As far as I can tell, the City of Angels has the best marketing campaign of all time. From the movies, you’d think anyone with hope and a dream in their heart can move here and land a major movie deal if they just wish for it hard enough and run into the right person. The truth is that LA is full of strip malls and hustlers, and you need to build up your mental fortress if you want to keep from turning into a lost soul or heading back to your hometown.
1. Know What You Want.
There are specific steps to pursue different kinds of acting. Do you want to be the lead in a blockbuster feature or do off-Broadway musical theater? Do you want to perform on Saturday Night Live or small indie films? Do you want to be a spokesperson in national commercials or do standup? Each one of these paths requires a very specific set of skills, training, and appearance which often don’t overlap after the first couple years of work.
Most people offering help and advice want money. That doesn’t mean their class or seminar isn’t useful, but if it’s not something that will help you in your specific career, you’ll quickly spend a lot of money that could have served you better. There are thousands of agents, managers, teachers, coaches, and schools with their own agenda. They can be great resources if they are inline with your goals.
Find someone whose career you’d like to follow and research how they got where they are today. If you can contact them directly, ask what they found to be most helpful and what they wish they would have done differently. Everyone’s path is unique, but it will provide a good guideline to start moving in the right direction. Listen patiently to everyone’s advice and pick what works best for you.
2. Decide What You’re Willing to Do.
Set some ground rules with yourself before you arrive. They may change over time, but you want it to be at your pace. People have different goals and sensibilities than you. What they see as a harmless request may be something that causes you to question the very foundation of who you are as an actor.
Just because you are not willing to do full nudity does not mean you’re not committed to the craft or never going to make it in the industry. If you did everything directors put into casting notices, you’d be an anorexic porn star with a shaved head within a month.
Even after you have an agent and/or manager, you will spend every day combing through casting notices that make requests like the following: hair dyeing, head shaving, exotic dancing, full nudity, simulated sex, simulated rape, violent content, etc. While it may be tempting to try a new acting challenge, be sure you’re mentally up for the task and it’s being done in a respectful environment. Often these requests are made for student films where the pay is low or nonexistent, and you have no guarantee the footage will be worth putting in your reel, if you even receive it at all. Do your research on the production company and make sure you’re not jeopardizing your safety, your bank account, or your career.
3. Know What They Want.
Everyone in the industry, from actors to directors to commercial clients has their own vision. There are people out there who want the same things you do, and it might take a while to connect with them. You need to know how to show them you share their vision.
Do your research and figure out the people you need to connect with in order to better your chances of co-creation and lasting relationships. A good place to start is to find an actor whose roles you would like to play and figure out who their manager and agent are, as well as the casting directors for those roles.
It’s also a good idea to figure out what looks and skills are trending and decide if they are something you are interested in adding to your repertoire. It might be time to build on your high school Spanish!
4. Know Your Type.
You may have been the prettiest girl in your high school, but you might not look like a high fashion model. It’s sometimes a tough pill to swallow, but you may have to admit you fall into the “real to attractive” or “real people” category. It doesn’t mean you are ugly, and it can provide you with more opportunities, since there are often more castings for these roles. Remember, your mom still thinks you are beautiful.
For auditions and casting notices, it helps to “think like a casting director”. It prevents you from wasting everyone’s time. Just because you fit the age range does not mean you fit the part. It would be amazing to be ready to cast as a fitness pro, mom, punk, hippie, lawyer, doctor, junkie, hipster, CEO, and president of the United States, but odds are, you fit some castings better than others. While they sometimes cast outside the box, casting directors and clients often have something very specific in mind and don’t have a lot of time to reimagine you. If it’s a stretch for you, it’s a stretch for them to see you in that role, especially for commercial work.
On the other hand, you probably closely resemble the stereotype for some archetypes, and they are likely ones you enjoy portraying because they fit your personality. Be sure to better your chances for these roles by investing in haircuts, wardrobe, and headshots that show the casting director that side of you.
5. Don’t Take It Personally.
You will hear all kinds of things from agents, managers, and casting directors, from “You remind me of [insert actor name here].” to “You look fatter/thinner/prettier/older than your headshot.” Whether or not you agree with them, remember this is just someone else’s opinion. They don’t know you and aren’t entitled to make any judgements about you. Also, keep your headshots up to date. 😉
There will be stretches of time you will not be cast for anything, and there will be days where you are offered three projects at once. If you are working hard and doing everything you can to work toward your goals, it will pay off eventually. You can’t be everything to everyone. It is enough to be you!
Alison Kawa is an actress, comedian, and singer who made the move from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2016.
All opinions are offered as friendly advice. Follow as you see fit.