HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED
What does success as an actor look like to you? Have you even considered whether or not you actually want everything that comes with being an A-list celebrity?
When I started telling people that I was an actor, the next question was always, "Well what do you want to do with that?" The first time I heard that question, it surprised me, but I'm so thankful they asked.
It really forced me to clarify my short and long-term acting goals. I have those for every other area of my life, so why didn't I have them for acting? I've known for a while now that a SAG award would mean a lot to me, but then someone presented me with a different question.
One day, someone asked me, "What types of roles would you like to play?" What did they mean by type? Billing? Genre? Regardless, it made me think about all of the options.
My brain quickly flashed back to my college theatre days. A good friend of mine was the quintessential ingénue, or female lead, for our musicals. During one of our department's Shakespeare plays, we both worked tech.
We were both on headset chatting about who knows what, but I remember that she said something along the lines of, "I'm tired of always being the lead role. They're so boring." I was shocked to hear her say that because I thought she loved it. I remember thinking, "Yea, I bet they do get boring."
I knew in that moment that I did not really crave lead roles. I've always been so attracted to the "guide" characters that help the lead character reach their destination. They already have it figured out, they always make the audience feel good, and they're secretly everyone's favorite.
This process forced me to ask myself a number of questions that I think will be helpful to you as an actor before you go too far in a direction that you'll regret. I want to warn you now that if you're thinking, "I just want to be famous!" then you're in this business for the wrong reasons, and it's going to eat you alive. Work through this post before you finalize your goals.
In this post, I'll ask you three questions to help you create strong acting goals that make sense for you. I want the term "making it" to mean something as opposed to being a vague term so that you're striving for something specific. If you don't have a clear vision for your acting career, then how will you know if you've even achieved something you want?
1. WHICH BRANCH OF MEDIA?
Saying that you want to be an actor is actually a very vague goal. Did you know that there are many different avenues in which that can take you? What type of actor specifically? Do you like theatre, voiceover, or film?
Visualize that you already have your dream career twenty years down the road. What does it look like if there are no obstacles, no insecurities, and no opinions getting in your way?
Maybe you realize that you're on camera, but not acting. Maybe you're killing it in broadcast journalism or hosting an influential show like Oprah. Maybe you really love comedy and see yourself doing standup or competing on reality tv.
If none of that sounds good, let's consider commercials. Would you love to have a role like Flo from Progressive? Roles like that pay enough money that you'll never need to work again in your life if you have a solid budget. Would you be ok with that?
If you find yourself thinking, "I would love to just have one major commercial role like that. It would be fun, I would get lots of exposure, and I could live off the million dollar per year contract for the rest of my life," then national commercials or being a brand spokesperson could be a great fit for you.
Maybe you realize that you don't want to be on camera at all, but instead love the thrill of performing for a live audience. Do you love to sing and dance in musicals? Gigs that allow you to sing and dance are few and far between on camera. If that breaks your heart, then theatre should be your primary focus.
Maybe you realize that you really want to entertain people, but you don't want to be in front of an audience whether that's on stage or on camera. If so, then I highly recommend that you look into voice acting. You can make a great income narrating commercials, movie trailers, or playing animated characters.
Maybe all of those options still leave a void. If you're thinking, "I really want to have a character with a storyline, and being on camera feels exciting to me," then it's film and television for you, Actor Boss. That doesn't mean that you won't utilize those other branches of media, but it does mean that you should focus your short and long-term goals on film and television acting jobs.
The point of this exercise is to help you pigeon hole your goals into one specific branch of media. Again, you may end up working in all of these, but that doesn't mean you should settle for always only taking whatever work you can get! If you do not have a vision for your career, if you do not set your focus on a specific branch of media, then everyone else around you will pull you into their vision.
If you always do commercials, but never communicate to your agent that you would really like to work on more films (even if they're indies!), then how will they know? They may tell you that you need different headshots or footage, but you will not know that if you don't communicate, and you can't communicate a vision that isn't clear.
Once you settle on your branch of media, you'll also have way more clarity on the type of training you need. Learning how to be on camera for broadcast journalism is much different than learning how to be on camera acting for a tv show. What if you're wasting a ton of time and money on theatre training, when really you need to be in a voice class because you want to play animated characters?
Before you move to step two of this process, declare your branch of media. I've heard so many successful people in various lines of business agree that "the riches are in the niches." Why would that be different for you as an actor?
When your focus is being pulled into a million different branches of media, you can't become known for that one thing that you actually want to do. You can't brainstorm the next best step to achieve what you actually want, and you definitely won't have the time to focus on the most important actions to get yourself to that next chapter.
For example, if I say the name Michael Fassbender, you don't think, "Man, he's such a good news anchor. I just can't wait to hear him deliver the six o'clock news," or, "Wow! He was so good in the Broadway performance of Legally Blonde that I just can't get over it."
I'm not saying he wouldn't be good at those jobs, but it's not what he's known for. So if you want to be known for a particular branch of media, then you need to start focusing on that branch of media.
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2. WHAT TYPES OF ROLES?
I want to focus on anyone who selected film and television from this point forward. Have you considered the type of roles you want, specifically in terms of billing? I'm not suggesting that you can just snap your fingers and start landing the billings you want. The bigger the billing, the longer and harder you'll most likely need to work.
However, you have a life to live! In fact, you can't be an actor if you don't have a life outside of acting because you need relatable sense memories to pull from. That means you really need to consider the amount of time a particular type of booking will cost you.
You'll sacrifice more time for bigger roles. Did you know that movie billings, for example, also include media appearance negotiations? You won't only commit to the time it takes to prep for the role and shoot the role, but you'll also commit to a certain amount of time promoting it.
Let's start with co-star roles. You could potentially build a career just working as a co-star with a few lines on multiple tv shows over time. That would allow you to still work a full-time job, but just take a day off once in a while and still get great pay for a one day shoot. Plus, you may get booked on some of your favorite shows, but still have time to spend with your family.
If you want something more substantial that still gives you freedom in your schedule throughout the year, then guest star roles might be your sweet spot. I say that with the understanding that you'll almost assuredly need to do co-star roles first, but you'll need to decide whether or not you want to push past guest star status.
Let's pause for a second. If you're thinking, "Duh! Of course I want to get bigger and bigger roles," then you're most likely in it for the long haul. However, I still want you to reach way down deep inside and admit to yourself if it's just for the sake of being famous. If that's the foundation of your goals, they won't last. You really need to love something about the craft.
Let's get back to it. What if you're sold on having your own tv show? If your goal is to build a long-term career with a character that you really love to play, then you can do that as the lead on a tv show without moving into film (Law & Order SVU, people!). This option would allow you to build a raving, loyal fanbase. It would also give you a more consistent (big fat) paycheck.
If television roles simply feel like stepping stones to you, and film is your target, then you still need to decide which billings you want the most. You don't always need to be the lead character to build an amazing film career. Self-awareness will take you a long way here, but understanding your role niche will serve you much better than trying to force yourself into a billing that isn't a good fit.
Audience members aren't dumb. Even if they can't explain to you in acting terms why you aren't a good fit for a role, they can still feel it. You know how you feel when an actor is just killing it in a role? It just fits! You can't stop watching! You somehow feel bonded to them. You can't help but to say how good they are out loud even though they can't hear you.
That's what you want your audience to do to you. Why them? Because they're ultimately who we do this for, and they're ultimately the ones keeping us all in business. They'll know if you're trying to force yourself into a lead role before it's your time, and it will break your relationship with your fans. However, taking the right types of roles will make them so excited to see you every time you're on camera, which will allow you to create a kick-butt career.
The point here is to know the answer to the question that all actors get asked: "What do you want to do as an actor?" That doesn't mean you can fully control what your career will look like, but if you don't focus on a target, you're definitely going nowhere. Clarify what you want and set a clear goal so that you can get moving.
I know without hesitation that my answer is, "I would love to build a career playing supporting roles in feature films." I'm not attracted to lead roles. Some of you might think that sounds crazy, which means you probably are attracted to lead roles in feature films. I know that's not really for me right now, though. They typically have some kind of romantic interest which is not my thing. I love the idea of supporting and shining a light on the hero, or helping them along as the best friend or confident guide.
Note which characters you're drawn to the most when you watch film or tv. Why do you like those roles so much? What is it that attracts you to them? When you nail down that answer, you'll get laser focused searching for or creating roles that fit that criteria. You can't get to where you're going unless you know what you want.
3. HOW FAMOUS DO YOU WANT TO BE?
This question sounds crazy to some of you, but you should really take it seriously. You have more control over this than you think, especially if you plan ahead.
Knowing what type of roles you want is largely dictated by how much time you're willing to sacrifice for acting; knowing how famous you want to be is largely dictated by how much normalcy you're willing to sacrifice for acting.
I know someone who had the chance to chat with a well-known actor that confessed their house was so big because it's too much of a hassle to go out in public. Therefore, they need a house big enough to house all of their hobbies.
Is that the life you want to live? Would you be ok feeling trapped in your house all of the time? Could your family handle that lifestyle? Some of you feel absolutely prepared to sign autographs all day or are one hundred percent ok with constantly fighting for your privacy because the sacrifice is worth it for you to play the types of roles you want to play.
You could also be the actor sitting in the corner of a restaurant that everyone's looking at out of the corner of their eye asking, "Do I know that person? They look familiar, but I can't place them," and that's as far as it goes. I understand that you can't control another person's actions, but you can try to control your exposure.
If you feel like you don't have a say in this, that's a problem we need to address because it means you're ok allowing life to happen to you instead of you happening to it.
I think a lot of actors feel they need to take whatever opportunities come their way, and I don't want you to wake up one day hating your life or your craft because someone else designed it for you. We must decide as actors what we want our lives to look like, and then decide what we want our careers to look like in order to support that vision.
Art is a reflection of life. Therefore, actors need to have lives in order to create art. When you're pulling from a sense memory, you need a memory to utilize, which means you've had life experiences, not just a career!
When you've defined clear career and life goals, you'll more confidently decide which roles to accept and which roles to decline, and it is OK for you to decline roles as an actor if they don't fit into your definition of success.
Your life is the foundation of your acting, so you can't arbitrarily set acting goals that ignore your life. If you're fine changing your definition of normalcy, great! Just make sure that you actually are fine with it first.
Would you really be ok no longer enjoying the experience of going to your favorite coffee shop? Would you really be ok sacrificing your favorite date night with your spouse to avoid getting bombarded by people? Yes, celebrities have figured this out, but they're still sacrificing a certain sense of normalcy to do it.
Let's review our questions:
What are your answers to these three questions? Comment and let me know. I'm sure a topic like this brings up a lot of questions or emotions, so I'd love to hear your feedback.
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HEY ACTOR BOSS,