One of the biggest obstacles in life is knowing whether to blend in or stand out. Should you listen to the "experts" or break your own trail? We humans admire the very successful, but we are horrified by anyone who steps out of line, quickly rushing to usher them back in. We are willing to sacrifice success to ensure we are doing things the "right" way. While that wouldn’t be surprising for "Joe the Plumber," it is really weird for actors who – by the very nature of their profession – have indicated they want to stand up and stand out. So why do actors hide when it comes to promoting themselves?
Because that's what everyone tells them to do. "Hear ye! Hear ye! General announcement to all actors! Don't call! Don't e-mail! Don't send smoke signals! And above all else – even if there is a tsunami on your heels and you are entangled in live, high tension power lines – do not show up at anyone's office!"
Well, what is an actor allowed to do, pray tell? Thankfully, you have all kinds of techniques at your disposal. You can mail your headshot. You can e-mail your headshot. You can submit your headshot. You can drop-off your headshot. You can even send me a postcard. I might even read it, that is if one of your fellow actor interns don't throw it out as I've instructed them to do. What else? Of course, you can always pay me $50 to sit and watch you for two minutes, and I will be more than happy to tell you all my personal actor pet peeves because we do have to fill three hours. I might even call you in for an audition, if only I were allowed to keep your headshot when I leave, but the law won't allow that. There are a few other things you can do like sending me your unsolicited reel (that I won't watch) or inviting me to a showcase (that I won't attend).
Why are industry people telling you to do ineffective things? Two reasons. One is there's a lot of money in supplying the "miners" with picks and shovels, and two is that a few naive actors have given the rest of us a bad name. Everyone wants to be an actor, but few gauge their skills before they attempt professional auditions. If more actors treated their careers like professionals, they wouldn't face so many obstacles in trying to get work.
So, what is the "opposite" that actors should be doing. First of all, actors should stop seeking professional auditions when they are not at the professional level. Many actors are fooled into believing that because they have completed a certain number of acting classes, they are ready to book acting jobs. Of the thousands of hours of acting classes I have attended, barely ten percent of actors coming out of any acting program are even close to ready for professional auditions. When are you at the professional level? As a bare minimum, you should be able to memorize up to 10 pages of dialogue across an entire story arc and perform the material seamlessly as though the words and feelings they are expressing are their own. You should be able to mesmerize a writer/producer with their own material. (Did I just ruin your day?)
Why aren't more actors able to perform at that level? Because few people are prepared to tell actors the truth (it might cost them clients). I have heard some of the craziest things come out of acting teachers mouths as though they have never even laid eyes on a professional audition. Things like, "Don't worry about memorization" or "It's ok if you don't have it totally figured out. It's not a finished product." Well, it's shooting tomorrow and it costs $30 million, so when will it be finished? Are you going to risk your production on a newly minted actor who can't learn lines or fully interpret a character?
Once you have overcome all the above objections then – and only then – it's up to you to do just about anything you can think of to get seen by industry professionals. What might that include? That includes everything you've been told not to do including calling, dropping in unannounced, hustling, listening in on coffee house conversations, and introducing yourself to anyone anywhere if you think they should be on your radar. It includes interning, working, and attending conferences, festivals, trade shows, readings, plays, screenings, alumni events, industry events, etc.
What's that? I'm not being specific enough for you? I'm not telling you exactly what to do? That's because it's your life and it's your responsibility. There are no rules, and if I tell you what to do, you're not going to come up with some new and innovative way of promoting yourself that I haven't even dreamed of. I get the following comment from a lot of Canadians and Australians, "It's different here. People don't respond to that here." They won't respond to an excellent actor introducing themselves? In case you've forgotten because you are so caught up in etiquette, the reason casting directors and agents exist is to introduce new actors to the industry. Anyone can say, "Hire Brad Pitt," but the new talented gems in the rough are a lot tougher to find. They shouldn't be because they should be beating down casting directors' and agents' doors but they have been convinced not to. And the industry wonders why it's so hard to find new talent!
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. Mr. Green 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. His earlier reincarnations include working as an advertising account executive in Warsaw, Poland and he is still kicking himself for leaving the French Alps where, among other things, he taught skiing to European royalty and often simultaneously) tasted fine French wines. 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 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.