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Actors: Thinking of Making the Big Move…to a Smaller Market?

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Jessica SmithI may be one of the few bloggers on this site not living in Los Angeles or New York City. My acting home is Atlanta, Georgia. Well, actually my home is Georgia; I’m one of the few natives and I love my state.

Maybe you’ve heard of our tax incentives and of the incredible number of films and television shows coming here to film. Maybe you have a friend who has moved to a smaller market in order to chase opportunities. Maybe you’ve been thinking of making the move yourself.

If being a big fish in a little pond sounds appealing to you, then read on for information about the industry in Atlanta.

In short, here we offer up to 30% in tax credits to any company that spends a minimum of $500,000 in our state on production and post-production costs, in a single project or multiple projects. It is one of the most competitive anywhere and it has helped catapult Atlanta into a major player. There are roughly 25 scripted shows filming here. And the last official count of feature films was 24 and eight t.v. movies in 2012, though I know the subsequent years were even higher.

In addition to great tax incentives for filming here, Georgia offers a large city landscape, mountains, farmland, towns that belong in long ago eras, and the beach all within a few hours’ drive.

And don’t forget the weather. Sure, we aren’t L.A. We have high humidity for a lot of the year and the summer months can be almost unbearable. But we are fairly consistent. Few tornadoes, no earthquakes or hurricanes, few days with snow or ice that shut down production.

All this explains why not only do productions come, but they actually like it when they get here. Those involved with shows here often feel as if they have made a home. Production companies like to come back for additional projects. As for the celebrities—while our citizens do live in a little bit of awe, we don’t have paparazzi and many actors can live their lives off set in relative ease.

Since the production here ramped up, we have seen a steady influx of actors from larger markets. I first noticed this at a film callback in 2011. I was the only one there who did not fly into Atlanta that morning from L.A. My first reaction to this revelation was, “Oh no, all of the L.A. actors are going to steal our jobs!” But very quickly, I felt pride at being included in this group and realized having such wonderful talent competing with us would inspire us to up our own game.

If you’re thinking of making the move, here are a few things to consider:

  1. I already mentioned the weather. It is horribly humid in the summer months. Highs in the 90s with almost 100% humidity in July and August. But we have some good water parks. And you just know you have to get your jog in as the sun comes up, knowing it will be slightly cooler than Hell once it does. We also have beautiful falls and springs and fairly mild winters.
  1. Traffic?   Hm, it depends upon who you ask. In some ways, we give Los Angeles a run for its money. You can definitely complain about our traffic. However, it’s fairly predictable and it doesn’t last all day.
  1. Living expenses are significantly lower here. You can rent quality homes and apartments just outside the city for a very reasonable amount and gas prices are on the lower end of average here.
  1. Speaking of gas prices, we drive everywhere. We do have public transportation, but hardly anyone understands or uses it. I do know of some who live in the city and making it work on a bike, and Uber is cool, but mainly it’s easier to own a car. If you were to live outside the city, you would definitely need a car.
  1. The overall art culture here is inspiring. We have a lot of equity and non-equity theater with fantastic talent. The Fox Theater is a beautiful space that brings in fabulous shows. Tony award winning director Kenny Leon makes his home in Atlanta and has his own theater company here. You can hardly turn around without bumping into educational opportunities for young actors, such as America’s only Shakespeare Tavern, located in Atlanta. We even have America’s largest non-profit dedicated solely to the art of puppet theater, with programs for children and adults.
  1. Fitness is a popular way of life in Atlanta. We have an abundance of races to run, beautiful parks to work out in, bike lanes, gyms that offer barre, pole dance, yoga, step, zumba, crossfit, you name it.
  1. And boy, is the food in Atlanta ever scrumptious! Atlanta is a major player in the whole foodie scene.

Side note: Since I’ve mentioned it, can we please stop saying, “I’m such a foodie.” I mean, honestly, who isn’t a foodie? Do you know anyone who doesn’t like good food?

Back to topic…

This is a place where you will see the same people over and over at auditions. People hug and get excited to see each other. Real or fake, they are super supportive of you and almost root for you to beat them out of the job. That could be a boon or a turn off for you.

We do most of our commercial auditions in the room with the casting director and most of our film/t.v. auditions via self-tape that we send first to our agents, and then they send it on to the casting director. That means there is very little face to face interaction with casting. Many actors here complain about that. My philosophy is that it’s the nature of the beast, so I might as well learn to love the beast.

We have many start-up companies here, run by actors, whose purpose is to put you on tape. Some will give you coaching; some will only read the lines with you. All of them will make you look beautiful. But you can also just as easily learn how to do it yourself in your own home.

We are not considered the Atlanta market; we are the Southeast region. That means we can easily be required to drive eight hours to Wilmington, North Carolina for a one-line callback. It also means that we are considered for work in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Most of the work we get is at the co-star and supporting level. However, we have had quite a few actors recently break through into guest star and even series regular levels.

There is some great training here, though it isn’t as prolific or as in depth as you will find in California or New York. You’ll find good improv groups, stand-up comedy classes, on-camera, scene study, voice, dance, etc.

You may also find that your L.A. or NYC training is enough to grab the attention of one of our agents and the casting directors.

Speaking of, we only have a handful of agents who are considered the major players and about the same number of casting directors. This means it may be tough to get signed by one of those agents, but it’s also easier here to be seen by casting directors.

Of course, you can choose instead to go for an Atlanta agent, while living in L.A. The good news is that Hartsfield-Jackson airport, located in Atlanta, is the busiest in the world, and therefore you can fly in and out with extreme ease. Since we self-tape, you can do your first read from the comfort of your own big city home and then fly in for the callback, typically at your own expense. Of course, most of our co-star roles (for t.v.) are booked directly off tape, so a flight isn’t even necessary.

Working in a smaller market can be a great way to beef up a resume. If you’re finding you can’t seem to break through with those first few co-star roles, a smaller market may be right for you. If you feel a change of pace and scenery would be helpful, then by all means, pack up and move while you can. Be adventurous. You never know where that can lead you.

However, I do not believe that every actor should follow the same path. What works for one will not always work for another. Only you can truly assess your situation and know where you belong.

If you do decide to check out Atlanta, please write to me and let me know you’re coming. I’m always happy to welcome new Atlantans to my wonderful state. Just please don’t call it Hotlanta or The ATL. Us natives aren’t too keen on that and we just might utter, “Well, bless yer heart.”

Jessica Leigh Smith

About Jessica Leigh Smith

Jessica Leigh Smith can currently be seen running around town in her yoga pants, toting her two little girls everywhere she goes. Being a mommy has played into Jessica’s latest projects, Mommy Parodies. The first is a parody of a song from the movie Frozen, which has reached almost 40,000 views (and climbing) on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86FY-AEdizA. Jessica’s most notable acting roles are co-starring roles on One Tree Hill and Drop Dead Diva. Coincidentally, Jessica was toting her daughters in those roles as well, since she was pregnant both times. In addition to acting, Jessica has co-produced an educational series for actors, called The Dinner Project, putting actors and casting directors face to face. Episodes can be found at http://thedinnerprojectshow.com/. For more about Jessica, the actress, please visit her website, http://www.jessicaleighsmith.com/, and follow her on Twitter, @JessiLeighSmith.