As a filmmaker/producer and career coach for artists, I firmly believe that if actors truly run their careers like businesspeople, they will go farther faster. With this comes the responsibility of a great businessperson to do the one thing all businesses must do— market their product to the right audience so they can sell more of it.
For actors, this means that you are the product, and your audience is made up of agents, managers, casting directors, producers, directors, network executives, and of course, your fans. And what you need to market are amazing, memorable performances in meaty roles that make people pause and take notice of you.
The number one challenge all actors face at some point in their career is getting the opportunity to play those roles due to all the reasons we know: competition, lack of access to auditions, lack of representation, not a right fit for the available roles, etc.
Almost all actors— and by almost all, I mean 99.9% of them— make the same mistakes over and over in their quest of those, and they do so year after year, spending thousands upon thousands of dollars resulting in little to no difference in their career since they began.
To try to improve their chances of getting more opportunities, they get new headshots because they think their current ones “aren’t working,” they take more acting classes, do more casting director workshops, write the same kinds of outreach emails to industry people— and when they see no improvement, they rinse and repeat with different headshot photographers, acting coaches and workshops. Their bank accounts dwindle because of the compounding expenses, and before they know it, they’re the cliché of “broke actor.”
Those 99.9% are the living definition of insanity: repeating the same ineffective behavior over and over again expecting different and better results. . . while going broke!
And all of this is to start to build a list of Co-Star and Guest Star credits, meaning book roles that are one or two lines, a scene or two, which compared to the amount of money they spend every year on the pursuit of these roles doesn’t even pay them back what they put out: spend $5,000+ on all of the above to maybe get a role that year that pays them around $1,000. . . minus taxes and commission. Peanuts. Year after year. Insanity.
Imagine that you could have the perfect starring role, a meaty one, that shows off your acting chops and makes people actually see what you can do, as opposed to a short reel of scenes with a line— or even a few lines— with zero emotional arc. Lines anyone could do.
So how do you get those perfect starring roles?
YOU CREATE THEM!
Add up all the money you spent this year on headshots, classes, coaches, seminars, workshops, shooting scenes to look like you were in something. How much did you spend? And the year before? How much will you spend next year?
Instead of this kind of perpetual cycle of lighting your hard-earned money on fire and being left with ashes instead of awards, save it all. Save every dime you would normally spend in a year of actor expenses and create a short film or web series that you can star in, that you can shine in, that you can show your audience of industry and fans like what you can really do. A role that you can sink your teeth into and be memorable in.
Show them you can ACT rather than just saying a few lines. Give them the full you, not some broken pieces scattered across a reel few will watch all the way through. Give them a performance they get hooked on, that they can’t turn away from! Make them fall in love with you.
This is the point where most actors think about it and their fear kicks in, followed by all the excuses. “I’m not a writer,” I don’t know where to begin,” I don’t have the money,” I can’t ask people for money,” and so on.
You don’t have to do everything yourself. Collaborate with people who are writers, directors, budding producers. Just look through your Facebook or Instagram. Surely you know at least one of these people, and they surely know others.
Creating and producing a starring vehicle for yourself is not only important for reasons too many to list, it’s essential in order to level up your career. Here are a few reasons why:
It changes the conversation with industry people! You go from an actor needing a job to a producer creating your own work, which is always impressive. It shows you’ve got hustle. It shows you’re committed to your dreams no matter what.
People don’t see you as someone who’s just waiting for a break, they see you as someone who has drive, passion, and guts. It says, “I’m not a desperate actor because I’ve got my own thing going on.” Instead of “please hire me,” you can say, “check out this killer project I’ve created and star in.”
Film Festivals. When you have a project in a film festival, you have the potential to win awards. Those count for something. Especially in the more prestigious festivals should you get in. Plus, just getting into festivals is a huge accomplishment. You also can create buzz for your project and yourself. And buzz is a great talking point with anyone.
Agents, mangers, CDs, and everyone can see you actually doing some acting. Again, saying a few lines in a few shows or films is great when you can get them, but starring in something with an emotional arc allows everyone to see how good you are.
If you do have an agent and/or manager, it gives them something to market! They can’t pitch for roles you if you’ve got nothing going on and have nothing substantial to show. It makes their job a little easier to get you in the door when you have a role you stand out in
It alleviates the stress and angst and feelings of being idle. When you’re working on something that you’re passionate about, you won’t feel like you’re not accomplishing anything because you’ll be accomplishing something huge.
You’ll also not care so much about auditions, meaning you won’t have those jitters when you actually get one. You’ll be less nervous because you know you already will be starring in something. That levity in your mood and demeanor, that relaxation will actually improve your auditions!
The upside of creating and starring in your own project is too big not to do it. Plus, it will absolutely lead to other opportunities by creating a whole bunch of new relationships with new people from crew to other filmmakers at festivals, actors, writers, etc. who are also connecting to industry people outside of your circle. Plus, you’ll feel more fulfilled having done something you love.
I tell you this from my own experience as a filmmaker and mentor to actors who’ve done it. It could change everything for you.
Stop doing the same things over and over again that aren’t working for you, and do something new, something challenging, something that breaks the cycle of insanity.
Have something to show for all the thousands of dollars you pour into your career
You can have $5,000 worth of headshots that few people will see and more classes that recycle what you already know, or you can have a short film or web series that you and others can show and talk about.
To truly grow as an artist, in your career, in your business, you must leap out of your comfort zone. Leap into something new. Leap forward.
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I’m a multi-award-winning filmmaker & producer, serial entrepreneur, author, and artist.
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