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Secret Agent Man

How To Jump-Start Your Career

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How To Jump-Start Your Career
Photo Source: Jonathan Bartlett

There’s a great line in the film “Annie Hall” that explains my philosophy about the business of acting (sorry, Woody, I need to tweak it a little): “An acting career, I think, is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies.”

As the year comes to an end, I want you to look inside your personal aquarium. Is the shark swimming like Michael Phelps on speed? If the answer’s yes, then congratulations are in order. You’re making progress and that’s a good thing. But if the shark’s just floating there, dead in the water, it’s time to make some changes.

Let’s start with your training. Have you been studying with the same teacher for more than a year? If that’s the case, you need to shake things up.

There’s no way that class is still challenging you as an actor. Move forward and find a different teacher, one who will force you to think in new, exciting ways.

This is also important on the business side. When you don’t have a lot of credits, you can build up your résumé by studying with a variety of teachers, ideally ones who are known to the industry. This sends a message that you’re serious about being the best actor you can be.  

Are you in SAG-AFTRA yet? No? Why not? The doors to union membership were wide open right before the merger. Well, there’s no use in kicking yourself over missed opportunities. Instead, try moving forward by exploiting the new loophole involving web content.

Here’s how it works. First, write a script for a web series you can produce with your friends and a few bucks. As the project’s producer, you’ll want to hire union actors, so file for a SAG-AFTRA New Media contract. This allows you to use those actors without having to pay them. Now here’s the hard-to-believe part. As a producer, you can hire yourself as an actor to play a role on the series. And that’s it. Voilà! You’re in the union.

Knowing how to connect with industry professionals is another important part of your career. Sadly, most actors don’t know how to do this.  

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop where everyone got to spend a few minutes with me one-on-one before the scenes began. Those precious minutes were an excellent opportunity to make a connection, but all the actors blew it. A few of them just sat there like the village idiot, waiting for permission to speak. The rest wasted their time by begging me to sign them. Talk about getting ahead of yourself! Representation isn’t something I hand out like loose change on skid row. It has to be earned, and in this case, I hadn’t even seen the actors perform yet.

Connecting with an agent is a three-step process. First, don’t ask for anything. I tune out actors who want something from me. Second, find common ground. This can be almost anything. I’ve had actors bond with me over favorite restaurants and great bands. Third, use that common ground to stay in touch. Doing this probably won’t lead to representation, but you’ll have a genuine relationship with an agent who can give you reliable advice.
Every time you connect with one industry professional is a huge step forward.

These are just three simple ways to keep your inner shark alive. If you take the time to examine your personal situation, I’m sure you can come up with a few more. The trick is to keep moving forward, even if it’s just an inch at a time.  

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