union state and a union market,” Burton said. “So, the only people that are going to typically get a booking, or request, for a union project is a union actor,” he said, adding that actors typically need experience to join a union, such as the Screen Actors Guild, also known as SAG. “For actors, I always think it’s good to have a variety of experiences that you can draw on.” 

Melissa Chin said that new actors have more opportunities non-union states. Illustration by Adam Spector

Florida is a right-to-work state, which is a state that does not require union membership as a condition of employment, making it easier for newcomers to find work than states which generally require union membership, said Tampa-based actress Melissa Chin.

“I’m non-union as of the moment, which means I have more opportunities at this stage of my career,” Chin said. “This is because once you join SAG, you’re limited to just union projects,” she said.

Chin also said that within the past several months, she has managed to live off of acting full-time while also remaining a Florida resident. 

With all of this in consideration, new actors must begin their careers by gaining experience, building a reel, and finding an agent. Although Florida may not be the first option that comes to mind for aspiring actors, it could be a great place to begin.