Top 5 Tips For Becoming A Working Actor
So you want to be a working Actor? One that gets paid really well for doing what you love and never have to work in another soul destroying Industry ever again such as retail, hospitality or anything other than Acting?!
You know that you're destined for big things and can feel it in every part of you right?
Ok so now what? Well let me first address the elephant in the room that no one likes to really talk about.
Are you actually good enough to become a professional working Actor.
One that deserves to have their name in lights and viewed as an A-Lister and be up there with the Chris Hemsworth's, Merryl Streep's, Leonardo DiCaprio's and Jennifer Lawrence's of the world? Well the honest truth is there's a 99% chance you're not!
For many of you that read this you will most likely be feeling a tinge of anger right now and that's a good thing. That's the part of you that you're going to need to survive and thrive in this Industry and make it to the top. It's the part of you that will be resilient and help you adapt to the sheer volume of rejections and big fat NO's you're going to receive along the way before you get the big YES that catapults you to the big time!
It's the part of you that will keep you from quitting and will stubbornly plant your foot in the ground and say "YES I AM ENOUGH" and help you keep going!
Becoming a professional working Actor is a journey that only the top 1% are cut out for and if you're still reading this I have a sneaking suspicion you want to be in that top percentage. Ok so now that you're all riled up and you're ready to get stuck into the work let's begin.
TIP #1 - HARD WORK TRUMPS TALENT
Trust me when I say I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, but Lliam you mentioned Chris Hemsworth, Merryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence before and they are ridiculously talented and yes they are, but what they all have in common above that is a phenomenal work ethic and their talent was born from that.
There's a Kevin Durant quote that sums it up "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard". Now whilst Kevin isn't an Actor, he's a famous basketball player, that quote applies to us all and it's one that we can't afford to ignore.
The single most valuable trait that true Hollywood Stars share in common is a commitment to hard work. Now when I say Hollywood Stars i'm talking about the ones that are around for 40-50 years in this Industry and are remembered for ever because they always found a way to change and adapt and put in the personal work to evolve and grow.
Who i'm not talking about is those who take shortcuts such as landing themselves on reality TV shows or ones that involve manipulating the public into thinking they are worth the adoration when in actual fact they have little to no skills and no evident work ethic. These people fade so quickly into obscurity that within a year or two it's like they never existed. For those of you who have ever watched the Bachelor, Love Island or Married At First Sight you'll know what I mean. Most of you would struggle to remember the first season contestants names of any of these shows but if I asked you to name your favourite Game Of Thrones actors or The Avengers actors you'd probably name 5 in under 10 seconds.
So what does this mean for you? Well it's safe to say that many people in the course of your life will make you feel like you aren't talented and aren't worthy but here's a fun fact, if talent isn't the real driver of your success then the opinions of these very same people doesn't actually matter does it? Let that sink in for a second. If talent alone does not equal success then if someone tells you that you don't have talent then ultimately that comment means absolutely nothing so you can just ignore it and move on. How awesome is that and how freeing is that concept.
To put it in perspective, in my own career as an Actor I have been told plenty of times I don't quite have what it takes to make it and i've actually lost count of that number. However, my work ethic has taken me to a place where now i'm on one of the most popular Australian television comedy series ever made Rostered On which has enjoyed being on Netflix and now has landed on Channel 7 Mate with full Screen Australia Funding and a huge fan base.
To add to that i've recently had a 3 episode guest role on Neighbours and now the first Feature film i've ever written called A.D.A.M. has just secured 34 Million in investment to get it made. Now i'm not telling you this to brag but rather to point out that with hard work the results eventually come. It didn't happen overnight though, this has been 9 years of hard work and in the following tips i'll outline some of the most important things that have helped myself and others get their Acting career on point.
TIP #2 - IDENTIFY WHAT YOUR BRAND IS
Some Actors hate me for saying this because sometimes when you talk about Branding it makes you feel like you are some sort of supermarket product to be put up on a shelf. A lot of you will say, well Lliam i'm not a product and my Brand is that I can play every role and be everything to everybody because i'm awesome.
Now let me first start by saying yes you are awesome and yes i'm sure you could play a lot of roles, maybe even ALL the roles, but let me point out why you are in fact a product or at least should start thinking more like you are one.
Do you remember Blockbuster Video? Or how about Netflix i'm sure you've heard of them? What about Village Cinemas? Do you want to know what they all have in common? They all sell products and we consume those products. What is the product you ask? They sell entertainment. How they sell that entertainment to us is they package up a story using catchy titles, blurbs and well known actors that get our attention.
Blockbuster used to do it by putting rows and rows of different DVD's and Blu-Ray's facing outwards that showed us who was in the Film or TV Show, what the title was and a funky little blurb on the back that explained what the film was about to sway us into renting or buying it. Netflix does that now but digitally and the Cinemas do it by advertising with trailers, movie posters and more.
So what's my point? You are in fact a product, one that will be digested by the masses in order to entertain them and make them feel something. Here's another fun fact did you know that Actors have the best job on the planet as we get to make people feel so many emotions and relieve them of their pain through storytelling. How absolutely amazing is that and doesn't that make you feel awesome knowing that's the kind of power you have?!
You know what else is awesome? Being in control of your Brand and deciding what type of product you want to be and what type of people you want to help out there in the world. Who's pain do you want to ease and who's lives do you want to make better? Big responsibility I know but when framed in this way doesn't it make you feel good knowing it's ok to be a Brand after all? Hell yeah it does!
Ok so what is your Brand then? Well start small and think about the types of films you enjoy and the types of roles you are not only good at but suited to. Are you someone that enjoys dramatic roles with intense emotional arcs or perhaps you are a bit like me and you love to make people laugh through comedy? Maybe you want to star in the next big Marvel film, kicking ass and taking names and empowering people. You might want to try and do it all but when you first start you will need to experiment a little to get it right.
If you have an Agent this is also a good thing to discuss with them as they will often have insight into the types of roles you are suited to based on the briefs that they submit you for. If you don't have an Agent one thing I found really helpful when I first started was to ask friends, family members and eventually strangers what types of roles they thought I could play. Your family and friends will be biased as they know you but strangers will be super honest as they will go by your looks and first impressions alone.
A side note here but when you have figured out your Brand you can always refine and change it during your career. One great example of this is Matthew McConaughey who started off in Romantic Comedies and goofy Action Adventure films early on in his career but as he matured and his tastes changed he moved towards powerful dramas and more intense challenging roles that pushed him emotionally. Jennifer Lawrence was similar as well in that she refined herself into a leading lady but some of her earlier roles were simply guest spots on local television shows and it wasn't until Winters Bone that she proved she had the depth and range to go on to bigger things.
Simply put imagine someone put you on a movie poster for a movie showing at the cinema. What type of film would it be? What role would you play in it based on the way you look and your personality? Who would the audience be? I will urge you to consider one thing though be brutally honest with yourself eg. if you are more a Rebel Wilson or Seth Rogen type don't envision yourself in roles that Chris Hemsworth or Brie Larson would play straight away. Look at your Brand now and then if you truly want to play something else make sure you work your ass off to create the version of yourself that fits those roles down the track like Chris Pratt did for his role in Guardians Of The Galaxy.
TIP #3 - GET SUPER COMFORTABLE WITH THE WORD NO
Mark Ruffalo, who currently plays the Hulk in Marvel's Avengers, was rejected 600 times before he landed his first big role. Again, let that sink in. He heard the dreaded word NO 600 times before he heard the blissful YES that we all dream of hearing that gives us our first big break. For some of you it may take less than 600 NO's before you receive a solid YES and for some of you it might take more, there's no one size fits all rejection plan.
I've had my own fair share of rejection in this Industry and with life in general but somewhere along the way you learn to embrace it because it makes you stronger and more resilient as a human being. It also makes you a remarkable actor because each NO is a chance to learn something new about yourself and grow from it, to adapt and try new things to see what the next response is.
Speaking of which here are a few more famous rejection stories to inspire you and it's a long list but one that has always given me perspective http://collider.com/galleries/before-they-were-famous-celebrities-blockbuster-movies-rejection/
Also here's some comfort for you but look at most of the Films & TV that we watch, really look at the characters that we love and adore. They are all facing some sort of difficulty in their lives that they have to overcome right? Every film we watch we see someone that has a problem that they need to solve. Every TV show we watch has the same formula in that every episode the characters face a problem that is a threat to their happiness and they have to find a way to overcome it. As Actors we face the same problems in life and in working towards our goals right?
So instead of letting the NO get you down one of the best things you can do is go YES I can learn from this and I can use it to fuel the fire inside myself to work even harder and smarter to refine yourself into a NO butt kicking machine. You can look at every problem you face now and go hey if I was a character in a movie or TV Show i'd figure out a way to solve this otherwise the show wouldn't be very entertaining. It's in the learning to not let the word NO win that you can use this to your advantage and become a warrior of YES and getting shit done just like the characters you love watching.
TIP #4 - MAKE YOUR OWN WORK
This is a contentious one I know as most Actors think all they need to do in their career is get an Agent and then wait for the phone to ring whilst they work on their craft in Acting classes. Nothing could be further from the truth than this.
Our Industry has evolved so quickly in the last decade that more and more we are seeing big Block Buster films losing money and a lot of Studio Films & TV Shows are not being renewed for sequels and subsequent seasons. Why is this happening? Because audiences are now being swayed by other content on platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Stan, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat & Instagram.
In fact there are new apps and digital distribution platforms popping up each year which means that audiences are being divided even further. Look at the new Disney+ streaming site that is about to launch. It will be one of the biggest streaming giants on the planet and you can be sure more are to follow.
So what does this mean for you? It means all of these platforms are hungry for your content. Hell you have cute videos about Cats & Dogs that are outperforming some of the latest Blockbuster films in terms of views. I saw one super cute dog video the other day that had over 50 million views. Understandable though, dogs are the best!!!
Ok so back to you and why it's important to make your own work. Picture this, two Actors go to a Film Festival, one of them is there to promote their new film they wrote, produced and acted in, the other is there as an audience member with no films of their own screening.
Who do you think Directors/Producers/Writers/Agents/Casting Directors are going to want to talk to more? Well unless the Actor who is just an audience member is Hugh Jackman or Merryl Streep i'm pretty sure you know the answer to that. Just to be clear it's the smart cookie that made their own film.
But i'm too poor to make my own film or content you cry! Bullshit I respond :)
You have a smart phone correct? Did you know that there are some amazing films in the past decade that have been shot solely on an iPhone and they have also won awards at some of the most prestigious Film Festivals in the world. It's not about your gear that you own or whether you have the best possible team behind you and millions of dollars in the bank to fund your project it's about your story. If you want to see how to get the most out of your iPhone check out this awesome example of comparing a iPhone 7 to a $50,000 Red Epic Camera https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztpX3AO1UtU
If you have an amazing story with a powerful message then you're already on your way to becoming a member of that top 1% that I spoke about earlier. Add to that the fact that there is a rise of YouTube, Facebook and Instagram Stars without any look of slowing down then it's safe to say the only thing holding you back is you! How do you overcome it? Add in a solid pinch of that hard work that I mentioned previously.
Now you definitely do need money to make films but here's the kicker think about how much money you spend on Acting Classes, Showreels, Casting Workshops, alcohol, clothes, entertainment, food etc. If you looked at the money you spend on these things alone I reckon you could almost save $10,000 a year and more. That's an impressive budget for a short film right there and that's with a full professional crew behind you.
What if you still want to do all that stuff AND make your own content? Well have you heard of Kickstarter and Indiegogo? They are crowdfunding sites and some of the most awesome Indie Features, Short Films and Web Series have been successfully funded on these platforms. If you want to get a bit of an overview on tips to fund your film projects on these platforms with successful case studies as well check out https://www.lightsfilmschool.com/blog/how-to-finance-an-independent-film-crowdfunding-conclusion
One last thing on this tip but if you are keen on learning more about film-making yourself without going to film school here's an awesome website I love that keeps me inspired and has a tonne of helpful info for budding content creators out there https://nofilmschool.com/
TIP #5 - LEARN HOW TO MARKET YOURSELF
This is something which so many of my clients and actors that I know have admitted to me that they struggle with. I used to struggle with it too as for most of us it feels in-authentic and somewhat like going "Heyyyy look at meeeeee" which for a lot of introverted types probably feels akin to dying a little inside by asking for attention.
Here's the thing, it doesn't have to be a painful experience and it can actually feel very authentic if done right, but often you need to be a bit objective before you tackle it. Marketing yourself is so important to you gaining future jobs as an Actor and it's one of the most under utilized tools that I see way too many actors letting fall by the wayside to their detriment.
First why don't we tackle what Marketing actually is to demystify the process and i'll be specific to Acting as Marketing processes are quite unique from Industry to Industry. Marketing is taking your Brand and its core message and promoting it to your customers or audience in order to stimulate growth.
Our entire world revolves around Marketing and the sooner you are able to harness its power to its full extent you are going to be drowning in the same pool as the 99% of other Actors I mentioned before that will stay in mediocrity and never succeed or be remembered. Harsh but true.
Now here are some other terms and slogans that you might hear around the traps in terms of without even realising that they are actually referring to marketing. Have you ever heard the word "Hustle"? Or perhaps "Grind" and no i'm not talking about a sex app here or hustling people out of their money!
These are words that refer to putting in the work. Remember that thing I mentioned earlier... hard work? Yeah, well this is where all of these 5 Tips come together like the Avengers came together to kick ass in the movies.
Hard Work + Knowing Your Brand + Zero Fear of NO + Making Your Own Work + Superhero Marketing Skills = Successful Working Actor
BOOM there it is folks. Avengers Assemble!
Now that it's all coming together you're probably wondering why i've audaciously skipped over how to market yourself...? Well actually I just wanted to save the best for last so you can come away with some highly usable knowledge and skills to go forth and conquer, just in case you forget everything else I wrote earlier and only remember this last section which is the most valuable.
BONUS: How to market yourself as an Actor
1. Become comfortable Networking (Online & Offline)
I want you to become a Ninja at getting out there and meeting people in the Industry. One of the best things I ever did was build up my people skills so I could create meaning relationships with Casting Directors, Agents, Directors, Producers, Writers, Cinematographers and almost every other type of film crew member you can think of.
These are the people that create the type of projects you want to be a part of right? So it pays (Literally when you get hired as an Actor) to know them and have real relationships with them as ultimately Acting is about collaborating.
Some of the best ways i've found to Network with Industry professionals are to go to Film Festivals such as:
Or Networking Events in the Industry are also well worth looking into such as:
Obviously there are many more to look into but i'll let you have some fun finding ones that interest you as well. Once you've built these face to face relationships with them I suggest also nurturing the relationships online as well by connecting with them on Social Media and supporting their projects and creating opportunities for them to be involved in as well if your ideas are up their alley.
I'd advise against just connecting with people on Social Media as it's not as powerful as face to face so build up some confidence in that area as soon as humanly possible.
2. Build up an impressive body of work
To everyone this will look different but what this is why you want to bring it back to Branding. Build up content that supports the Brand you are creating for yourself. If you're positioning yourself as an up and coming Comedian for example you might film several sketch style shorts or even 30-60 second skits that you can then re-purpose and distribute through YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and then put into your Actors Showreel as well.
Re-purposing is creating content once and then re-using it across several mediums or channels for maximum impact and audience engagement. The same can apply if you want to get into Film & Television Drama, you could create several short films with other Actors and then create different versions of the content eg. a 60 second trailer on Instagram and then other Social Media platforms and then release the actual film on YouTube, Facebook etc.
This is actually what was done for the show Rostered On when we first launched it as a YouTube Series. Our Director, Ryan Chamley from Robot Army Productions, launched a massive online campaign with funny outtakes from the show and created video memes on Facebook that were shared so many times eventually the show had garnered over 100 million views. This then got the attention of the right people who wanted to fund the show and get it on to Netflix and then on to Channel 7 Mate. You can see the article here https://www.filmink.com.au/public-notice/rostered-season-2-commissioned-7mate/
Remember to start small but ensure the story your content tells is something people would want to share and help get the word out that you are an Actor who gets shit done! It's the best thing you can do for yourself and also another thing that's important is to aim to put your best work out there where possible but also don't be afraid of taking risks.
Rostered On was technically a big risk for Ryan and the team but look how that turned out for all of us!
3. Make sure your Headshots & Showreel are on Brand.
It still amazes me how many clients I get who come to me with some seriously average past headshots and showreels that don't even remotely show off the personality or skill of the Actor in the slightest. This is such a disservice to you and to your Brand in that Casting Directors, Actors and Agents are going to look at your headshots and think "This Actor is really average".
Is this the impression you want to make on people when deep down you want to be the best and you want to tell stories that matter and change peoples lives and you want your life to mean something? Yeah I didn't think so.
When getting your headshots done no matter who you go to I want you to make sure that you research them beforehand. Dig deeper and look at the shots that are being taken. Do they all seem a bit samey? Can you see the Actor for who they are and who they could play or are the shots a bit wishy washy or just nicely shot photos?
This is YOUR BRAND!!! If you capture photos that look nice but don't identify who you could be or give strong hints of your personality you will just drift into obscurity and no one will hire you for professional jobs as they will write you off as an amateur that doesn't invest in themselves.
You have control over this and if it means saving your money up to afford the right photographer then by god you eat noodles for a week to do it as the rewards will be great when you start landing those jobs that you really want and getting in the room for lead roles instead of Cop #2 or Sexy Female #4.
Your showreel should be the same it has to reflect who you are and what you're capable of. Now this next piece of advice may seem counter-intuitive based on the fact that I used to film showreels for Actors (I don't do it anymore as I make films for Actors instead and show them how to get them funded and done well on a budget).
DON'T FILM A SHOWREEL SCENE! Instead go and audition for short films or independent projects on websites like https://www.starnow.com.au/casting-calls/all/australia or on Facebook groups like Just Castings etc.
Obviously do your research first on each project as there can be some projects on there that aren't great and the quality can be a bit average but use your investigative skills to narrow down the ones that have potential.
In the end this process means you come away with a nose for good projects, you get audition practice to keep your skills sharp, if you land the role you not only get scenes for your showreel but you make Industry connections and also gain an IMDB credit and potentially win awards if it's entered into Film Festivals (This is really important if you want to work overseas eventually but i'll cover that in a later blog).
Quick note but one of the first Swinburne University Short Films I ever did called Hath No Man won so many awards around the world it got me a bucket load of war film auditions afterwards which was exactly what I had been gunning for (excuse the pun)!
4. Build your audience and engage with them often
Ok so this one is something that's only really become available to us in the past decade and is only going to get bigger. Social Media. It's something so many people hate but yet there is so much proof that it works for artists like ourselves. Go to any famous YouTuber, Facebook or Instagram's channel and you will see that it has opened the gateway for more people to do what they love which is create content for people to enjoy.
So how do you do this? Again bring it back to:
Hard Work + Knowing Your Brand + Zero Fear of NO + Making Your Own Work + Superhero Marketing Skills = Successful Working Actor
You need to first choose your platforms eg. are you going to create content for Facebook or are you going to do it for YouTube or Instagram or whatever new app is just around the corner.
If you try to do all 3 you have to have systems in place to reduce your time spent on each one otherwise you'll drive yourself crazy triple posting and will give up. Hootsuite is great for this and there is a FREE plan you can use to make your life easier see the link here https://hootsuite.com/
So in short you need to create content for your channels often and actually take time to engage with your fans as you build them up and create loyal fans from those interactions.
However try to make sure you're not just making short form 30-60 clips you should also endeavour to create longer projects as well once you're confident as it gives people a chance to see your range as an Actor and connect with you on a deeper level.
5. When the time is right, get a PR Person
One of the first things I noticed about Hollywood Actors when I was growing up is that they are always in the media or in magazines and there was this aura about them. This didn't just happen by accident it was a strategy that was employed by their Public Relations person.
Although sometimes these actors weren't always in the news for the right reasons they were always there nonetheless so it was hard to forget them. Nowadays we have Social Media and it almost feels like everyone can be a star and to a certain point this is true.
For all intents and purposes anyone these days can spam us with their Instagram feeds and Facebook links etc. but what they can't do for free is get in the news unless they have a very good reason to be there. Reality Stars don't count for this though as they aren't in there for a skill and again they fade so quickly with new ones popping out of the woodwork every day.
When the time is right and you have enough behind you in terms of heat eg. you have a role on a new TV Show or a Feature Film coming out or just took out best Actor at a Film Festival of International recognition then this is the time to engage a PR Company or person. They will usually have Media connections to help get an article written about you and your achievements.
Why is this important? Well even though traditional media is struggling a bit having to adapt to the Digital Age when you open a News Paper or see a published article on a reputable website or in a magazine we know that the person in the article is someone important and legitimate.
Industry people see this article and it gives you status which is something very important that i'll blog about next time (Can't give away all my secrets right away right?!).
I hope you've enjoyed Top 5 Tips For Becoming A Working Actor and can't wait to bring you more helpful articles that inspire you to become a part of the 1% and live out your dreams.
Until next time this is Lliam Murphy - The Acting Photographer
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