1) You’ll never make it without a great agent.
As I write this I am just settling in from a week and a half in Georgia where I shot a TV show (unfortunately, I signed an NDA so I can’t say what it is yet) and had this very conversation with the director. Several of the cast members got on the show not because of the agency they are with but because of who they knew. One of the cast members knew the director personally. The director brought him in for the show directly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this business is all about who you know more than anything else. In my humble opinion it is more important than who represents you. I know quite a few actors who make a decent living acting and yet they have no representation whatsoever. Am I saying actors with agents don't have an advantage? Absolutely not. But, I am saying if you are one of the many actors who doesn't have an agent or you’re an actor who is with a bad agent it doesn't mean you don't have a chance. It just means you’ll have to work a little harder to get auditions. If you put your focus on getting to know people in the industry you will be way ahead of the rest of the pack. How do you do that? Two ways: 1) get involved in industry social circles and 2) create your own work. Social circles can include hanging out regularly at coffee shops, bars, writing groups, networking groups, certain acting classes, church, charities, FaceBook, Twitter and even AA. If you are sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring, it never will. Second, work hard at putting together your own material. Meet with other actors who want to self-produce, screenwriters who want to write, directors who want to direct and put together films, shorts, web series, whatever. Work begets work. When you create it, they will come. Just get off your patootie, get out of your house and get to know people.
2) Casting directors and agents are frustrated actors.
True, many of them may have tried their hand at acting early on but somewhere along the way they found their real calling on the ether side of the camera. But, that does’t mean they are frustrated actors. I worked on a road construction crew years ago. Because I don’t do that as a living now does’t mean I’m a frustrated road crew worker. It means it wasn’t the right career for me. Actors have it in their heads that CDs and agents are just bitter actors, but the truth is they are not. Most are very good at what they do and they love their jobs. They really won't take it personally if you make it big and they didn't. I think the reason we think things like that is because it takes the onus off us if we do a bad audition or don’t do our best in a meeting. If we say, “That casting director was a jerk. They screwed me up with their 'I could care less' attitude,’” it makes it their fault, not ours (or so we tell ourselves). But, it's our job to be entertaining no matter who the audience and how the feel. Plus, you don't know what they've been through that day. They may have been fighting for hours on the phone with the producers to find a price that works for a particular star. Or, they may have just found out they lost their lease on their office space. Either way, you're the actor, they are the audience, so entertain them. This may be your opportunity to bring a little happiness to someone who might need it. And, if you miss that chance, regardless of what the person watching is going through, you've missed your calling, your chance to entertain. Agents and casting directors want you to be great. They really do. It makes their job so much easier. Know that, trust it! If they were an actor at one time, great, it means they understand the pressure you're going through, even if they don't show it. And, that's a good thing. So, go into the office and give them greatness. If you love what you do, and that includes auditioning and taking meetings, then it won't matter what they do. Right? You have the power to bring happiness to others if you choose to. From now on see agents and CDs as people just like you, people who have good days and bad days. See them as people who are great at what they do, just like you. If you're not great at what you do and you are too easily affected by others opinions and attitudes, then either this isn't the right career for you or it’s time to get great at what you do.
3) If you haven't made it in a year you never will.
I heard this the other day and I wanted to throw up. Are you kidding me? A year is about how long it takes to get comfortable in LA and maybe get a decent apartment. Never mind all the things it takes to get known and established in the business. The problem is we hear stories like Ashton Kutcher's (he came to LA and booked his first audition, "That 70's Show," and never looked back) and think that will happen to us. If no one has ever said it to you before, let me be the first… IT ALMOST NEVER HAPPENS THAT WAY!! My best guess is that it takes about ten years to actually make a decent living as an actor in LA. And, even then that may not be enough time. As I mentioned above, this business is all about who you know. It takes years to get to know the right people. And, it’s about being at the right place at the right time. I remember watching Cameron Diaz in an interview several years ago. She said everything changed for her after "My Best Friend's Wedding." She said before that, thanks to a few acting jobs and some modeling work, people used to ask her, "Do I know you?" After that people would say, “Oh my gosh, you're that girl from ‘My Best Friend's Wedding!’” Things suddenly changed. It was her "right time, right place" moment. That's what we're all looking for. But, you never know when it is going to happen. If you've been reading my articles here long enough you know that I am a huge Morgan Freeman fan. Morgan started acting in his teens but didn't get his big break until he was 50! Yes, you read that right… 50!! Do you have what it takes to hang in there that long? If your dream is important enough, you do.
4) All great actors are selfish divas.
Let me be as straightforward as I can here, in my many years of experience of working with stars, either as an actor or a photographer, most are not divas. Yes, they do have egos (as I mentioned in my last article that is a necessary component to be a great actor) but most are happy with their life and generally fun to be around. After all, they get to do what they want to do and that is pretty darn satisfying for most. Most stars are aware how lucky they actually are, despite popular opinion. The problem is it only takes on bad egg to make the carton stink. Once we open it up we think all the eggs are all bad. Most successful actors care deeply about their work and their art. I recently worked on “The Newsroom.” It was interesting that on my first day, when I went in for a wardrobe fitting, the woman who fitted me said, “Can I give you one piece of advice?” “Sure,” I said. She replied, “Make sure you absolutely know your lines down to every jot and tittle when you report for work tomorrow. Jeff Daniels works for hours and hours every night. He sets the bar high for everyone on the show.” Sure enough, she was right. He was flawless in his delivery take after take after take. Sure, Jeff had a good ego on him, because he’s great at what he does and he knows it, but he cares deeply about his work and he does everything within his power to ensure that he is as good as he can be. That’s not a diva, that’s an actor who is passionate about their work. And, that is how I find most stars to be. Don’t let the few bad ones ruin the bunch. Most are good eggs.
5) If Kim Kardashian can make it anyone can.
Say what you want about Kim, and the whole Kardashian family, but the truth is they are brilliant at what they do. In my image intensives I talk about knowing your brand and setting yourself apart from everyone else by focusing on that brand. The Kardashians know their niche, they know what they do best and they never stop focussing on it. They don't try to be anything but Kardashians. As a result, they hit a nerve, especially in young girls. They represent what most young women secretly want to be: living the luxurious life, being seen as a sex symbol, able to party with the stars, sitting atop the social ladder and finically able to do what ever they want because they earned the money to do so themselves. What young girl doesn't want that? (I’ll leave that alone). And on top of that, they play the "we're just regular people like you" card well enough to let people think that anyone can have that life. Kim Kardashian represents something very specific. She is a role model for a certain percentage of the population who needs to see that person on TV living out the life so they can live vicariously through them. And as much as I hate those kinds of shows, I have to admit Kim is very good at what she does. The Kardashians are a great example for actors in regards to effectively branding and marketing yourself. However, just because Kim made it doesn't in any way, shape or form mean anyone can make it. Kim works tirelessly hard at what she does, being herself. Think of all the reality shows like hers that have failed, shows that followed the same formula to the tee. Kim is Kim and no one else can be her. She is showing us what she does best, living out the life she so perfectly wants to embody. Kim made it because she knew her niche and effectively exploited it on a national level. Actors take notice. Do what she does and then add a well honed acting ability and you have the formula for a working actor/celebrity. That said, I would be remiss if I also didn’t say that Kim is extremely lucky and was at the right time at the right place. Fate had a part of it too and that was completely out of her control. No one could predict that she would be the hit she is. All you can do about that is to be prepared for the time it happens, if it happens.
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Mark Atteberry is an award winning actor, teacher and photographer. As an actor his work includes features like Miranda July’s "The Future” and Ang Lee’s "The Hulk.” His recent TV work includes: ”Drop Dead Diva,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Luck,” “House M.D.," “Justified,” "The Closer," “The Mentalist,” "Dexter" and “Criminal Minds.” Mark can currently be seen on “The Newsroom.” Mark is internationally known for his commercial advertising and headshot photography. His clients include NBC, CBS, A&E, Bravo, CAA, ICM, WME, and Big Lots. Mark regularly teaches and lectures on the topics of "Branding, Marketing and Type" and "How to Succeed in the Entertainment Industry." He has authored or co-authored several books on the business of acting including the best selling, "Working Actor's Guide to LA." For more of Mark’s acting credits go to: www.imdb.com/name/nm0040992. For Mark’s headshot photography go to: www.idyllicphotography.com. And, for Mark’s classes go to: www.beaworkingactor.com