One of the difficult things about any (nonlinear) artistic career is how to measure success—especially in the early years.
For example, as an actor it’s (extremely) rare that you will book a significant amount of TV credits in the first few years of your career. This does not, however, mean that you aren’t making phenomenal progress. What I find difficult, though, is that most anyone outside of the entertainment industry only has what they see on TV and at the movie theater as a frame of reference for any sort of conversation. So the proverbial question inevitably surfaces around Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa dinner: Have I seen you in anything recently?
I’ve seen too many actors go crazy and even quit acting altogether in their first few years in la la land because they “aren’t making it” or they “haven’t booked anything.” Now, I’ll be the first person to advocate being honest about your results, and being sure that this is the profession for you. However, what makes me sad about this, is that measuring your success by job bookings is just one way to measure success…and based on averages (start doing research on IMDb), it’s unlikely that you will book a ton of TV gigs in your first couple years.
So how do you measure success?
Allow me to suggest that you start looking at the number, depth, and quality of your relationships with industry professionals as your primary measure of success.
In my opinion, what makes a sustained, successful career in the entertainment industry is directly tied to the relationships you create and maintain. In fact, if there were a single measure of success…well, it would probably be whether or not your parents are executives at Paramount. But if there are two measures of success, then the second would be relationships.
Think about it. The way most actors you most respect are booking jobs is based on who they know. People know their work. And then they collaborate. At the highest levels of this career it’s not about getting auditions so much as it is about working with a showrunner on creating your own show. It’s about people you’ve worked with before calling you again when they’re working on their new project. It’s about a writer who loves your work writing a part for you.
Tracking your relationships.
Actors are CEOs of their own company, and the best companies track everything.
First, you need to track the quantity of your relationships. In order to track the number of my industry relationships, I track my contact database in PerformerTrack. I also look at the size of my email list.
Next, is the quality of your relationships. Tracking the quality of relationships is a little tougher to measure directly. For me, I look at the people I spend the most time with. What are they up to? Where are they in their careers? In order to measure the strength of my relationships I ask myself questions such as, “How likely is it that this person will return my phone call?” “If I were right for a project on this person’s show, could I call and ask them for an audition?” and “How comfortable am I asking this person for a referral?”
Relieve yourself of the imaginary pressure of needing to book a certain number of a certain type of gigs. Set those goals, but don’t have it be the only thing that drives you. Which of these two would you rather happen in 2014:
Aaron Sorkin (or whomever your favorite director is) sees you act and loves you, and says he wants to work with you someday.
You book a co-starring role on a show.
I’m not saying the booking isn’t great, but which do you think is more likely to lead to long-term success and the career of your dreams?
What do you think? Is this a smart way to measure success? I always love hearing your thoughts. Post in the comments section below.