Little else encourages personal and professional growth quite like a mentor. Whether you want to discover how to find an acting mentor or a mentor to support your work in some other aspect of entertainment, it helps to know where to start. The following advice on finding a mentor in the industry comes from actor Douglas Taurel, publicist Steve Rohr, Theater Resources Unlimited founder Bob Ost, casting director Marci Liroff, and acting coach Gunnar Todd Rohrbacher.
A mentor is a professional who offers guidance and influence to a less-experienced person. They use their years of experience and knowledge to help those who are just breaking into the field.
Mentors can help you:
- Network with other professionals in the industry
- Get hired in entry-level positions
- Lean into your strengths and work on your weaknesses
- Prepare for auditions and performances
- Connect with growth opportunities
“Cobra Kai” Credit: Jace Downs
A mentor provides guidance, lets you learn from their mistakes, helps you realize your potential, and motivates you.
Finding a mentor offers the following benefits:
- They provide guidance. Mentoring gives us a roadmap of the actions our successful counterparts have done so that we can follow them on their path. Success leaves clues, and if you look to learn from those who are ahead of you, you can pick up on those clues.
- You can learn from their mistakes. You can learn from a mentor’s mistakes and avoid making them yourself.
- They help you realize your potential. A mentor may notice potential in you that you might not see in yourself.
- They can motivate you. Look for mentors not only in a person you can talk to, but also look for stories about how those you respect became successful. Look for mentors you relate to who created their own paths.
“Creed” Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
Finding a mentor is a matter of making yourself desirable as a mentee, navigating social relationships with perseverance, and connecting with more advanced professionals using social connections, institutions, and organizations.
Utilize social media
- Marci Liroff: The first and most important rule is to use proper etiquette. In the world of social media, you should behave as you would at a dinner or cocktail party with guests you’re just meeting. I hope you wouldn’t barge into a room of strangers and tell them to watch your demo reel. Same thing with social media. The first step is to listen. Before even reaching out, pay attention to what that specific person is interested in. What do they post about on social media? What sorts of things are they interested in? What do you have in common? It can feel intimidating, so start with simple interactions and look for any opportunity to add value.
Reach out to people in your field
- Douglas Taurel: Write to someone who is at least 5 or 10 times ahead of you in the field in which you are trying to gain knowledge and ask them to be your mentor. They have a whole different network of contacts and connections that you don’t.
- Steve Rohr: Reach out to someone accessible. A big box office star may seem like a sure bet as a great mentor, but good luck connecting with them. Even if you do, their schedules most likely won’t allow for much bonding. Instead, turn toward the character actors you admire. Although these talented folks rarely see their name above the title, over time they’ve built an impressive list of film and TV credits. These actors will have a lot to teach and are more likely to take the time to connect with you.
Attend professional events.
- Liroff: Outside of social media, there are so many ways to network and build relationships with industry professionals. Film festivals, for example, are a wonderful place to meet directors, producers, and writers. I’m also a huge fan of attending industry events such as Q&As, panels, screenings, and educational workshops. Charity events and organizations are also a wonderful avenue to meet people. There are plenty that are related to the entertainment industry, but that’s not a necessity. Again, do the listening—there’s a very good chance the person you want to connect with has a favorite charity they are involved with.
- Rohr: Seek out an actor with a track record of volunteering their time speaking with young actors at schools, camps, or nonprofit industry organizations. If possible, go to an event where this person is appearing and find an appropriate time to approach. Be very careful not to monopolize the actor’s time and instead, introduce yourself briefly. Ask if it would be OK to follow up with them via email to “pick their brain a little.” Don’t overwhelm them or ask for anything else.
Use schools (or the school of life)
- Rohr: Check to see if there are any seasoned actors who graduated from your high school or university. Often a list of notable alumni is available through a simple online search. The smaller your hometown or college, the better. Try approaching them through your college alumni office or connect on social media. The best way to connect with an alum, however, is with a personal introduction. This can be a shared professor or teacher. You can also watch for actors who are visiting your alma mater—whether or not they’re an alum—and see if you can respectfully wrangle yourself into the room. For example, you can volunteer at their event.
- Gunnar Todd Rohrbacher: There are many ways to acquire knowledge and prepare yourself to achieve your ambitions in this world: established schools, nurturing teachers, reputable online training guides, and simply showing up for life.
Identify what you offer
- Bob Ost: Make them interested in you in a very brief time. Know your product. If you’re an actor, know your uniqueness. If you don’t know your brand, go find someone who can help you. I’ve had actors try to impress by telling me they’re double-jointed. Step away from yourself and consider what’s objectively marketable about you to someone who doesn’t know you. It takes coaching, and not everyone can do it.
- Liroff: The biggest [mistake is] asking for something instead of adding value. If someone feels like you’re just trying to get something from them, they won’t be inclined to help you.
Read books by people who inspire you
- Taurel: The easiest way to find a mentor is through books. The most famous and successful people in the world can be in your house. Books contain a treasure trove of tips and suggestions on how to achieve success in your life. Books are the CliffsNotes of the most successful people in the world. Don’t think of books as a one-time event—read it over and over to absorb the knowledge.
- Taurel: You must persevere in your search for a mentor. You must persevere to get success in your life. If you write to somebody and they don’t answer, don’t give up so easily. Keep at it. Success comes to those who are willing to persevere.
Once you find a mentor, it’s important that you spend the time and effort necessary to cultivate the relationship. To maximize your mentorship, ensure that you are open-minded, curious, enthusiastic, and thankful; offer something back; and connect with them as an individual.
- Rohr: Stay open to new ideas, different ways of thinking, and be willing to adapt. You needn’t heed all of your mentor’s advice, but always hear her out and be grateful someone cares enough to give it. Why? If you keep ignoring or shutting down your mentor’s ideas, there’s no point for her to offer them.
- Ost: People don’t know what they don’t know. The best thing to ask a potential mentor is how they got where they are. Listen to them talk about [their] experiences. Always be on your best behavior.
- Rohr: When given a task or assignment, do it by the deadline. If you say you’re going to show up, show up. Since this business is about self-motivation, stay proactive and industrious. Finally, treat any relationships your mentor helps you build with reverence. Show them you’re worth the introduction.
- Rohrbacher: If you’re fortunate enough to find someone to call your mentor, tell them. Appoint them. Ignite them. Say it out loud. When you choose to invest in a relationship and anchor yourself in an environment where you feel safe to express yourself and fail while you grow, tell them.
Offer something in return
- Ost: You can offer your time and your support. Just let people know you’re interested in them and not just your own needs.
- Rohr: By its very nature, a mentorship is deeply personal. Your mentor may share her own insecurities, funny but irreverent industry stories, or even painful experiences with you—all in confidence. This kind of self-disclosure should be safeguarded. It shows her you’re discreet and dependable.
Connect as people
- Ost: The key to this whole business is cultivating and developing relationships. There are a lot of generous people in the community who are eager to offer guidance. I would tell everyone in the business that people are available or accessible, but it’s not always about what you want and need. You should approach people with an interest in who they are. Try not to put individuals on pedestals and shout at them. Talk as one human being to another.