Yesterday I was talking to a potential employee for one of my businesses, and she mentioned that her boyfriend was an actor. She said that he had come out to Los Angeles for 6 months to act, before “failing” and going home. Failing. That was the perception. I couldn’t help but think that he hadn’t even been her long enough to buy a box spring and take the cover off his couch. Hell, I’ve been stuck on the 405 for longer than he’d been out here. Alright, that’s a slight (very slight…) exaggeration, but you get my point. I’ve written before (here, here, here, here, and here) on being in this for the long haul, and how it almost always takes at least a decade to build the careers we imagine for ourselves. This phone conversation, though, got me thinking about expectations, where they come from, and what people think they can, or should, achieve when coming to this city.
I’ve been in Los Angeles for a little over a year now, and started actively pursuing acting almost exactly a year ago (I had my first audition in Los Angeles last July). And here’s the deal: I haven’t been on TV. I don’t have a theatrical agent or a manager, though I did have a commercial agent for a few months (we have since parted ways, but that’s another blog post). I haven’t had an audition on a studio lot nor have I even auditioned for a major union commercial. There was no “pilot season” for me, and as of right now I’m not “coming to a theatre near you.” I’ve had meetings with 3 agents who decided not to take me on. That’s right. I’ve been here a year, don’t have any representation, no recognizable credits on my resume, and no auditions for major projects.
But guess what. I’m kicking ass. Honestly, my career couldn’t be going better. I stopped clicking and submitting via submission services in favor of relationship-based job getting, and now instead of auditioning I get offers. And when I do audition, I’m doing it for people who already know my work and call me in directly. I have a reel that I’m proud of, and footage coming in the next few weeks that will make it 10x better. A film I was in just got accepted to the LA Shorts Fest. The companies I started allow me to have a flexible schedule and pursue my acting career as I see fit. People read my blog and ask for my advice. I have actual friendships with casting directors, writers, producers, and directors. I’m friggin’ happy.
And, more than anything, I am constantly surrounded by amazing people. If there’s anything I’ve learned about success, it’s that it comes as a direct result of the quality and calibur of the people around you and the company you keep. I’m ingrained in brilliant communities that support and inspire me. The people around me have the right attitude, are always eager to help, and believe in me. They introduce me to people, refer me to others, and actively help me in my pursuits. Although it is not as obviously tangible as an agency logo or “NBC” on my resume, the strength of my community is how I define my success…and I have it in abundance.
So, are you in SAG? Who’s your agent?
Why is it that actors ask these two questions the first time they meet a fellow actor? It’s hard enough feeling like you constantly need to justify your career to “outsiders,” so why do we do this to ourselves? How is it that somehow having an agent legitimizes you as an actor? I know someone who has been with (a reputable) theatrical agent for 4 years…and had 4 auditions from them. I know actors with the TOP agencies who never work. And I know actors without agents who work all the time. Finding out someone’s union status or representation just doesn’t really tell you all that much.
For me, I have stopped asking actors I just met these questions, in favor of asking if they have been working on any cool and exciting projects lately? That leaves the door open for them to talk about pretty much anything, and hopefully relieves a little pressure that actors so constantly encounter.
I challenge you to start measuring your success based on your relationships. How many professional industry contacts do you have in your database? (You do keep track of that right?) What is the level of the people you have these relationships with? How strong are those relationships? If you randomly decided to shoot a short film next weekend, how many people could you get to show up as a favor to you ’cause they think you’re awesome or believe in you?
It’s much easier to your friends and family back home that you’re going to be on Criminal Minds next week than it is to say that you just had an amazing coffee date with some producer over at NBC who wants to meet again next month, but I would wager that the latter is a greater career success than the former.
What about you? What were your expectations when you came to LA (or wherever)…?