Headshots, agents, demo reels, and casting directors are all easy targets when things aren’t going as planned. Followed by lack of funds or time, bad luck, and industry nepotism.
I offer you five actual reasons success eludes many actors, but they all require honest self-reflection.
1. Dishonesty. When you ask for feedback on your work, be sure that’s what you actually want. If you want someone to say they like your work, then it’s not feedback you’re after. If you’d like to work with them, then “keep me in mind for your next project” is much more honest. When asked for feedback, people will either give it or lie, neither of which is terribly useful if you just wanted a compliment or a job.
As long as you are brave enough to take honest rejection when you hear it, you may be surprised at what you get by asking directly. Sometimes people really do say what you want to hear, and actually do give you what you want, but only without the subterfuge.
2. Penny-pinching. When times are tough it is difficult to fork over good money for the things that might help us market ourselves better. Good headshots and demo reels are essential in this industry, and yet, they’re the first things actors want cheap—or worse, free. Though it is entirely possible to get great work for free, it is not guaranteed.
An underrated benefit to paying in full is being able to demand satisfaction (or a refund) if you’re unhappy with the result. It is near impossible to put your foot down when your brother-in-law takes iPhone headshots of you in his backyard, or a student film director fails to give you footage after two years of hounding him for it.
3. Misplaced priorities. All great successes over time have involved sacrifice. Sacrifice of leisure time, of creature comforts, and even of relationships. Whether your sacrifice involves time with your family and friends, that new dress or gadget you really want, or a full eight-hour sleep when you have an audition tomorrow, misplaced priorities will sink a career ship faster than you can begin to bail out the water.
How you spend your time and money is entirely up to you, but rather than saying you don’t have enough of either, what you can “afford” might just be a matter of rearranging your priorities.
4. Fostering irrational fear. Perpetuating superstition and supposition is a great way to stifle your career. Imagining you didn’t get a role because the director’s friend’s uncle’s personal trainer doesn’t like you, or that they “must have been going for a model,” doesn’t help your journey to success.
Alternatively, finding actual solutions to problems, improving technique, and letting the unknowns remain a curious mystery will help you gossip less, book more work, and reduce unnecessary stress in your life.
5. Staying safe. Charles Darwin said that “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” The young take the kinds of risks that their elders don’t, because the young don’t yet know that they can fail.
As you age you take fewer risks, but avoiding risk is the best way to allow confidence to dwindle. The mind constructs escalating horror stories about what might happen if you do take a chance, which makes each next attempt even harder.
Unless you are performing a life-threatening stunt on set, no acting choice in the world could possibly kill you. Don’t spend the rest of your career wishing for something better. Perhaps it’s time for you to just take the plunge and see what happens!
Paul Barry is an Los Angeles-based Australian actor, director, writer, and acting teacher. Clients of his have secured representation with WME, CAA, UTA, Abrams, Gersh, ICM, Paradigm, and management by United Management, Principal Entertainment, Brillstein Entertainment Partners, Untitled Management, having worked at: MGM, CBS, NBC, 20th Century Fox, Disney, Starz, MTV, ABC and many more.
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