Whether it’s Lin-Manuel Miranda writing, acting, and singing, or Issa Rae writing, acting, producing, and performing comedy, many people in entertainment are talented in multiple realms. These stars are multihyphenates, meaning they have a comprehensive skill set that allows them to take on several different roles and jobs—thus boosting their hiring potential.
“Ozark” Courtesy Netflix
A multihyphenate is someone who does several different jobs in the entertainment industry—and does them well. The term first came about in the 1970s to describe performers who expanded past the triple threat of acting, singing, and dancing. Today, the term “multihyphenate” applies to people who are adept at many roles.
Wielding many hats, the multihyphenate could also be the triple threat actor-singer-dancer, a writer-director-producer, a model-vlogger-influencer, or a comedian-podcaster-DJ. Multihyphenate titles can even span to work outside of entertainment, such as being a humanitarian, activist, and—in the case of Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin—evolutionary biologist.
tinseltown/Fred Duval/Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock.com
Covering a wide gamut of skill sets and titles, famous multihyphenates include:
- Rihanna: singer-actor-philanthropist-entrepreneur
- Oprah Winfrey: producer-actor, author-philanthropist-TV show host
- Zendaya: singer-actress-model
- Reese Witherspoon: actor-producer-advocate-entrepreneur
- Idina Menzel: actor-singer-dancer
- Donald Glover: actor-writer-producer-musician-comedian
- Greta Gerwig: writer-actor-director
- Ashton Kutcher: model-actor-producer-entrepreneur
“Don't Worry Darling” Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
The first step of becoming a multihyphenate is to diversify and develop your skill set. Start with what you’re best at and work from there, and make sure you have a good grasp on what drives you as a performer. It also helps to have support from other talented people in the industry.
- Start with your best. While it may be tempting to try and present yourself as equally skilled at every job you take on, it’s better to lean into your strengths and branch out. Even though Harry Styles is an accomplished actor-entrepreneur-brand ambassador-dancer—the latter of which is portrayed in the iconic yet hilariously lengthy tap dancing scene in “Don’t Worry Darling”—he’s best known for his work as a musician, which is how he got his start on “The X Factor.” Focus on what you’re best at and then build up from there. “Agents and casting people want to easily assess the types of roles that suit you perfectly, the slam-dunk no-brainers. So market your most sellable sides first, and branch out later,” writes actor-writer-activist Michael Kostroff. “Whoever you are, be sure that the whole package presents an easy-to-grasp idea of who you’re most likely to play.”
- Understand your why. Becoming the most hyphenated multihyphenate out there won’t mean much unless you have purpose and passion to back it up. Whenever possible, take on projects that interest you at a personal level and use them as an opportunity to grow, discover, and further understand your why. “The ‘why’ should serve as the underbelly for the multihyphenate journey,” advises actor-photographer-producer Michael Kushner. “If you’re going to commit time and energy to a project, an audition, a photo shoot, or whatever it is, it has to fall under that principle. It’s almost a guaranteed way you know you can do your best work.”
- Surround yourself with talented people. Surrounding yourself with other multi-talented creatives can motivate you, help clarify your own set of skills, help you find jobs, and engender a sense of community. “The biggest thing I got was to recognize somebody else’s talent,” actor-singer-dancer-choreographer Liza Minnelli told CBS News of the “great people” around her who helped her gain multihyphenate stardom. To best utilize this social capital resource, “find a group of like-minded people to write and develop a project,” says producer-casting director-intimacy coordinator Marci Liroff. “Meet weekly! Surround yourself with talented people and something good will come of it.”
“Atlanta” Credit: Guy D'Alema/FX
According to multihyphenates in the industry, it helps to remain open-minded, think holistically, and use any stumbling blocks as growth opportunities.
- Keep an open mind. Just because it’s always been your dream to be a cinematographer doesn’t mean you should close yourself off to an opportunity in lighting if it comes your way. For example, director-editor Midge Costin said that sound was the “last thing” she thought she would do when she left school with hopes to be a picture editor. “I lowered myself to take a sound job because I needed the money,” she said in an interview with Rotoscoper. “And so now I’m a sound effects editor and I’m thinking about how I feel about story, character, and plot points as it comes to sound. It intrigued me, and then one job led to another and suddenly there was something very exciting about sound. I found myself feeling I was born to do sound.”
- Focus on synergy. Working across disciplines can make you better at each. “I get a different satisfaction from both disciplines and feel like the experience of doing one makes the other stronger,” director-editor Lorin Askill told Post Magazine. Working as a multihyphenate is “a holistic process,” agrees writer-director-editor Justin Simien. “Instead of going into a room as half of yourself or a third of yourself or an eighth of yourself, go into every room as yourself.”
- Learn from your mistakes. Even though you may not excel at everything you try, it’s worth it for the growth opportunity it provides. “I learned very early on, out of necessity, that to just put all my eggs in one basket was certainly never going to serve me,” notes producer-writer-actor Dan Bucatinsky. “What we may consider to be bad luck or pitfalls are so often the opportunity for growth in another way.”
According to video editor-journalist-writer-director Jourdan Aldredge:
- You’ll find more opportunities. With the rise of new media, clients are no longer looking for a team of people who each contribute a single skill to a final product. Instead, they’re savvy to the possibility of an individual who can wear multiple (if not all) hats at a fraction of the cost and time. Because you’re equally savvy, you recognize that there’s an entire world of content creation that’s only seeking multihyphenates, which means there’s a tremendous amount of work to go around. If there are X jobs a year locally for a director, X jobs a year for a DP, and X jobs a year for an editor, if you’re an expert in each of those fields, theoretically, you’ll have many more opportunities for work.
- You can make much more. You can either start taking on multiple projects at once or, better yet, you can take on projects where you wear several hats. And unless the job description is already calling for it, adding extra responsibilities means adding more time and more pay.
- You can choose your own gear. When you’re the person on the team wearing the most hats, you’ll likely find that comes with the responsibility of calling in gear for the shoot or project. This means you get to choose the stuff you like working with rather than hope someone else knows how to pick the right gear. If you’ve reached the point of owning your own equipment, even better. While you can certainly figure out how to work with gear you’re not as familiar with or didn’t choose, it’s just not quite the same in terms of skill and speed you’d get from using your own gear.
- You can charge per project. Once you’re carrying enough hyphens where you can offer holistic solutions to clients, you can enter the world of charging per project rather than by day rate or by the hour. This opens a whole row of doors in terms of how you can value and charge for your multihyphenate services, rather than breaking each role and rate down specifically.
- You can build clients and retainers. Similarly, if you can prove that your multihyphenate services are both necessary and cost-effective, the goal will always be to turn any one-off project into a full-time client. Building a client base over a job network becomes even more advantageous when you start negotiating out retainers where you can count on work year-round.
- It will help your own projects. Being employed and making money is nice, but if you got into this industry to create your own work, your multihyphenate understanding is indispensable when developing your personal and passion projects.