Premature Moves

There are a few key moves actors will have the opportunity to make early in their careers. Unfortunately, these are moves actors often rush to make. And premature moves like these can stunt the natural process of development in an actor’s LIFELONG career. They can also PREVENT future progress and breed bitterness.

As you well know, bitterness is one of the most unattractive things to bring into an audition or encounter with anyone in this town. If you have yet to make some of these moves, consider taking a little extra time in the decision-making process. Some of these things may look like the Holy Grail for actors. Based on the emails I’ve received from actors who feel they’re “stuck” for having made these moves, that’s just not the case.

Joining a Union

“Once I join AFTRA, I can get into SAG in a year.” No. You can only qualify to join SAG if you have a speaking role under an AFTRA principal contract and have been a member of AFTRA in good standing for at least one year. Many actors join AFTRA thinking it’s a great way to gain SAG eligibility. It’s not. What AFTRA membership does is prevent you from working ANY non-union acting job (yes, that includes work that would not fall under AFTRA jurisdiction).

“How can AFTRA tell me that I’m not allowed to work a non-union film (which would be SAG’s jurisdiction, not AFTRA’s)? That’s not fair!” Well, it may not seem fair to you, but you chose to join a union that is a sister union to the other, and these unions have something called Global Rule One. It’s pretty clear.

From SAG.org: No member shall work as a performer or make an agreement to work as a performer for any producer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with SAG, which is in full force and effect.

From AFTRA.org: AFTRA fully and unequivocally supports SAG’s Global Rule One.

From ActorsEquity.org: Actors’ Equity fully supports SAG and AFTRA on many issues, including SAG’s current Global Rule One initiative.

So, if you’d like to continue working paid nonunion gigs — which are a great source of tape (if you’re building your demo reel), a fun way to build relationships (with people who won’t always be working on nonunion gigs either), and a source of income — you’d be wise not to cut off this source of good things by joining ANY union until it’s time. When is it time? When you are regularly having more union auditions than nonunion auditions, it’s time to begin considering joining a union. When you have been SAG-eligible for a nice, long run and have enjoyed all of the benefits of being able to go out for SAG roles without having to turn down nonunion work, begin considering joining SAG. But until you have “hit a ceiling” in the non-union world, don’t even consider joining a union. Why? Well, by doing so, you’ll be a grand or so poorer (initiation fees) and, should paid nonunion opportunities come up, you’ll be faced with working “off the card” or “going Fi-Core,” neither of which are reasons you JOINED SAG in the first place.

You join a union to be considered a professional in your industry. Until you have the career momentum to leave your paid-amateur status behind forever, stay where you are.

Pursuing an Agent

Regular readers know that I feel strongly about the fact that actors remain self-marketing, self-submitting professionals even after signing with an agent or manager. That said, there will certainly be a time in every actor’s career in which he or she will benefit most from having someone handling the contracts and advising the major career moves. The problem is, many actors think it’s time for that relationship long before it truly is.

“An agent will help me get work.” No. An agent will pitch you for roles of your type in projects at your level (or just above, hopefully) if you are ready for that sort of thing and if you have chosen to sign with an agent who does more than take a stack of your pictures and “shelve you” until he drops you. An agent can certainly get you into offices you might not have been able to get into on your own, but your resumé MUST measure up in order for that to happen.

An agent can get you bumped from co-star to guest-star billing and an agent can help increase your quote for each new job, but those are issues actors have somewhere AFTER the beginning of their journey. Still, I hear complaints from countless actors (beginning actors) about how no agent will take a look at them. I then take a look at those actors’ resumés and I understand why. There is a time for building a resumé and there is a time for using the resumé you have built to assemble a team to advance your career.

Too many actors believe an agent will GET them somewhere. No. An agent will help an actor get a better deal once they’re pretty close to that “somewhere” already. Signing with agents too early makes actors bitter about all of the things their agents aren’t doing for them. It is entirely possible to get yourself “out there” so much that you are SCOUTED by an agent who WANTS to have you on his roster. Wouldn’t that be a better scenario than doing mass submissions to hundreds of agents and hoping that someone, somewhere agrees to meet you, only to shelve your headshots once the ink on the agency agreement is dry?

Moving to Los Angeles for Pilot Season

So very many actors from out-of-market believe that Los Angeles is “calling” them for pilot season before that is true. MOST actors who move to LA for pilot season end up leaving after four months, angry that they spent all sorts of money for temporary housing and long-term rental car only to sit by the phone, never getting out for more than a handful of auditions.

What I’ve always recommended is that actors move to Los Angeles FOR GOOD when they are ready to pursue a film-and-television life fulltime. Now, before I go into all of the qualifiers for that statement, let me say that I do support the idea that some actors are perfect for pilot season visits if they are busy, working actors coming in from New York (or even from Toronto) with bicoastal representation. There absolutely are actors who can — and do — come to town and take pilot season by storm, head back to their hometowns, and live as even bigger fish for having had the experiences here. Those aren’t the folks I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the actors who believe they can pick up from wherever they live with no agent or manager, no SAG card, very few credits, no demo reel, and a clearly-out-of-market headshot and come to LA for pilot season expecting something to happen. Can something happen? Of course. And legends are built upon the fact that lightning does, occasionally, strike. But until you have enough credits in your local market, coming to Los Angeles to pursue a film and television performance career is simply a dream killer. And this business is hard enough as it is for that anvil to fall on your head too!

It’s much better for you not to attempt a pilot season short-term move and instead build credits (and your bank account) to a point where a permanent move to pursue a lifetime career as an LA-based actor is feasible. Then, it’s not about pilot season (which is crazymaking for even the locals, in terms of volume of auditions and hectic scheduling constraints). It’s about the long haul. And you want to be an actor who “made it,” right? Not an actor who “made it to LA for four months and came home bitter about it.”

Consider your lifetime goals carefully before making big moves. Pro athletes train for many years as non-pros before they suit up professionally. Make sure you’re ready for the big leagues before you get yourself there as nothing but a benchwarmer.


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000181.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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