Forget about just surviving when jumping into the Hollywood game. Creative folks venturing into the land of show business need to concentrate on thriving. Actors equipped with the right knowledge and tools can easily stand out among the stiff competition. “On any given day, there are more than a quarter of a million actors living in Los Angeles,” said Bob Stewart, CEO of Now Casting & Players Directory. Stewart, who moderated the discussion at the Screen Actors Guild, also stated that 50,000 actors leave LA annually mostly due to burnout. 50,000 more flood back in through the revolving doors.
SAG invited local union members to attend a free seminar entitled “Thriving in Hollywood,” which was simultaneously live streamed to actors across the country. For many, it was a chance to hear firsthand from the experts on what to expect in the Entertainment Capital of the World. Panelists included SAG agent of the month Orion Barnes of Roger Orion Talent Agency, casting director Jami Rudofsky and actor David H. Lawrence XVII, who appeared on Heroes, Lost and Chuck. Each offered advice on how to maximize opportunities, setting goals and putting a plan in motion as well as avoiding mistakes other actors have sadly made.
Before making the move to Hollywood, all three suggested non-locals hone their craft by getting involved in theatre and student films in their own hometown. “Sharpen the axe as much as you can and wherever you are,” shared Lawrence. Rudofsky encouraged actors to explore theatre as a great training ground. She also suggested eligible actors join the union once they’ve gained enough experience.
“Be your own production house and create your own content,” said Barnes. Nowadays, guerilla filmmaking is quite popular. It raises the bar for each actor, who says they've produced, wrote and starred in their own production, even if it was on a shoestring budget. Stewart said craft is key to everything and work begets work at any level.
In addition, the moderator recommended performing artists focus on their finances while laying down career building blocks. Besides rent, headshots, classes and workshops are typical actors’ expenses. “The number one reason for failure of any business is the lack of capital,” stated Stewart. “You are the CEO of your own corporation. You have authority over your career.”
Most living their dream in LA need a survival job to make ends meet until they land a lead or recurring role. Lawrence, who was a former disc jockey, earns extra income as a voiceover coach and produces VO demos. He told actors to align themselves with gigs that are connected to the industry. “It allows you to network and make money at the same time,” he said.
No matter what the survival job is, agents and casting directors hope performers choose jobs that are flexible. “Actors must be willing to risk the jobs when auditions come up,” said Barnes. “Surround yourself with a support team who believes in what you have to offer,” said Rudofsky, who has cast numerous films and TV shows including Gilmore Girls, The Practice, and The Apostle.
With the ever-changing entertainment industry embracing more and more technology, the panel offered tips to veteran actors needing a boost to jump-start their careers. “Re-establish yourself and do the ground work by getting in a class,” suggested Rudofsky, who learned a hard lesson after one of her shows was cancelled. Even as a casting director, she said she had to take pro-active measures until she landed her next job. Barnes said experience certainly counts, “If you are willing to put in work, the opportunities are there.”
Stewart added, “By doing something everyday for your career is when you get fully engaged. The Herculean effort will kill you.” He explained, “It’s a machine and you cannot control your results. What you can control is your activity.”
If acting is your passion, stay on the path, don’t give up and don’t let rejection get you down. According to Stewart, Oscar-nominated actor Samuel L. Jackson reportedly said, “It takes 10 years to be an over night success.”