What are the credentials that actors need to succeed?
Acting is one of the few professions that does not require a degree, or even specific training to get a job. It’s the only profession I’m aware of where if you have the best training in the world, studied at the finest institutions, performed theater all your life, and practised under the most prestigious acting coaches and gurus – you are not guaranteed to get work.
Or, on the flipside, you can walk into a drugstore and get “discovered,” becoming a star and a sensation with no prior training or experience (as in the famous Hollywood legend of Lana Turner at Schwabs drugstore). There’s a story of a locker room conversation between two film executives from competing studios. They just finished working out and were competitive with each other. One said that he could make anyone a star, and the two made a bet on it.
“Hell, I’ll do it with our trainer,” one executive said. He took that trainer and made him a major motion picture star over the next two years. No names here, and it’s only “rumored to be true,” but the rumor comes from a pretty reliable source.
The journey to success in this career is uncertain, and in many cases a tough pill to swallow, especially if you are serious and work hard at it to little avail. It’s painful at times, and seems unfair to so many hard working actors. It can make one jaded and bitter on one hand, and guilty, insecure, or arrogant on the other.
I remember years ago in acting class we had a close-knit group of friends, actors who hung out together, socialized, and shared experiences. One among our group got a major break in his career and began working a lot. This actor became very well known, and left class. Whenever anyone asked about this person, the response was, “He moved on and left us behind, he’s too big for us now.”
Everyone felt like failures because this person who was their equal now snubbed them. He stopped coming to social gatherings and was no longer available as a friend. At least that’s what everyone in class felt. I ran into this person months later and asked why he disappeared from the group. Expecting an arrogant response, instead what I got were tears.
“I feel guilty,” he admitted. “I miss all of you and I don’t feel any better as a person. I’m feeling insecure and hope no one finds out what a phony I am. I’m ashamed to face all of you, because so many of you are more talented than I am, and I don’t deserve this success, while so many of the others do. I just can’t face them.”
This was a very talented actor. He had the same training as everyone else, and was less experienced than many, but his “break” led to opportunities and a level of success on a completely different scale. Since there is no formal and systematic progression in this business, there tends to be chaos, insecurity, and arrogance.
In many professions, if you go to school and receive training, following all the steps that you’re required to do, you will probably find work and make your way up the ranks through experience, time, and dedication. Not necessarily with acting, or so it seems. I don’t believe this is true, but it’s worth a brief discussion.
If you want to become a doctor, you go to college, get good grades, apply to medical school, get accepted, study for four more years, declare a specialty, do your residency, and apply for jobs with other doctors, hospitals, clinics, etc. If you have met all of your requirements, you will probably find a job somewhere. You may not get exactly what you want initially, but you’ll get experience, make contacts, and move forward from there.
In other words there is a track, educational credentials, an entry level position, and then move your way up in the organization and career. If you want to run a corporation, you may start out in the mail room, move on to become an administrative assistant, and while working, earn your MBA. Over the years, you’ll gain experience, make contacts, wait your turn, and there’s a good chance that you’ll move up or have enough experience and move to another company, where you can make more upward moves. You may not become president of the company, but you most likely will end up with a good job that you enjoy. In most careers, as these examples illustrate, if you have training, do your work, get experience, and stay on track, you will have some success in the career of your choice.
That’s not necessarily true in show business. All the training and experience in the world may not matter. You can work one great job and never work again. You may be too well known, so no one will hire you. You might get “typed” and not be able to break away from it. You may be too unknown, so no one will hire you. Too fat, too skinny, too light, or too dark, the list goes on. Actors don’t have a proven career track to follow. There is no “official” certification, credential, or curriculum for success that’s necessarily taken into consideration. I know people who have worked on Broadway, with theater degrees and MFA’’s in acting, and they can’t get arrested.
For many actors who read the gossip magazines, a picture or personality may seem all you need, and you’ve been looking pretty and have had a great personality all your life, so why bother training?
Actors become lost trying to do the next right thing: So when are they ready? When do they get their credentials? What are credentials for an actor?
If an acting teacher tells a student they’re ready, they’ll leave class, so many teachers will never tell you you’re ready. I’ve seen this again and again in Los Angeles, as some teachers are just bitter actors.
All the experts in the business will tell you with a cynical smile, “The only rule is there are no rules.” Actors need to find their own way. They need to feel good about themselves, their training, their work, and feel like they are doing the right thing, because their parents and support groups in many cases will not. (Who would encourage someone to go into a field that has one of the highest failure rates of any profession? Surely not someone who loved you and cared about your future.)
Actors wind up feeling alone, isolated, misunderstood, misguided, and develop low self-esteem. Years ago, I heard that when Michael Landon was asked what advice hewould give to an aspiring actor his answer was, “If there is anything else that you could do that you could be reasonably happy doing instead of acting, do it.” I have heard many successful industry people say the same thing.
I continually see two tragedies for actors. One is a great actor who doesn’t get seen (by producers, casting directors, etc.), and the second is an inexperienced actor who finds opportunities to show their work to those who are in a position to hire them – and they are just not that good – only mediocre – as it’s before they are ready. That actor will not get the opportunity see that person again for some time.
They had their chance and blew it. Which are you and where are you on your journey and in your career?
I do believe that actors need to have a plan, and stay on their own program. Over the last 25 years, the actors that I’ve seen succeed have followed a plan. In my next post I’ll discuss how to evaluate your acting skill level, and some good benchmarks to help determine where you are in your career and what to do next.
In the meantime, take inventory of yourself. What have you done over time to have a career as an actor? Write everything on a timetable – not just your resume you use to get work – I mean everything you’ve done to this point. Training: how long, where, what kind of work experience do you have? Include theater, student films, web, TV, film, etc. When did you get your pictures done? When did you start to audition and take meetings? What kind of auditions and parts are you going out for? Do your pictures match your look and talent? Does your reel show where you are at now? Are you pursuing agents and casting directors that are looking for clients with your experience?
Write down EVERYTHING that relates to performing. Then put it on a timetable. Once you do that you can take a look at your personal “acting career curriculum” and evaluate yourself and your acting career progress. If you followed my last blog, do this with your partner.
Fran Montano – Acting Teacher and Artistic Director of 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 audit of our classes.