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If there were ever a shortcut to success, it’s getting really great information and surrounding yourself with incredible people. The Actors’ Network (TAN) does both of those things. If you are in the Los Angeles area, and take your career as an actor seriously, I can’t think of something I’d recommend more in furthering your career than The Actors’ Network. Check out their website, find ’em on facebook, and follow them on twitter.

Full Disclosure: I totally get paid if you join TAN and say my name. And by get paid, I mean I get points. Seriously. Like at an arcade. I think I can redeem them for spider rings or something if I collect enough. In all seriousness, I don’t give a flying patootie about the points (honestly, tell them Superman sent you), I just want to share great resources I’ve come across in my brief time in Los Angeles.

Introduction

Aurora (actress extraordinairre) recently sat down with the founder of The Actors’ Network, Kevin E. West. Check out the interview below for some wisdom and an introduction to Kevin.

What Is It?

The best way I can describe TAN is that it’s like a “graduate school for the working actor.” Kevin teaches seminars (topicals) a couple times a week on all of the topics a working actor needs to know. There are recitations (power groups) that meet once a month to keep everyone accountable, network, and share resources. And top-notch industry guests like show runners (Jonathan Prince), agents (Tracy Curtis), acting coaches, and casting directors come are there almost every day imparting their wisdom and giving you a chance to create relationships.

Just like grad school you get what you put into it, so sign up for as many topicals as you can, go listen to the guests, and meet as many people as you can. Everything is included in your cost (see below) and there are no requirements…attend when you can, don’t when you have to help Aunt Greta with her chili cook-off.

Like most universities, the school is only as good as the students, and the members of TAN are top-notch.

Topicals

The topicals are primarily led by Kevin, and cover everything from demo reels, to your resume, contracts, casting director workshops, phone technique, and the like (full list here). It’s kind of like class for an hour and a half. If you have gained any insight from my previous blog posts, then you’ll absolutely take something of value from these topicals. A great deal of my outlook and the information I have comes as a direct result of these sessions. These are a glorious way to learn from Kevin’s 20+ years of mistakes (and successes!) in LA so that you don’t have to repeat them. It makes me feel like I’m skipping classes of life…

Industry Guests

These are akin to your guest lectures at grad school. Take a look at TAN’s calendar to see who has come into The Actor’s Network recently, and who’s slated to come in soon. Agents, managers, casting directors (Joseph MiddletonMarci LiroffDanielle Eskinazi, and Bonnie Gillespie are just a few examples of the casting people who’ve I’ve seen speak), producers, writers, you name it. These industry guests volunteer (they don’t receive any money) an hour of their time to come in and answer actors’ questions. Just watch your feet when you attend these things, ’cause people be droppin’ knowledge.

Power Groups

There are 9 (optional) power groups…kind of like college recitations. These are group of about 30 actors from TAN who get together once a month to discuss goals and progress, share resources, and ask questions. Each group is led by an experienced facilitator. These are a great way to meet other productive actors, and begin to really find a sense of community, one of the hardest things to do in this city, particularly when you first arrive.

Blog

The Actor’s Network also recently launched a kick-ass blog written by 16 of LA’s finest in myriad categories. Think of it as your homework. 🙂

Reputation/Whactor Factor

TAN has a stellar reputation around town. Being a member provides you with some serious legitimacy, and proves to most that you’re not a ‘whactor’ (compliments to bad boy Kristoffer Kelly for the term). Throw their logo on your resume if you want, and know that TAN is a 99% whactor-free zone.

Cost

$50/month. Seriously. I can honestly say that you get more from TAN for your money than any other single thing in Los Angeles (unless maybe you steal stuff…but the guilt and fear of getting caught probably make TAN worth it anyway).

There is also a one-time $55 charge when you join for the membership binder etc. Oh, and there’s a discount if you join for a full year, and once you are a member for 3 years your cost goes down to $200/year. They do ask that you pay in 4-month increments, though you can split your initial payment of $265, paying $165 up front, then your next $100 a month later.

Try going to grad school for those kinds of dollars and cents (I know, I know those are all even dollar amounts, no cents. Cut me some slack, I’m just some dude with a blog. Sheesh).

How Do I Join?

If you are in LA, the first step is to check out a (free) orientation. More details here. From there you fork over some moolah and get crankin’.

For those of you not in Los Angeles, you can still join as an online member, and get access to a number of benefits outlined here.

If I Were King…

…I’d make every actor sign up for TAN, get in a power group, and attend every topical and guest speaker for 6 months. After that you could go on your merry way if you felt like it wasn’t for you, but the information is priceless, and those 6 months would (hopefully) put everyone in the proper mindset to pursue this profession.

Moreover, it’s can be daunting to feel like you’re making progress in your career as an actor. TAN not only gives you specific information and help in moving forward, but it also provides a grounding for your actor life in Los Angeles. Surrounding yourself in this community will be a tremendous benefit as you navigate this nutty industry.

So, finish up that chili and get your butt down to Santa Monica and Fairfax. I promise you won’t regret it.

P.S.

If you’re like me and SOOO over school, don’t fret. Replace the word “school” in this post with the word “home.”

P.P.S.

Ok, smart ass, I know there’s no such thing as a “grad home” but you get my point…TAN is a great place to be.

I recently heard Tracy Curtis speak at The Actors’ Network. Like my posts on Jonathan Prince and Lauren Bass, below are lessons I learned from an industry professional. Look for many more of these posts in the coming months. I might be just some dude with a blog, but these people know their $hit. Enjoy. 🙂

Tracy Curtis has extensive experience in the industry, from acting to editing, to being a commercial agent in San Francisco. Her father was an Emmy-award winning producer/director, and she recently opened the theatrical agency Talent House LA which is doing extremely well. Oh, and she has 2 dogs and enjoys the outdoors.

On Talent

Tracy prides herself on having an eye for talent, but what is talent exactly? Talented people have “charisma,” she said. They are very comfortable with themselves. It comes down to knowing in your heart that acting is your calling. Any doubt you have is very transparent.

How to Attract an Agent

Your Reel: In attracting agents, “the reel is everything,” Tracy said. The goal of (most) any actor in Los Angeles is to get cast in moving pictures, so what better way to demonstrate your value in that arena than a reel? A stellar reel also gives an agent a tremendous tool with which to sell you. But don’t freak out thinking you need 27 minutes of material. Even one 30-second clip (that is good!) is enough to get started. Just know that you should constantly be updating your reel as you get new material.

Tracy also mentioned that she can often tell within 5 seconds of watching a reel whether or not she would be able to help that actor get a job. While at first this might sound like an insanely short amount of time to make a judgment, I challenge you to start watching actor reels and see how quickly you “get” the emotional value of a scene. You might find that 5 seconds is an eternity. J

Relationships: Cliché or not, this is a relationship business. Relationships are absolutely vital, and you need to be aware that they take time to build (which is a primary reason why it takes time to accrue success in this industry). Demonstrating to an agent that you have, and will continue to form solid industry relationships is priceless. Want to blow an agent away? Show up at your meeting with a detailed list of all the casting directors, producers, and other industry professionals you know.

And as an actor, don’t be afraid to ask a potential agent how they develop relationships. The main reason an agent will be able to get you an audition, is because they have a solid relationship with a specific casting director (or are able to leverage a relationship you have). Tracy, for example, takes general meetings herself. Knowing that she is a newer agent in town, she put together a book of her clients which she takes around town as a networking tool. Find out how your representation is developing relationships and how you can both work together to leverage those.

Being Proactive: I don’t have to tell you how competitive this business is, but what does that mean for you? Well, it means that you need to be working harder than the next guy. And I assure you that the next guy is working pretty effing hard. Agents and managers want to see that you will continue to work your ass off in furthering your own career, even with representation. It’s not enough to just get an agent then sit by your phone and wait for a call (which sounds really boring, anyway). Demonstrate that you’re out there meeting people, taking class, producing your own material, doing whatever it takes to keep your career moving forward. Give your agent ammunition to shoot you auditions! Okay, that was the worst analogy I’ve ever made, but you get the point.

What She’s Looking For

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s extremely important to research and understand the individuals you’re targeting (be they casting directors, agents, whomever). Tracy runs a very boutique agency, and perhaps more than other agencies is interested in comedic actors. She views the ability to be funny as a gift not to be taken lightly. Even dramas often require a sense of comedic timing (think Dexter), and more and more improvisation skills are an audition requirement. Furthermore, Tracy commented on the increasing number of ½ hour sitcoms that came out this year, noting that this is likely a trend that will continue over the next couple years.

In addition, like many of the agents I’ve heard from, Tracy is looking for emerging talent and culturally diverse actors. Agents are often interested in actors who have a good acting background—Second City Chicago, extensive theatre experience, and the like—who are also still young enough to be molded. There also seems to be an increasing demand for more ethnically diverse casts on TV.

As with most agents, Tracy also wants actors to at least be eligible for SAG. (For more information on SAG and how to join check out this post.)

The Meeting

Most agents and managers have their own unique way of conducting a meeting with an actor. Tracy requires 2 scenes from a current TV show or feature film (preferably 1 comedy and 1 drama), which you will read with her assistant. Beyond that, she might require a couple cold reads, and if she’s still not sure about you she’ll call your acting teacher (you are taking classes, right?). Which, by the way, is another reason not to lie on your resume. Talk about an awkward phone call…

Whatever a specific agent requires, I’ve found it wise to always have a comedic and dramatic scene that I have rehearsed and memorized ready to go at any given time. While monologues are a lot less required in Los Angeles, I think it also prudent to have a comedic and dramatic monologue in your back pocket at all times. (And no, I don’t mean literally have them in your back pocket, I mean have them memorized and polished silly.)

On Managers

The opinions on managers in this town varies greatly, but Tracy’s basic point was that the more people you can get on your team, the better. Obviously you want these people to be good and work with you to further your career, but so long as that’s the case the more the merrier!

(Side note: managers generally charge 10 – 15%. Agents by law can only charge 10%.)

Actor Websites and IMDb

Tracy noted that an actor’s website can certainly be helpful, especially if there is information that she could point a casting director to in order to help sell you. However, she said that IMDb is the most important resource for actors to have updated, as a casting director will immediately pull up your profile when getting pitched.

Check out my posts on the basics of IMDb, how to get listed, how to manage your profile, and your Bacon Number.

Final Thoughts

As with so many others, Tracy demonstrated the importance of loving what you do. The passion and enthusiasm that comes with that is utterly infectious. Tracy is clearly head over heels in love with what she’s doing. Are you?

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