The film industry is a beast. If the film industry were a mythical land it would have everything. Mountains to climb, oceans to cross, deserts to shrivel up and die in, and buried treasure that a few lucky souls will find! Here are 10 things I wish some barnacle head would have told me when I started acting in film.
1. You are not in control of a lot of things in this business
When I started out, my goal was to book a network television job within the first year of being with my agent. That is hilarious to me now because I realize at this point that a goal like that, while attainable, is not something I have a lot of control over. Here’s why. You can audition your butt off, become the best actor you can be, have the most amazing headshots and reel, do everything right, and if there isn’t a role for you, then there isn't a role for you. That’s that. There are a zillion factors that go into casting a role that actors are not aware of when we are submitting to a project and a lot of those factors have nothing to do with us. That’s not to say that hard work doesn’t pay off, it does! But to have a specific goal like that might mean that you don’t know how the industry works. And that’s okay, it’s just better not to beat yourself up over things that aren’t in your control.
2. You can change your look
I seemed to think that keeping my hair the exact same all the time (a tight, blonde bob) was extremely important. The truth is, yes, you need to have updated headshots, but you don’t have to keep a certain weight or style just because you feel like that’s how the casting directors currently know you. They will adjust. Live your life. And dare I say… blonde vs brunette? Bangs or no bangs? Glasses? Doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. There are roles out there for the bang-ed and the bang-less.
3. Those student films you did will pay off
I don’t regret a single film I did for free or little to no money. There’s no better training than actually doing the work. There’s also no better way to meet other creatives than on a film set. Of course there is a time as an actor when you have to think about when to draw the line at working for free and that is definitely something to consider as you move along in your career. When you’re just starting out though, student films and short films are your best friend. Most of the people I know now are people I met at the very beginning of my film journey. (Pro tip: be cool to work with, you never know if you will cross paths with these lovely people again. Like any industry, it is smaller than you think!)
4. No one knows what they’re doing, but you can learn something from everyone
Go easy on yourself and humility is always a good trait.
5. Just do it
A lot of people say that the camera can tell if you’re lying. I would argue that this is not always the case. Maybe I’m just a terrible actress, but I don’t think so. There will be times you will be shooting and “you’re just not feeling it” or you can’t “find it.” (Whatever it is for you.) You’re a human being and humans get tired. Acting is hard! My advice is, it’s okay if you don’t feel anything while you’re acting sometimes. Adam Driver said in one of those round table interviews something to the effect of “we’re not paid to feel.” Ain’t that the truth. Sometimes you just have to get out of your head, say the words, mean them, and stop worrying about how you are feeling while you’re doing it. At the end of the day, we are talking props and we have a job to do. Feeling is not one of our jobs, making people feel is our job.
6. You can push through the jitters
I used to think that when I was nervous everyone could tell. They couldn’t, but thinking they could would get in my head. Stage fright is normal and it is most certainly not a death sentence to your performance. Accept the nerves and find a way to perform while your heart is beating and your palms are sweating. Eventually I learned that if you don’t let the nerves defeat you, they will quiet down a reasonable amount. After some success in acting, confidence does wonders for the nerves. That can take time, but it should give you hope that it can change.
7. Everyone has an opinion
Acting is an extremely vulnerable craft. There’s a lot of rejection and opinions flying around about how to act, how to be your own business, how to audition, and so much more. This includes my opinion, too! Take it with a grain of salt! At the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you. This seems obvious and is probably said too much, but I wish I embraced my own path and instincts even more at the beginning of my acting journey. Acting is about letting YOU come out, so playing your strengths and where you are comfortable is a great place to start. Are you naturally serious? Funny? Good at mimicking? Like doing commercials? Voices? Embrace it, use it, and run with it. Don’t take your talents for granted. Use them! Make money!
8. 5 years into my career and it is still an expensive endeavor
Headshots, taking time off from your serving job to do a student film, acting classes, the list goes on and on. Acting costs money. Some actors say that acting shouldn’t be a hobby, it should be a job. I somewhat disagree with this because acting has to be a hobby and a job. Hobbies cost money and free time. So does acting. This is my perspective as someone who treats acting as a craft and a journey, though… I admit I lack some business sense! This takes me to my next point:
9. It’s called show business for a reason
Show biz is show biz. It’s about making the dollar bills for those big picture shows. It’s something to always remember when you want to make sense of it all.
10. Your career changes as you change
As your acting career evolves, you must too. Since I haven’t been going to acting classes in awhile, I feel the effects of that. Some actors I know grow too big for the New Orleans market (or they feel they don’t fit into it) and they move to Atlanta. Some actors decide that at some point they are going to need an LA manager in addition to their New York agent. When things feel stagnant, sometimes you have to be willing to take a risk and make some changes.
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“Baby steps count, as long as you are going forward. You add them all up, and one day you look back and you’ll be surprised at where you might get to.”
— Chris Gardner