As you might expect, much of what we talk about in acting class tends to be about, well, acting. That probably comes as no surprise, there’s a lot to talk about – exercises, scene work, relaxation, all that Method stuff. We do, however, get into some of the more mundane but nevertheless important topics like representation and casting. Getting someone legitimate to represent you is something that all actors have to contend with but what happens if you don’t have an agent or a manager? How do you get seen for roles in films or TV if you’re not repped by ICM, Paradigm or CAA? Does anyone even know you’re alive if you’re not with a “Big Ten” office?
Honest answer? Maybe but the odds aren’t in your favor. There are, however, things you can do to improve those odds and get seen by the folks who can give you a shot at stardom. Listen, I know lots of actors and more than a few who got all the way to the top of their game. Their success stories are all very different but they also had a few things in common. All the successful actors I’ve known were highly organized, had actionable plans for their career and followed those plans religiously. They also had a magical thing in their favor called “luck” but I don’t mean the kind you pray for at the Black Jack table.
Actor’s luck is something else because you can improve your odds significantly if you follow one, simple formula. This is something I’ve written about before and something I tell my students all the time, but here it is again.
Luck = Preparation Meets Opportunity.
What does it mean? Simply that if you’re in the game long enough, you will be in the right place, at the right time, at least once in your life. At that moment, you’ll have your shot and if you’ve done your homework properly, you’ll be ready for it.
OK, fine, sounds reasonable but how do I get to that magical place? How do I get to a point that I’m ready for that big shot? Like we already said, you make a strong plan and you follow through with it consistently. Now no plan is perfect but here are five things that actors can do to position themselves nicely for success. Follow this plan and your odds of hitting the jackpot are a lot better, even without a CAA sticker on your resume.
#1. Have a solid presence online and in Social Media. Actors need to be visible and that means a website. It doesn’t have to be the Second Coming but it needs to be professional and represent you well. You should also be visible in social media, so have a LinkedIn account, Instagram & FB, and make sure those accounts are linked to your web site in a professional manner. Now will having these things get you cast in Ron Howard’s next film? Very unlikely but it will raise your visibility in the professional world in ways that add up. Back in the Old Days, actors paid a yearly fee to be included in The Player’s Guide and every industry office had a copy. Sure, it was no guarantee of work but it made you recognizable, look professional and these things count. The internet can do the same thing for you now and do it better, so use it.
#2. Whenever possible, generate your own projects. These can be plays, short films or even a web series. This means you have to find good collaborators but in the big city, this shouldn’t pose a problem. I always tell my students that actors should learn to wear all the production hats, it teaches you valuable skills that always come in handy. Casting people love it when actors get organized and put on well-crafted, smart shows. It demonstrates talent, drive and a can-do attitude. Chazz Palminteri created A Bronx Tale, Billy Bob Thornton made Sling Blade and Nia Vardolos wrote My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Their projects were well-crafted and the unknown actors who made them became stars.
#3. Read the trade papers and know who’s working on what projects? Know what’s casting and who the casting folks are. It’s not enough to know the casting directors, you need to know the assistants because they can get you in the door if you’re right for something. Acting, more than any other business, is about relationships, so you need to be building those constantly. You should also try to become a reader, because you will learn more about the casting process than you ever thought possible. Years ago, we were casting one of my plays at Hunter College and the gal who was reading for us ended up being the female lead because she was the best actor in the room. It happens.
#4. Get properly trained as an actor and know your craft. Having a pretty face may get you through a lot of doors but if you can’t deliver the goods, it won’t be enough. Learn a Method, whichever one you choose, build your resume and have monologues that show off your strengths. Always be working on something, always be busy and keep yourself loose. If you can afford it, find a good acting coach, they keep you honest.
#5. Put your face in front of a camera whenever you can and build a reel. A lot of directors are gun shy of unknown actors for the simple reason that they’re an unknown quantity with the camera. Stage acting is one thing and film work is something else entirely. If you have a decent reel that shows you have camera experience and how you read on camera, directors will be more inclined to take a chance on you. While we’re on that subject, learn the craft of film acting by watching great actors do it and then doing it yourself. There are specific techniques and even specific jargon that experienced directors expect of professional actors. You have to know about the 180° line, interior monologues, sightlines, plus a whole lot more. So do some research, find a good film acting class and be the best student in the room.
There’s no such thing as an overnight success, especially in the acting field. You need to have an actionable plan and work on your career every day to be ready for that big break. The best kind of luck is the kind you make for yourself, so make sure that you’re prepared when Opportunity “comes knocking”.