Hi Bonnie,

I didn’t get to write as much as I’d like to in the “short personal message” option when I added you on Facebook so I’ll let ya know now. I was in LA visiting Alli Kinzel about a month ago and she was showing me the various areas I should look to move to (as I’m moving to LA next May after I graduate from college) in Studio City and she took me to Sam French.

While I was a little overwhelmed with the amount of “how to” books, Alli pointed me to yours and said it would be the most helpful and raw advice I’d get. I could not agree more! I started reading on the plane (to my boyfriend’s annoyance, ha!) and I seriously read your book like it was Twilight (awed and fast!). It completely changed how I look at my hopes at an acting career. While it made me nervous, scared, and anxious, it also made me really excited and inspired. With a family who doesn’t exactly support my use of an English degree from the University of Illinois in pursuing film and TV, your book really helped me.

The fact that the word “deserve” doesn’t exist in Hollywood really connected with me and really made me look at my career more as a business tool than as a future I deserved. It made me take a look at my senior year classes and adjust to make room for a business and marketing class as well.

I guess I just wanted to thank you for writing the way you do — giving real, hard, honest but motivating truth in this crazy career I’m about to try my luck in — but I also had some questions for you. I’ve been doing theatre since I was four and I love it, but every director I’ve ever worked with has always told me I’d be more suited for film and TV, so I’m making the big move west next May after graduation. That said, I feel so stagnant being in the middle of Illinois with no real opportunities to do film, although I spend a lot of time onstage. I am the kind of person who likes to try and plan years ahead, and I guess I just don’t know what I could be doing here and now to prepare for LA.

I was just wondering if you had any advice for someone who is itching to make the move who really has no connections in LA, etc. At this point, I’m working on headshots and trying to figure out the “type” that I should portray in the headshot but other than that, I feel stuck.

Thanks so much,
Noelle Spayer

Noelle, you rock. I wish every actor a year out from a move to Los Angeles were so focused on what he or she could be doing to have the best landing, once here. So, first off, way to go! Good for you, getting in on some business classes before you graduate. Good job, focusing on your type and LA-style headshots. And kick ass, looking into ways to make the most of the time you have left where you are. Awesome! In fact, as I mentioned in my quick reply to you at Facebook, your question is an awesome launching pad for a topic I’ve had in my drafts folder for a few months now, and that’s how to get started on an LA career months before you can actually get here. Okay, ready? Here goes!

So, do you have a video camera? If not, does your still camera or cell phone shoot short vids? If still NO, girl, go buy a cheap camera. You’ll use it every day. Because the first thing I’m going to recommend that you do is something I think more LA-based actors should be doing, when they’re not busy in classes or doing drop-offs or producing their own material. Grab sides from Showfax.com for all of the shows and films that are casting in your future market and shoot yourself doing what actors are being asked to do, here, every day in session rooms. No, you won’t be getting the full “audition” experience, but you’ll learn what our sides look like, project to project. You’ll learn how you look and sound on-camera, doing various types of material. You’ll develop a sense of what the one-line auditions are like, vs. auditions for larger roles. (You know where you’ll likely be starting out, when you get here, right? Okay. Good. So focus on those “little” roles first. Get really good at the art of “throwing it away” and stay away from “one line fever.”)

In addition to grabbing sides from Showfax.com for all of the shows and films casting here, get scripts of entire episodes at TwizTV and pilots at Pilot School. Read those scripts. Learn how scripts flow. Pay attention to the structure and the beats of each scene and of entire episodes. You should get so “down” with these details that it’s just second nature, and you won’t spend time “ramping up” to the opportunities you’re going to get, once you get here.

Don’t bother shooting new headshots in Illinois. They’re just going to look “out of market” when you get here. As you’re working on defining and refining your type, take a look at the online portfolios of LA-based headshot photographers. When you see photographs of other actors of your primary type that were shot really well by a few particular headshot photographers, start making plans to meet up with these folks in person, on your next trip.

Oh, and on that, I love that you’ve already made a reconnaissance mission to Los Angeles and I do hope you’ll make at least one more visit before your move. There’s a lot to see here and there are definitely loads of opportunities to start feeling your way around this vast space we call “Hollywood,” even before you relocate.

Getting those first LA headshots, that’s something you can plan while you’re here, assuming you’ve narrowed down your list of photogs to a handful, and can meet with each early in your visit, then shoot before you leave. It’s also fine to save this ’til you move here, but if you’re coming back and forth a few times between now and next May, I’d do a shoot on one of those trips.

If you can stay here long enough to attend a few events, I recommend you check out panels put on by Backstage and SAG as well as other groups that mount industry gatherings, panel discussions, meet-and-greet opportunities. Here are a few to check out from afar: Backstage, SAG, SAG Foundation Casting Access Project, SAG Foundation LifeRaft, SAG Foundation Conversations, Paley Center Series, Reel Ladies, and F.A.M.E.D. International. Also consider hitting a free orientation session at The Actors’ Network when you’re in town, if you think you might want to become a member once here.

Don’t underestimate the amount of work you can do online, before your move. While connecting with screenwriters, who often need actors to help voice their works-in-progress (and often reward actors who helped out early on with roles in later, fully-produced works) will be easier when you’re here in the flesh, you could begin getting to know some of the regulars from Screenplay Lab, Naked Angels’ Tuesdays @9, Playwrights 6, and Story Salon (among others) online at message boards, via Facebook, etc.

Set up Google Alerts for high-priority people and groups you want to connect with when you get here. The more you know about their history before you arrive, the better shot you’ll have at jumping right in without that annoying ramp-up that comes with feeling “new” to a group.

In order to get up to speed on much of what’s going on in LA, follow key people on Twitter. I recommend: Bonnie Gillespie (that’s me!), Talent Agent LA, Marvin Acuna, Actors Access, Nikki Finke, SAG Indie, Watchers Watch, and Strike TV for starters.

Visit “essential sites” (you have this list in my book, Self-Management for Actors, 3rd edition): Actors Access, LA Casting, Now Casting, CastingAbout, Showfax, IMDb-Pro, Backstage, Hollywood Happy Hour, Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Cynopsis, and Deadline Hollywood Daily. Just get used to what’s going on and who’s who. No pressure.

Meanwhile, have you gotten your bio and your pitch “LA Ready”? Start with these two excellent guides from Colleen Wainwright. Also review my Pitch Clinic column and this one (more for screenwriters, but absolutely relatable) called The Art of the Pitch.

Ready for some really advanced pre-move work? Take a look at the 2009 Pilot Pick-up List and the Fall 2009 Broadcast Network Schedule from Cynopsis. (Note: That last link is a PDF.) Here’s the link to my column on how you can research these shows and figure out which of the new ones will be given the most time to find an audience.

In case you might want to take CD workshops while you’re in Los Angeles (Tip: People who are new to town, talented, and totally ready to book — both due to talent and business savvy — tend to do very well at CD workshops.), targeting the “right” ones is very important. Tracking which shows are cast by whom (using IMDb-Pro or CastingAbout) and determining not only which are the best match for your type but also which are most likely to be given time to “find their audience” in the new season is a great use of your energy. Doing it now, before you’re here, means you’ll be even better at it next year when you are here. And then when you score that meeting or audition with someone on your target list, you’ll be armed not only with your talent, but also with lots of intel that gives you an edge.

Also always good to use IMDb-Pro to track which showrunners have shows starting up this fall and which ones don’t. Those who don’t (but who have had shows on in the past) probably have shows in development, which means you should be watching The Futon Critic and other sites listed in chapter 41 of Self-Management for Actors (which, by the way, I meant to mention, is now available on Kindle, for those who prefer an e-book situation) to see what’s being developed that would be in alignment for your type and castability.

On a less-advanced scale, you should use that Cynopsis show list to program your TiVo and catch at least one episode of every new show, just to get to know the flavor, the feel, the vibe (and read the credits, to keep up with who’s working where, always), so that you’re ready when you get an audition for it. Also keep an eye out at Actors Access, as Showfax Bob posts the official CD assignment list for episodic television in late summer for that upcoming TV season. Very important to keep up with who’s doing what, and where, ’round here.

Working the muscle of how the business side of your career is done is going to put you miles ahead of those who say, “Eh, I’m talented. Who needs to be bothered with that other mess? I’ll just get to LA, find an agent, hope he submits me, and go out on auditions when called.”

Knowing your type, having great headshots, keeping your craft in shape, producing your own work, researching what others are producing and who consistently uses your type in those projects they produce, and preparing for all of the networking you’re going to have the opportunity to do when you get here is a great start! I’m excited that you’re up for the journey!

Yes, it can feel overwhelming, which is why I recommend targeted marketing. Knowing your type helps focus you. Tracking the casting directors that cast your type helps focus you. Getting very fluent in “who does what, where,” here, helps focus you. And focus is a good thing. It keeps the “there’s too much” feeling at bay. Just one little step at a time. And always remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I look forward to welcoming you to Hollywood! Hopefully with a right on-target-for-your-type audition for a great low-budget indie film. 🙂

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/001046.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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