Putting the Biz Back in Show Biz: Four Ways Working Actors Can Help Themselves

Acting Business

Ask any actor who has attended an open audition lately: the acting business is crowded. Every day more and more starry-eyed dreamers leave behind their small town successes and head for Hollywood or New York, seeking to parley their star turns in local theater into gold.

So if a crowded field growing ever-more crowded is the bad news, the good news is that the opportunities for booking paying jobs have never been greater. From the explosion of cable channels to the evolution and maturing of the web as a platform for launching original series and films, there has never been a time with more options for finding work for actors, writers and others in the creative industries.

But that’s not to say that it won’t be hard work getting those jobs. Often the part of the work that many actors fail to really develop is the business side of the acting game. To that end here are a few tips for making sure that the “biz” aspect of your show-biz efforts is up to snuff.

1. Work it

In order to get work as an actor, you have to put in the hard work of developing your craft. This may sound rudimentary but it’s surprising how many young actors graduate from a theater program and think they are finished with learning about acting. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact you could say that attending film or theater school is the kindergarten of learning how to act: it gives you the foundation you need in order to learn, but little more. Once you have graduated from school, you now possess the language needed to learn the craft of acting, and that’s a great start. But this is where the real learning begins. Remember that crowded audition waiting room? Can you honestly say you are better than everyone else in that room? Because when you audition for a role, you are asking the casting director and producers to put their trust in your talents and skills to the point where they make a significant investment in you. You have to be in a position to assure them that such an investment would be wise on their part. What this means in practical terms is that you can and must get better, and you can and must take steps to improve your craft every day. Take classes, learn new monologues on your own, set up an actor’s group to work scenes and monologues, read the trades, read plays and screenplays, see shows and films, and write your own scenes and short films. Again, with so many people competing for the same roles, you have to make absolutely certain that your skill set is in the top tier.

2. Off to market

As important as training is, it’s not the only consideration actors need to keep in mind. It’s possible that marketing yourself may be just as important. In a crowded field you have to do whatever it takes to get noticed. That means upping your social media game for one thing. Make your presence on social media known through not only promoting your projects and posting about your accomplishments, but also by making yourself a valuable ally to your network of actor friends and others in the business. Being a part of a network in your town or city is a great stepping stone to getting noticed by agents and producers. Also, make sure you invest in your marketing tools. Those five-year-old headshots your amateur photographer sister-in-law took for you when she got her new camera for Christmas? Yeah, they’re not going to cut it. Granted, it takes a hefty bite out of a struggling actor’s pay to get professional headshots done, but it’s worth it. Again, this is an investment, not a frivolous purchase. As you’re mailing out headshots to agencies and producers, you’re going to end up instantly in the circular file if you’re sending out amateurish materials. Also spend some time really thinking about and developing your reel. Just because you were in something doesn’t necessarily mean you need to include it in your reel. Every student film or YouTube series performance isn’t necessarily gold. Choose judiciously how to present your best side.

3. Go ahead, sell out

First of all the term “selling out” is one of those tricky phrases that means something different to everyone. Are George Clooney and Jack Black sell-outs because they did those Nespresso commercials for international television? Is Matthew McConaghey a sell-out for doing that weird Lincoln commercial on the tail end of his turn as Rust Coehle on “True Detective?” (Sidebar: would you really want to associate your product or service with a character that is a nihilistic, alcoholic, emotionally broken, obsessive misanthrope who is basically waiting to die? If so, why?) Again, these are questions that everyone has to answer for themselves. But one thing is certain, they are all working actors, and being a working actor is what you want, right? At any rate, by one definition, we’re all sell-outs no matter what kind of work we do. No matter if you work in a restaurant, or as a social worker, or as a corporate executive vice-president in the tallest office building in town, you are literally selling your time for money. What difference does it make if you sell your time for money as an actor in a Coke commercial or in an art-house film? Again, that’s a questions we all have to answer for ourselves. But I can assure you it makes no difference to your landlord which type of project paid you the money you’re using to pay the rent. For up-and-coming actors looking to make a living in this business, you frequently don’t have a choice but to take what you can get, if it pays the bills. Yes, we all want projects that are artistically fulfilling, and you should of course pursue those types of projects every chance you get. But your belly needs filling too–there’s no shame in doing legit acting work that pays the bills.

4. Confidence is key

The term “con-man” has a basis in the word “confidence.” A confidence man, then, has the ability to sell people on placing their confidence–or trust–in him. What’s more, confidence is a vital part of how you present yourself as an actor to world. This isn’t to say you need to trick anyone like the con man of old. But you do need to present yourself as confident, and you need to convince casting directors and producers that you are worthy of their confidence. Even on the most well-funded film projects, there are people counting every penny. Be someone worth investing in, and investors will come to you!

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