Every actor hears it when he or she first moves to town: Read the trades. Educate yourself about the industry by following its daily news in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. But given that the trades can read like stereo instructions, actors may find themselves scratching their heads as they try to figure out exactly what they're supposed to pay attention to.
Most actors probably don't see how the drop in consumer spending on video purchases will affect them or how Katie Couric's life-changing move to CBS will help them land that next crucial audition. To be honest, it won't. And that front-page story about phone company legislation probably doesn't have anything to do with actors either.
So why should actors slap down hundreds of dollars a year for a daily dose of "why should I give a damn"? For starters, some of the information reported is important to actors. Crucial news about the Screen Actors Guild, Actors' Equity Association, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists almost always appears on the front page of the trades. Given that most actors are either represented by these unions or aspire to be, it's important to stay informed: If their union goes on strike, they might have to snag a day job again. Nonunion actors should also stay informed, because the union going on strike might mean lots of available commercial—albeit scab—work. So pay attention. There is news that will affect you.
In addition, the trades almost always publish small announcements when casting directors move to different companies, form their own agencies, or receive promotions. Though actors may not have immediate access to these CDs, they should always know where the CDs are located in case they want to submit a headshot for a particular casting call. When proactive actors read about a new television pilot, they call the production company and ask who's casting the project and when. When they read about a new film, they hunt down the filmmaker's company and pick up the phone. Some secretaries might get annoyed at the unsolicited calls and be altogether unhelpful, but oftentimes actors who consistently pursue these opportunities get called in.
Sure, the casting process for that project you read about probably won't begin for months—if the project even gets made—but isn't it better knowing you pursued leads for your career instead of sitting on your butt wondering why opportunity isn't knocking on your dingy apartment door? Isn't it better to know which actors have attached themselves to certain projects just in case you land a minor role in one of them or end up an extra on the set?
The trades can also be a useful tool in helping actors follow the career paths of agents, managers, executives, show runners, and other industry players they might encounter. Hollywood is smaller than you think. You never know when you'll wind up at a networking breakfast sitting next to someone you've read about or who knows someone you've researched. Wouldn't you rather be knowledgeable during that unexpected meeting?
The production charts in the trades help actors stay in the loop, too. Some of the films are tiny indie projects; some are blockbusters. Either way, knowing what's casting, shooting, and in postproduction will prove valuable. Being aware of what projects are getting made can only help actors self-start their careers. Reading the production charts will give actors a better sense of what ideas are marketable versus what's a tough sell—and where unexpected casting possibilities lie.
We know it's a major commitment to read the trades every day—but pursuing acting takes commitment. You spend money on acting classes and new headshots because they're investments in your career. Subscribing to and reading the trades—the big two mentioned earlier offer online subscriptions that are cheaper than their print versions—is an investment as well. And you never know when that investment might pay off.