© 2013 Josh IMG_1672

My advice to a stranger on reddit

Wow, you have no idea how glad I am that I wrote to you. You see, the thing is, after you read this, you will know just how much I’m doing for these dreams of mine: right now I am living in Miami, but I moved to US a year and a half ago, exclusively to pursue the acting career. The reason why I moved to Miami first is because I had to first get my things in order, and now that I did, I’m finally moving to LA. In November, I’m auditioning for a local theatre play, and because of you, I will constantly check Craigslist, student films and all that, to constantly be in something.

Now, I hope you’ll excuse me for this, but ever since I moved from Europe to US, you are literally THE FIRST person who’s given me actual, usable advices. I didn’t even know for example about Central Casting, now I do. If I could, I would send you gallons of beer lol, or whatever drink you like.

Since you are the first one who has given so much usable advices, I would just like to ask something that has always bugged me. And I know I said that my last question was in my last message, but I really mean it this time, and again, if you don’t reply, don’t worry because you have helped me so much already.

The thing that it’s a puzzle to me, is what is my next step, AFTER doing theatre, web series, student films, and central casting. Do I then start going to real auditions and if yes, where are they posted? Or do I find an agent, and if yes, do I grab a yellow pages and just start calling them alphabetically?

 

Okay, the rules have probably changed some since I’ve been in the mix, but here’s the key stuff.  I’m giving you everything i’ve got here, because for whatever reason, I want to believe that you’re going to be successful.  Don’t take this lightly, but also don’t treat it as gospel, I’m just a guy with a few years on you that’s been on the sidelines in this city for a while. If it works for you, buy me a nice bottle of scotch, if it doesn’t, buy me a shitty bottle of scotch.

Rule 0: I’ll repeat this often, but I’m putting it here so it sinks in. Do research. It’s your job now.  Get good at it.  Sign up for IMDB Pro, read box office mojo, read variety and hollywood reporter, know the names of everyone you want to work with, learn as much as possible about any production you are joining, talk to other actors often, but take everything they say with a grain of salt and confirm anything with your own independent research.  You might as well get started on this now by verifying everything I’m saying to you now.  Get used to doing this, it’s going to determine whether or not you’re successful.  Yes, sometimes people get lucky, but luck has a hell of a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time.

1. In order to book real work, you need to be a member of SAG.

one of three things have to happen –
A – you get ‘taft hartley’d: this is what it’s called when you’re given a sag role when you’re not a member of SAG, the production pays a fee and you have a limited window to join sag at a reduced rate.
B – You acquire a number of SAG Vouchers from doing extra work, they’re not often given out, but it’s the ‘extra lottery’ if you’re lucky you’ll get them quickly, and you can then join sag.
C – Do it the long way, by appearing in enough projects that you meet the eligibility requirements on the sag website.

You don’t have to join sag right away, but you want to reach the status of “SAG ELIGIBLE”, so that if an agent wants to send you on a sag job, you can immediately sign up.

2. Getting an agent is a Catch-22.  You need to work to be appealing to an agent, but you need an agent to book work.  The real truth that few people know is that an agent wants to know that you’re out there 24/7 doing everything you possibly can for your career, because they want to see you as an easy paycheck.  That means (in all of your theater gigs and web series and whatnot) you’re constantly (once every two weeks) informing the agents you’re interested in working with what you’re up to.

This means
A. get a list of agents
B. make a schedule and stick to it
C. keep looking for your own work all the time

This could mean you need to start with a manager, a good manager will be able to help you book gigs, focus your career, and find a good agent.  Getting a manager is often slightly easier than an agent, but they will do less work for you and take more of your money. Many managers are just parasites, some are amazing.  Usually you don’t actually want a manager until you’re booking a lot of work and have to start making decisions about what to take and what to turn down.

Most of the time an agent or manager will DEFINITELY want to talk to you if you’ve already booked a gig and need someone to negotiate the contract, for them it’s free money, but it’s in your best interest to do so. In most cases the studio or production company will recommend people, but ALWAYS reach out to others.

Once you are with an agent/manager, remember that they WORK FOR YOU, not the other way around. You’re hiring them. Also remember that you are one of their MANY clients, and it’s still up to you to book your own work most of the time, until you reach the point that you’re in demand, and then it’s okay to let them start screening offers (once you’re at that point though, you won’t need my advice anymore).

Remember, finally, that time is precious in hollywood, moreso that anywhere else, they put a premium on time and work. Everyone that will ever work for you, with you, or hire you, will consider the time they spend with you an investment, and it’s up to you to guarantee a good return on that investment.

3. Reputation.  Reputation is the name of the fucking game.  I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that your reputation is at least 50% of every decision that anyone will make involving you and money.  Also, your reputation has a short shelf life.  You need to constantly be reinforcing your reputation EVERYWHERE.   Cheat sheet – the reputation you want is that of a hard worker that’s friendly and easy to deal with, who’s trustworthy, and who knows your role (not just your acting role, but your role in the situation).

4. This is very important: Always be as prepared as possible.  Always know your lines, always hit your marks, always do research.  This applies not only to on set or on stage, it’s in auditions, it’s in meetings, it’s in bars, clubs, restaurants etc… Every interaction has the potential to be a professional one.  Everyone in LA is connected to someone, and you never know if the person you’re talking to could one day be in the position to give you a good reference.

To extrapolate; LA has the reputation of being a mercenary city, everyone, all the time, will be sizing you up to see if you benefit them in some way. It’s fucked up, but it’s the way shit is.  Everyone out here is trying to make it somehow, and you may or may not be a stepping stone to that.  On the other hand, you have to remember that everyone is human, with the same basic needs, requirements, and desires.  One of those desires is friendships, one of those needs is to feel important and valued, and one of those requirements is trust.   Every human interaction comes down to some measure of trust, so be trustworthy.

5. People in LA love to fuck around.  They’ll fuck with you, promise you shit all the time, they want you to like them even if they don’t deserve it.  You’ll encounter something I like to call the “hollywood promise” which is an offer or a hint of an offer that sounds really good, but never actually happens.  Most of the time people will use it as a way to get you to do work for free, other times people do it with the best intentions and shit just doesn’t work out, but most often, it’s because everyone is doing the same thing which is “fake it til you make it”, being ‘bigger’ than you actually are in order to convince people you’re really that big.  It’s a social game, and you have to play it and be aware of when you’re being played.  This goes back to ‘always do research’.  Get good at it.

6. There are plenty of resources available to actors in L.A., some are good, some are scams. There are things like ‘the actor’s network’ that are kind of legit, and showcases that are total scams.  Most of the time if you have to shell out money for something, you should check references first, again, do research.

7. Show business is a business, at the heart of it, it’s about money.  you’ll meet plenty of brilliant, creative, passionate people, but the ones that have all the power are the ones holding the checkbook, sometimes they’re the same person, but more often than not, the people with the money are concerned about money first and art second.  Know who you’re talking to and what they want out of the conversation, sometimes they want feedback, sometimes they want validation, sometimes they want flattery, sometimes they want friendship, sometimes they want to feel superior.  What I’ve learned is that people who want feedback are the good ones, but they’re also the most rare, and they’re usually never the ones holding the checkbook.

8. Everytime you go in for an audition, they already have someone in mind for the part. You’re always fighting an uphill battle, every audition is an opportunity to impress, never take it for granted. Some projects are terrible, many of them, but it’s a long life in this business and you’ll meet the same people on projects that aren’t terrible, and you want them to remember you and like you, reccomend you for other things, etc…

9.  There’s a secret currency in LA, and that is the exchange of recommendations.  Being able to give someone a good recommendation is a win for all parties, and it’s always a good thing.  First of all, you want to be the ‘good thing’ that people recommend (reputation), but also you want to always have a good recommendation in your back pocket. This could be anything, but it has to be truly good; a restaurant you discovered, a shortcut to set that avoids traffic, a book about a relevant subject to the discussion, another actor who would be perfect for the role, etc… Recommendations work so well because when the person takes you up on it, (and it really is good) you will be permanently associated with that good experience.  It creates a level of connection that’s hard to replicate and hard to forget. (bad recommendations are as devastating as good ones are helpful)

Some basic platitudes that I’ve found to be true.
A. People want to help you, but they don’t want to work for you.
B. Nobody ever wants to cut a check.
C. The only time people give you money is when they think you have the potential to make more money for them.
D. People respect humility and confidence. Learn the difference between confidence and arrogance, and learn the difference between humility and weakness.
E. Flattery works, so long as it isn’t obvious.

I am telling you these things for a few reasons, the first is that you asked, sometimes it’s the best thing you can do.  The second is that there is otherwise very little I can do for you, I can’t get you work, I won’t recommend you to anyone, and I think that there are a million people just like you that are trying to do the same thing you are, however, when I moved to Los Angeles, I didn’t have anyone that would tell me any of these things and I wasted years figuring all this shit out.  I still haven’t ‘made it’ and I don’t know if I ever will, I’m coming to terms with that, and I’m still optimistic about my own prospects for the future. But the critical mistake I made, and I’ll lay it out here so that you can learn from it, is this:

There are four things that will compete for your precious time:

A.  The things that are immediate and important but aren’t important to your dreams (rent, food)

B.  The things that are unimportant but satisfying (sex, drugs, entertainment)

C.   The things that are immediate and important to your dreams (booking gigs, networking, research)

D.   The things that are long term and important to your dreams (improving yourself, learning your craft, building professional relationships, pursuing dream projects)

You want to be living in D. A & B are just noise.  B helps you deal with the stress of A.  C is your job, and D is your goal.  Do good at C&D, and you’ll never have to worry about A&B.  I wasted my first 10 years in LA on A, with a little B sprinkled in.

In simpler terms, don’t reward yourself with short term happiness, you get more happiness out of fulfilling your life dreams than any amount of sex, drugs, and parties.  I’m not saying be a monk, but consider that greatness is something that you build over time, and your success will be determined by the work you do.

Okay, last thing:

Like I said before, everyone is trying to make it, which means that opportunities are created every day. Despite everything I said, there’s no ‘one path’, you might fall in with a good creative group of people right away and end up creating something that goes viral and makes you a star, you probably won’t, but that’s okay. Just learn to recognize talent, drive, passion, and purpose in the people you associate with, and remember that it’s all about the work you do.  If you’re not afraid to work hard, and you do it well, you’ll attract two types of people, parasites, and like-minded individuals, if you can tell them apart, you’re in good shape.

Cheat Sheet:
Make a Schedule for yourself so you can use your precious time well, and stick to it like you don’t have a choice.
Central Casting in burbank – sign up
Get good headshots, and update them every 6 months.
Research SAG, and use the resources provided by them often.
Check out the film schools, notably AFI, USC, and UCLA, take classes to network and learn.
Learn everything you can about your craft, learn about lenses, cameras, lighting, set design, wardrobe.
Get in shape and stay in shape, it’s part of your job.
Learn every skill you can, dancing, singing, stage combat, stunt work, stunt driving, languages, musical instruments, martial arts.
Learn everything you can about trends, styles, clothing, learn your angles, learn what looks good and what doesn’t, learn your facial expressions, how to use your eyes to convey emotions.
Take improv classes, comedy is harder than drama, try groundlings and ucb.
Lose your fear. For real, fear is the number one roadblock you’ll encounter on your path, try new things all the fucking time.
Get lists of agents, producers, casting people, current productions, and add them to your schedule, you’re going to reach out to every person every two weeks.
Subscribe to variety, hollywood reporter, and read them religiously.
Be friendly but don’t overshare, know your shit but don’t be a know it all.
Everything is practice for something, the more you do anything the better you get at it.
Read True And False by Mamet.
Read every book on acting, auditioning, networking, the film industry, and theater that you can get your hands on, and learn to love it.

And the best single piece of advice i could ever give you:
Don’t let the bastards drag you down.  LA is full of assholes that want to feel superior to you even if it means actively sabotaging you, don’t fucking let shit get to you.  You are going to be rejected on a daily basis, don’t let that this get to you.  Remember that everyone is still trying to make it, even the people that have ‘made it’ as far as you know, so keep that in mind when you’re dealing with other people’s negative bullshit.  Stay positive, stay friendly, stay honest, and stay humble.  I wish I had.

If you have more specific questions, ask away.

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