Like you, I’ve had a lot of amazing conversations about acting and auditions this year. And not just about politics and Industry scandals.
But also awe-inspiring and career-changing ones with actors all over the world.
And because actors are standing up for themselves publicly like never before, there have been exceptional stories coming forward about the power and courage that actors take every day.
So from all of these conversations, I’ve distilled down my Top 10 Lessons with hundreds of actors of all skill and career levels.
Learn from their mistakes!
Discover and apply all the lessons so that your career can go places it’s never been before in 2018.
Without further ado… the Top 10!
1 RELATIONSHIPS REALLY ARE EVERYTHING
Every conversation I’ve had this year reminds me that the key to momentum in your acting career is the relationships you’re able to create.
It’s SO not about the auditions first. Auditions comes second; relationships come first.
In other words: People First, Then Auditions, Then $$$.
Your biggest mistakes (not related to preparation; wait for it below) revolve around ignoring relationships.
An intro session I had with [to protect the less-than-innocent, let’s call him] Chris tells the tale: He was frustrated that he wasn’t getting called back into offices and not booking anything. I asked which offices and who he auditioned for.
He didn’t have a clue about either one. That’s his fail, and it’s a huge fail!
Auditions will always come along.
But do you keep pressing the Refresh / Start Over button every day – starting from scratch with blind mailings and submissions?
Or instead, do you warm your relationships with specific casting offices and professionals so that they are EXCITED to bring you in?
Do you create fans of casting pros and producers who can’t wait to find the right project for you?
Do you have a system for networking and making friends and following up consistently and without hesitation?
Until then, you’ll be an audition-chaser.
Instead, become an audition-magnet.
I know and work with plenty of audition-magnet actors. One specific audition, job or role might not be right for them, but you can count on that office bringing you in over and over and over until you get cast.
That’s the power of relationships! No fear. Just connection, fun and friendship.
2 STOP TRYING TO CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN NEVER CONTROL
Oh, all the frustration and struggle and heartache you feel when you keep trying to control EVERYTHING!
And it’s just so very unnecessary.
Control creates suffering. And I hate to see actors suffer. But I see it day in and day out.
Ditch the need for total control. See reality for exactly what it is.
I realized talking to my student Sarah that she was just terrified of not having control over the whole process.
She had mad acting chops, but her auditions were tight and tense, like she was walking on a high wire and might come crashing down 100 stories to the ground. It was breathless and terrifying, every single audition.
We dived into what was the simple reality for Sarah – namely that she could win any role because her acting truly rocks. Sarah is also really really likable and sweet. She is a kind person.
This is her reality, and I made it clear that she doesn’t need to get everyone’s approval. It’s neither necessary nor important. Instead, she needs to attract, because she is truly more than enough.
Finally she started to have fun. 🎉
She threw away the high wire routine and entered every audition grounded and connected.
She made friends of casting pros.
And all of a sudden, she started getting callbacks and even booked her first few short films. I wasn’t surprised, but she certainly was.
You’ll never control if you get hired.
You’ll never control if you book the job. Never ever.
You absolutely CAN control getting the first, second and third audition though. Strategy like I teach lets you do that.
That is your reality, so stop fighting it. Keep it simple. Stop suffering.
Control everything that is in your control, and release your attachment to the rest. Then your momentum can speed up.
3 STRATEGY AND SKILLS MAKE RELATIONSHIPS WORK
Ben was beyond frustrated.
He’d gone to an acting conservatory and gotten a great acting training. He could definitely act.
But after over two years, he was getting nowhere.
Every day, he sat down to submit to online sites. He tried new things out every 6 months: voiceovers, commercials, background work, mailings, social media stalking. Nothing was working.
He’d get the odd audition, but nothing ever came of it.
After 2 years he had no real relationships with casting professionals, producers or directors to speak of.
He “knew of” so-and-so, but they had no clue really who he was. He considered quitting acting several times because his day job in a restaurant downtown made him crazy and his manager was abusive but he couldn’t even find another job that wasn’t bartending. And he hated bartending.
When we met, he asked “How long can I go on doing this?”
I asked him: “How long can you go on doing the same thing over and over?”
That’s the definition of real insanity. Actors prove this to me every day. If you do the same thing and just switch the target: voiceovers, social media, etc, it’s still insanity!
He sounded kind of angry. Then he sounded really really sad.
On the flip side, take Allison.
She didn’t have much acting experience, but she started working way faster than Ben. Allison booked commercials. She was building up a nice reel of great intro projects.
She was even getting exposure for major streaming TV shows even though she hadn’t booked anything yet. And she wasn’t fully trained.
So what was the difference?
Allison created an actual plan for her acting career and business.
She did her homework – and I’m not talking about rehearsing roles or auditions. She did the business homework. She created targets, she put networking and marketing systems in place. None of this was rocket science, and she sure wasn’t curing cancer. None of it was all that complicated.
It was simply strategic and specific.
She never started from a place of hoping and waiting. She took full control and power over everything she had control over.
Now that makes a huge difference when you’re one of thousands of actors going out for that one little job. And we’re not even talking lead in a big budget feature films. We’re talking about the co-star for the TV show saying: “Would you like whipped cream on that?”
So to take the pressure off, and start moving forward with a better plan, a real plan.
Only better skills and strategies are going to help you stand out from the ocean of actors out there. Use these skills and strategies. They exist.
It’s not some DaVinci Code-like set of mysteries that you can never attain without sacrificing your first born child.
Heck, just follow my tips on Facebook and you’ll start to see how simple this whole process can become.
No more passive wall flowers.
No more pushy, aggressive faking-it-till-you-make-it. Ugh, no one likes being on the receiving end of that.
Find the middle ground so that “You Do You,” and the skills and strategies pull you forward naturally.
Then the ride can become fun!
4 DO ONE THING AT A TIME
The ride will never be fun though if you’re so overwhelmed because of all the “things” you have to do.
There’s no disputing it: you have to take care of yourself in terms of rent and transport and eating and acting investments, not to mention grooming and having some kind of life that is worth sharing in your work.
Some overwhelm is good. Most is not.
Jan had more than enough on her plate.
She was a single mother, she had school age children and her need for a job went far beyond just herself.
Imagine your struggles just taking care of yourself then multiply that times three. Heck, do you know how expensive kids are?! They really are.
But Jan knew that acting was her calling. She was getting determined to stop thinking about it and do more.
She wanted to stop just throwing spaghetti against the wall. She wanted a better plan.
I’d seen her reel. She was good. She was emotionally truthful and moving.
I personally think all of the daily struggles and experience she had came out truthfully in every moment she worked in front of the camera. She could book work – of that I was sure.
So how was she going to do it? She barely had time to think, let alone audition…
One thing at a time.
That was it. She couldn’t afford to do a million things at once.
Anyway, it doesn’t work. Multi-tasking doesn’t work, it’s proven now. So ya, when you’re surfing your phone AND watching Netflix, you’re not really engaged with either fully. You’re wiring your brain for superficiality – truth! #preach
Jan and I figured out how she could simplify everything down to just one thing at a time.
But don’t get me wrong. She was ambitious. She wanted to get lots of results. She just didn’t need to do everything to get there all at once…
One thing at a time.
It turned out to be a simple process once she let go of the juggling idea she normally applied to her acting career, getting no results.
She upgraded her marketing, one things at a time: reel first, then headshot, then marketing targets.
After that, she more than cut in half her target list and started really getting known by casting directors.
And then it started to happen: auditions started like never before. She wasn’t just going for the generic self-submissions online but for independent films. Even premium TV was calling her in.
She changed her approach from everything-at-once and SLOW, to One Thing at a Time and FAST.
She changed her thinking! It feels counter-intuitive at first, like you’re going in slow motion. But you get SO MUCH MORE DONE! 🏆
Go ahead. Try it – and tell me how it goes. I dare you 😜
5 SPEND MORE TIME TO PREPARE BETTER
This year I had the pleasure of teaching some acting classes as a favor for a friend. This time it wasn’t audition and business of acting stuff, but actual acting craft. SO FUN.
When Dana was up on her feet, the whole class could see when she was or wasn’t prepared.
Dana was one of those actors who could work from day one even if she had no acting skill whatsoever. She was so natural, so fun-loving, so fun. She knew she had to upgrade her acting skills.
One day, the whole class sat down to talk about the vital necessity of preparation. Not the “importance of it” but the true NECESSITY.
“You guys see when someone is and is not prepared. You guys see the next level of skills, specificity and diving into the script we can do when you are prepared. And… You see how simplistic and boring it is when you are not prepared, or even working properly.”
Every week, they’d either seen or experienced how fast the work could become amazing… but only if there was preparation.
The exact same thing applied when the class was asking about auditioning and getting auditions.
The rules are definitely different for auditions. However, you still need to be able to prepare any specific thing you are able to.
Most actors prepare less than 50% of what they have the power to prepare.
Most actors start in the wrong place!
I drive by acting studios in Hollywood seeing all the actors on the pavement reading scripts out loud for the first time, trying to make everything “sound right” without doing even a moment of preparation beforehand.
You can always tell a good studio vs a mediocre studio; there is NO subtext or depth to the reading in a poor studio’s actors.
When it comes to even getting auditions, how much have you prepared?
Are you upgrading your skills and knowledge of the industry to be prepared for every meeting and audition? Does your marketing and networking have a foundation of preparation?
Winging it may work 1/1000th of the time, but what about the other 999 times?
Once you discover what is actually in your control, it’s ALL on you to be responsible for preparing what you can.
Many actors want to get paid the big bucks for starring as leads in films and TV shows. Do they think that they don’t have to do very much to earn that?
The highest earners in Hollywood, London and Australia work about 1000 times harder than anyone would believe!
So will you learn this lesson as 2017 ends?
Will you start preparing and taking the time to find out: exactly who you’re meeting, and how you fit into every situation? And even take the pressure off of yourself by realizing your just a small part in a very large machine of production?
And she started to put together an amazing reel because she was able to put her natural strengths to work for herself. But she had to put the work in on the front end.
Don’t forget: Nothing comes from nothing, after all.
6 PRESENCE MATTERS MORE THAN YOU THINK
Presence is forgotten millions of times of day by people’s whose profession it is to just be present.
Yes, acting can be difficult.
Jason, another actor, would often tell me: “Sometimes it feels so simple, to act, but other times, it’s like there are a million balls in the air while I’m acting and I have no idea which one to catch first!”
It’s a craft after all.
Whoever told you it would be simple lied to you. Pure and simple.
However, there is a beauty to acting. Even if you forget everything you prepared… even if you lose track of what you’re supposed to do and get totally confused.. you can still be completely mesmerizing if you’re present!
If you choose to stay present and just listen to your acting partner, you can take our breath away!
That’s the power of presence.
Jason started to tap into this while working on his preparation skills.
And the exact same thing is true of all the “get the audition” skills too. As long as you’re prepared, presence is the answer.
Agent meeting? Presence.
Casting director workshop? Presence.
Networking event? Presence.
You do you. Do it well. Be yourself, and be present.
And have some HUMOR for heaven’s sake! Seriously, smile a little and mean it.
Just stay present and listen. Trust your preparation, and throw it away.
You know that when you’re working, the camera doesn’t give a damn how long you spent on your preparation. It just wants to see depth and complexity and most of all, presence.
Acting can be damn difficult at times. Keep coming back to your presence.
7 GET SERIOUS ABOUT AUDITIONING
Why do actors avoid auditions so much?
It’s such a Catch-22. They want so many auditions, and yet they treat auditions like punishment, or worse, some sort of necessary surgery you’d rather not have.
Auditions are amazing!
Auditions are the stepping stone to your getting to – ya know – act as a professional. And make an income!
Kim was in my audition class this year, and she was so warm, so pleasant, so quick and smart. I immediately warmed to her.
But man was she not having a good time in her auditions.
She obviously had acting skills, but when we focused on adding on audition-specific skills, she flew right out of her comfort zone. After a few questions, it was clear that Kim was feeling major PRESSURE.
So with pressure, all the joy of auditioning and excitement flew our of the window.
Fear was not able to turn into excitement.
Doubt overcame confidence.
Here’s the deal:
Auditions are not performances.
Auditions require different skills than your scene study or your on set or on stage performances.
Once you know what auditions are really about, they’ll become fun again.
So you definitely have to get serious about getting GREAT at auditions.
Kim definitely became a GREAT auditioner by the end of the class. Remember, it’s not rocket science and you’re not curing kids with cancer. It’s just an audition.
But it does require specific skills and knowledge, so start there!
8 HAVE MORE FUN
No, I’m not being sarcastic with this one.
I’m dead serious: HAVE. MORE. FUN!
Cristina and Andrea were asking me the other day about the potential merger between Disney and Fox. What would this mean for actors?
Are you kidding? It means big time OPPORTUNITY!
If Disney does, as experts suggest, attempt to rival Netflix, then they’re going to have to start creating WAY more content.
That’s a WHOLE lot of work for YOU.
Andrea and Cristina got inspired and excited by this, of course! They started their next plan of attack…
Consider this: in 2018 Netflix is releasing 80 Netflix produced films; Disney will release 12.
80 vs 12… That’s a challenge to Disney for sure!
Actors get so focused on their part, on their role, on putting themselves so completely into telling a story, that they forget the massive world around them.
Think about it.
If you’re working on a major feature film, you’re potentially working among 1000-15000 craftsman who are making that movie take shape.
From the direct crew of directors, riggers, lighting and sound technicians…
To the creative crew of costume designers, costumers, hair and makeup artists, set designers and decorators, musicians and composers and arrangers…
To the massive crews of CGI and FX and general effects that almost every movie seems to employ…
That might include modelers, computer graphics technicians, pyro-technicians and stunt professionals, etc etc etc…
You as the actor are but one single cog in a VERY massive machine.
Granted, you are the most visible cog.
However, none of that would come together to get your face out there without this massive crew of artists, craftsmen and technicians.
Producers – oh ya, the folks actually paying for all those other folks – are investing millions. Sometimes even $100s of millions.
And even in tiny projects, several thousand dollars more than you’d think is probably required to mount a simple play in a little fringe festival.
Sure, you need to deliver the goods: your acting.
That’s preparation. You’ve got that covered if you’re trained well.
But you need to take the pressure off and not take the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Take your job seriously, but be the best team player in this massive machine of production.
HAVE more fun. Take more risks. Let the cameras continue rolling and let magic fly out of you because you are truly fully…
… present. [Sound familiar??!]
I know, I know, working on a tragic dramatic film may be less fun overall. But you know what, listen to interviews with the greats. They have wonderful fun times filming heavy drama.
You need to do that too.
Phew, what a relief!
9 RESPECT EVERYONE AROUND YOU
If we learned nothing else about “the Industry” this year, it’s that power and money have the power – not to corrupt – but to influence otherwise trusting participants into terrible situations.
Yup, I’m talking about the deluge of sexual assault charges that began with Harvey Weinstein, and have virtually not stopped since.
Power does make a difference.
Actors are willing to put themselves “out there” unlike many other folks, in the hopes of moving forward in their careers.
That does not obviously mean that anything goes. Because it never does. Ever!
I’m fond of saying that “karma is a bitch” and I really mean it.
Remember that person signing you in at an audition that you were short with because you had traffic problems? Well, that person is tomorrow’s Casting Director.
Remember the brief tantrum you threw on set? The person on the other end of that is tomorrow’s sweetheart Director.
Remember Chris and how he didn’t bother to create relationships with any Casting Directors when he went to auditions.
People in the Industry have long memories.
There’s a reason one actor chose to bring something up from over 30 years ago about his sexual assault.
What happens to us matters.
And who causes us harm sticks in our memory. It doesn’t have to be anything as momentous as sexual assault.
Even short, fast, momentary harm leaves a huge impression.
How you treat EVERYONE matters.
Your reputation gets built on this.
There’s a reason all of these powerful assaulters are falling like flies.
Because people are speaking up and bringing into the present their past experiences.
Never forget that your reputation with everyone matters.
Care enough to get out of your own way.
And heck, great things will happen for your career too.
10 DITCH THE IDEA THAT ANYTHING AUTOMATICALLY COMES EASY
Plenty is going to easily come your way.
Jamie, an actor recently out of drama school, said to me: “I actually thought this was going to be much harder than it is. Sure, it’s not like everything happens as fast as I want, but it’s not too complicated.”
He was right, was Jamie. That’s because he didn’t establish too many bad habits early on.
More important, he applied the strategies that I teach soon after school, so got faster momentum than most actors who try to “figure it out” and waste years at a time.
Jamie is smart.
But Jamie is also clever because he realizes that you have to really be visible as much as possible.
He knows that you cannot expect anything to automatically come to you.
Lots will be easy, actually. Especially if you’re applying good strategies to your career and developing awesome Industry relationships like Jamie is.
When you’re focusing on relationships, it’s going to feel a whole lot easier too.
It certainly requires a specific type of effort.
The real question is: “Are you working smarter instead of harder?” That’s where strategies and skills come in, every day.
The biggest takeaway is that it’s work. It’s always going mean effort.
It’s a career, and you’re part of a very big business = work.
There are fantastic stories out about how elite performers of all types work so much!
Did you catch the Lady Gaga documentary on Netflix? It’s awesome, and you get to see just how unending is the work that Gaga puts into her career, every day, without stopping.
Even through pain, the work still happens.
But don’t forget, it’s all SMART work, at the highest level.
It’s not spinning wheels, or wasting time.
It’s getting her face, beliefs and sounds out there.
Recently Nick Jonas was saying about one of my favorite truly charismatic actors The Rock:
“It goes beyond just the work he does on screen. He really applies himself in every aspect and has done an incredible job of making every environment on set, the press tours, whatever it is, something where everyone feels important and valued.
That goes a long way with people. In addition to that, he’s incredibly charismatic. With this role in particular you believe the whole time that he is this 17 year-old kid. He has these little nuances within the performance that really shine through and help tell the story in a subtle way in moments, but then brings it to the bigger scale of everything too.
He stays completely true.”
Amazing: “where everyone feels important and valued.”
Or consider the ever-inspiring Elizabeth Banks.
Check out where her ambition and daily dedication has brought her:
Because, like she said: “I was a frustrated actress.”
Best of all though, I love Melissa McCarthy’s quote about Ms Banks:
“She’s a realist.”
It’s so much easier to be present and take your auditions serious when you’re a realist.
Let those dreams simply become your reality.
See the Industry for what it really is.
Understand how it works even better. Take the awe and amazement out of it, and become a craftsman within the Industry like everyone else who works on set with you.
That’s what working actors do. That is what elite actors do. That is what actors in it for the long haul do.
The Lessons are here to be learned in 2017.
They’re all around you. You just have to look and listen. You just have to see it all for what it truly is.
You can feel free to ditch the stories about struggle and luck and hope. The work you start doing smarter will carry you much further than the ocean of actors who want the same jobs as you.
They’re not your competition. You are.
Your beliefs, your assumptions, your insistences that the Industry might be impossible to break into – this is your biggest competition day in and day out, not other actors.
Thousands of actors break into it successfully every year!
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t relentless perseverance and relationships that got them into that position…
Smarter, not harder.
So as you enter 2018, how can you be smarter? How you can connect more? How can you show the Industry a lot more love and stay open to how it wants to embrace you?
How willing can you be to move forward, even if it doesn’t look exactly like you expected it to?
I’m willing to bet every actor who becomes super famous never thought it would look JUST like what it does for them.
Magic can happen. Dreams do come true. It’s going to all get easier – and way faster – when you work smarter.
I’ll show you how.
Happy New Year! Happy 2018.