An interesting thing has been happening recently… I’ve had several actors approaching me and asking for advise on their careers. I find this to be a very interested phenomenon because I feel like I am in no way in a place to be giving advise – I’m still figuring this all out for myself! But none the less, this got me thinking, so I’ve put together my top 5 pieces of advice for actors that were either told to me, or they I’ve figured out along the way. These are not regarding technique or anything to do with skill, these are all about the business/career side of it since I am in no way an acting coach:
- Make Money Without Working – Unless you are independently wealthy or have a rich aunt or a settlement or are living with your parents or something, you will need to be able to pay your rent while still being 100% available for auditions and gigs. I think this is one of the most important things because if you aren’t available to go to auditions, then it doesn’t matter how good you are or how right you are for the part. So how the hell do you make money without working? Well, you can’t. But you can instead find flexible jobs that let you work when you want to work and take off time when you don’t. In LA, you can do background work and make a living at it since you can be booked every day of the week of you want to be and can not work on days when you have an audition. Catering is another fantastic option since they usually work weekends or nights and you get to choose which gigs you take and which you don’t. Waiting table or bar tending are also very popular options since they’re also mostly nights and weekends, but in LA, those types of jobs are very competitive and almost impossible to get. You can sign up at a temp agency and work a few days here and there depending on what they have available. Or, what I think is the best option – you can learn a desirable trade or a skill that you can do on your own time and set your own schedule. Some examples of this are: web design, social media marketing, graphic design, editing, motion graphics, ect. These are all skilled trades that there is always a need for and that you can do on your own schedule – you basically work either as an independent contractor for a business, or as a self-business. There are also online job board such as TaskRabbit where you can bid on jobs that people have posted.
- Fake It Until You Make It – One of the people that I was talking with recently asked me, “You’re always so confident in everything you do, how do you do that?” And the answer is: I’m not – I fake it. I get just as nervous and just as paranoid and over think things just like so many other actors do, the trick is, to never let it show. No one ones to see a nervous actor coming into audition. They want to see someone who is confident and professional and who “controls the room”. So if you are not naturally that way (I am a very shy person naturally), then you have to fake it. Eventually, the more you do it, the less it will be fake and the more comfortable you will be in those situations, but until then, just think of it like you are acting from the moment you get out of your car to walk into an audition. This transfers to your performance as well. You need to be confident in your choices and commit completely to them. And even if you’re not confident, you still need to commit completely, perhaps even more so. Believe in yourself, even if inside you don’t, and don’t let them see you sweat.
With this also comes the idea of the “celebrity factor” – making yourself look desirable and bigger than you really are. Of course, I do not meant to lie about what you’ve done, but you are a business, and as such, you need to promote your brand. Get some great photos, get a Fan page, get a website, get on Twitter (you can connect your Facebook page to your Twitter account and vice versa so that you only have to add posts to one of them), get anything you can think of that makes you “a celebrity” without going overboard with it and looking like ridiculous pompous reality star. You might want to look into getting a PR person for a little just to get you going. The industry – any industry- want people who are “buzzing” – the next hot big thing. So if you’re not it, then make yourself it, or at least, make yourself look like you could be it if someone were to “discover” you.
- Market Research – You are a business!!! And as any start-up business, you need to do some market research, which means you need to know:
- Your Brand – Who are you? What “type” are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Your Industry- Who are the major players? And I do not mean the “top” of the list here, because those people are out of our reach. By this I mean, the major players at your level. Do some research. Find out who is making the films that you want to be in that is obtainable for you to get in. They might be a few “steps above” you, but that is a much more realistic target than trying to get into the next Paramount picture. Who are the casting directors? Casting Directors are your friends! They are the gatekeepers to where you want to go, so be nice to them and know who they are! Where is there opportunity in this industry that you can fulfill a need that is not being serviced? How do you fit in?
- Your Competitors – Who are the other actors “getting your roles”? What are they doing to market themselves? Who have they worked with? Maybe you can contact those people and ask them to keep you in mind for casting for their next project. Have your competitors gotten any press? Have they been interviewed anywhere? Can you get interviewed in the same places (this is part of building the “celebrity factor”)?
- Your USP (unique service position) – What do you offer that others do not? Why should you be cast over a competitor? How can you show this in your branding and bring it into every audition?
- Work As Much As You Can – This was advice that was given to me by an actor I very much respected when I was just starting off. Do everything. Ok, not everything – don’t do porn and don’t do reality and don’t do something if you’re not comfortable with it, but otherwise, do everything else. Especially if you don’t have a lot of credits, you need to build up that resume and build up a reputation before you can start being picky. Do not be a diva or in any way hard to work with. When in New England, I got a reputation of being “the actress that never complains” after sitting tied to a chair covered in blood for 8 hours. And having that reputation made people want to work with me even more because they knew I wouldn’t be a problem – I wouldn’t hold things up or throw a tantrum or complain about something where there was no reason to complain. When you are on a set, more than likely the crew and cast there are working on other projects. You want them to like you, to remember you, to recommend you when the opportunity arrises later on. And do the same for them! If you get a chance, recommend them to other productions, or if you see a breakdown for a role they’d be great for – send it to them! Make friends! It’s a cliche that this business is all about who you know, but a lot of that is very true. I cannot even tell you how many parts I’ve gotten by referral from another actor or crew member. Do favors – even if it’s not a part that you absolutely love or even if it’s not paying, where is the harm in doing it? Unless you’re loosing out on something else, there is no reason not to be on a set at any opportunity possible. Which is better: sitting at home watching TV, or being an unpaid extra on an indie film set helping out a production that will be so thankful that you volunteered to make their scene work when so many other actors wouldn’t do it because it was “unpaid extra work”? Of course in that scenario, you just want to also be careful that they know that you are not “just an extra”, and that they don’t pigeon-hole you as such in their minds, but at least now that have met you and they will remember you and like you for helping them out.
- Don’t Join SAG Too Early – Well, I guess it’s SAG-AFTRA now, but either way – I strongly recommend not joining until you absolutely have to. I think that this was one of the smartest decisions that I made since I have been SAG eligible for around 5 years now, and if I had joined, would have missed out on so much. Get SAG-E and then stay there until you’re forced to join. Joining is inevitable – it will have to happen eventually, but until then, there are tons of great non-union work out there. And yes, believe it or not, a lot of it is paid! You might not make as much as if it were union, but so what? In fact, there are even several “bigger” project who specifically look for non-union actors. Even for commercials, which are notoriously union – there are plenty who are looking for just non-union talent. So why cut down your options until you absolutely have to? If you’re SAG-E, you can join at any time, so you are in the best possible position. Casting Directors do not care if you’re union or not. They will call you in anyway if you are SAG-E because if you get the part, then you can join and it doesn’t matter. Yes, SAG has made it a lot easier for production to go union and do their ULB agreement, but which is more likely: A non-union production who won’t hire you because they don’t want to go SAG and have to deal with the paperwork or the possibility that a SAG rep could show up on their set at any moment, or a SAG production that won’t hire you because they have to wait for you to make a quick phone call and tell SAG you’re ready to join? And even before you’ve officially become a member, you can still start to work on that project with no complications.
So those are some of the things that I’ve learned thus far – if you have any advise, feel free to share it! Hope these are helpful to you as well!