I was recently shocked and saddened when I read the blog post of a professional actor, who makes money advising actors on their conduct, suggested a good rule of thumb is to spend approximately 10 percent of our pay from any booked job on the casting director that called us in for the role. Aside from the fact that this person is advocating illegal kickbacks, more than that, it is a really depressing statement about how he believes actors should think of themselves.
It's good to give, but when you give to get, it's called a bribe. It's as though all the work we actors put in—and for which we get no pay or recognition—is still not enough. When we do finally book a job that actually covers our gas money for the last three months, we are supposed to immediately break out the Sharper Image catalogue and buy some gadget for the casting director as though they are now some long-lost hillbilly relative that showed up on our doorstep and thinks we are their Britney Spears.
While I wouldn't be surprised to hear something like that coming from someone with a little more to gain from it, hearing that kind of advice from a real live, professionally credited actor made my stomach churn. How low does your self-esteem have to be to think that even after an actor has spent the money on marketing materials, gyms, gas, and parking, prepared themselves for countless hours, and auditioned up to three times for one role, that if and when we finally book that role, and after we have paid our agents and managers, that an actor still has a check to write other than to their mental health professional? By that same logic, I guess you should bring a wad of dough to the set as well, since the producers, directors and writers, all likely had more of a hand in hiring you than the casting director.
My point is actors have no idea of their worth. Allow me to me clear up this misconception in one brief sentence. An actor’s value—both figurative and literal—is immeasurable. Other industry people don’t have jobs without actors. Audiences around the world actually take time out of their day, not to admire the accounting, camera work, lighting, sound quality, direction, or casting choices, but to momentarily leave their dreary lives behind and lose themselves in a world illuminated and illustrated by actors. Most audience members couldn't name a producer if you held a gun to their heads. You'll get a quicker answer to, "Why do kangaroos have pouches?" than to, "Who's your favorite writer?”
Actor self-underestimation needs to end. Only by taking the power do you get the power. Actors don't need to give gifts. Actors are the gifts. We bring joy, laughter, tears, horror, passion, understanding, and insight to not millions, but billions of people every single day. Understand how amazing you are, and how you can bring joy and pleasure and relief simply by sharing who you are. If you give all that, how can even the latest Bluetooth earpiece do anything other than cheapen the gift you have already given?
When I suggest cold calling someone they want to meet, most actors often go into some form of involuntary convulsed cold sweat because they automatically think they will piss that person off. Then I ask them if they would have a problem walking into that office with a basket of freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies and they invariably say, "Of course not.” So all you have to do is value yourself more than a cookie and you have all the power you need. Actors are the ones who are doing all the work for something they will likely not get paid for. If anyone should receive a gift for an audition, it is the actors themselves, who have essentially prepared the material for love and a lottery ticket. Imagine if a doctor had to do hundreds of free surgeries before they were chosen to get paid for one!
You are no different than the actors who are paid millions for their craft. I have acted and held my ground with as many celebrities as you can shake a stick at and I did not detect any magic powers, new car smell, or secret language. They are us, but with a little more luck. Nowhere in Sean Penn's biography did I read that any part of the secret of his success was based on the headphones or baked goods he gave out. He just did the work, put it out there, and someone liked it. Every single one of you actors out there is amazing. All you have to do is show how amazing you are. But to show it, you have to believe it. You are the gift. Get out there and give.
David Patrick Green is a professional actor and the founder of Hackhollywood.com, a membership-based website dedicated to empowering and educating actors around the globe on how to become a professional actor. His simple five-step approach inspires actors to be ruthlessly creative in their approach to the art and business of acting and life in general. He has an MBA from the University of Southern California and was an international management consultant before realizing Platinum frequent-flyer status had few rewards other than boredom, bedbugs, and beer. David is also author of the “Become a Famous Actor” series of books available at Amazon.com. He has lived and worked as an actor in Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Toronto and coaches/consults to actors and businesses who want to get on the short path to success while maintaining a sense of humor. He is happy to be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.