As dedicated actors, we all know just how hard we work. But the truth is that, when it comes to the actual acting, it really isn’t like “work-work” in a way, is it? The joy and emotional high we get from performing makes even the long days and endless auditions fun, truth be told. If you’re doing it right, the desire to perform and the drive you have to be an actor supersedes all else once you you’re on that stage or in front of the camera.
But where a lot of up and coming actors fail in the hard work department is in the off-camera, backstage work, the kind of work a talent agent does for his or her clients. This is the kind of work you’ll need to do for yourself at first.
And let’s be clear: it takes a ton of work to get any acting career rolling, and to maintain that momentum once it’s gotten started. Far too many actors think they just need to land that one special role or somehow finagle their way into getting a talent agent and then suddenly the world will be at their feet and the offers will come pouring in.
Truth of the matter is, as an actor you need to do as much or perhaps more work not actually acting as you do on camera if you really want to succeed. For newer actors who don’t have a ton of credits, an incredible pedigree, or a unique look, getting a talent agent isn’t likely to happen right away so you’re going to have to do the job yourself. Here are a few ways you can really help yourself and be your own talent agent while you build your credits and hone your skills.
1. Get Yourself On Their Radar
We sometimes think of industry gatekeepers – directors, producers, casting directors, talent agents and so forth – as somehow living in a bubble apart from the rest of us. As if all these heavy-hitters reside in a cloud city somewhere that is completely separate from the rest of planet Earth. Fact of the matter is, if you go to an industry party, you’re going to see Very Important People pulling out their phones and looking at YouTube videos, and scrolling through Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram just like you might see at, say, a coffee shop where mere mortals like you and I go. The point is that you have a unique opportunity to make yourself visible to all the right people in this day and age in a way that has never been possible before in all of the history of acting. We’re all connected, and it only takes one powerful person to take an interest in you to launch a career.
Remember the story of Trey Parker and Matt Stone? The twisted, Colorado sick-boy geniuses who created “South Park” and “Book of Mormon” started out living in their car in L.A. and passing around VHS tapes of a homemade demo they created of the now-beloved “South Park” characters. Lo and behold, one of the tapes wound up in George Clooney’s hands, and he laughed his extremely wealthy, extremely connected ass off. And then he made some phone calls on their behalf and the rest is history. Luckily for you, we’ve moved beyond the era of video tape, and you have the means to get yourself seen right in your hands without leaving the comfort of your living room. Create something that highlights your skill set and look as well as your creativity, and get it out there!
2. Bring Something To The Table
As an actor, you are above all else an artist. And you should hone those artistic skills and those natural-born talents through classes and acting groups and through the work itself. But the thing about being your own talent agent is you’ve also got to remember that you’re a business as well. While working as your own talent agent, you’ve got to be able to switch your thinking to that of a business person and focus solely on that aspect of your career. So to that end, think about this for a second: what is business? A fair definition might be “an exchange of goods and/or services for something of value.” So why then do so many actors, when it comes to furthering their career through the industry contacts they make, think that the business runs only one way? Far too many actors meet an agent or CD or producer or director and immediately have their metaphorical hand out with some form of the question, “What can you do for me?” They ask a director if he or she has any roles for them, or a CD if there are any good auditions coming up they could get in on, etc.
Sorry, but this “strategy,” if you can even call it that, is doomed to fail. That’s because it forgets the first rule of business: exchange. Flip this conversation on its head and think in terms of what that person might need, of what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. To that end…
3. Put Aside Your Ego
If you’re thinking like a business person and a talent agent for yourself there’s just no time or space for the actor’s ego to get in the way. You have to separate your two selves, actor and talent agent and make a hard border between them. At this point, getting yourself in the door is the most important part of building your career. If your new director friend is shooting a low-budget or no-budget indie film and someone dropped out last minute, there are worse things you could do with a half day than be on set doing background work gratis, or whatever else is needed. Being present and just being in the mix can be invaluable to building a career and getting you in the right rooms with the right people. Do background on a low-budget film or show, volunteer to be a reader at an audition, if you’re a musician volunteer to play for a benefit or as an opening act at an improv or short scene performance, help out as a boom operator – whatever it takes to be in the room. The key is finding out what the other person needs and helping them out rather than simply sticking out your hand and saying “gimme.”
4. Make Industry Connections
While we’re on the subject, finding creative ways to make your own connections in the industry as your own talent agent can be a huge boon to an up and coming career. Have your reel ready to go and linked online, yes. And also try to have some links to original work you’ve created as well that shows off your skill set. But once you’ve got that set up, there’s no reason to just sit around and wait for George Clooney to come across your YouTube channel and call you. Casting directors, producers, directors and agents have offices. There’s nothing wrong with calling a CD’s office and requesting a general interview where you can go in and sell yourself. Production companies these days work more and more with packages of directors, talent and writers – make an appointment to sell them on the value you have to offer should they hire you. Cold-calling takes courage, but hey, you’re an actor, right? Play the role of Talent Agent #1 and get on the phone and out to these offices a couple afternoons a week. You never know what kind of relationships you might start this way, or where those relationships might lead. If a CD or director is in a bind and needs an actor right away, they’re not going to call you if they don’t know you.
Another thing you should be doing relentlessly as your own talent agent is self-submitting! There are hundreds of productions posted daily right here on NYCastings that are looking actors of every stripe. Get your information up on the site along with your reel and headshot, and then reach out! The work is out there waiting for you; it’s up to you to do the work it takes as your own talent agent to grab hold of it!