Written by David Patrick Green
When you are setting out to have an acting career, there’s probably only one thing that is clear to you… somehow you have to get on TV or film. There’s just something universally appealing about seeing oneself on a screen. Show me a baseball fan that has looked up at the jumbotron and come face to face with their face and who then didn’t turn into a six year old and I’ll show you proof that the terminators are indeed among us.
But actors are a little different from that. Many of us don’t actually enjoy looking at ourselves on the screen during a performance. We just look for all the flaws…and yet we keep on trying to get on that screen more and more…and more. It’s a cycle of success followed by self-loathing…a cycle we can’t seem to stop. It’s what we do. It’s what we live for. I can’t think of one time where I could actually find anything good in my work. I’ve been relieved that a performance wasn’t ‘horrible’ but never came close to wowing myself. I always felt there were so many opportunities for improvement but “on the TV set” and “watching the TV set” are two different animals.
Anyway, before I devolve/digress into talking about actor psychology (that would keep me busy for a while), let me get to the point. The point is that we (actors) are so in love with the idea of seeing ourselves up on screen that we tend to rush the process. The moment we step into our first acting class and get some positive feedback on the “I like your shirt” exercise, we immediately become concerned with our first acting job. We rush out and get headshots and send them out to agents. We attend casting director workshops, do drop-offs, attend networking events and so on, thinking that all we need is an audition for the industry to realize that “we have arrived”. I have never met an actor who wasn’t preoccupied with getting an agent, regardless of how green they were. In my side business as an acting career consultant, I field questions from people all over the union (of states, not SAG) about how they can get an agent in LA before they leave town…heck, before they’ve even taken a class…who needs to study…acting is easy, right? I think the mentality is…”I copy actors on TV all the time and it seems pretty straight-forward to me”…yeah…right!
So my message to all y’all who are trying to get dialed into the ‘biz’ in a hurry/don’t worry is to…FREEZE! Just stop…in the name of love…before you break your career. To illustrate, imagine that you send off your pic’n’rez to an agent (like that’ll be hard to imagine)…the agent likes your picture (harder to imagine) and somehow you BS them into believing that all your credits are real (really hard to imagine) even though we all know you made them up and half your friends have the same ones and you are each other’s producers in case anyone checks (don’t worry, they never do) and this agent for some bizarre reason (let’s say they want to get into your pants) takes you on and starts submitting you. Then an equally bizarre event occurs…a casting director somehow thinks they recognize you and doesn’t question your fabricated credits and calls you in for an audition (all equally hard to imagine). Yeehaw! You are on your way…wait a minute…not so fast…you’ve never had a professional (or goofball student film) audition before. Oh well, what’s the big deal? So you go in and you stumble through the sign-in process, tell them your life story when they ask you to tell them a little bit about yourself and ask them when they will be shooting and if it’s ok if you bring your dog. You finally get to do the scene and…you blow it. Of course you blew it, you have no idea what you are doing. You don’t know how to break down material, where to stand, how to play to the camera, or even what slating means…etc, etc, etc. So after a five minute exit speech, you leave and shockingly soon after, your agent calls you and drops you….WTF? How’d that all happen so fast? What’d I do? This isn’t fair…Boo Hoo!
So now maybe you get the title of the article…Timing is everything.
Yes you need to get headshots, an agent, and yes you need to attend auditions and you can even attend casting director workshops or as they are now known by their legal name…”Casting director’s…are not allowed to take your headshot or even remember your name and there is no hope now or forever that such workshop would ever lead to work or even an audition…workshops” (thanks, attorney general), but if you attempt any of these activities before their time, you are literally committing career suicide.
Acting is one of the only careers I can think of where people try to skip ahead to the end of the line before even one iota of preparation.
Perhaps they are spurred on by the stories they hear about actors who were ‘discovered’ or who started at the age of four (how much training can you have had at four?) or who ‘have no training’, etc. Admittedly acting is one of the few jobs where it is imaginable that someone could be good at (at least at a rudimentary level) without any training. The few known or rumored exceptions to “you need training” foster the belief in the minds of a naive and star-crazed public that they too could be superstars…if only. The problem is the success of a few anomalies fuels everyone else’s dreams. The TV viewing/movie-going masses don’t get that for the rest of us, it takes hard work and dedication and we need to become the total actor package.
Let me explain this by example. You won’t find too many people who want to be doctors showing up at the hospital saying, “Hey, I’m pretty sure I’ve got it all figured out. I’d like to do some brain surgery today.” Why not? Because anyone who wants to be a doctor pretty much knows what it takes…high school, pre-med, medical school, residency, specialization…between 11 and 16 years of post-secondary study to be a full MD…if you’re lucky. Well guess what? Acting is the same.
There are a series of steps you must go through to be considered by anyone in the business as a professional actor and worthy of consideration for auditions or paid acting gigs. You can’t skip any single step either, because each step is a veritable tent-pole in the progression of your acting career. Without all the poles, your tent sucks and leaks when it rains and oh boy, it rains a lot on bad/unprepared actors in Hollywood.
Because acting is a member of the ‘arts’ family of careers and also requires arguably the least well-defined set of technical skills compared to music/dance or painting/sculpture, etc. It’s easy to think acting is easy. There’s no way for me to say exactly how long it takes to become a ‘good actor’ but even if I knew, being able to ‘act’ is only part of it. There are several other vital components to an acting career in whose absence an actor will be greeted with great pain.
• Contrary to popular belief, acting is a process of story-telling which is told by actors. The actors tell the story by giving of themselves. The story is only clear if the actors are clear on who they are, both as people and as the characters they play. If you don’t know how to reveal yourself to your audience (for whatever reason), you won’t capture their hearts or their attention.
• Acting is part of the entertainment industry. If you don’t get how you fit into the industry, the check signers won’t get it either.
• Acting involves working with a lot of people. If you don’t know how to handle yourself around these people, you won’t be invited back, regardless of your talent.
• As with many things in life, who your friends are can have a huge impact on the speed and size of your career. With the right friends, you don’t need to audition, you don’t even need to be submitted.
Things can just happen.
Hopefully I’ve illustrated/demonstrated (what’s the diff…anyone?) that to be a successful actor, you have to have it all. If you charge into battle while your sword is back at the blacksmith, you will get ‘cut’ (sweet analogy, dude!)…
So take your time…if you’re not getting the results you believe you should, maybe you’re not all that and a bag of chips just yet. If doctors can spend 11-16 years going after their career, surely you can spend two or three going after yours. Anything less than that is simply not realistic for most people. Many others will need four or more years to git’er done. But don’t feel bad…every star you see in TV or movies has dedicated their life to it. So if you want their kind of success, maybe you should start by putting in their kind of time.
David Patrick Green