When I first decided to segue from casting into management, I wanted to offer my clients the kind of support and understanding that had not been available to me in my young acting career. As I tried to answer their questions, they often shared a common theme, so I started to write them emails in which I would detail a problem and a possible solution. They loved the emails and, through them, were able to demystify the whole casting situation and find individual ways to handle various situations that might arise. When they told me that they were sharing my letters with friends, I decided to write a book so that all actors could share in these thoughts. Hence, “READY?..SET?..ACT!” was born. The subtitle is “How to Win the Race to Show Business Success Without Losing Your Creative Soul.” It is divided into three sections: business, creative, and psychological. In this column I would like to give you some sample tips from each section that, hopefully, will help overcome some of the hurdles our business creates.
As actors it is imperative that you understand the business aspects and the history of our business so that you can put your role into perspective. In other words, don’t take it personally…it’s only business.
Understand that the entertainment industry is a priceless industry. It always was but, in the past 20 years, studios and networks have been bought by companies that have no background in making movies, TV shows, or producing plays. This has given them a very “bottom line” approach to what they want to develop and the types of actors they want to be in their product. You must learn the history of our business, where it is today, and where it is going. How do such new areas as “streaming” affect the roles that are available? Are indie movies or Web series worth doing? Know going in what will be required of you and what you will get in return.
Understand contracts! Once you sign a contract you are bound to it, so be sure that you are clear on what each contract allows and doesn’t allow. For example, Equity contracts allow for “outs” whereas LORT contracts do not. Ultra low-budget films are vastly different from modified low-budget films, and low-budget films are light years away from regular studio films. Series contracts own you for six and a half years and your salary raises are negotiated in advance. If you don’t understand something, ask your representative and if he or she isn’t clear, get a lawyer.
The same holds true when you either sign or verbally agree to enter into business with an agent or manager. In deciding to work with you, your representative is agreeing to do that work “on spec,” knowing it might be many years before he or she gets a return on that investment. Some actors choose to leave their initial reps as soon as they get something good and try to trade up, often without paying their initial reps commission for the work they helped them get. This is tantamount to thievery. If you want to leave your rep, fine. But pay the person the commission. If a new rep won’t take you because he or she can’t get anything of your present series money and urges you to stiff your former rep, ask yourself if this is the kind of person with whom you want to be in business. Ask yourself if these actions on your part, make you the kind of person you want to be.
I speak a lot about being the “best you, you can be.” I mean, really, who else can you be? The version of a character you play has to come from who you are without your trying to “act.” If you are showing a casting director or an audience your conception of a role, they will stand back to observe your performance but will not share it with you. Your job is to honor your character by not trying to push him or her into a mold that came from an idea based on the limited description that appears in a breakdown.
When writers/producers are casting a pilot they are looking for actors for whom they can write as many as 22 episodes a year for 10 years. If they don’t see who the actor is as a person, at some point they will hit a wall with the actor’s character. I learned this valuable lesson when, in casting a particular role for a pilot, I was pushing for one actor and the producer seemed to prefer someone else. In frustration I cried out, “But my guy is a better actor than your guy.” The producer smiled and said, “That’s true but, when I look at your actor, I see a blank page. When I look at my choice, I see many different ways in which his character can develop over the life of the series.” I shut up fast! I was not the person who had to face a blank white page, so if the producer was inspired by one actor, it was not my place to tell him otherwise. The only way the producer can know if you are someone for whom he or she can write is if you allow you to be in the room.
When you don’t get a role for which you auditioned, you will probably feel as if you have been personally rejected. Well, you have been. The product you are selling, door-to-door, is you and not everyone is going to like you or think you are right for a role. The beautiful thing is that, while one door may not want you, there is always another door. There are many reasons why an actor does or does not get a role. Did they offer the role to someone else? Are you too much taller than the lead of the movie so that it could be difficult to light the scene properly? Did you give a good reading but not have the “look” they want? In TV, the show runners want to cast people whom the audience can immediately recognize as a specific character without any further exposition. Since their fear is that the viewer might change the channel, they don’t want to lose someone watching by having him stop to question what is going on.
The most difficult thing an actor must realize is that you are, simply, not everyone’s cup of tea. There is nothing you can do about that and, if you allow rejection to eat away at you, you will gradually lose your sense of “personhood.” The old expression, “there’s no accounting for taste,” was never more applicable. So think of it this way: When you enter a Baskin Robbins store and choose strawberry, rocky road does not turn in its union card. It’s just a matter of taste.
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