Updated: Nov 13, 2019
It sounds counter-intuitive, but you can actually fast-track your acting career by NOT being an actor.
No, I'm not talking about being a model, singer or sports star first.
I'm talking about understanding the business through taking on another role such as being a producer, before pursuing the art.
In a recent Backstage article, Katee Sackhoff hits the nail on the head:
" Being a producer now and producing the TV show I’m on right now [Netflix’s “Another Life”], I know the reasons people don’t get jobs... It has nothing to do, sadly, with your ability as an actor."
This is what nobody teaches in acting school - certainly not in Australia - which I feel is a HUGE loss for actors dreaming of a sustainable career in the creative industry and thinking that being a better actor will be the winning strategy.
It's devastating to have realised you've spent an average of $10,000 per year on acting classes alone to build a better product (ie you as an actor), only to find out a decade later that this strategy is not working. Yet acting schools continually churn out 'taught' actors, who often feel dumped on the street once they've paid the money, with no support, nowhere to go and no strategy to follow other than a loose idea that going to Los Angeles has a better chance than staying in Australia.
Like any product, it's the distribution and marketing that ensures chance of success and this is the area that needs attention. Attention is the currency of the day. You get someone's attention, the money follows. You're a wonderful actor who's spent countless hours training, like every other actor. But who knows about you? Who knows you actually exist, in the deafening throng of people shouting for attention? What's your marketing plan?
McDonald's doesn't make the best burger in the world, yet they sell millions. It's not the quality of the burger that got the sales, but their business, marketing and distribution strategy. As we know, McDonald's is really in the real estate business, not the hamburger business. Their strategies are well thought-out and deliberate. Poor ol' local corner-store best burger maker ever, unfortunately, isn't known by many people beyond the locals, yet they could be spending $10,000+ per year researching and crafting better and better burgers, thinking that will lead to expanding success.
Good news is, there are MAJOR BENEFITS to choosing a different path or strategy to acting, and coming back around to acting later. Knowing what business you're really in, is critical.
Here are some of the benefits of not being 'just another actor':
Claim back your power & give some: When you're not desperate to book a job because you have other options and skills to offer, you gain some sanity, avoid leading with desperation, and are basically more of a fun and balanced human to be around. You will be in a position to create your own roles, rather than waiting for someone else to write, cast and hopefully offer you a chance to audition for a role of your dreams. Not only will you take desperation for a job out of the picture, you may actually be in a position to offer others jobs. This is a deeply fulfilling feeling when you can give back to the community, while growing as an individual;
It's not about you: When you take on crew and behind-the-camera roles, your appreciation, patience and awareness increases. You learn what is really required of you from others in the industry. It's not personal. The producer is looking at the commercial viability of the project as a whole & sticks to the pre-planned day-to-day budget; the writers, having often worked on a script for 5 or more years, hope their story is brought to life in the best way possible; the director is spinning multiple plates keeping the vision on set moving forward while ensuring actors feel safe & on the same page in some sense of a framework within the moving target reality; sound crew want to ensure the best quality audio is captured and that batteries don't die during one-take wonder moments - the list goes on. There is no room for victim mentality when you're forced to see the bigger picture.
Perspective & connection: You realise you're really the last piece in a long, pre-planned chain that existed well before you came along. By taking on another role like producing, you also build connections and community beyond other actors, and you gain the opportunity to be known, liked and trusted. You will understand the numbers, the patterns to why some shows get picked up and others not, the market dynamics, the fact that every professional is working their butt off to succeed, that actors who don't show up to set at call time are just not worth working with anymore because it took 75 other people working on the production to get it to that point. You begin to see the true attitudes of teammates and start upping your game, wanting to be better for yourself and for others.
Think like a producer: This is a business, not a charity, unless you're happy living at home doing theatre in your bedroom broke AF for the rest of your life. Basic questions like, "Who is your target market?", "What is your strategy for reaching your goal?", "What is your definition of success? How will you know when you get there?", "Who are my backers?", "How do I budget to afford what I want?". Asking bigger questions around how you can help, rather than only focusing on who can help you.
Lessen the instability: Being an actor means you're subject to being rejected based on things you cannot control, in an industry already loaded with uncertainty. Rejected for your size? Hair colour? Height? Age? That's normal. Having another creative outlet broadens your base of stability, not just financially and creatively, but also mentally.
Ironically, I gained the most traction in my acting journey when I switched roles to learning producing, writing, directing and filmmaking in general, and had more to offer than just acting.
The best actor doesn't always get the job. Basing your career on the good chance that your hard work will not be recognised or ever pay off financially, may not be the "healthy risk worth taking". By branching out and taking on other roles in the industry, it opens up opportunities for a complimentary and potentially more stable career journey. As for where to start on the producer path, that is for another blog soon :-) Thank you for reading!
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