So, you want to be an actor. It seems thrilling, glamorous and exciting. You find yourself daydreaming about being on a film set bringing a character to life. You have taken a few acting classes and maybe worked on a couple of student films. Perhaps you were an extra in a big budget film and it sparked your desire to act, but you don’t know what to do next.
At this point you must ask yourself a very serious question: Is acting your hobby or your career? There is no right or wrong answer, but the answer must be absolutely truthful. Take a few days to reflect on this question. Search your soul for the answer. There is no shame in realizing acting is an interesting hobby for you. Have fun with it. Give acting the same time and resources you would to any hobby you enjoy.
If, however, you realize that you want to make your living as a professional actor, you must approach your acting career as a business. You are now the CEO of a company selling one product – YOU.
You will implement the same strategies and devote the time, effort and resources a successful entrepreneur does to any new business. To build a profitable business a CEO must be willing to perform massive amounts of work over an extended period of time. He or she must pour their heart and soul into the venture and make many sacrifices along the way. Acting is no different. To become a successful working actor you must become unstoppable. Nothing short of that will work.
Below are the six key components to treating your acting career as a business.
1. Develop your product. 2. Define your brand 3. Hire vendors. 4. Market your product. 5. Provide great customer service. 6. Keep detailed records.
DEVELOP YOUR PRODUCT
The first step in your business strategy is to develop your product. And the only product your business sells is you. Work consistently to become more valuable to directors and producers by increasing your skills and marketability.
Take a variety of acting classes to gain the skills you will need on set. Take fundamentals of acting, on-camera audition technique, scene study and improvisation. If you are not a full time working actor you should be attending acting classes weekly. As a professional businessperson you are expected to be an expert in your field. You do not become an expert actor by attending a one-day acting workshop every eight weeks.
Read books about the craft and business of acting. Attend workshops that teach the business of acting. Read industry trade papers such as Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. If you were in the business of plumbing supplies you would be knowledgeable about the trends and important happenings in that business. No different with acting.
Start working as an actor immediately. At the beginning of your career say yes to everything: student films, short films, web series and low budget feature films. Nothing compares to the real world knowledge you will gain from working on set as an actor under the stressful conditions of production. It is okay if you aren’t very good at first. Like anything, the more you do it the better you will get. As your business grows you will progress to small roles in television shows and films and eventually work your way up to large, high paying acting jobs.
DEFINE YOUR BRAND
What does Google, Apple, Dominos Pizza and Christopher Walken all have in common? A well-defined brand. To move to the highest levels of this Industry as an actor you must become a commodity. And the only way to become a commodity is to deliver a consistent, compelling brand to casting directors, directors, producers and eventually audience members. You must be a very specific answer to a very specific question. Being general or “versatile” is a sure-fire way to get stuck at the lowest levels of this business. The vast majority of highly successful actors have a strong brand and they bring it to every role they do.
When I am chatting with my actor friends in Los Angeles those who make their living in front of the camera agree that branding is an absolute necessity to achieve great success. I find it ironic that the only actors I debate with about this issue make their living as waiters. These “actors” who deliver cheese sticks for a living argue that they are great actors with phenomenal range. They don’t want to “typecast” themselves. They don’t want to limit their audition opportunities. They tell me about all the wonderful, varied roles they play in student films. Yet they never book professional television or film roles. When chatting with these unsuccessful friends, I listen to their earnest protests and then sadly ask them to bring me another order of cheese sticks. Please don’t limit the success of your business with a misplaced belief in the versatility of your product. Coca-Cola tastes like Coca-Cola every time you buy it (except for that one time in the ‘80s when it didn’t and the product failed miserably).
Brand does not limit your opportunities. It enhances them. You can bring your brand to almost any role and in so doing you will make that role your own. I don’t have the room in this blog to go into the specifics of branding, but think of a role as a cup and your brand as the sweet tea you pour inside. Place five very different looking cups on the counter and fill each with your tea. Sitting on the counter these five cups appear to be very different. But take a drink from each one and you will discover that what’s inside is exactly the same. I play characters that may appear very different on the surface, but I bring my brand to all of them. The inner truth and essence of who I am defines each of these roles.
Get into a branding workshop and discover what your brand is before you get headshots and start auditioning for professional acting work. This one component of your business strategy can be the difference between success and failure as an actor.
First things first, as CEO of your company you are the boss. Never forget that vendors work for you. They exist to service the needs of your business (and other similar businesses). Do not give up your personal power to any vendor. That does not mean to be disrespectful or to ignore expert advice. But remember, vendors have many clients. You have only one career.
The first vendor you will hire will be an agent. They will primarily be your salesperson. When interviewing potential agents you want to ask them lots of questions. Make sure they understand the product your business sells. Ensure their communication style works for you. And most importantly, make sure they are excited to be working with you.
As your career progresses you will need to eventually hire a manager, a publicist, an accountant and a lawyer. Do your due diligence as any smart CEO would do when determining who to hire. Only bring proven, successful vendors onto your team to help ensure your business is constantly growing.
MARKET YOUR PRODUCT
After you have developed a great product, defined your brand and hired a salesperson, you must now market your product to potential customers. Initially, those potential customers are casting directors. As your business grows you will broaden your marketing campaign to include directors, producers and production companies.
Your marketing campaign will consist primarily of postcards and flyers mailed directly to casting directors. These postcards and flyers should always reflect your brand and describe the projects you are working on. They should never be needy, desperate or generic. You will consistently send these marketing materials every six to eight weeks until you have reached the highest levels of this industry. At that point everyone knows who you are and what your brand is and they are pursuing you. Don’t fall in the trap of doing one mailing and giving up because “nothing happened.” Apple never stops marketing its product. Neither should you.
Just like all modern businesses you will also engage in social media marketing. I will cover that subject in detail with an upcoming blog.
PROVIDE GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE
When a customer buys your product you must deliver great customer service. Arrive on time. Know your lines. Be easy to find on set. Be a delight to work with. Never complain about silly things.
One of the keys to long-term success in this business is getting repeat customers. If you are a pain in the ass on set or arrive unprepared, producers, directors and studios will never hire you again for future productions.
KEEP DETAILED RECORDS
Without detailed records of your auditions, callbacks and bookings you can’t accurately assess how well your business is performing. You need to know which casting directors are calling you in and how often. You must know what your booking rate is. If your booking rate is low you must determine why and correct the issue. Only with detailed audition records can you correct any problems with your business’s growth.
In addition, you must keep detailed records for tax purposes. As a smart CEO you will want to limit your tax liability every year. That can only be accomplished with detailed records of your expenses, mileage, agency fees and income. Get in the habit of recording everything regarding your business.
Consistently using these six components in your acting business will ensure you are constantly moving to higher and higher levels in this industry. Implemented long term they will make you a successful working actor.
If after reading up to this point you believe this is way too much work to dedicate to an acting career let me redirect you to my initial question: Is acting your hobby or your career?
You can see my credits at www.imdb.me/mccullough. To learn about my classes or coaching check out www.SavannahActorsStudio.com.