I have an actor friend who I met at a day job a couple years back. This guy is pretty inexperienced and it shows, but he is a really good guy, and I honestly think he's genuinely talented. I have seen some of his work and find him really, really funny. Anyway, he really doesn't understand the industry. He wants to act but never sends his stuff out. I know that doing mass mailings and such when you're unsigned and nonunion is a crapshoot at best, but he doesn't even look at Back Stage, Actors Access, Now Casting—nothing.
He does do a lot of background work. He's one of those guys who actually thinks he'll be discovered that way. Well, he was. He got bumped up to a one-liner a few weeks ago on a very popular AFTRA show! The director went to high school with him and recognized him when he showed up to set.
When he told me about it, I was pretty excited. I told him to do a couple things: 1) Add that guy as a friend on Facebook, if he's on Facebook, and write him a thank-you note. 2) Do a mass postcard mailing about that episode. He's a little late, but better than never. 3) Specifically target the casting director for that show. Write a nice letter explaining how he got cast, and also state that he's interested in other projects. Get on the CD's radar. I even looked up all the CD's info for him, since he had no clue how to do so. 4) Start submitting to agents.
I would say that's sound-enough advice—a bit of a pep talk on how to follow up on what struck me as a major accomplishment. But I was met with severe resistance. Telling him to send his stuff anywhere was like pulling teeth. Apparently, he took a casting director workshop a while ago, and someone there said that CDs throw out all the stuff not submitted by agents. I told him that was pretty much correct—but you can't let that get you down. Throw enough darts at the dartboard and you eventually hit it, so to speak. But he was too scared and weirded out by the whole thing. I asked him what websites he was reading, what blogs and whatnot, and he said, "None." Any acting books? Nope. On and on.
I finally talked him into sending his stuff to the CD of that show. Took at least an hour and a half of pretty draining conversation. Now he texts me every day with stuff like "I hope they read it and don't throw it out" and "It's been four days and they haven't contacted me yet." Now I have to explain to him the whole "mail it and forget about it" concept. Maaaannnnn.
If this were someone I didn't know or I'd just heard about, I wouldn't care. But not only do I like this guy; I actually think he's really good. A little crazy, yes, but delivers the goods when he needs to. What would you do in a situation like this?
—Harassed in Hollywood
First of all, I am impressed by your efforts on this guy's behalf. Not only are you avoiding useless jealousy and competitiveness, but you seem to genuinely have his best interests at heart.
It seems to me that you have already offered this person a lot of good advice, and the time has come for you to live and let live. We can't push other people over cliffs if they aren't ready to jump, and no matter how much handholding you do, this actor will need to find his own way.
If he were willing to take your suggestions, it would be different. You might end up mentoring him, but you wouldn't end up beating your head against a wall. Or maybe you would. If, as you say, he's not reading, researching, or doing anything on his own, you might end up feeling more like a manager than a mentor, and the time-suck might be more than you could, well, manage. As it stands, not only is he unwilling to take your advice; he is unwilling to work toward his own success.
For the sake of your own sanity, you need to put your focus back on your own career. Make sure you're taking all the sage advice you are doling out. Ask yourself whether your focus on another actor is entirely altruistic or if you're avoiding something on your own path. If you find and deal with a hidden barrier, you'll have your harasser to thank.
What would I do? Actually, I get this stuff a lot, as you might imagine, considering I've been writing this column for almost seven years. To avoid frustration and burnout, I have had to strictly limit the time I give to such conversations and completely let go of any interest in how the recipient of my advice puts it to use. Sure, I'll chat with folks for five minutes (coffee might buy them 10) and send them links, but—unless they're my acting students—that's about it.
I recently had someone I vaguely knew approach me for career advice. When I asked about his experience, he informed me that he had never acted. Not once. Um, what? When I asked him what research he had done on the industry, his answer was the same: none. Then he waited for me to, I guess, lay out his easy, no-hassle, 10-step plan to the Oscars.
While my usual response to such queries is willing, or at least patient, I couldn't even bear to talk to this guy. Why on earth did he think he should be able to waste my time without doing one bit of work for himself? Worse still, why should I advise him on a career in a field he hasn't even bothered to try? I told him to get back to me once he'd read my column and, you know, tried acting. He assured me that he was devoted to this calling regardless of not having attempted it. I told him he was full of it and that I would not speak to him about the topic until he had done some work on his own. Harsh? Yes. Deserved? I think so.
Sure, your friend might be the nicest guy on the block. He might even be extremely talented. But as we all know, it takes more than talent to find your way in this industry. Some of the best actors I know stopped auditioning years ago because they never could deal with the business aspects of the career. Yes, it's a crime that their talents are being wasted. But after I'd sufficiently harangued them about their gifts, I had to move on. So, now, do you.
Any questions or comments for The Working Actor? Please email Jackie and Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.