Too many actors I meet don’t have a plan. They’ve moved to Los Angeles to act and that’s about all they know.
Occasionally they’ll take a class, try joining some actor support group, attempt to network by partying or attending industry events, do a casting director workshop, try stand up or take an improv class, shoot new headshots, try to get an agent or manager, get dropped, try to get a “better” agent or manager, take a “business of acting” workshop, consider doing a play, book a job and get all energized and excited, then not book a job for weeks or months and start questioning everything, and all the while the years fly by like one long summer. One day, they wake up, they’re in their early 30s, they’ve been “at it” for a decade or more, and wondering whether they’ve just been deluding themselves the whole time that this is what they were born to do.
It doesn’t have to be like that for you. You just need a tried-and-true game plan. Having a solid plan can make all the difference in the world in making your journey in acting joyful and the sacrifices you make along the way worth it. If you know where you’re going and where you are on the path that leads there, all you have to do is focus on the next step. Achieving success, whatever it means to you, becomes all the less daunting when all you have to do is focus on one next bite-sized and achievable goal. Will Smith put it this way, “You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say, ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.”
So here are the bricks in the order they should be laid as best as I can suggest to you. It’s not the only plan. It’s a plan. Tweak it, mold it, add or subtract to it, but my hope is that it inspires or guides you to set up a framework that will propel you forward with optimism, clarity, and confidence. Whenever anyone from back home in Minnesota asks me what they should do when they come to L.A., this is what I tell them.
Step 1: Stability
If you can, come here with a car and five grand or more saved up. That will buy you three months to get your foundation set up. Your first objective should be stability. Find a place to live and get a job that brings in enough money to pay all your bills and gives you at least a few hundred dollars more to spend and save. It doesn’t matter if that job is at night or during the daytime, it just has to pay enough. Just make sure you’re not working too many jobs or too many hours that you don’t have time for Step 2.
The goal here is to set yourself so you’re not freaked out about how you’re going to survive and gives you the resources to attack Step 2. Don’t worry about agents, acting, auditioning, headshots, or anything else right now. Just get yourself into a stable, sustainable position with some cash to spend.
Step 2: Training
Now that you’re stable, get your ass in class. No matter how many regional commercials or plays you did back in Bumblef*ck, Idawherever, acting in L.A. is a completely different environment. If you think you’re good fresh off the boat, you may be, but you still need to learn how things work here in the Super Bowl of acting.
If all you’ve done is theater, you need to learn how to act on camera. If you have on-camera experience, you need to learn the different genres of on-camera acting work; drama, single-cam comedy, and multi-cam comedy, as well as the tonal differences among shows within a genre, and the writing styles of specific writers of network shows and films.
If you come to an audition where we’re looking for jazz and you play heavy metal, it doesn’t matter how good you are. We can’t use you. And, we can’t waste our time bringing in an actor that doesn’t understand how things work yet. That was me for the first four years in Los Angeles: My head up my own ass, thinking I was good because I worked consistently for 10 years in Minneapolis doing print, industrials, and regional commercials.
But I wasn’t great—not by L.A. standards. And I didn’t start booking until I humbled myself and realized that I needed to learn how to be brilliant, not just good, not even just great; brilliant. That’s what it takes to book and book consistently at the highest level in L.A.
With those few hundred bucks of disposable income, get yourself into a great class, doing all the auditing and due diligence described in my previous articles and my book to make sure you’re in a good learning environment. Eventually, your coach and you will begin to recognize that your work in a particular genre is consistently solid. With competence comes confidence. Now you’re ready to attack Step 3, coming to you next week in Part 2.
- Apr 25, 2018 5 Risks of Acting in Non-Union Commercials Apr 25, 2018
- Aug 17, 2017 How to Take Full Advantage of Your SAG-AFTRA Membership Aug 17, 2017
- May 30, 2017 3 Essentials for Brilliant Work May 30, 2017
- Feb 9, 2017 Stop Apologizing Feb 9, 2017
- Jan 18, 2017 Why Good Slates Matter Jan 18, 2017
- December 2016
- November 2016
- Sep 9, 2016 2 L.A. Session Directors on What Actors Need to Know Sep 9, 2016
- Jun 6, 2016 We’re Not Evolved to Handle Acting Well Jun 6, 2016
- May 31, 2016 3 Ways Stage Training Adversely Affects On-Camera Actors May 31, 2016
- Apr 14, 2016 4 Ways for Working Actors to Deal With Emotional Stress Apr 14, 2016
- Dec 1, 2015 How to Handle Unwanted Romantic Advances From Industry Pros Dec 1, 2015
- Nov 11, 2015 Stop Calling It Rejection Nov 11, 2015
- Oct 7, 2015 5 Universal Mistakes I See Actors Make Oct 7, 2015
- Sep 29, 2015 The Unsung Heroes of Casting: Cori-Anne Greenhouse Sep 29, 2015
- Aug 31, 2015 Why Acting Is and Needs to Be Fun Aug 31, 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 12, 2015 Being a ‘Good’ Actor Isn’t Good Enough May 12, 2015
- April 2015
- March 2015
- February 2015
- Nov 28, 2014 12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances, Part 3 Nov 28, 2014
- Nov 26, 2014 7 Steps Toward Better Headshots Nov 26, 2014
- Nov 12, 2014 12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances, Part 2 Nov 12, 2014
- Nov 5, 2014 12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances, Part 1 Nov 5, 2014
- Oct 13, 2014 Why Actors Must Take Care of Their Bodies Oct 13, 2014
- Oct 12, 2014 Getting Your ‘Look’ Right, Part 2: Matching Your Essence to Your Marketing Oct 12, 2014
- Oct 12, 2014 Getting Your ‘Look’ Right, Part 1: Identifying Your Essence Oct 12, 2014
- Oct 6, 2014 We Are Each Other’s Greatest Resource Oct 6, 2014
- Sep 29, 2014 An Ode to Actors Everywhere Sep 29, 2014
- Sep 23, 2014 A 4-Step Guide for Success in L.A., Part 2 Sep 23, 2014
- Sep 16, 2014 A 4-Step Guide for Success in L.A., Part 1 Sep 16, 2014
- Sep 9, 2014 The Importance of Training, Part 3: 3 More Things You Shouldn’t Tolerate in Acting Class Sep 9, 2014
- Sep 2, 2014 The Importance of Training, Part 2: 3 Things You Shouldn’t Tolerate in Acting Class Sep 2, 2014
- Aug 25, 2014 The Importance of Training, Part 1: Are You in Class for the Right Reasons? Aug 25, 2014
- Aug 18, 2014 The 6 (Often Thankless) Jobs in Commercial Casting Aug 18, 2014
- Aug 11, 2014 You Are Enough: Why You Need to Just Be Yourself in Commercial Auditions Aug 11, 2014