A Walkthrough – Succeeding as an Actor
Suppose you’re starting start fresh in a whole new career where you have very little skill and no contacts. Let’s say you want to become an actor in movies or on TV, and your goal is to be earning six figures a year as an actor. How would you do it?
Well, I can’t give you a walkthrough of how you should tackle this challenge because your strategy needs to fit your particular strengths. All I can do is offer a quick walkthrough of how I’d do it… in a way that avoids the slush pile and leverages my personal strengths of course.
Some wannabe actors are trying to use YouTube to showcase their talents. That seems like a fairly lame strategy to me. I don’t know much about the entertainment industry (aside from the computer gaming arm of it), but do the people who hire actors really scour YouTube looking for talent? I doubt it. Maybe if your video is a huge hit on YouTube, it could help, but what actually rises to the top on YouTube? I don’t think it’s the examples of great acting. This might work for some people, but it seems like it would require an awful lot of luck to succeed. Personally I wouldn’t bother with this approach, but I might consider it if I had a special talent for creating popular YouTube videos.
Similarly, I wouldn’t waste too much time making my own home movies to showcase my acting talent. Anyone can do that. It’s just another variation on the slush pile approach.
If I wanted to get into acting, I’m pretty sure I could do it even though I have no real training in this area. I would study acting of course, but mainly I’d focus on building connections with others in the field. I’d set a goal to become one of the most well-connected wannabe actors out there.
My guess is that more often than not, acting jobs are filled via networking and/or auditions. Talent obviously plays a part, but building connections with the right people will likely be at least as important. If I wanted to become an actor, I’d aim to build connections and friendships with people who hire actors. But I probably can’t do that directly because such people will likely be inundated with faux-networking offers. Plus I have nothing special or unique to offer them just yet.
The basic strategy I’d use would be to build a website to serve as a long-term networking vehicle. So I’d start a website/blog for wannabe actors. I’d learn as much as I could about acting and would publish the best-quality content I could create. If I couldn’t write the content myself due to ignorance, I’d recruit others to write it for me. Maybe I’d link to YouTube videos of good acting and offer critiques and suggestions for improvement on my website.
I’d focus heavily on building traffic to my site. I’d study other acting websites, learn from them, and apply the best practices while doing a little innovation where the other sites are weak. I’d join acting groups to network with other actors. Of course I’d tell them about my acting website.
At first I’d only attract wannabes to my site. That’s fine because there are lots of them. As my web traffic grew, I’d start doing interviews with any screenwriters, B-movie stars, and other industry people I could get access to. When traffic got big enough, I’d leverage my site to interview some of the best people in the field, especially people I want to connect with. I could use my website to help promote their work, but I’d ask nothing in return. I’d just want to make them aware of my existence and — for those who are compatible with me — to make new friends.
From time-to-time I’d post videos of my own acting on the site, requesting feedback from my visitors. Of course this would help to promote me as an actor, and it would raise my profile in the field. I’d also share success stories from my visitors. Of course I’d keep building my acting skill on the side, such as by taking classes, attending workshops, and doing free acting jobs when it seemed like a good idea.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m fairly certain I’d have built a strong, high-traffic website about acting for wannabe actors. Thousands of actors would know about me and my site. I’d very likely get some small acting jobs from raising my profile this way. I’d develop my resume by taking jobs that seem to (1) advance my career and (2) build helpful connections.
I’d look for ways to provide a better service to my visitors, making my acting website one of the best in the field. For example, I might post casting calls on my site. This would be a service for my visitors that would also allow me to build connections with casting agents. I wouldn’t try to land any major acting jobs right away. I’d simply try to build a large network of people (1) that I could help, and (2) that could eventually help me.
I’d leverage my website and its traffic to cultivate connections with the right people. I’d aim to build relationships, not sell myself. Eventually so many industry people would know about my website that I’d have an unfair advantage in being considered for desirable acting jobs, assuming that my talent was a fit for those jobs. For any acting job I got, I would bring a lot more to the table than just my skill as an actor. I could use my acting website to promote the production. For a mainstream studio production, this may not make much difference, but it could seriously help an indie film. Any producer who hired me would gain free publicity on my website.
I could also advance the careers of other actors I worked with, either by featuring them on my website or by recommending them to others in my ever-growing network.
In less than 5 years, I’m quite sure I could become one of the most well-connected actors in the industry. I would probably get so many offers for work that I’d have to turn most of them down.
Now of course I’m not an actor, so I’d need to adapt this strategy to the realities of the field, but from an outsider’s perspective I would say that the two most important success factors are (1) acting talent/skill, and (2) connections with the right people. I think lots of actors focus on #1 and leave #2 to chance. I’d put more time and energy into #2 than #1, at least initially. Once I built a strong network, centered on a website I own and control, I could maintain those connections while building my skills until I was ready to start leveraging those connections to get the jobs I wanted.
Acting doesn’t appeal to me, so I’m not actually going to implement this strategy. I’m simply offering this as an example of how an outsider like me could leverage his strengths to break into a new field without going the slush pile route.
The right success strategy for your field depends on your particular strengths. Just because I happen to love the “build a high-traffic website” strategy doesn’t mean you should use the same approach. Your mix of strengths and talents will surely be different from mine, so you need a strategy that allows you to leverage those talents creatively, a strategy that keeps you away from the slush pile.