Unless you are divinely gifted with acting ability and have no need what so ever for an acting teacher (and I have only met two such people in all my years in this business, Joaquin and River Phoenix) then you’d better be sitting your butt in a good classroom somewhere, at least occasionally. That said, while acting class will hopefully improve your skills there are a few things that it won’t teach you. These ten come to mind:
1) The business doesn’t need you and will get along just fine without you. The Entertainment Industry has done very well for many, many years without you. It is unrealistic to think that you have a place and people waiting for you in the industry. I am a huge proponent of positive thinking so I’m not saying don’t set goals, don’t imagine yourself working in the industry or don’t even try, may it never be, but I am saying be realistic about your approach to a career in acting. Because Hollywood isn’t waiting for you, it should inspire you to work even harder. Go out there and show us all what we’ve been missing, what we haven’t seen before, you! Even though Hollywood isn’t waiting for you if you work hard enough and blow it’s mind, Hollywood will welcome you with open arms. But, you still have to prove you deserve a place in the Industry.
2) Getting cast often has little to do with your acting ability. Acting teachers might disagree with this but I don’t care. I’ve been involved with casting many times and it’s true. Every actor suffers at one time or another from the same delusion, they think that if they just go in and wow them with our acting ability they won’t be able to resist them. Sorry to be the voice of reality but it rarely happens that way. Casting is about finding the right type to fit the part. That means it’s more than just acting ability they are looking for. They are looking for a physical type, a personality, chemistry between you and another actor, the expectations of the target audience and so many other factors. Often times it’s merely about demographics, finding the right person to fit a particular viewing ethnicity or age category. This is especially true with commercials. Yes, it is possible to change their minds if you come in with a totally unique way of presenting the role but that happens far less than actors think. The decision makers books actors who perfectly fit the role far more than those who did a perfect read.
3) The really good-looking people have a natural advantage. I have a couple of decent angles but I am in no way, shape or form a really hot guy, so I hate even admitting to this one. But, I can’t tell you how many times a much worse actor was booked on a role instead of me because he was much better looking. Let’s face it, I’ve wanted to be James Bond all my life, ever since I saw my first Bond film as a child, and yet I just don’t have that steamy Bond look that everyone wants to see. So, I have to set my sights on being that CIA guy that gets killed in the first scene instead. All joking aside, if you are gorgeous, hot girl or guy and you can do a half decent job of acting you have a shoe in before the rest of us. Fortunately, the world needs the rest of us, the character and “real people” actors, to fill in the rest of the cast. Sadly, it’s just a fact of business. The world loves watching pretty people so they get an advantage. Hopefully, it makes the rest of us work harder, which is actually a good thing.
4) One of your most important assets is who you know. Whether we want to admit it or not, who you know probably matters more than anything else. Most of the stars got their break because of family or friends. Now, don’t panic if you don’t know anyone. We can probably all think of countless examples of actors who came to Hollywood not knowing anyone and yet made it anyway. It certainly happens. But, the reality is that most of this business revolves around who you, and your connections, know. If you’re an actor just starting out and you know no one then one of your goals should be to get to know people in the industry, especially casting directors and their assistants. One obvious way to do that is by getting an agent and auditioning regularly. One of the easiest ways to get an agent is by getting a good referral from someone who knows and likes you. Another way to get to know casting directors is to do workshops (especially the free ones at SAG). Or, you might try working as an intern in a casting office. Or, you might get active on FaceBook or Twitter and become friends with them. There are many, many ways to accomplish the task. The hard part is to actually do it. Just think of meeting people as part of your daily routine in your job as an actor.
5) And in the same vein, networking matters more than you think. The bottom line is, people like working with people they know and trust. Not only do you need to get out there and meet people, like we discussed above, but you also need to keep up on those relationships and grow them onto more relationships. Introduce people, connect people, make yourself valuable in networking situations. Better yet, get out there and create your own work. Not only does “work beget work” but “work begets a network.” Creating your own work (producing a film, shooting a web series, writing and acting in a short, etc.), in my opinion, is the best way to form a network. There are far more people in this town than there are opportunities. So, if you create a good project, you will fill the roles and positions faster and easier than you ever dreamed possible. Besides, you never know, Justin Bieber might just happen to see that little short you did and tweet it to his millions of fans. Next thing you know you have 30 million hits and the phone starts ringing from people you always wanted to know. More than one career has been built (and a network formed) on YouTube. Get out there and start creating that great network of friends by creating a body of your own work.
6) These days, it’s all about Stars. Anyone can see it by merely by watching TV for a few hours. Stars do everything these days from one line co-star roles to commercial voiceovers. Following the Writer’s Strike, which ended in 2008, the studios cut down the number of features they made from 30-50 to 10-20. That’s a significant drop. Suddenly, all the movie stars who normally worked several features a year were only getting one or two now. So, they moved into TV, where it turns out the money is pretty good. That meant that the rest of us who aren’t stars were suddenly fighting against the big boys and girls for roles. Or, to put it another way, the competition suddenly got a lot worse. If you want to get a nice statistical look at what I’m talking about, check out the annual “Pilot Report” put out by Premiere Talent every year (http://bit.ly/TlhrG8). If you didn’t know already, the greatest actors in the world are here in Hollywood and they are your competition. Add to that the fact that many if those people are stars and suddenly things seem a little harder. Time to put hose big boy/girl pants on and man/woman up.
7) You will be remembered for what you get known for first. Whatever you do that takes you from being a “wanna’ be” actor in Hollywood to a “recognizable actor” is primarily what people will remember you for. This doesn’t mean you can never break out of that niche, heavens no, it just means people will associate you with that particular role or niche and it will be difficult to change their perception. For example, a very talented and successful director friend of mine always wanted to direct live action comedies. He was a hilarious standup comedian so comedies were a natural for him. Being a man of many other talents he tried his hand at several genres and eventually found his big break when he got financing for an animation script he wrote. Upon completion, the film sold to Miramax and became a huge hit, grossing over $3,000,000. He suddenly became the go to guy for animation. As a result, he has found it extremely difficult to get any work at all as a live action comedy director. Or, another example is all the people trying to cross over from reality TV to dramatic TV. Or porn to legit. It’s almost impossible for them. Once you’re known for something it is really hard to break out of that mold. Type casting is a very real thing. Casting directors will generally remember you for how they first saw you. Years ago when I was first starting to act my “restaurant job” was shooting actors headshots. I quickly became one of LA’s most successful photographers. As a result many casting directors to this day think of me as a photographer, not as a working actor, even though I make my living as an actor and rarely shoot headshots anymore. It has been hard to win them over. Moral of the story, focus in what what you really want to do and stick with it. That said, once you become a bonafide star you can do whatever you want anyway. So, the choice is yours.
8) Ultimately, all the Industry really wants to see is YOU! You are a snowflake, there is no one else in this world like you, and that is exactly what everyone needs to see. Too many times acting teachers try to “tear you apart” so the can rebuild you into an acting machine who perfectly embodies their technique. What a huge waist of talent! Good teachers know how to make your acting more about “you” than any technique. Even the most skilled actor of a particular method will be looked over if they don’t show us who they are. Casting directors want to to see who you really are, scars and all. They want to see your personality, your quirks, your unique approach to life, how your solve issues and how you uniquely handle your life. Stop trying to”act” and start being yourself. Create your own “niche.” Be the brand you are! Be the go to person for what you do best… being yourself! ‘Nuf said.
9) A career in acting will prove to be so much harder than you ever imagined it would be. Can I get an “amen” from the actors who’ve been here for a while? There’s a reason why most successful actors say they never want their kids to be actors. This is a brutally difficult business. It is filled with rejection, extreme measures of competition, it costs a ton of money to get into it and it will emotionally and psychologically drain you. All the reasons on this blog attest to that fact. Samuel L. Jackson once said, “The actors job is to find work. The fringe benefit is that you get to act.” That is absolutely true! But, finding work is nearly impossible. It has been estimated that all of the studio and TV work goes to about 3,000 actors. That’s it! And there are millions of actors out there fighting for those jobs. A few years ago SAG said that approximately 90% of the 120,000 SAG members made less than $10,000 a year. The truth is, the odds are stacked against us. It has been statistically shown that the odds of becoming a star are about 1 in 1,505,000 (http://bit.ly/XTI4sL). The odds of winning the California Lottery are 1 in 15 million. So, your chances are only slightly better. The bottom line is, this business chews up and spits out actors like a baseball player and his tobacco. If you are in this for the long haul, you had better be tough as nails and ready to pick yourself up from the ground day after day, year after year. Adrien Brody once said, “My dad told me, 'It takes fifteen years to be an overnight success', and it took me seventeen and a half years.” It’s a long, hard road. A good friend who’s been acting for nearly 20 years came to me in tears a few weeks ago and said, “No one told me it would be this hard.” I totally understand. So, if no one has said it to you before, let me be the first. It will be harder and more stressful than almost anything else you will ever attempt to do. If you’re not deterred by that, then good. Let’s go make a career!
10) The more fun you have the more you’ll work. I can’t believe I am writing this right after the things I just said above, but I am. Somehow, we need to throw ourselves into the hell that it is an actor’s career and yet always have fun. Winston Churchill said it best, he said, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm." That’s the key. One thing that took me years to realize is that people in this industry want to be around positive, fun people. If you’ve been in Hollywood for any length of time chances are you’ve met a number of actors who are so ridiculously upbeat and sweet that you get diabetes just being around them. There’s a reason those people are still here. We’d much rather be around someone uber-upbeat than someone who brings us down to the pits of despair. People in this business consciously choose to work with people that bring them up. Fun is contagious. The more fun you have, the more people will want to be around you. As stated above, it is nearly impossible to book work on TV or Studio Films, so if you’ve done that give yourself a huge pat on the back. It is want millions, maybe even billions, of people around the globe have aspired to do. Acting is fun work. It beats the crap out of cleaning sewers or doing data input, no? Enjoy it when you get it! Enjoy your journey as an actor. If you don’t no one else will either. To quote the great director Max Reinhardt, “We are the lucky few who get to go on playing for the rest of our lives. Acting is just playing. So go on out there and play, play!”
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Mark Atteberry is an award winning actor, teacher and photographer. As an actor his work includes features like Miranda July’s "The Future” and Ang Lee’s "The Hulk.” His recent TV work includes “Rules of Engagement,” “Luck,” "House M.D.," “Justified,” "The Closer," “The Mentalist,” "Dexter" and “Criminal Minds.” Mark is internationally known for his commercial advertising and headshot photography. His clients include NBC, CBS, A&E, Bravo, CAA, ICM, WME, and Big Lots. Mark regularly teaches and lectures on the topics of "Branding, Marketing and Type" and "How to Succeed in the Entertainment Industry." He has authored or co-authored several books on the business of acting including the best selling, "Working Actor's Guide to LA." For more of Mark’s acting credits go to: www.imdb.com/name/nm0040992. For Mark’s headshot photography go to: www.idyllicphotography.com. And, for Mark’s classes go to: www.beaworkingactor.com