Actors new to the industry seldom seek advice about how to be more effective as performers. Their goals are misplaced and detached from what is actually relevant to their vocation, that of being competent and professional performers. Instead, they become obsessed with the business side of the profession, how to get an agent, getting into the union, and obtaining job interviews. In addition, fantasy aspirations take them away from the realities of the business.
Foremost is the aspiration to be discovered. What are the odds of that happening? Another fantasy is that everything will fall into place in a serendipitous way if I just hang in there long enough. Such people fail to realize that professional actors are hired and paid modest sums because they are good at their jobs. It is not because they have an agent or an attractive promotional package. It is because they can deliver a solid professional performance, and do so repeatedly.
So often, actors get caught up in the minutia of the industry and instead of being specific about their goals, they become fodder for an archaic training system that eats up both their hopes and savings. They busy themselves with workshops, photo sessions, and seeking representation. They wallow in muck of tittering ambition and hopeful mediocrity. Few of their efforts are directed toward becoming skilled and consummate actors. Indecisive, they follow the herd rather than seeking a pragmatic path toward a professional career.
By planning goals, we activate cognitive knowledge and strategies that help us move forward. We see what is relevant and what is not. We also see what is most important and see ways to prioritize our plan. Likewise, goals energize us and encourage greater effort. It empowers our persistence and perseverance to stick with our objectives.
Setting goals that lead to peak performances requires some careful thought and planning. There are many things to consider. One obstacle that gets in the way is our inability to see the interconnecting steps required for reaching a goal. We see the starting line and the destination, but little of what lies in between. Thus, any goal-setting plan should address much more than the final objective. It must address the obstacles, the helpful resources, the stepping-stones and the self-imposed deadlines.
Another obstacle is pursuing ego-based goals. Such self-centered goals are usually result driven and distract from the task, that of becoming an accomplished performer. The egocentric actor looks for praise and validation rather than dwelling on the process of becoming a better actor. Task-involved actors are interested in the process for its own qualities while ego-oriented actors perform the task to attract praise or confirm a self-concept (e.g. clever, funny, talented etc… ). Task-involved actors are less threatened by failure because their own ego is not tied up in the success of the task. Ego-involved actors tend to become anxious or discouraged in the face of failure, because such failure challenges their self-image. While we all have our egos to contend with, the desire for praise must be weighed with the worthier goal, to develop competence, a competence that supports such things as the story, the director’s vision, and the collaborative efforts of cast and crew.
In ones formal education, the objectives are straightforward. You attend classes, do the homework, and take exams. However, in the real world grades, transcripts, and diplomas carry little weight if you can’t do the job. The same applies to acting. Resumes and pictures have little meaning if they are not backed up by the ability to do a professional job. Thus, an actor’s main goal should center on attaining the skills and techniques of professional performers.
Let’s look at some examples that illustrate goal-setting strategies. If your goal is to attain the skills and techniques required for professional status, then this objective needs to be sliced up into manageable steps. Step one, what are those skills and techniques and where can I find information about them. I prefer to start with the non-verbal categories such as eye behavior (internalizations), facial expressions, gestures and movement. Next is dialogue delivery, selecting the emotions and intentions, and script analysis. Rounding out the basic skills, we have styles of acting, comedy, and character development. My article series on acting covers these topics. Having an overview of these topics will greatly improve both your comprehension and implementation once you start taking acting classes.
Supplement teachings. However, acting classes by themselves will not prepare you for a professional career. To do that, you’d be taking classes and workshops for years. One needs to supplement classroom teachings with more in-depth explorations into the many facets of acting. These can be found by reading plays, acting manuals, and by attending panel discussions and teaser workshops. You can also gain more insights into this craft by analyzing the performances of award-winning and highly acclaimed actors. Other resources include the many websites that have articles and videos detailing specific techniques. For instance, the YouTube video series, “Inside the Actors Studio” offers candid insights by acclaimed actors.
As you become more proficient, you’ll want to move up to scene study workshops where you can hone your skills. Later, you may want to enroll in an on-camera workshop. Again, these workshops require supplemental studies to be truly effective. For instance, scene studies delve into an array of dramatic choices and without guidelines you will likely be overwhelmed. On-camera workshops demand a more discipline type of acting. Such workshops are not able to teach all the nuances and subtleties of film work. If your goal is to be a consummate film actor, you have to seek out these answers on your own. Again, analyzing the performances of award-winning and highly acclaimed actors will fill in the gaps not covered in your workshops. These videos are available through companies such as Netflix and Blockbusters under the heading of Award Winning Movies and Actors. The resources mentioned earlier will also aid in improving and perfecting your skills in this area.
Retention. In goal setting for actors, retention is a huge factor. It is not enough to reach high performance levels. One must also be able to replicate these levels repeatedly. Many acclaimed actors continue to study and take workshops to maintain the skills they have acquired. Without practice, skills like timing and memorization diminish. Likewise, the ability to internalize thoughts and feelings requires a good amount of exercise. Thus, in your goal setting plan, set aside time to maintain the skills you’ve attained.
Promotion. While being highly skilled is a primary goal, one must also package ones talents so they can be properly promoted. Many young actors misfire in this area producing materials rather than connections. One can spend enormous sums on pictures, resumes, calling cards, postcards, postage, and demo reels. Yet the return on this investment is minimal. Instead, your goal should be to convince decisions-makers that you have the experience and training to do a professional job. How can this be done?
The decision-makers are inundated with promotional materials each day either via the web or through the mail. These materials carry little weight unless submitted by a respected representative, an agent or a manager that stands solidly behind them. So what marketing strategies work best. The following list ranks what items influence the decision-makers most, going from great to less. You will note that the top six items reflect people-to-people interactions while the rest involve detached interactions.
- The decision-maker’s assessment of your performances in films, on television, or on stage
- A referral from someone respected by decision-makers
- Personal relationships with decision-makers (casting directors, agents, filmmakers, and other actors)
- Your look, persona, professional attitude
- Your interview
- Your cold reading
- Your demo
- Your cover letter
- Your experience as listed on your resumé
- Your picture
- Your training as listed on your resume
- Your special skills and personal attributes
- Your submittal package
Most actors concentrate their time, money and efforts on the lower items, the detached interactions. That is because it requires little in the way of face-to-face promotional skills. Likewise, it is the path of least resistance and so easy to do. Stuffing envelopes or submitting via the web requires little in the way of building lasting relationships. Such menial tasks keeps one busy, yet negate working on the more important techniques such as interview and auditions skills. The people who get the interviews, callbacks, and jobs are more adapted at people oriented interactions. It stands to reason that ones goals in this area should concentrate on engaging these decision-makers in a productive way. Acting is a people-to-people business and to get what you want you have to change the perception of decision-makers from indifference to admiration. How can this be done?
Networkingis the key, but it has to be effective networking. It is not enough to meet industry people; you have to engage those that can move your career forward. Your networking goals should be to find these people and establish a lasting relationship. You will find that the most productive relationships are the ones that last the longest. Thus perseverance, often an acquired trait, is required. Beginning actors often overlook networking prospects that can move them up the ladder. The following list provides numerous opportunities for building productive relationships.
Student and Calling Card Filmmakers. These people provide entry-level job experience and clips for your demo reel. Later on, these people will do bigger projects and by being connected, you stay in the loop. Colleges have yearly screenings of student films and these are good places to connect with these young filmmakers. Film festivals and film organizations are a good place to meet calling card filmmakers. Some colleges have industry speakers for events open to the public, which are frequently attended by film students. Sites such as Craig’s list and Backstage have casting listings. Bigger colleges have a casting department or even a casting agent. Their casting files are purged periodically every six months to a year.
Instructors and Coaches. Respected industry trainers carry some weight with the upper tier agents, managers and casting directors. These instructors are well aware of your acting capabilities and have a vested interest in seeing their brighter students succeed. Their recommendations can open doors provided you inform them of your goals.
Respected Actors. Actors, especially those well-known by agents, managers, and casting directors, can be of immense help in providing support and referrals. Inviting them to your showcase, play, or sending them your demo is one way of obtaining their recommendation. Such actors may belong to industry organizations or charity groups, and connecting with them on a social level may ensure their help. One can also obtain contact information via fee-based IMDbPro.com. Another fee-based subscription service, StudioSystem.com has a wider range of industry information.
Agents and Managers. These people represent clients and submit them for various jobs. While the roles of these representatives overlap, legally an agent can get you work, but a manager can only guide your career. Each takes a percentage of your earnings. Updated listings of these representatives can be found online or at Samuel French Bookstores. Industry panel discussions and actor expos are good for face-to-face meetings, but the best way is to be introduced by respected industry personal such as an established actor, instructor, director, or casting director. Once you connect, your objective should be to nurture the relationship, stay in touch, and update them with your career progress. Agents and managers like people who are moving up the ladder and such progress means bigger earnings, for the both of you.
Casting Directors. These are the people who in collaboration with the director and/or producer pick the talent or actors who will appear onscreen. These include the stars, leads, and supporting players. On larger pictures, a casting director for extras or background players may also be assigned. Directories of casting directors are available through Samuel French Bookstores. Some casting directors offer workshops and these are a great place to meet up with them and learn a little more about this side of the business. Actor expos, actor fests, and industry panel discussions also offer connection opportunities. Inviting them to your showcases is another way of getting seen, though few will attend. The best way to be seen is by coming in with a recommendation from a highly respected coach, actor, or representative.
Directors. This person has the ultimate say in who is cast in the picture. Directors are often overlooked as networking prospects, yet many actors have campaigned for a role by going directly to this person. Directors are a little more difficult to contact as most have agents or managers. There is a directory available through the Directors Guild of America that will help in this regard. Directors often speak about their film following a festival screening and this is an opportunity meet them.
Producers and Production Companies. These people purchase and develop the script. They hire the director and production heads. They also obtain funding and distribution for the film. In that regard, they sign bankable stars for the leading roles. While normally detached from the run-of-the-mill casting decisions, they do hold the clout to get you an interview. On limited-budget films, they are more involved in casting. For this category, industry directories are available online or at industry bookstores.
Others. Just about anyone can be a conduit to success. Producers, cinematographers, writers, and crew members have knowledge of upcoming projects. They also know the particulars; what’s it about, the roles available, and who will be casting the project. As such, keep on the lookout for anyone working in the industry that might provide entry into a project. Networking opportunities are available at industry expos, festivals, panel discussions, special screenings and industry mixers. Classmates in acting classes and workshops can also provide helpful information about what is out there.
Networking Skills. Another goal you should pursue is sharpening your networking skills. Are you prepared with engaging stories that depict your career, your job experience, and the obstacles you faced? Do you have the tools to stay in touch, things such as calling cards, an online promotional site, and follow-up strategies? Let’s say you are doing a showcase. Postcards would be an ideal way to connect when networking and help demonstrate your commitment to your craft. By planning, you can take advantage of these networking opportunities and effectively move your career forward.
Union Card. Getting into the various unions such as SAG-AFTRA, EQUITY, and AGVA may be a goal once you’ve reach professional status. Fortunately, these guilds have websites that display this information. For detailed strategies, look at Keith Wolfe’s book “How to get your SAG Card”. There are multiple avenues and again demand a high level of determination to traverse.
Getting Help. You will likely find career planning and goal setting a befuddling challenge. That’s because it difficult to seek answers when you don’t know the questions. You’re not aware of what you don’t know. This article should open doors into the basic considerations. However, for a more in-depth analysis you may want to seek help from a career coach, one specializing in actors. A coach is someone who can get you unstuck and acts as a powerful catalyst moving you forward in a more dynamic and productive way. They also have the tools and experience to identify problems and help you set relevant goals, organize your efforts, and create a plan of action to take you to the next level. Certified life coaches can be found on Google or Bing under: Career Acting Coaches.
In conclusion, goal setting for actors is a multi-facet challenge, one that demands a multiple of skills and strategies. Be specific by setting relevant and reachable goals. Create meaningful milestones that measure your progress and motivate completion. Identify the obstacles and overcome them by acquiring the skills, attitudes, and strategies that will lead you to success. Be relevant and seek goals that are realistic and beneficial. If you fail, re-aim and acquire the essentials to make it happen. Set deadlines and commit to a timeframe that pushes you toward success.
You are the master of your own destiny. Your success and happiness is an inside job.