I tell actors in my classes that you must find your own way, one that feels right to you and makes you feel good about yourself. My advice and opinions are based on 25 years of observation and statistics, after watching thousands of actors pass through Los Angeles as they study and work at the craft. The odds of “success” are small, but that’s part of the game. Don’t take what I say as “the rule,” but use what resonates with you, based on my decades of experience and observation.
Here’s a scenario that I’ve seen hundreds of times, and I apologize if any of my students read this and think I’m writing about them. I assure you it’s not about any one individual, but represents a pattern of attitudes and behaviors.
An aspiring, passionate soul comes to town with the dream to be an actor. Breaking their personal identity issues – maybe even leaving behind a successful life, career, security, and stability – they finally get the courage to eschew living life the way they've been told and follow their dreams. The courage to take this creative leap of faith is an important quality, and yes, I respect it. It's important, and it's similar to how I came to town as well.
This actor arrives in Los Angeles, settles in, and begins to learn the craft. He checks out some acting classes, auditing here and there, and has begun his acting education. He's a passionate dreamer, determined to make his “bones” as an artist. I love these people, as they are fresh and alive, and represent what this country is all about – pursuing your dreams and fulfilling your goals to live the life of your destiny.
These students often start out in a beginning class somewhere, and their first conversation with the teacher sounds something like this:
“Will you help me find an agent and get work?”
Having not seen their work or even know if they can act, the teacher tries to encourage them to explore the process and learn what they need to in order to get work.
“I think you should study a while and get some experience first.”
After two weeks of class:
“Do you think I have talent and can make it? I’ve been here awhile now. Do you think I’m any good?”
“Yes, there is talent, and it needs to be developed. It’s still a little early, you’ve just started.”
“How long do you think?”
“I don’t know, but if you’re focused on 'making it' rather than just doing the work, it will take a lot longer than you think”
A month goes by.
“Will you look at my pictures? I got a great deal on headshots so I had them taken.”
Two more weeks go by:
“Do you know any agents I can submit to?”
One month later:
“A friend of a friend said they could get me a meeting/audition with a big casting director. They said once I’m settled in LA that they could set up a meeting.”
Maybe the contact person went to college with someone, is distantly related, or perhaps they worked together years ago. But there's some connection. Later that month:
“ I had that audition. Didn’t get the part.”
Sometimes, if I knew the casting person, I would get feedback directly from them. It usually goes like this:
“Great energy, nice personality, needs to train. Have them call me in a year when they get some training and experience.”
That contact is now gone, and the actor is left feeling discouraged. I heard that Jack Nicholson said the best advice he would give an actor is: ”Be ready for your break when it comes along.”
Great advice. Not a lot of words, but brilliant in my opinion. So many actors get the chance to be seen and get a break, and simply aren’t ready, not experienced enough. This is one of my concerns with casting director workshops, where you pay to be seen. There was a time when it was difficult to see a casting director. You needed a good resume, good tape, and someone to refer you, so when you got in, you were a worthy, deserving actor, ready to be seen. Today, anyone can meet a casting director for a price. There is a good side and bad side to this, and I know it’s a controversial conversation, but that's a conversation for another time, and not what we’re talking about here.
Six months, and thousands of dollars later it’s this:
“I’m leaving town – gave it my shot and didn’t make it.” OR
“ I need to regroup and start over.”
That scenario is an observation of what I’ve seen as an acting teacher for the last 25 years. Not an opinion, just an observation and statistic.
DIFFERENT LEVELS OF ACTORS IN LOS ANGELES
Since there is no curriculum, or set pattern to make a career in this business, many actors feel helpless, frustrated, lost, and waste time and money trying to make the right decisions. Here is my sample guide. Monitor yourself, see where you are and how you're doing. It's only a guide. Review yourself; check your strategies and goals; and use it as a barometer. Add and subtract according to your own situation, needs, and desires.
Beginning Actor (one year):
• Takes an acting class on acting craft and the process (at least once a week – the more the better, if you have the time and can afford it; it’s a good investment and will pay off in the long run).
• Reads one play a week.
• Sees 1 to 2 plays a month.
• Sees 3 to 4 movies a month.
• Reads the trades – Backstage, Variety, blogs, etc.
• Volunteers or works in a theater (box office, lights, stage manager, etc). The purpose is to be around actors, see them work, observe, and learn as much as possible about theater. (Remember this – live stage is an actors medium, film is a directors medium, and TV a writers medium. Take advantage of the creative freedom that theater offers.)
• Reads books on creativity and Self, such as “The Artist Way” by Julia Cameron, “The Road Less Traveled,” by Scott Peck, “The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp, and others. Learn to know and improve yourself.
• Reads acting books by well known teachers and techniques, such as “Respect for Acting,” “The Meisner Technique,” “The Method,” Harold Clurman, and biographies on their favorite actors, etc..
• Does something outside of acting to supplement working on their instrument: yoga, voice class, dance, Martial Arts, singing, stand-up comedy, etc..
• Keeps a journal to reflect on Self. Has some form of spiritual practice, prayer, meditation, religion, etc.
Intermediate Actor: (2-3 years)
• Takes a class at least once a week.
• Has two monologues prepared.
• Has 6 -12 scenes that have been completed.
• Involved in a theater situation where there are audition possibilities, play readings, and productions.
• Has a good headshot.
• Is building a resume of experience. Plays, student films, videos, non-union projects, web series, or works with friends on camera.
• Reads the trades, signs up and has a knowledge of the casting services. Makes a practice of submitting for anything and everything.
• Auditions for everything, understudies, gets on stage as much as possible.
• Has or is seeking an agent or manager.
• Has taken a commercial workshop and has (or is seeking) a commercial agent, and auditions for commercials.
• Reads at least 2 plays per month.
• Sees at least 1 play per month.
• Sees 3-4 movies per month.
• Works on ways to get tape on themselves, either by a project already worked on or self-produced.
• Networks in showcases, theater, scene nights, play readings, and projects that can “put them out there” to be seen and gain experience.
• Works on getting featured and co-starring roles in television and film.
• Is working on or has gotten in the unions, SAG-AFTRA, and maybe EQUITY.
• Has a good resume for gaining work and representation.
Advanced Actor (5 years +)
• Has a great headshot and solid resume.
• Takes a class and/or is working on a job.
• Performs in 2 - 3 plays a year
• Has several current and good TV credits.
• Has been in several films (union or non-union).
• Has good tape.
• Has a good relationship with their agent and/or manager, and communicates on a weekly basis.
• Participates in a theater where they can audition, perform, do play readings, showcases, scene nights and “work out.”
• Has a database of casting directors that they know, auditioned for, or worked for, and stays in touch on a regular basis (post cards, notes, stop-ins, Facebook, etc.).
• Knows every prime time show and who casts them. Knows every show they are “right for” and gets seen by those shows' casting directors.
• Has several projects they are working on on the side (screenplay, play, putting together projects for themselves, pitching ideas, etc.).
Some people are carving their own way and aren’t interested in conventional routes.
• Writer, producer, actor. Works on their own project, not interested or passionate about an agent, and the general route of auditioning for parts in TV, film and theater. Wants to do “their own thing.”
• Starts a production company and does their own projects.
• Buys a camera and makes their own film or documentary.
• Runs or is active in a theater company and expresses their art there.
• Belongs to a cooperative and creates with these people – theater, film, etc..
• Crosses over from another aspect of the business – makes contacts and “gets in” that way. (ex., stand up comedians, dancers, musicians, stunt men, writer/actor, improv troupe, director/actor, producer/actor, works at casting office, works at a production company, friend or family member is in the business and hires them.)
• Writes a one-person show or a script to showcase themselves – film, theater, series idea, etc.
• These people may never pursue an agent or have to audition.
Where do you fit in here? Use this a guide. There are many more items in each category, like having a coach, a team, etc.. For now, this is an overview. The length of time it takes you is not as important as making sure you've hit all the levels. This gives you another opportunity to do a self evaluation, and maybe a chance to fill in the gaps. All the best to you on your creative journey.
Fran Montano – Acting Coach - The Actors Workout Studio
The Actors Workout Studio has been located in the NoHo Arts District for over 25 years. It is known for its professional school and outstanding productions. It is also a “home base” for talented actors on the rise. It is the vision of Emmy Award winning acting coach and actor, Fran Montano. Visit www.actorsworkout.com or call 818-766-2171 for a free interview and acting class audit.