Thursday, February 14, 2013

Screen Actors Blues

This is a hard one.  I've had so many friends who moved to L.A. to act, only to leave with broken dreams and bruised egos.  There were about fifty people in my first acting class out here.  Of those fifty people, only one is still a professional actor.

I play poker.  I'm actually pretty good at it, and I know bad odds when I see them.  And "making it" as an actor has bad odds.  ("Making it" doesn't mean being a movie star and having everybody know your name.  "Making it" means working professionally enough so that you're satisfied.)  So I'll start out by asking you, dear reader, some questions:

  • Is acting the only thing you want to do?  Is it your biggest dream?  Can you not live without it?
  • Were you the best-looking person in your high school or college?
  • Have you had years and years of theatrical training at a school like Juilliard?
  • Do you consider yourself beautiful, attractive, charismatic?  Do you have a great body?
  • Can you cope with unemployment?  Do you function well in a structure-free environment?
  • Can you live with mean people judging you on your appearance and ability?
Well?  How do you feel?  Can you answer "yes" to all of those?  Are you still reading?  Do you think I'm a jerk? Or maybe I just don't understand you and your situation.  Maybe you already feel you know all this.  

Hang on a second.  Are you a woman?  Let me turn the blog over to my wife so she can tell you how women are treated in the acting business:

Hey everyone.  Jace here.  Let me just repeat things I've overheard over the years.  "Her eyes are weird -- they're too far apart."  "Absolutely not -- I hate her forehead."  "Her thighs are too big."  "I wanted a brunette."  "Wow.  She ate a lot of ice cream since this photo was taken."   You know what?  There's too much I want to say about this to limit it to a guest paragraph or two.  Come back to the blog tomorrow and I'll have a whole post on it.

OK.  I can't stop you.  So first the good news.  Every single person I've known who has wanted to act professionally and has stuck with it for at least five years has booked at least one job.  So it is possible.  And the truth is, you don't have to be beautiful, exceedingly trained or well-connected (not that this stuff hurts).  

But you do have to be persistent, disciplined, and have very thick skin.

I will also tell you that I have had no better feeling in my entire life than when I booked my first acting job.  It felt fantastic -- like I was floating on Cloud Nine.  I seriously was hoping no one would pinch me, because I didn't want to wake up.  

So, what's the best way to begin this often-uncomfortable journey?  

First, be realistic.  Ninety-five percent of Screen Actors Guild (SAG) members are unemployed -- well, 85% if you ask SAG, but I don't believe anything they say.  It takes a long time to get your acting career going.  Five years is a good way to think about it.  Five years of trying and failing and trying and failing...and then trying and succeeding.  

Also, try your best to be self aware.  To give you an example: when I moved here, I thought I was a normal, good-looking guy.  I got headshots taken that made me appear to be a normal, good-looking guy.  They didn't fool anybody.  The first four jobs I booked, my character was either mentally handicapped or inbred.  

I'm not joking.  I had no idea I was so funny-looking.

The plus to this was, I got work based on my "look."  It just wasn't the look I thought I had.  

So look at yourself in the mirror and really think about how other people perceive you.  Then watch a bunch of movies and see how people who look like you are perceived.  I bet there's a difference.

What else?  Make sure you have a good, cheap apartment to live in, a flexible day job (or generous parents) and get your ass to acting class.  And not just any fly-by-night guy that says he can teach you acting: I'm talking a GOOD teacher, like Ivana Chubuck, Howard Fine, Larry Moss...there's a handful of them.  They're expensive but mandatory.  And once you get to class, don't quit.  Stick with it.  Learn.  Practice.  Study.  Make friends.  I found my wife because of acting class.  I was studying with Jeffrey Tambor and Jace was my scene partner's roommate.  I can't stress how important it is to develop relationships while you're studying.  These people are going to be your lifeline, your support system, your connections, your friends.  No matter how hard or frustrating it gets, don't quit class!  Know that in the beginning, the actors you're going up against in auditions are going to be better than you.  You need to keep working on your skills.  Period.

So that's the first step.  Do it.  Be persistent.   Don't give up.  If it wasn't for acting, I never would have been able to become a writer or a director.  It was a crucial part of my development as an artist and a man.

So just remember: the beginning is the hard part but if you really want it, you can do it!

In the next post I'll get to the fun part of showcases and getting an agent.  Trust me, it's a blast.  In the meantime, keep studying, keep training!

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