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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)…?
If you haven’t seen this video on how Ian McKellen is (was, *sad panda*) such a brilliant actor, then you’re seriously missing out:
I love this video because it reminds me that sometimes I make acting more complicated than it needs to be. I mean, there are 6-year-old kids who act brilliantly, so it can’t be that hard, right?
Now I’m most assuredly not saying that anyone can just pick up a script and be a brilliant actor. I dare you to try heading to your local supermarket armed with any script and get that lady next to the pomegranates to do a little scene with that dude stealing the cashews…not that simple. On the other hand those same people, sans script, are acting all the time. They’re interacting with the people around them, having conversations, living life.
I find it particularly important to remember this, especially when I’m acting on camera. On a film set you never bring your own props, they tell you where to stand and where to look, and at the end of the day all you need to do is talk to people. That’s what I tell myself if I ever get worked up. When all is said and done, it’s just talking to people. All of it. The business, the craft, the networking…it’s simply talking to people. I can do that. In fact, sometimes I can be pretty good at that. And I would wager that every now and again, you’re pretty darn good at it too… 🙂
If you’re like me before I moved to Los Angeles a year ago, then you have absolutely no idea what casting director workshops are. In short, they are places where you pay anywhere from $30 – $50 (or more) to meet a casting director, and perform a scene they give you there or a scene you have already prepared (depending on the workshop location). Basically, you are paying to audition for the casting director, although that language–paid audition–is central to the recent crackdown on these CD workshops. There are a large number of workshop locations around the city with various formats, but in most all cases a casting director, associate, or assistant comes in to the workshop for a couple hours and watched anywhere from 15 – 30 actors perform. It should be noted that while the CD does indeed receive money, oftentimes the majority of the money goes to the workshop place itself. The community has been split for a while on the merits/legality of these workshops, and the recent controversy has sprouted some spirited discussion and opposition to the new law.
Rather than go into great detail on workshops, workshop locations, and the like, I would like to offer you an email response I sent to a recent discussion that started on Hollywood Happy Hour (side note: if you are not on this email list then you are truly missing out). For more information on workshops themselves, please check out this post from Brains Of Minerva, or this incredibly informative post by Bonnie Gillespie on the issue (note: her post was written after I first published my thoughts below, and includes excerpts from it).
So, here it is. Some of my thoughts on CD workshops…
I think the topic of Casting Director workshops is extremely important to our community, and wanted to add my two cents.
Let me start by saying that I have attended dozens of workshops and have, in general, been quite pleased with the result. I have met a number of people in casting I would not have otherwise met at this juncture, and have formed a number of strong relationships that will certainly carry into the future. All this to say that I have no bitterness whatsoever towards workshops, though I have had some growing concerns…
It seems the core of this issue is the idea of paying for a job interview. To me, that it’s illegal is almost beside the point, because so is speeding and tearing that tag off my mattress, and I don’t find the legality of either activity particularly compelling reasons to avoid them. The issue here, though, is that if anyone in a field is allowed to PAY for a job interview, the playing field suddenly becomes very lopsided, and unfairly so. Should Rich Kid Sally have a better shot at that coveted office job with flexible hours, high pay, and an understanding that you’re going to need to leave for auditions over Poor Kid Joe merely because she could pay for a job interview? At that point, we are no longer looking at merit (or even connections, social intelligence, whatever) as a reason for hire. Suddenly the well-to-do are able to (ostensibly) move to the front of the line simply because of money. Restricting this practice does not come from a motivation of restricting choice, but rather to protect large portions of the population as well as attempting to have as level a playing field as possible. It’s the same reason why politicians are allowed to buy advertising, but not actual votes. 🙂
Now, some have argued that workshops are not paid auditions, to which I have to wholeheartedly disagree. Yes, there are actual classes and other one-offs that are more educational, but I have not been to a *single* workshop in which the VAST majority of attendees were there primarily because the CD could potentially give them a job. If the workshops were run by writers instead of casting directors, I have no doubt that workshop attendance would dramatically decrease (which is ironic, because writers probably have more power to hire actors than CDs do, but that’s a whole other Oprah). Even the top-rated, most legitimate workshop places I have attended speak tongue-in-cheek about the “educational” value of the workshops. Everyone knows that in the end workshops are (primarily) a way of attempting to procure future employment. Yes there are exceptions, yes workshops can be good audition practice, and yes some CDs are more edifying than others, but I find it hard to believe that if CDs were suddenly stripped of their hiring power that ANY actor would attend these workshops.
When looking at the actual laws being put in place, I think it’s important to look at who they affect as well. To be honest, I’m not really worried about the actors who are on top of their game, doing their research and everything else in their power to forward their career (read: the actors who most benefit from workshops anyway). It’s the countless masses of others who are unaware and are more apt to need protection. I moved to L.A. about a year ago, and started doing workshops because it seemed to be “the thing to do.” I never thought twice about it until this controversy arose. That concerns me. If we as a community proffer that paying for job interviews is the standard, then it will indeed become so. I recently encountered an actress who had just started acting about 6 months ago. She was deep in research over all the workshop places because that’s what everyone else was doing. I guess I’m less concerned about a law keeping her from attending a workshop, and more troubled with the fact that workshops were her default method of moving forward. She was surrounded by a community of intelligent actors; why was no one saying that perhaps she should get a little more training or do some more research on what workshops actually were before diving in head first? This is the actor who needs protection–be it provided by the law or from her peers.
The bigger question for me, is how we want to be viewed as an acting community. Why is it that we demand for our right to pay for what used to be free? I’m certainly not advocating nostalgia over the “good ol’ days” of general meetings and play attendance (I’m too young to do so anyway :p), but when was the last time someone even asked for a general meeting? We claim to be a community of creatives, and yet when it comes to the business pursuit of our careers we often become myopic, doing the same things as everyone else. We live in a time where there are more ways than ever to get on the radar of anyone with the ability to hire us. From social media to self-submitting to self-producing to web series to networking events to more television shows on air than ever before to good ol’ fashioned phone calls–there are so many myriad ways to get ourselves and our work in front of people on the other side of the desk I worry when there is an uproar over not being able to pay for the privilege. In a day and age where an email or even a tweet can deliver a reel of our best work to anyone instantaneously, I am reticent to think that actors cannot get their work seen by CDs in any other way than a workshop. What if actors simply started dropping off hard copies of their demo reels to casting offices. How much more effective and efficient might that be than paying $40+ and 2+ hours to see a CD for 5 minutes? I would wager that if actors called casting officers saying that they couldn’t afford/were opposed to CD workshops, and asked to send/drop off a demo reel that they would have a 90% success rate in getting it viewed. Don’t have a demo reel? Well get together the 20 actors who were going to go to the workshop, pool the $40 a piece, and take that $800 to hire a full crew (DPs, writers, editors, the whole nine…) for a day to film reel material for everyone. Or take the next $800 from everyone’s next workshop and produce a showcase, or a web series, or a play, or whatever…all ways to get your work seen. Or hell, if it really is about the educational experience, then take all that money and hire one of these CDs to come direct scenes for 2 hours, or see a play, or critique demo reels, or be filming something and have the CD show up to direct/critique. What better way to get Casting Directors to know your work than to invite them onto a set to see how people work…?
I understand why actors do CD workshops. I certainly know why I’ve done them. It’s one of the very few guaranteed ways to get your work in front of a legitimate casting person. More than anything, workshops make me FEEL like I’m part of the greater, more legitimate acting industry in the city. And if I’m honest with myself, workshops are easy. It’s far easier for me to plunk down 40 bones and know that I’m at least starting an industry relationship than it is to pick up the phone and cold call a producer.
I would hope that we wouldn’t need a law to protect us from ourselves. And again, I honestly don’t care that much about the law itself, but I also don’t buy that actors will do workshops no matter what. The same was said about no one wearing seatbelts, or hockey players not wearing helmets. Interestingly, in both those cases the community-at-large desired the law, but broke it individually. When polled, professional hockey players said they wanted everyone to wear helmets, but without a guarantee that everyone would, there was an individual disadvantage to do so. It wasn’t until it was mandated that ALL hockey players wear helmets that they did so…and happily.
If I’ve learned nothing else in my year in Los Angeles, it’s that the community of actors truly is brilliant. People are smart, supportive, and caring. Whether we decide to do workshops or not, I just hope that we can take a hard and honest at look at why we do them, and if they are indeed the best thing for our community AS A WHOLE. We’re all in this together…
Thanks for reading one actor’s opinion. =)
As always, we invite you to add your comments and discussion below.
So, I write about a time a lot on this blog. I’ve written about my thinking about time, that it takes 10 years to make it, what I was doing 10 years ago, how to look back and set goals for the future, more thoughts on how long it takes to make it, how I’m going to be a doctor, and my thoughts on patience and marshmallows. Continually, though, the topic of time comes up again and again in my conversations with other actors.
Most commonly, discussions of time revolve around how long it takes to ‘make it’ as an actor. If you go check out any actor whose work Grandma Ethel in Kansas would know, my guess is that 99% of the time there is about 8 – 10 years between their first IMDb credit and the first one that is highly recognizable. You can also assume that said actor was probably acting in some capacity for at least a year or two before their first IMDb credit.
Some people get discouraged by this–oh my God, I’m never going to make it, what do I do?!?!–but as I’ve written before, I think this is great news. It means that the vast majority of the time, people are making it because they work hard, are easy to get along with, and stick with it. I recently read a commencement address that Lisa Kudrow gave in which she talks about how she got fired from sets, had pilots not get picked up, and that it was 8 years until she got the role on Friends. Jenna Fischer has a similarly brilliant post on taking the long view and persevering. It took her 8 years in LA before she landed her role as Pam on The Office. The other thing to remember here is that while all of these actors were working their way up, it’s not like they weren’t acting or doing cool things. They were acting in plays, short films, student films, and doing small roles on TV as they progressed. I have to think that at least most of the time, they were enjoying the journey.
It also strikes me that if you don’t enjoy the journey you’re going to go crazy, because is there really a point where you would be totally satisfied with your career? If you’re making 30 grand a year on commercials, wouldn’t you be that much happier if you were pulling in 40? Once you get that coveted first network co-star, won’t you be itching for more, then disappointed that you don’t have a guest star credit? Then there’s the disappointment of all the pilots you’re in that don’t get picked up (George Clooney had about 7 before ER)…and won’t that single, lonely Oscar look better on your mantle if it had a golden friend next to it? The cycle is never-ending, so it becomes imperative to enjoy each step along the way, or you’ll never make it the 6, 8, or 20 years it might take to get closer to your ultimate goals.
So What the Hell is my Point?
Point 1: Celebrate
If you’re like me and the relative beginning of your career, then be gentle with yourself. Celebrate the seemingly small successes. You didn’t book “just a webseries,” you “booked a friggin’ webseries!!!!” There’s so much competition in this city, even getting called in for an audition means you beat out hundreds if not thousands of other actors.
Point 2: Note Your Progress
I’ve seen a lot of actors get discouraged because after a couple years they feel like they haven’t gone anywhere, but almost always they’ve made tremendous progress. Think back to when you first started pursuing acting. Did you have anything on your resume? Had you ever had an agent? Were a part of a union? Had been on a professional set? Read for a legit casting office? Or even been in something you were proud to show your friends? All the steps along the way can get lost, but remember that they’re all important. You’re honing your craft, meeting people, and (hopefully) having a blast. You really have come a long way.
Point 3: Take the Long View on Relationships
This point is probably worth its own blog post, but it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about and want to get out there. When you take the long view of your career, you lose all desperation with relationships. You don’t need that Casting Director you just met to cast you in something next week, because you have faith that you’ll cross paths with them again and again in the years to come. Moreover, the next time you meet them you will probably be further along in your career, and that CD/Producer/whomever might be able to help you significantly more than they before. Next week they might be able to read you for a co-star, but in 3 years they might have a series regular on a pilot that they could then call you in on. Start forming relationships just to form them, not because you need something right now. It might take decades for you to “cash in” on a relationship, but how much better will that be if you’ve spent a decade merely forming friendships and positive business relationships?
As a quick tangent, I should also say that it is much more personally and professionally rewarding to approach relationships with the goal of helping the other person, rather than hoping that your new acquaintance can help you. It builds up your brand as a quality person, and in the end makes people want to help you even more. Just think, if you were able to refer 3 of your incredible actor friends to a Casting Director and helped to solve their problem, how much that CD would love you and desire to help you out (not to mention if just feels good). Whether it’s karma or basic human psychology, when you are a good person and help others, they want to help you.
Enough rambling…it’s been a couple weeks since my last post and I’ve had a lot on my mind. Hope it’s been of any value. As always, we love reading your comments. =)
First of all, thanks to all of you who showed up to the first #LAActorsTweetup. It was a resounding success which means…time for a second one!
If for some reason you didn’t see the post on the lovely Judalina’s Blog, then here are the details…
Monday May 17th
5364 Wilshire Blvd. 90036
Free parking behind bar/restaurant
(Happy hour goes til 7pm – all beers are $4, wells are $5 and all the appetizers are 1/2 off)
Them: How many hats are YOU wearing?
Actor? Director? Producer? Vagabond?
Come wearing a crazy hat. Seriously.
RSVP over at Judalina’s Blog
See you there, wearing a crazy hat!
Today I thought I would stray from my usual advice-y, resource-heavy posts and share just a little bit about what’s going on in my life as an actor.
I’m finally starting to see the final (or close-to-final) products of a number of projects I’ve filmed in the past months. (In my last post on student films you can see a preview of one such project.) What has been very gratifying is that the caliber of the projects I’m doing is going up. It used to be that I dreaded seeing a final product of something I was in, as most assuredly there would be a boom mic in half the frame, the sound would be off, or you would hardly be able to see the actors. Now you can almost always see the actors, the cuts actually make sense, and some of my acting ain’t half bad. Yay for progress. =)
It makes sense to me that a solid demo reel is one of the best ways to get more film work. If I’m trying to get hired to act on camera, what better way than to show myself acting on camera? Being the nerd that I am, I acquired Final Cut and spent innumerable hours putting together the next iteration of my reel. A reel is a constant work in progress, but I’m pretty happy with what I have now. The next step will be to create a separate comedy and dramatic reel, but for now this is what I got. Check it…
One of the first things most people tell you to do when you move to LA is get yourself on the different submission services, and start clicking and submitting away. When I started pursuing my career in Los Angeles I submitted to every project that even remotely had a character like me, which was great. I went on dozen of auditions, met some great people, and did a number of those lovely aforementioned projects. In the past few months, however, I have all but stopped submitting myself on these sites. The reason for this is that after a number of conversations I realized that the kinds of professional projects I’m aiming for (read: things you could actually watch on TV or in theatres) come as a result of relationships. I stopped looking at my success for the week as how many auditions I went on, but rather how many agents, casting directors, producers, or fellow actors I met and interacted with. Not only has this helped progress my career, but the reason I love this business so much in the first place is my passion for meeting and developing connections with new people.
One of the cool results of shifting my focus to relationship-building is that I’ve been able to bridge the on-line and off-line worlds in some cool ways. Some fellow actors and I organized the first-ever #LAActorsTweetup, bringing together the wonderful community of actors on twitter for an evening of merriment. Follow me on twitter for details on the next one, and look for an upcoming post on how to organize a tweetup in your city. Every time I meet another friend I knew online in person, I have to say that it makes me feel very “21st century.”
If you don’t practice acting, you’re not going to get better at it. In addition to taking weekly classes, some friends and I are going to start getting together every week or two to practice our on-camera technique. (We were inspired by Secrets of Screen Acting, the book and podcast by Patrick Tucker). I also purchased a camera and tripod so I can work on my on-camera acting as well as self-tape auditions. Additionally, when I feel like I need to practice my audition skills, I go on a binge of self-submitting until I get a few auditions that I can use to hone my skills.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out my personal website, zip on over to http://www.benwhitehair.com/. I’ve made a few updates recently.
My college professors will be happy to learn that the amount of research I do on a daily basis is insane. I am constantly looking up people on IMDb Pro, reading blogs, or checking out the agents of the most recent co-stars on my target shows. I have also begun to watch 1 or 2 episodes of every show on television, with particular regard to structure, and what the actors are actually doing. Is their acting “big”? Small” How are they moving their face? How is the laugh track affecting my perception of the show? What is the tone of the show? How many co-star and guest-star roles are on an average episode? All of these things have given me a much better sense of what is actually in the marketplace.
Agents and Managers
Ahh, the proverbial search for representation. In the past month I had a few different meetings, offers, and rejections from agents (commercial and theatrical) and a manager. In short, I’m going to continue searching for people to bring on my team that I feel in my gut are going to be the best to help me move my career forward. It’s very tempting to just say yes to anyone who offers to represent you, if only to be able to say “yes” when someone asks you if you have an agent. With that said, I think it’s ultimately wiser to take a step back, take the long-term view, and build a team of people who are all perfectly on the same page and as dedicated to my career as I am. The search continues…
I absolutely love living in Los Angeles, and I’m starting to really make some tremendous friendships here. In the end, what more could I ask for?
The subject of student films seems to be coming up a lot lately, and the discussion usually goes something like this:
Actor 1: Student films suck.
Actor 2: Yeah, seriously. Students suck.
Actor 1: Yeah, like, totes. I refuse to do any movie unless James Cameron is already attached
Actor 2: Word. You should hold out. I mean, you had that one line on 1000 Ways to Die. You got cred.
Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but my point is that student films seem to get a very bad reputation. (And that actors often have poor criteria in choosing projects.)
Below is a trailer for Dilated, a project in which I played “Private Parts” (true story):
Now tell me that looks like a “student film,” directed by an undergraduate with an entire crew of students. (Impressed? Find out more about FPS Productions.)
Now, I’m not saying that all student films are good, or that you need to rush out and do as many as you can. However, don’t discount a project just because it’s being done by a student. The three absolutely best films I have done in my life were all done by undergraduates in film school. None of those student films paid me anything, but I much preferred them over the myriad projects I’ve done that paid me (sometimes well) but ended up looking like they were filmed by an untrained monkey walking around during an earthquake.
There is also a widely-perceived belief that there are only a couple good film schools in Los Angeles (USC and AFI often rise to the top of that list). Would that it were that easy to judge a film’s potential. I’ve done projects for the “best” film schools that sucked and projects for the “worst” film schools that turned out great. Most stereotypes are there for a reason, but just because a school has a good reputation doesn’t necessarily mean the student has their $hit together.
Before you do any project–student or otherwise–here are some questions to ask yourself in order to determine how worthwhile the project might be (and in the end, trust yourself):
- What are they shooting on?
- How big is the crew?
- Do they have a DP? A sound person? A lighting guy?
- What are the sides like? Is the script any good?
- What is their budget?
- How many days is the shoot? (compare that to the length of the script)
- Did they give me a phone number to call (if they did, call them!…you will find out oodles of good info)
- How professional is the communication from the project?
- How thorough is their breakdown?
- Is this a role I would LOVE to play (and might not get to otherwise)?
Pros of Doing Student Films
- They probably have a deadline for their class, which means there’s a good chance there will be a final product
- Students are often super thankful that you are doing their project, and will go to great lengths to help you (like going out of their way to get you your reel footage)
- If something goes terribly wrong, you have someone to go to (their professor)…as well as someone to sue (the University)
- Students often have access to the best equipment in the business
- SAG makes it quite easy for a student film to register with SAG (and thus use SAG actors)
- The student is probably getting a grade, so they have an incentive to do good work
- Many students have an easier time getting money for their films than “normal adults” do
- Students can be young and naive (i.e.: they think their film could make them millions so they work their ass off) 🙂
- Most students aren’t total dicks…some adults are
- Steven Spielberg was a student once…just sayin’
Cons of Doing Student Films
- Very rarely will you get paid
- There is no guarantee the film will be any good (but is there ever?)
One warning I would proffer is to never go into any project expecting that it will yield great footage for your reel. There is never any guarantee (for that, you must produce your own work). Do the project for the experience on set, to meet great people, to look like a bad ass (see trailer above), and to get precious time practicing your acting on camera.
I think it vitally important to be selective about the projects you do. There is a tough balance here. Many actors become fed up with the way they are treated or the final product of lower-budget films, but without more significant credits/a beautiful face/a famous parent it becomes that much harder to get work on more ‘legitimate’ projects. Moreover, if you have only done, say, a handful of student films, it is rather unrealistic to expect that you are going to get a lot of work on full-fledged projects. It takes time. Whatever project you do, please ask yourself why you are doing the project, and keep your expectations in check.
Would love to hear your experiences with student films in the comments below!
Riddle: What combines free pool and ping pong, libations, and social media?
Answer: The first ever LA Actor Tweetup!!!
What in tarnation is a tweetup, you ask? Well, it’s a bunch of people who know each other on twitter, getting together in the real world to, as they say, “kick it.” So, get your party pants on, and join us at Busby’s on April 12th to meet some amazing people. The nitty gritty:
You, silly. And that person sitting next to you. No, not them they’re creepy.
The other person. Yeah, them. They seem nice. Bring ’em along.
6pm – the cows come home
(Happy hour goes til 7pm – all beers are $4, wells are $5 and all the appetizers are 1/2 off)
Busby’s (on Wilshire not Santa Monica)
5364 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Free parking behind the bar/restaurant.
If free ping pong and awesome people isn’t convincing enough, then how about because
this is a relationship business. Or because you have nothing better to do on a Monday night.
Or because if you don’t come it will make us sad. Really, really sad.
If you would like to join us, please leave a comment below so we can have a head count.
And leave your twitter handle (e.g. @JohnDoe) so we can start following you. 🙂
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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?
“The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It’s never of any use to oneself.” ~Oscar Wilde
I often find myself drowning in a sea of actor “advice,” with very little good information rising to the top. As I continue to speak with actors around Los Angeles, I find this to be a common theme. There are a million coaches, teachers, classes, books, websites, and the like which proffer advice on how to “make it,” how long your reel should be, what colors you should wear to an audition, and how to say your name.
Unfortunately, I think there is very little great information out there for actors, and even less information on what you should actually DO. With that said, there are some wonderful nuggets of information out there, they just take some digging sometimes. Here are some thoughts on how to sift through all the noise.
Check Your Sources
Whether you’re getting advice on your headshots, your reel, or your website, whomever is giving you the advice has their own set of experience and world outlook that is going to shade their advice a certain way. Is this person an actor, a casting director, some lady who was on 3 episodes of a series 17 years ago, or just some dude with a blog (wink wink nudge nudge)? Is that actor working? Does the CD cast TV? Feature films? Low-budget indies? Is this person trying to make money through their advice? Does this person normally give advice to amateurs or seasoned professionals?
Always Ask WHY
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is ask why the person is giving the advice they are. Finding out what experiences led to their outlook is absolutely crucial, and should very much help you determine how to interpret the advice to your situation.
Check the Advice
See for yourself. Take the advice someone gives you and see what happens. Does it get you more auditions? What are those auditions for? Has your callback ratio gone up? Are you getting more compliments on your reel? Learn by doing. Just because someone hasn’t seen success or isn’t an actor, doesn’t mean they have bad advice. There are sports coaches all over who couldn’t play the sport they coach to save their life. Doesn’t mean they can’t coach, but you should test the advice anyway.
At the end of the day, it’s your life and your career. You don’t owe anybody anything. The more experience you get, and the more advice you investigate, the better you’ll be at recognizing good advice when you hear it. If something jives with you…go for it. Trust. Yourself.
A philosophy that seems to work really well for me is to get absolutely as much advice as possible from as many people as possible. After a while you start to see trends and pick up on common themes. You see who gives what kind of advice, and more importantly why they give that advice. I find it wise to keep a critical eye of what you’re hearing, and when all is said and done…go with your gut. You’re a rock star. Keep on makin’ it happen.