Before I moved to Los Angeles, I was very lucky to receive my acting training in England where I studied with some of the most proficient drama teachers and Shakespearean actors. It was an invaluable artistic experience.
Once I left the school, I was puzzled: “So what’s next?” There was nothing on the horizon. I may have become a better actor, but I was still jobless and nobody knew who I was. At this point I began self-teaching myself on the business side of the entertainment industry, reading a lot of acting books and talking to working professionals in the field.
It turns out that no drama school can prepare you for the real world of show business, and many professionals agree.
“I also hear a lot – but still not enough – about the importance of teaching business management skills to performing arts students every one of whom will have, to an extent, to manage his or her own time, money, taxes and resources. Drama schools should be doing everything possible to develop such knowledge as well as showing students how to develop their own work and sell it – as the best, and most forward looking, schools are already doing.” – Susan Elkin, TheStage.co.uk
Unfortunately, drama schools do not. Actors leave the haven of creative expression with skills but nil in knowledge on how to market themselves, how to sell their “product,” how to network, how to use social media, how to promote their projects, how to produce their own work, how to utilize new media opportunities and so on. This system is obsolete in 2015.
The second I realized this, I dove in deeper into the business side of acting. After a couple of years (yes, years!) of reading, talking and researching while also trying to struggle as an actor, I finally realized that every aspiring performer starting out in the industry should focus more on self-marketing, networking and selling themselves instead of only polishing their craft of acting. That is if they truly want to make it in the entertainment business.
Soon afterwards it hit me. Being an actor is EXACTLY like being an entrepreneur.
After this epiphany, I began polishing my entrepreneurial skills alongside my acting craft. To my surprise, there was a lot to learn about the business of acting, filmmaking, directing, screenwriting and producing, all of which are closely related components of a bigger picture – creative success in show business. Those who posses a firm understanding of this full package have a higher chance to prevail.
So let’s talk about how being an actor is not only similar to being an entrepreneur, but why actors MUST be good entrepreneurs in the first place.
1. Actors MUST create their own opportunities
We have already discussed the importance for actors to not depend on luck, and instead create their own future. This stems from the reality of show business being over-saturated. There’s simply too many performers and not enough commercial options. If this is true to Los Angeles, then it’s even more applicable to any other city in the world.
Future businessmen are always taught to create their own opportunities. Business schools do not focus solely on teaching their students Accounting 101, and business management. Entrepreneurs are constantly encouraged to challenge their creative mind to come up with ideas for creating something out of nothing; nobody else will do that for them.
Unfortunately, that is the one thing missing from drama school training. Actors will polish their skills for 3-4 years, but nobody ever whispers in their ear that there’s very little work out there. Hollywood is a jungle where all the hungry thespians fight for a one line part.
Aspiring actors must stop focusing only on their
talent acting skills, and shift their work ethic towards writing something, producing short films and – this is the most important – generating opportunities for other performers. Collaborate and create something together instead of looking for others to give you work, because you never know how long you’ll have to wait.
Here’s what Charlie Day of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia thinks about the subject:
“It was the riskier road and again I could not have made a better decision. Taking matters into my own hands changed everything. Led to everything. “Horrible Bosses,” “Pacific Rim,” “Saturday Night Live.” Creating the job as opposed to having it offered to me accelerated the process. Draw your own conclusions here but I think the lesson is obvious. Don’t wait for your break. Make your break. Make it happen for yourself.” – Charlie Day, Entrepreneur.com
Simply by taking action instead of planning his next huge movie, or his next big role, Charlie was able to start small and look where he and his friends ended up.
Bottom Line: The industry is too saturated to be waiting for your big break. Instead, create something of your own.
2. Actors MUST know how to market themselves
Going back to the competitive nature of show business, it’s vital to understand that there’s no room for laziness. It’s true that acting itself can be easy, mostly because it’s simply a joyous chance to do what we love. However, before you can express your creativity, you’ll have to work your butt off.
Entrepreneurs understand well that after they’ve created an eminent product, almost everything in this new business venture will depend on how well they can market it. If nobody’s going to know that this invention exists, then there is no reason for developing it in the first place. Marketing is everything to entrepreneurs, and this should be similar to actors.
We must accept that we are products. We sell ourselves and our services. In order to increase our sales numbers, we must actively market this “product.” Reach out to casting directors, filmmakers, producers, screenwriters, big Hollywood players, agencies, other working actors and anybody else – and I mean anybody – working in the industry. Let them know that you exist.
With that being said, your
talent acting skills will always come first. That is your foundation, because if you don’t have a good product to sell, sooner or later it will all fall apart no matter how good you are at marketing. We all know some poor actors who managed to get to the top quickly, and then just as quickly they fall down to the bottom. Find a healthy balance between the two.
Now, if two of the greatest actors, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart, work hard at marketing even at their level, then that should tell us something. I love these guys!
“During the six-month period, said the social data company, Stewart tweeted 105 times, garnering about 500,000 retweets and favorites. For sake of comparison, Oreo—widely considered a social branding juggernaut—received some 46,300 Twitter retweets/favorites during the same period, according to Shareablee.“
Being business savvy is an integral part of a struggling actor these days. If you want to get noticed in Los Angeles, you have to develop your business and marketing skills.
Bottom Line: Even if you’re the best actor in the world, you will never get anywhere if nobody knows about you, so market your skills.
3. Actors MUST be great salesmen and saleswomen
We all know that successful salesmen are often good actors. They must be, otherwise they would never sell anything to anybody. This doesn’t mean that they are deceitful liars. Unlike what movies will usually show us, truly skillful salesmen are oftentimes very authentic and affectionate, with a great deal of empathy. People buy from good salesmen because they relate to them.
One of the first classes in entrepreneurship will teach you not just how to sell, but how to do it with skill and grace. Unfortunately, over the years we have developed a negative connotation with the word “sell,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. Good entrepreneurs create a product in which they wholeheartedly believe, and they honestly know that the product will help those who buy it.
As actors, we want to become a part of a project because we know that we will nail that part. We believe that there’s nobody better for the role, thus our goal is to relay that same belief onto others. We should strive to sell directors, producers, agents and casting directors on our
talent acting skills through uniqueness, authenticity, empathy and affection.
You should also know when to sell and when to act. Audition is not the time for a self-selling pitch (coining it!), but communication with a casting director before or after the audition definitely is. Sometimes, demonstrating your skills alone isn’t enough. This is the Hollywood game, thus you must learn the rules and know how to play it if you want to win.
Finally, all of the above (and below) conundrum is especially true if you’re producing your own work, which you should. Once you have a web series going, a short film, a full-blown feature or even just a YouTube video, you’ll have to market it and sell it. Learn how to do this skillfully, and let go of those preconceived notions that “selling is bad.” It’s not, as long as your product is good.
Bottom Line: Being a great salesman means being authentic and affectionate, and understanding what people want so that you can give them the best unique product.
4. Actors MUST learn how to raise money for projects
Going back to our first step on this list, actors who strive to build their own opportunities (do I hear clapping?) and produce their own projects must be great at raising money. It’s not a secret that most of us starving thespians may not be actually starving, but we’re poor. But this should never stop you from finding ways to write and produce that short film you had in mind.
Successful entrepreneurs are famous for their resilience, and they will not stop until they find a way to create the product that they’ve envisioned. Nothing in this world comes easy to those who start at the bottom, but everything is possible with hard work and perseverance. Early in their careers upcoming accomplished entrepreneurs learn the importance of being able to raise a lot of money, fast. That’s the secret to their success.
If you’ve been around actors for a while, you’ve probably heard something along the lines of “I have this idea for a film, but it’s just too expensive to do it.” Bullshit; that’s just an excuse. Actors who want success bad enough will find a way how to cut costs, gather friends around to work for a meal and, most importantly, find ways to raise money for their super-amazing idea.
The key to success with raising cash for your film is for you to believe in it one hundred percent, and be confident enough to go out there and pitch your brainchild, ask for funding and sell others on your beliefs. Whether it seems like it or not, this is a skill that is difficult to master, because very few will part with their money without knowing what they’re buying.
Successful crowdfunding is not easy, but if you can do it and produce a feature for a decent budget, your career will take a big turn for the better. Remember Charlie Day?
Bottom Line: If you can learn to effectively raise money to fund your own short or feature, you’ll get ahead of 99% of other struggling actors out there.
5. Actors MUST understand the importance of networking
Finally, one of the key pieces of an actor’s success puzzle is networking. You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Yes, I’m not fond of it too, but connections in the city of Los Angeles are everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. If you know the right people, with the right amount of cash and influence who believe in you, then there’s nothing you won’t be able to accomplish in this crazy industry.
If you’ve ever met a dedicated entrepreneur at a schmoozing party, you can see the way they work the room. All the while being authentic, they always have a plan of action in their head. Entrepreneurs always seek out new connections, people with whom they can work with, or who will be interested in their insane schemes. There’s no denying that making friends is the best way to move your own future forward.
The exact same formula applies to actors, and possibly even more so. Finding the right people to work with you, hire you, fund your projects or simply think of you when the time comes can very quickly escalate your status on the Hollywood’s charts. It all comes back to the principles of being a good salesman and marketer: be authentic and affectionate, and believe in your product.
I can bet everything that I have that 99% of current movies stars would not be where they are today if not for the friends they’ve made along the way. Simply look at any famous actor’s biography, and you’ll instantly notice which set of connections related circumstances had given the actor a career boost that eventually led to their ultimate success in Hollywood.
As an example, let’s take someone who recently got into the spotlight. How about Eddie Redmayne? Here’s a good article explaining how clever and strategic (on top of being a great actor) with making connections Eddie is. I’m positive he used the same networking principles even before he got cast for Theory of Everything.
“The “Theory of Everything” star was in his element at Tuesday’s posh luncheon for the Focus Features’ Oscar hopeful, wining and dining with the Academy and charming members of the press (myself included). In short, Redmayne knows how to charm and lead a discussion — factors that will no doubt help him in the months ahead as he’s paraded by Focus throughout the Oscar season.“
And here’s a perfect advice from Tony Award winner John Lloyd Young to wrap this up, so make sure you read this:
“I just went on a road trip and we’re driving along and there’s a billboard for Dunkin’ Donuts lattés. Then, a few minutes later, there’s an airplane with a banner, advertising the lattés from Dunkin’ Donuts. Then we check into the hotel, and we turn on the TV and there’s an ad for Dunkin’ Donuts lattés! The next morning… guess where we got coffee? Dunkin’ Donuts! They’re a major brand, a hugely successful brand, everyone knows it. And yet they were in our face.
Similarly, as an actor, the one thing that will help you is visibility. No one is going to remember to call in an actor who’s sitting home watching TV. My point is, just like Dunkin’ Donuts is in your face, actors have to be in people’s faces. Not in an obnoxious way, you just have to be ubiquitous. And how do you become ubiquitous? Always be in something, even if it’s a showcase that doesn’t pay you anything. Even if it’s bad! You don’t have to invite anyone… you can send them a postcard the day before it closes just to tell them you were in it. They see your picture, they see your postcard, they know you’re working on something. It’s an excuse to be in someone’s face.
You get invited to an opening? Go. You get invited to a show? That means they’re papering the house and there’s probably going to be industry there. Go! You don’t have to be obnoxious or anything, and I would never advocate that. You don’t even have to introduce yourself to anybody. Just always be out, go to everything. Go! I don’t know if it works, but I do know that I went to Dunkin’ Donuts instead of Starbucks that day.” – John Lloyd Young, ActorsLife.com
There are smart actors, and there are naive ones. Usually, a combination of both can serve your acting career best.
Bottom Line: The more people in the industry know that you exist, the higher your chance of becoming a regularly working actor.
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