In New York of 1973, a passionate, young, unknown actor was introduced to a talented, emerging film director. The spark between them was such that they subsequently collaborated on no less than eight iconic films, thus forging one of the most influential partnerships in the history of cinema. And it seemed effortless.
Jump forward to 2014…
Sydney, London, New York, Auckland, Vancouver, Johannesburg, Copenhagen, Paris...
Every year, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed acting graduates emerge from drama schools all over the world, hoping to be “discovered.” Thousands upon thousands of brand new 20something actors enter the industry annually, with most of them gravitating toward the nearest metropolis to seek their fame and fortune.
Have you noticed that the demand (i.e.: number of jobs for actors) has perfectly mirrored this exponential rise in the supply (i.e.: number of graduates)? No? Well that’s because it hasn’t. In fact, the gap is yawning ever-wider on a regular basis. The majority of actors fail, or quit before they have the chance to fail.
So do you still want to act? Well, you should, but not simply because you have faith. You should because you’re also practical.
Once you remove the blinkers and see the world as it truly is, you will stop fantasizing (or complaining) about what it’s not, and say, “I will succeed not in spite of the odds, but I will succeed because of the odds.”
You see, most actors wake in the morning, roll over, roll the dice, and roll back to sleep. They have no clue about the odds of success and failure, and they have no interest either. As long as it keeps working, they’re happy. But it’s not working for most. So guess what? Most actors are not happy. They roll the dice and hope. And as I have been known to caution, hope is lovely, but it’s not a strategy.
But you’re different. You are not afraid of the odds. You welcome them because you know how many others will run away from them in fear.
Warren Buffet didn’t build his fortune on fantasies; he invested intelligently, diligently, and patiently. Millions of dreamers will never conjure up his wealth in their entire lives. Martin Luther King, Jr. may have had a dream, but it affected the hardcore realities of millions of people, and the practical steps he took shaped the world we take for granted today.
You are an actor. You have every right to be an actor. You would feel a terrible hollowness inside if you couldn’t act. And despite the warm, fuzzy feeling of fantasies and feng shui, only dealing with reality head on is going to make your dream happen in the actual physical confines of Planet Earth.
Making progress in this industry may not be easy, but it is simple. That is if we accept, as Buffet does, that regular and reliable forward progress is more important than fleeting and illusory success. No fireworks. No instant accolades. No short cuts. But no deadly workouts, or humiliating cattle calls either. If you honestly believe you have talent, then there is one surefire way to dramatically increase your chances of success: build strong relationships.
That’s it. Just build strong relationships. Create one today, and build on it tomorrow. Create another one next week, and then keep building it the next day. Check back in on the first relationship in a week or two. And keep doing exactly that with third, fourth, and fifth relationships.
Keep. Building. Relationships.
Not with people you don’t like, and not even with agents, managers, talent scouts, or casting directors at first. Those guys who met in 1973 and went on to change the world didn’t.
Build strong relationships with good people—with people you like, and people you admire; with people doing great, fun, challenging work. And doing lots of it. Isn’t that what you’d like to be doing with your life? Working and having fun? Being a part of something in a cool community? With integrity and inclusiveness? Where you don’t feel like you constantly need to prove yourself? Where the work is exciting, the workers are appreciated, the workplace is respectful, and the offers of work are plentiful?
Then just remember this: Contact. Content. Commitment.
Contact. Meet writers at networking events, meet directors at meet-ups, meet other actors online, or meet designers, producers, and editors through friends, or just say hello in a café. Perhaps you’ve already met them! An email, a business card, a handshake—nothing happens until you’ve first made contact.
Content. Send them cool online articles on topics that interest them, support their work, compliment their efforts and refer their services, and share your work proudly with them when relevant. Invite them to events. Hire them. Just foster terrific content in your relationship with them, and make sure it’s always a two-way street.
Commitment. Stay in touch. You wouldn’t ignore a friend for a year, so don’t ignore your new relationships for too long either. Contact once every few months is the minimum I would suggest (and much more often, if the content is good). Worthwhile relationships involve commitment. If the effort is difficult and unrewarding, then walk away. If they ignore you repeatedly, take the hint. There are so many people in the world, why waste your time building a relationship with someone you actually don’t like, or who simply doesn’t want a relationship with you?
Understand how the world works. Then you have so much more freedom and power. Or as genius theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking once wrote: “If you understand how the universe operates, you control it, in a way.”
If you only do one thing for your career today, see the world for how it truly operates, and start building relationships to help one another thrive. Remember, once there was a young and promising director who met an intense character actor for the very first time. They could have said, “Nice to meet you,” and left it at that. Instead, their collaboration has become legendary. Their names, by the way, are Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese.
The powerful relationships of your own future must start somewhere. Are you rolling the dice and waiting for them to just happen, or are you going to actively create them? If so, when?
As they say, a year from now, you may wish you’d started today.
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