I was speaking to a class of undergrads at UC Irvine on Tuesday (this is one of my very favorite things to do, BTW, travel to a college campus, sit up on a stage in a theatre classroom, and teach Self-Management for Actors to young storytellers whose education is otherwise largely comprised of craft classes) when I got what might be one of my favorite questions.
“Okay, so I have this agent and he wants me to do a CD workshop with this casting director. I don’t want to do it but I don’t want to piss off my agent. What do I do?”
Oooooooooooooooh, honey, you know I love this, right?
Because now I get to play “good journalist” (my momma would be so proud at me finding a way to use these J-school degrees somehow) and interview him with some very direct questions.
“Is this agent a hell-yes?”
The student looks at me with enough of a squint that I can tell he *gets* what I’m asking but he’s not well-versed enough in SMFA lingo to know for sure. So I clarify.
“Did you land this agent after meticulous targeting homework showed you he’s a direct line into the casting offices you most need to enter in order to tell the stories that best align with your brand umbrella, your most castable types, the storytelling vibe you adore, and your current tier? When you got the meeting with this guy, did y’all have a wonderful time talking about your tier trajectory and the gameplan for getting you exactly where you envision being on a do-able timeline based on a combination of your training and tools and the agent’s relationships and investment in you?”
“Uh… no. I’m not sure — if I hadn’t requested this meeting to ask him what I need to be doing to get out there more — he’d remember me. I think he’s clicking SUBMIT on the breakdowns now and then and every once in a while I get an audition or a request for a self-tape. Nothing specifically on-brand. Nothing exciting.”
“Okay, great!” I say. “That means ANYTHING he suggests you do to FIX the non-problem is just actor busy work meant to distract you from the truth of the situation: You need to do more research to find your hell-yes rep.”
At this point, any investment you make in the relationship by doing actor busy work — whether it’s new headshots, a CD workshop, or beefing up your social media numbers — is just going to couples therapy when you’re SURE a divorce is inevitable. Stupid money. Don’t waste it. Cut bait.
So, here we are in this theatre classroom having identified this student’s agent as a non-hell-yes assigning a bit of actor busy work to an actor who still has questions.
“Okay, but say it’s better to stay with him for now and I want to do what he wants me to do so that he’ll keep sending me out sometimes and he says I need to take a CD workshop with this casting director. Do I go?”
Aaahhhhhhhhhhhh. Another question I love.
“What does your research show you?”
*blink* *blink* *blink*
I continued: “Welp, when you do a deep dive on this particular casting director, does she *actively* cast projects that align with the stories you were born to tell and that actors of your tier or just above are booking *consistently* most likely through their workshop exposure to her?”
More crickets, more blinking, yada yada yada.
Here’s where the Self-Management for Actors folks lead the pack. You’re not afraid of doing the research to track the patterns that answer EVERY FLIPPIN’ ONE OF THOSE QUESTIONS. You’re not fatigued by the mere concept of spending hours in a deep-dive at a combination of IMDb-Pro, CastingAbout, iSpot, Kabookit, and the Internet Archive (Wayback Machine) to find out these answers. You don’t scoff at the power in pattern-tracking because you know the damn truth:
Data never lies.
And for every bit of “truth” you’ve been fed by people — people who *may* lie or who may just feel as powerless as you sometimes do so they suggest more workshops or more headshots or more Instagram followers or whatever bunch o’ hooey is trendy today — the REAL truth is verifiable thanks to research.
“You HAVE to get in front of this casting director!” gets shot down when your meticulous research shows that this CD has never once cast an actor of your tier, with your credits, with your footage, with your training, with your agent in a co-star role on a show you’re targeting.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, maybe so… but you’d be GREAT on that show!” gets met with, “Sure… maybe… but the data shows that only actors with at least two indie credits of a higher tier than any of the ones I have with a solid year of UCB training are booking the roles that look to be going to workshop-met actors in that casting office.” And then your focus turns to getting that year of UCB under your belt while booking a couple o’ indie projects that’ll yield great footage… NOT rushing to get in front of a buyer who won’t likely consider you ’til you have those other things going for you.
Notice I’m not talking about anomalies. Actors LOVE to come back with stories of that unicorn friend of a friend (it’s never someone they know in person) who booked a recurring network role off a workshop with no rep, no union membership, no credits, no footage, no training, and no clue how lucky they were for having stumbled into that situation.
Yeah, hon. That story is fiction. It’s spin (Hollywood is good at that; manipulative marketing geniuses are even better at it). It’s magic to keep you thinking you have a shot at winning the lottery.
And, well, of course, you DO have a shot at winning the lottery! We all do, technically! But y’know… those odds of winning a role that the research shows pretty much NEVER goes to an actor with that set of skills, tools, and relationships are about the same as the odds of winning Powerball.
The data won’t lie about that fact when you DO THE FLIPPIN’ RESEARCH to find out for yourself.
If you only rely on what “they” tell you about how it is… I can’t help you. You’re staying willfully ignorant. Interesting choice.
A more empowering choice?
“I can’t get you into the room with these headshots. You have to shoot with [insert high-priced trendy photog here]. Yes, even though you just shot last month,” gets met with, “Actually, only 2% of the actors who booked a co-star on my target show in the last season of production have headshots that were shot by so-and-so while 18% have headshots shot by the photographer I shot with last month,” when you’ve done the research.
Yes, really. This is all information your time on the Internet can yield. And the next time you’re killing time on Facebook or getting mad about what you’re having to see going on in the world thanks to your FEED-of-choice, I’d like you to think about how easy it’d be to do a Google Image search ON a pace car‘s headshot to match it with the style showcased in the gallery of the photographer’s website… if the photo credit isn’t right there on the actor’s IMDb gallery or website itself.
How easy it is to do a statistical breakdown of who shot the headshots in use as the primary Actors Access photo of actors who booked co-stars on your number-one target show or of how long their demo reels are or of how many trained at this studio or that conservatory? Soooooooooooooo easy. How powerful is that data? Endlessly.
There is NOTHING more badass than sitting across from a ho-hum agent being told a long list of things that are spoken as if they are 100% FACT and secretly knowing the truth thanks to aaaaaaalllllllll the research you’ve done. Data never lies.
Everything you want to make happen in this industry, you can figure out the odds of making happen via numerous methods, thereby being SMART about how you choose to spend your time, your energy, your money. Thereby being EMPOWERED to face that know-it-all who tells you how it is, because when they’re insisting upon actor busy work as the solution to a non-problem, you feel so much smarter. You just saw their fear.
And seeing someone else’s fear is incredibly empowering when it comes to being told how it is. Honestly, that’s one of the things that gets me through these tumultuous waves of news we’re facing daily in our world. When “leaders” tell us how it is and how it has to be and they use more energy and more rage and more insistence to punctuate their words, I get giddy because I know fear gets loudest when it’s aware its days are numbered.
So noise doesn’t scare me. I have data. Researching what has happened before shows me the odds of what will happen next. And there’s great power in that, even if some of what will happen is uncomfortable. The not knowing is far more uncomfortable.
And that’s why actors walk around with a shitload of anxiety wrapped around their necks. It feels like crap to not know what’s going to happen and to feel you have to trust others when they tell you how it is, even when your gut tells you otherwise.
I’m here to tell you: Trust the data. It’s never lied to you and it never will.
Make your work purposeful by doing what aligns with what the data shows you is GOOD use of your time, your energy, your money, your investment in your DREAMS. Don’t do anything just because some blowhard tells you “that’s the way it is.”
And if — like this awesome student who left our encounter with a big ol’ lightbulb over his head about EVERYthing he’s been spoonfed about “reality” in this business — you’d feel better having a little check-in with me about what you’re hearing vs. what the data is showing you, I’m with you every SINGLE day for 100 of ’em (and more, in The SMFA Vault) when you’re ready.
It’s that simple. Whether you need me for backup or not.
The data will show you the truth. Always.
Stay informed, beautiful! They can’t take that away from you.