One thing I have learned from running my own business for the last two years is that while actors are the kindest and most fun group of people you would want to meet, they aren’t that keen on self-examination. This article is for actors who want to make money at acting by simply being themselves.
So let’s talk about the department of truth. What is the department of truth, you ask? It is a term I have unapologetically stolen from Restoration Hardware. You may have noticed that in recent years, they have gone from a kind of kitschy campy furniture and knick-knacks store to some of the finest and most beautiful furniture stores on the planet. Their stores contain some of the most original and yet classic pieces made from the most unique and exciting materials by true artisans in many far away places. They actually have a paper catalog, and it is worth keeping.
What happened? They got clarity and simplicity and so should you. According to their recently returned CEO, Gary Friedman, they had lost direction and purpose. He decided to change all that. Friedman has helped his employees find purpose and passion in their work.
One of his first—and coolest moves—was turning the marketing department into the “Department of Truth.” His rationale was that marketing is about describing things in a way that makes them sound appealing. Restoration Hardware’s new job is to make products that sound appealing simply by describing them as they truly are. The truth. What a concept!
OK, and how does this apply to actors? Well most of the actors I know believe in “marketing.” Actors send out headshots or postcards or cookies or a reel that all represent how they would like to be perceived. They don’t take a long-term approach to developing their excellence. They sell themselves before their product has been developed. They don’t even know if they are worth buying. They think, “Why not give it a shot? What’s the worst that could happen? You show up, get auditions, and book jobs. Or you become a personal trainer.”
If they started with the truth—that is, who they really are—they could see what they are lacking and secretly work on themselves until they were a stone-cold killer actor. That’s who producers are looking for—a person who knows and believes in themselves and can call on their skills of interpretation to quickly turn written material into a believable performance.
Unfortunately, actors are given the impression they are supposed to hide their true selves from others and even from themselves when exactly the opposite is true. They are told to depend on their “materials” to represent them. You are not getting a lot of auditions from the reel you paid $300 to shoot and edit? Your pictures aren’t working? They aren’t supposed to. You are! Until you are “known,” your materials can never be anything but a terribly weak representation of you the actor. There is no substitute for personal interaction.
You want to meet someone? Introduce yourself and let them actually experience the wonder that is you. Sound scary? You must not be prepared then because if you are a wonderful person and a wonderful actor who is ready to book professional jobs, then you should be knocking down their doors because you are doing these people a favor. If you are not ready to book jobs or aren’t sure, then why are you worried about your pictures or reel? Go learn your craft and hone it to a razor’s edge. As Alec Baldwin says in the "Glengarry Glen Ross" film, written by David Mamet, There are people “sitting out there waiting to give you their money! Are you going to take it?”
Actors need to look at who and what they are and ask themselves if telling the truth is going to get them work. If it isn’t, they need to go back to the start and figure out what they need to work on and just do it. Don’t be glum. Be happy that you are not wasting another day messing around with headshots and a reel when they are not even remotely important. If someone knows your amazing work, do you think they care what your picture looks like? And if your reel is bought and paid for, that’s not honest; don’t make one until you have really done the work. Don’t think you can buy your way into the hearts of casting directors either, or that you are going to learn anything at a workshop you don’t already know in your heart. At the end of the day, they would never bring you in unless they know you are going to do a good job and if you can do a good job, go introduce yourself. They are sitting there waiting to give you their money!
So as mother said, “Always tell the truth,” but most of all tell it to yourself.
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.