Should You Move to Atlanta for your Acting Career? YES. Here's why...
Here's a question we get very often: "Should I move to Atlanta to further my acting career?" Let's look at the state of the market...
In their fiscal year 2018, Georgia was home to 455 qualified film and TV productions according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
- #2 feature film destination the world (was #1 the year previous)
- #3 production hub in the world
- $9.5 billion economic impact, $2.7 billion of which is direct spending
- 1.1 million square feet of purpose built soundstages, and another 1.2 million square feet of retrofitted soundstage
- Busiest airport in the world, with direct flights anywhere
- Midway point between LA and London
Dubbed the Hollywood of the South, the state of Georgia gives out more film tax credits than anywhere else in the world, except for the United Kingdom.
As an aspiring actor, do you want a piece of that action? Yeah, we thought so.
Film and TV Productions shot in Atlanta
According to Rodney Ho, a journalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the count of active or upcoming TV productions in metro Atlanta is around 105 as of April 18, 2019, including TV or streaming movies but not counting potential theatrical releases. In 2011, when Ho began tracking productions, the number was 25.
Here's a short list of projects that film exclusively (or almost exclusively) in Georgia...
- Stranger Things (Netflix)
- The Walking Dead (AMC)
- Atlanta (FX)
- Ozark (Netflix)
- The Act (Hulu)
- Sharp Objects (HBO)
- Vampire Diaries (CW)
- Dynasty (CW)
- The Hunger Games (Catching Fire & Mockingjay Part 1)
- Several of the Marvel movies (including Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame)
- Anchorman 2
- Several of Tyler Perry's movies
- Baby Driver
- Need for Speed
Visit the interactive Explore Georgia Filmography for a complete list of productions from 1972 until the present day.
As you can see, the Atlanta market isn't up and coming... It's already arrived. There's plenty of opportunity for actors to book.
How to Break into the Atlanta Acting Market
So naturally, the next question is "How can I get acting jobs in Atlanta, since there are so many?"
The answer is simple. Live in Atlanta.
If you want to get an agent in Atlanta, you need to live there. No agent is going to sign you unless you live locally. If you don't live nearby, prospective agents have no incentive to take you on as a client, because you represent an inordinate amount of risk.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this... If you have pre-existing relationships, or if there is something unique about your type. But if you're a thirty year old white guy, you're not getting signed unless you're local.
Why do you need to be local? Let's play out the scenario...
Let's say you're an actor based on Los Angeles, and you book a co-star for a TV show that shoots in Atlanta.
The production schedules you for a fitting, and then a single day on set. So you book your flight for the evening before. But two days later, the production modifies the shooting schedule because of inclement weather. Now they want you to come in tomorrow morning for your fitting...
What do you do? There's a slim chance that you could move up your flight, but it's probably not gonna happen.
You have to call your agent and tell him you can't make it. Your agent then has to call the casting office and tell them you can't make it. Casting then has to inform the production that you can't make it on time. Now EVERYONE IS MAD AT YOU.
At this point, production is faced with a decision... move Heaven and Earth to get you there on time at great expense... or simply recast the role. So you get replaced. And good luck ever getting called in by that casting director again.
You have now jeopardized all of those industry relationships for a single co-star role. The market changes too fast and you need to be flexible.
And with the tax incentives that went into effect in 2008, Georgia rewards productions that hire local actors. And they absolutely check to make sure you're local... don't be surprised if you have to provide a recent utility bill with a GA address.
Gone are the days where an actor could reside in Los Angeles and use a distant relative's mailing address - wink, wink. The rules are more strict now.
In the broader Southeastern market - which covers Virginia to Florida, and as far west as Louisiana - there is a term known as "modified local hire". Here's what that means...
If the actor hired lives within 500 miles of the production, the production will not pay airfare. Nor will they pay for travel to and from set on shooting days. In this case, the actor would drive themself. That's called a "self-report".
Under a modified local hire, the production will pay for your hotel, your driving mileage, and a per diem.
This is important, because a lot of productions are cast out of Atlanta, but they shoot all over the Southeastern US - Charleston, SC - Richmond, VA - Wilmington, NC - New Orleans, LA.
Lastly, the quality of life for an actor is generally better in Georgia. Lower cost of living and less time in traffic when compared to life in Los Angeles.
Getting representation in Atlanta is now very difficult. In the Southeast there are roughly 300 agencies repping 30,000 actors. Each of these agencies receives well over a thousand submissions each month, all actors who are looking for representation.
Agents typically don't comb through all those submissions themselves. They'll have an assistant look at them. Someone who has been trained to know what to look for. Which means that your materials (your headshot, resume, video clips, etc.) need to stand out by being reallllly good.
So yes, Atlanta is getting exponentially more competitive. So much so that it's now looked at as a destination for actors. That recent high school grad with stars in her eyes isn't moving to Los Angeles, she's coming to Atlanta. That 20-year veteran TV actor who is fed up with the grind in LA is moving to Atlanta.
How to Get an Agent in Atlanta
The best way to get an agent in Atlanta is to get a hot referral. As in, someone that knows the agent (either a current client, or a close associate) sticks their neck out for you. The next best thing would be a warm referral, where someone says you can use their name in your cover letter.
If neither of those are possible, see if the agency is accepting submissions. And more important, follow their directions on HOW to submit. Some agents want it sent via email, some want snail mail. Some are particular about which materials you send. You need to follow these instructions to the letter. If you don't, it shows that you don't know how to accurately follow direction. Following direction is the biggest skill you need on a film set.
Again - agents are looking for marketable actors who will MINIMIZE their RISK and MAXIMIZE their PROFIT.
What is the Casting Process in Atlanta
Casting in Atlanta goes something like this...
- A casting office will send out a breakdown for a co-star role.
- For this co-star, they will receive anywhere between 600 and 1,500 submissions from agencies. Sometimes that number is even more.
- Out of all those submissions, only around 30 actors will be asked to self-tape.
- Casting will review those 30 tapes (usually just the first 5 to 10 seconds), and select five that get sent to the decision makers - the showrunner, director, producers, and network executives.
- Out of those five tapes, they will cast the role.
In the Southeastern market, self tapes will comprise 90% of your auditions. You should view this as a win-win...It's much more efficient for casting offices, and it means that you are afforded more opportunities to strut your stuff.
Los Angeles versus Georgia Acting Market
So if Atlanta is so competitive, why bother? Shouldn't you just go straight to Los Angeles instead?
A few common gripes about Atlanta...
"I'll miss out on pilot season."
If you're just starting out in Los Angeles, you're definitely NOT going to be testing for pilots right away - unless you have some really strong credits already. And Atlanta shoots just as many dramatic pilots as LA every year - and you'll start auditioning for those much quicker than you would in California.
Additionally, there are no seasons in the Southeast. No such thing as pilot season (January to April), no such thing as episodic season (August to November). It's busy all the time, especially the last two or three years.
"They only cast background and smaller roles out of Atlanta."
That's not true.
As we mentioned before, Georgia attracted film and TV production by providing significant tax incentives to those companies when they spend there (above $500,000), beginning in 2008. Productions save money when they cast locally.
All co-stars are local hire - both one-liners and larger co-stars. A majority of the guest stars are also local hire. Many of the recurring guest stars are cast locally. Even some series regulars are cast locally.
Why Not Los Angeles First?
Los Angeles has layers and layers of gatekeepers. Sifting through them to find an agent can be an insurmountable task.
Typically, your first agent in LA will be commercial. Then you have to work to prove yourself, which may lead to a referral to a theatrical agent. This leads to years trying to get auditions - hopefully impressing casting directors - and eventually booking a few smaller roles.
Meanwhile in Atlanta, you can get an agent relatively quickly (when compared to the time it would take in LA). If you're professional and even somewhat talented, you will absolutely start auditioning for both TV and film. (Film auditions are almost impossible to get in LA nowadays.)
In Atlanta, you will almost certainly start booking faster than in LA. You will book more frequently than most west coast actors at the same point in their career.
Of course, there are avenues open to you in Los Angeles that might be closed elsewhere. For example, if you want to be in comedy/sitcom, you need to be in LA. Or if you're hell bent on being a series regular, you'll need to be in LA. Most actors never make it to that level, they just want to have a healthy career. Actors do that all the time in Atlanta.
Networking Opportunities in Atlanta
Your network is your greatest asset as an actor. Here are some resources to set it in motion...
Atlanta Film Community - this is a closed Facebook page with over 27,000 members. Not only actors, but talent agents and casting directors. You will have to read the about section carefully before you request to join. Please please please follow the rules. They have a very strict "one spam and you're out" rule.
Film Bar Mondays - the blurb for this group insists on "No Business Cards. No Headshots. No Desperation. Just drinking, conversation and community." Bringing the film community together every Monday night. Just... You know, be cool.
Georgia Production Partnership - a non-profit org founded in 1995. Meets the first Tuesday of every month to discuss the challenges facing the industry.
Feldstein|Paris Casting Twitter Lunches - Emmy-winning casting directors Chase Paris (@chaseparis) and Tara Feldstein Bennett (@tarafbennett) host a midday meet and greet each month at a cool lunch spot in the city. Follow them on Twitter to stay on top of where and when. This is an opportune forum to ask smart and thoughtful questions about the Atlanta market.
Lastly, here's the most valuable networking tip we can give you...
GO TO CLASS. Always be enrolled in a class or two. No one is too good to attend class. Even series regular actors are in class. This is NOT optional.
The Last Word about Moving to Atlanta
One big caveat to the information above...
If you're just getting started as an actor - you shouldn't be moving ANYwhere. You should do as much as you can right where you are. You need training, you need experience, you need credits. Find your local community theatre. Seek out the film students at your local college. Find out where your nearest classes are.
If you're a complete beginner, it makes no sense for you to uproot your life and go compete with actors who are much farther along in their career. Rack up some experience first, make sure this is something you wish to pursue. Then after two or three years and a couple score credits, consider relocating.
And if you decide that Atlanta is the market for you - you better come correct. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make sure you are professional, and make sure your marketing materials are industry standard (high-quality).