Over the last decade since I started my venture in the entertainment industry, I’ve learned so much. I’ve developed bonds with people who’ve become family, I’ve been able to mentor my daughter as she began her career in acting and I’ve had the privilege to pay it forward many times over.
I will never forget sitting in my first acting class back in 2003. I remember watching a scene taking place between two of my classmates and I could see that the instructor was getting frustrated. She stopped the scene midway and decided to share some advice with the class. She started her tirade with, “Class, word of advice; please do NOT become an actor unless you absolutely need to.”
At that time, I didn’t fully understand what she meant. I mean, of course, I wanted to become an actor, but I didn’t understand what she meant by ‘needing’ to. As the years passed and I grew more experienced in my craft, I also grew a deeper understanding and appreciation for her comment.
It’s true; the entertainment industry is not for everyone. The desire to become an actor needs to come from somewhere so deep that it goes hand-in-hand with our need to breathe. You often can’t explain it, others may not understand it, but when you are in your element, taking part in the craft – no matter what part it is – you come to life. Nothing can stop this euphoric high. In those moments of clarity, you realize that there is no other career out there that you would want to do. You would rather endure the ups and downs and tedious idiosyncrasies that go hand in hand with a career in the entertainment industry than to do any other kind of job. This is when you realize that becoming an actor is not because you want to, but because you need to.
You often hear how people make premature moves when first starting out. To me that is a double edged sword. Since there are no rules, how will you ever learn what doesn’t work unless you are willing to get out there and make mistakes? However, with that in mind, I wanted to share a list of things I’ve learned along the way. If you are new to the industry or thinking about moving out to Los Angeles because you have a strong desire and need to become an actor. Then I hope these 14 tips can help you prepare before moving out to California.
Study Your Craft: If you can’t afford acting classes then think outside the box. Watch the top 100 movies on IMDB, find out who cast them, who directed them and take notes. Watch the top movies that won best picture and study the trend as to why they won. Visit places like Scriptapolooza or InkTip and learn what a good script is and learn how to break down a script. Look on YouTube and search for acting classes. There are many respectable coaches out there who record videos to share with the world. Then record yourself acting out a scene and play it back.
Save Money: Living in Los Angeles is expensive. If you’re moving out to California with only enough savings to cover you for 4 to 6 months, that is not enough. One of the biggest complaints you will hear from actors is that they have a day job that isn’t flexible around their audition schedule. I would shoot for at minimum savings of two years just to be safe. But of course, also don’t let that hold you back from pursuing your dream. If you move out here with less money then just be prepared for a day job hustle as well as the actor hustle!
Learn Different Dialects: If English is not your native tongue, I would suggest you find a coach to help you learn the standard American accent. Otherwise, I would suggest you learn as many different accents as possible. You never know when an offbeat accent can help you land that national commercial.
Fix Your Teeth and Skin: I booked a Disney commercial with my daughter where big smiles were a must. At the time, I needed a tooth implant and boy was I subconscious of smiling big. Everything worked out, but if you’re going to be concerned with your troubled skin or crooked, chipped or yellow teeth, work to get those fixed before they become your crutch. Having clear skin is important for the big screen. Yes, make-up can cover it and so could Photoshop, but why go through all those extra steps. In my opinion, the only exception to this is if you are a character actor who actually books more work because of your crooked teeth and/or troubled skin. Then work that to your advantage!
Work on Getting Healthy: Being the stereotypical perfect weight is such a huge deal in Hollywood. Instead, I would focus on getting healthy. When you choose to get healthy, losing weight will be your added bonus. Most important, be realistic about your body type and own it. Being a size 2 does not look good on everyone, and you shouldn’t have to force yourself to be anyone other than YOU. Love the skin you are in and it will come through in your overall personality, in your confidence and on camera.
Find Two Roles that Fit Your Type: Once you understand your key character type, you can then search for a comedic and dramatic script that work for you and help you shine. Memorize these scripts and be prepared to perform them on a dime’s notice should anyone ever ask.
Perform Any Chance You Get: Always be working your craft. I don’t care if it’s by yourself in your living room. Audition for as many roles as you can, get involved in as many short films and indie features as you can. Think of every opportunity you get to perform as your chance to sharpen your skills and get better. Accepting the Oscar for the role you performed in your head isn’t going to help you any if no one can see it. Always be performing.
Know Your Target Audience: Find directors whose projects you can see yourself on and get to know their work. Get your list of 10-20 casting directors and writers as well, and understand what they are looking for and find out how to ‘organically’ get on their radar.
Get Involved With Others: Find a group of friends or join online acting groups that like to create and film short films. If you can’t be an actor in the film, then volunteer to do something behind the scenes. You would be amazed at how much you can learn from all aspects of filmmaking.
Create Your Own Content: If you don’t want to wait, then go at it alone. If you’re a good writer, why not come up with your own content and film yourself. If you’re not good at writing, then collaborate with someone that is. You can then upload it to YouTube and create your own channel and following. You don’t have to wait for a great role to come in order to start acting.
Work On Your Business Skills: Understanding the business of acting is just as important as understanding the craft, so don’t neglect this part. Understand how to brand yourself, write a business plan, know how to market yourself, find a good CPA, figure out if your should create an LLC or Corporation for your brand and get prepared for those inevitable interview questions.
Shop At Thrift Stores: Thrift Stores are a gem when you’re looking to add to audition pieces to your wardrobe. Plus it’s affordable. Once you understand the 3-4 types you most likely will audition for, start adding to your wardrobe. Just because you don’t typically dress in button down cardigan sweaters doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any, especially if you audition for the ‘mom’ roles a lot. Pay attention to the national commercials you see on T.V and look at the actors who resemble your type. Pay attention to how they dress and mimic that in your audition wardrobe selections.
Volunteer: If you have the time, get involved in everything you can. Volunteer your time in casting offices, acting classes, and film festivals. Become well rounded in your craft and be open to learning everything, plus the networking opportunities are endless.
Read Good Books: There are countless books out there that are worth reading. Here are some of my favorites. If you want to understand story structure, try reading Story by Robert McKee. Want tips on how to survive and thrive in Hollywood, try reading: Thriving in Hollywood!: Tenacious Tales and Tactics from Ms. In The Biz compiled by Helenna Santos and Alexandra Boylan. Want to learn useful business tips on running your acting business? Try reading Self-Management for Actors by Bonnie Gillespie or The Tao of Show Business by Dallas Travers.
In the end, be open, have fun and enjoy the journey. You never know where you will end up. Were these tips helpful? I’d love to hear from you.