Acting is a tough business. While you are building up your chops and doing all those student films, you have to make a living somehow. You want a job that makes you available for your acting classes and auditions. I get it. OK, now forget it.
You want to work in which business again? Oh, yeah, the entertainment business. You know, the one that makes all the TV shows and movies you dream of appearing in. I always hear about people and their survival jobs. There are waiters, trainers, temps, bouncers, pool cleaners, and more waiters. You work hard, and you make a little money. That in turn pays for classes and headshots and rent and a car and gas. But at the end of the day, do those jobs do anything but pay bills? Do you learn anything about the business? How do they choose a script? How do they find locations? How do they raise all that money? And most importantly, how do they cast the actors?
Here’s where things get crazy. If you want to work in the entertainment business, why don’t you work in the entertainment business? If that sounds like a radical concept to you, you might be making your acting career a lot harder than it needs to be. You see, the most important thing you can do for your acting career, other than learning how to act really well, is to learn about the business and meet people. Most actors spend their entire careers feeling like outsiders. They fret over their headshots and getting an agent. They don’t know any casting directors, agents, or producers, so they pay to meet them at workshops or showcases. Unfortunately, money can’t buy you love (thanks, Beatles). A workshop does not a relationship make.
So rather than think of themselves as just ‘actors’, thespians need to think of themselves as entertainers and need to get involved in the business they claim to want to be a part of. The best way to do that is get a job. Most actors are in such a hurry to get acting jobs that they think working full time is going to slow down their careers. Guess what? It’s actually going to speed them up. In the space of a year or less, you can forge some real relationships with people who can literally make your career.
The time you spend earning and learning is not only going to pay off with more auditions, but is also going to put you in contention for those jobs more often. When a producer or casting director is faced with hiring an actor, they prefer to hire someone they know and trust. If you are that person, guess who’s going to get the job. All you need to do is pull off a half decent audition and you are going to be in the running every time.
What kind of job should you do? Whatever you are qualified for and whatever is going to lead to meeting people who are in a position to hire you down the road. There are all kinds of entry level positions in the entertainment business suitable for actors. Heck, you don’t even need to tell them you’re an actor. Acting is a profession so if you’re not actually getting paid to act, you’re not really an actor anyway. Got experience in some other profession like accounting or finance or IT? Perfect, bring your resume to a production company and get a job. If you do well for them and make yourself indispensable, then when the day comes that you tell them you want to act, they are likely to want to do anything they can to help you on your quest because you have done so much for them. No, it’s not enough to just work. You have to do your best and find ways to be as helpful and useful as possible.
There is not a singular way to do this. I know people who have done it part time, others who have volunteered and some who simply left their current careers in favor of acting and leveraged their longstanding relationships. Actors can become producers, so why can’t producers become actors?
The big idea here is that you need to work within your industry. In what will seem like no time, you can go from complete entertainment/production ignoramus to industry insider with a rolodex full of contacts.
Now go polish that resume (and student films don’t count)!
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.