You’ve heard the story: a person decides to become a part of the Hollywood history, they drop whatever they are doing, move to Los Angeles with a few hundred dollars in their pocket, struggle for a while and then become Brad Pitt.
I bet many of you had or still have the exact same plan for success as an actor in Hollywood. May I ask you to step away from this for a second, and think how much of your plan will depend on pure luck? Then make another step further away, and think how likely is this to happen?
Now let’s check out reality.
There’s approximately 160,000 actors in Los Angeles that are registered with SAG-AFTRA union at the time of this writing. Becoming a part of this union isn’t that simple – you must have done some professional work before they will accept you. Although the union keeps their numbers secret, it’s been speculated that only 5-10% of those 160k performers are working.
How many actors do you think there are outside of SAG-AFTRA that move to LA and struggle to get their membership for years? If I were to guess, I’d say there’s about half a million aspiring actors in Los Angeles that are not SAG-AFTRA members yet. The number is so high that Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t even keep a number of actors in LA, but they do for other cities.
With those numbers in mind, how lucky do you think you need to be to become the next Brad Pitt or Emma Stone?
That’s right. VERY lucky.
Your acting career is governed by talent, luck and chance
Your talent and skills can be measured. Your chances can be calculated. But your luck will depend completely on randomness. You cannot predict luck, thus you cannot depend on luck. It’s true that some people do, but then there are also people who argue that vaccines cause autism based on zero scientific evidence. Which party do you want to belong to?
You cannot depend on luck because it’s completely irrational to do so. Some may argue that it’s just plain dumb.
But what you can and should do is increase the probability for luck by improving your chances and
talent acting skills. Let’s quickly break this down.
It’s true that in the entertainment business, your success highly depends on luck. You get lucky and meet Spielberg who then casts you in his next picture. That’s the story on the surface that most people will usually hear because this is what an actor’s publicist has been saying. But is it really as simple as that? Can it not be something along the lines of…
- You train as an actor to improve your
- You continuously work to build up your credits and portfolio
- You utilize new media opportunities to get your name out there
- You meet and network with other actors, filmmakers, producers
- You treat your career as a business and try to sell your skills to them
You do a small project where your skills outshine every other actor in the film. You’ve marketed yourself to the point where other professionals in the field are paying attention to what you do and they see your talent on the screen.
You’re now contacted by a small time producer who wants to cast you in his next indie project because you’re talented, professional and can promote his movie to your own followers. The movie goes on to win some film festival awards and thus attracts attention of bigger names in the industry.
Spielberg’s production company’s scout who’s sole job it is to keep track of whatever new content emerges out of the film festivals notices the movie and your skills in it. She contacts that same small time producer and asks for your name. Finally, because you’ve marketed yourself well, and because you worked hard at networking and establishing relationships…
You get a call to meet Steve Spielberg.
It’s been said many times before that overnight success is a result of years of hard work. It’s true. You struggle, you work at your craft, you meet people, you network and get your name out there, and after all that work – when skills (not talent) meet opportunity – you suddenly become “an overnight success.”
“My dad told me, ‘It takes fifteen years to be an overnight success’, and it took me seventeen and a half years.” – Adrien Brody
Overnight success is the reward for your consistent work that you’ve done year after year. Even Brad Pitt wasn’t an overnight success; the guy struggled for years driving prostitutes in a limo and doing background work.
Then, if you wish to improve your chances, working at your craft alone isn’t enough.
You need to get your name out there and sell yourself. You’re an artist only when you’re on the film set, acting. But 90% of your acting career will be entrepreneurship, marketing and networking. That’s how you get to work as an actor and enjoy the 10% of your acting career, creating. That’s the reward, because acting isn’t work per se. It’s joy.
Bottom Line: You can increase the probability of luck by improving your skills and calculating chance.
Remember, luck is NOT a strategy.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I had a clear to-do list written. I followed all the steps and still continue to do so, slowly progressing by accomplishing small goals which will ultimately lead me to my final destination. It’s all about smart decisions and accomplishing small tasks. It’s about consistency and perseverance.
You should never, ever leave anything up to chance if you want to succeed as an actor. Never depend on luck. This industry is simply too competitive to be lazy. If you got into this thinking that it’s an easier job than spending your time in a cubicle, then I’m sorry to say that you’re wrong.
Just like with everything in life, you must approach your acting career with a sense of direction. You need to have a purpose for the things that you do, and you must have a plan for your acting career.
Here are some golden rules that I believe every actor must follow religiously:
- DO NOT ASSUME that your talent alone will get you to where you want to be
- DO NOT ASSUME that the chances of you succeeding will be in your favor
- DO NOT ASSUME that you will get lucky by simply “being an actor”
If you follow these rules, your chance for success will increase by a large margin mostly due to the fact that you’re going to have to work harder at everything. That is a good thing. Never assume anything, and always try to do your best. That is the only definite path to “overnight success.”
As an actor, aside from polishing your acting skills, there are several tools that you can utilize to improve your chances of meeting the right people and getting into the right projects that will garner you more attention and further opportunities. Those are:
- Self-marketing skills
- Being a great salesman
- Understanding business
There’s a reason why the entertainment business is called a “business.” Forget all the artsy stuff at least until you get your name out there and can pick the projects that you wish to work on. When you start, you’re just a product in the Hollywood machine, and you need to work on yourself, promote yourself, market yourself, sell yourself and clearly understand how to do this.
That’s the only way to increase your chance of success in Hollywood.
Bottom Line: The less assumptions you make, the harder you will work, the higher will be your chance of success.
Think of your acting career as a labyrinth
Choice A: Go through trial and error. Pick a path, follow it, and if it turns out to be wrong, you have to backtrack and pick a different path. Slowly, you’ll move forward and learn things along the way. As long as you keep pushing, you will get to the end of the labyrinth eventually, and find your way out (or in, rather).
Choice B: Find a map and follow the direction. It’s likely that someone else has already gone through this labyrinth and found all the right tracks that lead to the final destination. It’s the trodden paths that you can see in the labyrinth. It’s your guide to the way into the business. Follow all the right signs and you’ll get to where you want to be.
Either choice is the right choice. If you go the (A) route, it’ll take you longer (maybe a lot longer) but you’ll learn everything first hand. If you go the (B) route, you won’t learn as much yourself but you’ll get to your destination much quicker.
The only wrong choice here would be to leave it all to luck: enter the labyrinth and stand there, waiting for someone to find you and rescue you. It may or may not happen. The choice is yours. Have a good LUCK!
Bottom Line: Don’t go into this blind; have a purpose and a clear plan on how you’re going to accomplish things.
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