A couple of weeks ago, a director whose amazing film I cast contacted me to let me know we’d been invited to two festivals. The big, fancy one and the small, sweet one. We’d have to choose which would be our premiere. Now, you might have an initial reaction like I did: BIG, FANCY ONE! BIG, FANCY ONE! But wait, there’s more.

See, the big, fancy one could find us premiering opposite something huge like Tarantino’s latest. Or we could get the 3pm on a Tuesday slot in the smallest theater the festival uses. No guarantees. That small, sweet one offered us the featured slot. There would be a premiere party. They would fly out our cast. They would even give a lifetime achievement award to the film’s star.

Big fish, little fish. What did we want to be?

I ask you, lovely actors: What do you want to be?

If you had to choose between a career in Los Angeles (but a career in which you may only ever play at 3pm on a Tuesday, i.e., do lots of copy-credit-meals projects, maybe book a few co-stars, rock the low-budget indies, and self-produce to a small but loyal fanbase) and a career “back home” (where you could use your LA “cred” to book bigger, better stuff than you ever did before you experienced LA), what would you choose?

If you could be the big fish “back home,” would that be more fulfilling? Or do you need to “make it big,” even on a small scale, because even that small role on a “real, Hollywood project” feels more like success than a much bigger role in something “smaller,” out of market? What is it that defines “success” for you?

One of the toughest things about this question is that you will never know whether “the other road” would’ve been more fulfilling or whether you may have found greater success (or, more importantly, greater happiness) had you chosen that other road. You just can’t know, because we cannot live two lives simultaneously. So, the most important thing I can say about choosing is this: Get very confidently behind whatever choice you make. Pick a lane and drive in it. Because as anyone who has navigated traffic knows, it’s the jayhole who tries to be in several lanes at once — switching and causing dangerous situations constantly since he’s not sure which lane provides the “best” traffic experience for him — who arrives at his final destination annoyed and pissed for even having had to experience the journey. Don’t be that guy. Enjoy all of the traffic. And pick a lane. Drive in it for a while. Be sure you’ve made the right choice for now and enjoy what happens there. It’s all a part of building your life experience, so you might as well enjoy it.

Since we can’t know for sure what will happen if you choose the big leagues or the minors, it’s best for you to search deep within before you start asking outsiders for advice. Often, I’ll get emails from actors asking for my opinion on whether they should stay where they are or move to LA. Whether they should leave LA for back home or try and stick it out here another year. I don’t have a crystal ball to consult, so it’s always tough to even come close to a good answer, as I craft my replies to these emails. What’s important to know is this:

Where do you want to live?
What level of success do you want to have the opportunity to reach?

Important because — once you get those two questions answered — you’re on your way to knowing exactly what kind of fish you want to be.

So many people complain about living in Los Angeles. They say they hate it here. I don’t get that. I almost think it’s something they think is “cool” to do: Hate LA. How can you hate a place with such a high concentration of creative people living their dreams, spending every moment focused on storytelling and making magic, connecting with one another to come up with ways to create something out of nothing? Sure, traffic sucks. Sure, smog is not a lovely thing. Sure, earthquakes can rattle your sanity from time to time. But have you seen our sights? Experienced our weather? Simply enjoyed the vast beauty of being in a place that is at once extremely busy and incredibly laid back? I love it. Except for about two other places on the planet, I couldn’t imagine myself living anywhere else. But I get that I’m in the minority. Most people hate LA. And they love to say so. It’s like the exact opposite of NY, where locals will fight with you if you say anything bad about “their city.” Here? They’ll encourage you to grouse. Whatever.

If you are totally anti-LA and would only choose to live here because of the opportunities it affords you as an actor, okay. That’s good to know. Because now I want to address the second question of the two I asked above: What level of success do you want to have the opportunity to reach?

Absolutely, 100%, undeniably, indisputably, without question, the greatest opportunities for the largest and meatiest roles in the biggest and most-expensive projects on the planet happen right here. Every day. Now, let’s get to the bottom line. How many of those will you book? Almost none, unless you’re one of the very few, very lucky, very ready, very gorgeous, very charismatic, very well-connected, very right-for-it, very all-stars-aligned actors on the planet. For almost everyone who even gets a shot at those biggest roles in the biggest projects, the outcome will be, “Hey, great audition. Good relationship-building. Nice brand-cementing. Well done. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” It’s just a matter of numbers. Most of you will not become “name” actors.

Can you be okay with that? And are you so dang charged up — just getting the opportunity to work alongside those “name” actors, in small supporting roles in bigger films or in bigger roles in smaller films — that it’s still cool with you? That that would still be considered “success” for you? If so, great! You are totally ready to live and work in Los Angeles. Being in love with the pursuit is the largest ingredient in any actor’s recipe for success in this town. And amazingly, it’s those who get in love with the pursuit who somehow seem to book bigger roles in bigger projects than those who detest the pursuit and bitch about it all the time.

Hey, the pursuit is what it is. Even as this business changes and technology evolves the process of casting and self-producing provides greater opportunities for those who otherwise would never get a meeting, the pursuit is still the pursuit, and it’s not going away.

If what you love is success, perhaps a smaller market is a better fit. Especially if you’ve gotten world-class training and experience in Los Angeles, going back to a minor market and blowing your competition out of the water, due to your improved level of craft and professionalism, is an awesome way to get that taste of success, if that’s what you crave. Of course, if success is what you crave, you may find yourself getting restless once you’ve reached the ceiling on the types of projects available to you in your market. You may find yourself in a couple of years toying with the idea of coming back to LA, since clearly, you’re ready to “make it” here.

Remember that driver changing lanes every few moments? Yeah. Keep that mental picture in mind, as you reach this stage of the Actor Mind Taffy.

Whatever you decide, just get behind it and do it. Commit to it and make yourself the happiest YOU you can possibly be, while you live your life. That makes you more fun to be around and therefore more fun to cast, more fun to work with, more fun to have back again and again on bigger and bigger sets in bigger and bigger roles. Whether you’re in a fishbowl or an ocean.

Oh, for those who are curious in which festival the film I cast will premiere later this summer, I am happy to say that I am 100% totally behind the decision the filmmaker and producers came up with. The press release about the festival premiere for Another Harvest Moon goes out the same day this column goes live, so I won’t steal any thunder, here. Let’s just say I’m thrilled with the size fish we are. And I’m booking my travel arrangements now.


[2013 Update: Of course, not only was Another Harvest Moon the darling of the Rhode Island International Film Festival, it got picked up for international distribution, had domestic theatrical release, and played on Starz and Netflix before the momentum waned! Multiple awards. So much press for the legendary cast. And no regrets for having chosen a festival that took place in a city that named its premiere day “Ernest Borgnine Day,” celebrating the film’s star and his amazing co-stars with activities all weekend long. I’ll never forget this experience and — looking back — it doesn’t feel big or little. It feels right.]

What “big fish, little fish” decisions have you had to make, along your career path? What have you learned, when you look back at the choices you’ve made? Comments are open below! Let’s jam! 😀

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/001047.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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