How to “Make It”

I was having a conversation with a working actor friend of mine (yes, a real working actor: a series regular) about another less-frequently working actor mutual friend. We both know him to be amazingly talented and would want to work with him, see him working, pay to see him working in anything. He’s that great. But he’s only occasionally working. He hasn’t “made it.” Yet.

So, the question was posed: “Why hasn’t he made it yet?”

Hm. I started thinking. Why hasn’t anyone made it yet? What is it that stands between the most talented people we know and “making it” in this industry? I came up with three key elements that seem to dictate a brilliant actor’s absence from any “it” list.

1. Directors you’re getting in front of aren’t ready to take a risk on you. This one is especially true for the friend we were discussing, above. I’ve brought him to callbacks in most of the films I’ve cast and he’s always a top choice. But he’s not cast. The directors tend to go for more “bankable” talent (name actors or those who are on the rise due to their recognizable credits). They know they need to impress the financers of their project and the best way to do that is with a known commodity. Once these directors find themselves confidently at the career level where decisions are truly their own, perhaps they will take a chance on brilliant actors without name value. Of course, by that time, they’ll likely overlook you in favor of someone with even less experience and critical acclaim, seeing as they’ve been aware of your wonderful work for years by then.

2. It’s not your time. No one likes this one, as it’s one of those things you can’t control and you really want to rail against. I get that. But you simply may not be ready for the big break that would see you “make it” right now. You could be given that opportunity (get the dream role you’ve been waiting for) and then not have the career stamina to back it up with a strong second act. How many times have we seen actors get a huge shot and then blow it all with irresponsible “post-fame” behavior or really sketchy choices for follow-up projects? And, on a less-extreme scale, how many times have you looked back at your own career path and been pleased that not getting a certain role allowed things to work out for the best, even though at the time of the rejection you felt heartbroken?

3. You’re still building your relationships. This one is my favorite, and it really encompasses all of the above notions. I see so many people come to Hollywood with aspirations of connecting with “the right people” so that they can “make it” (and fast). I wish I could explain how vitally important it is for you to have a paradigm shift, if that is your perception of how it’s done here. “Making it” has very little to do with meeting today’s “hot players.”

Truly, everything in this town is about relationships and that means building them, nurturing them, spending time investing in them for the long haul. While you may arrive in Hollywood certain that you could be cast in the next big hit if you could just connect with the right people right now, the truth is that you may be missing out on the opportunity to build relationships with people who will create tomorrow’s next big hit and who — if you’ve built solid relationships with them — will think of you for the lead when that time comes.

I’ve seen actors who’ve spent a decade trying to get in with all of the “cool kids” and who still have little more to show for it than a few co-star credits on forgettable one-season series. Meanwhile, I’ve seen actors who started with a strong foundation of relationships based on common interests, mutual respect, working to help one another, and a collaborative spirit who now reap great rewards by virtue of the fact that some of their best friends are now show runners, filmmakers, producers, or casting directors. Did they initiate these friendships simply because they believed, years down the line, that there would be a payoff? No. The friendships began organically (as most true friendships do) and developed over time into business partnerships here in a town where there are very few rules to “making it.”

Look at my casting resumé: I tend to take on several very-low-budget SAG indie films every few months, working with “new” filmmakers pretty regularly. Why? Well, I’ve been casting for just under two years now, and that puts me very squarely at the beginning of my game. Should I be sending my casting resumé out to big-name directors who’ve been working for decades (and who tend to be very loyal to their casting directors from project to project)? Well, I could do that, but I certainly wouldn’t put all of my hope into “breaking in” on an existing relationship and becoming someone’s “new” CD. Instead, I work with filmmakers who are also at the beginning of their professional journeys and we collaborate to build the best cast possible. I work with filmmakers who may have less experience in the industry than I do sometimes and other times, I work with filmmakers transitioning from one type of project to another (a commercial director’s first indie feature film, for example). We all come together to help one another reach the next rung on the ladders of our respective careers while involved in a creative endeavor. That is how relationships begin: we believe in one another before it’s popular (or hugely profitable) to do so.

A similar approach can work for actors. Continue to pursue the dream jobs, for sure, but also keep your professional relationships healthy. Network — and not just with fellow actors. Connect with other industry professionals at your level and slightly above, so that you can share ideas as well as get a little mentoring along the way. Once you’re at a point where you’re doing all of the mentoring, it’s time to move up to that next rung on the ladder and also help someone else. It’s a continuous process, really. And so many actors get caught up in goal-setting for getting to that top rung that they neglect the beneficial networking that goes on at each and every rung along the way. It’s not just the top of the ladder that has pay-offs. People who got to the top of that ladder know this very well and will speak quite fondly of some of the projects those “lower rung” experiences and early relationships brought together.

You never know when the aspiring writer in your improv workshop will sell that quirky little script written with you in mind for the lead. And who’s to say what may come of that script? Festivals? Funding and major distribution? Could it all be a part of your road to “making it”? Who knows? But it’s certainly as much a part of your job as an actor to develop industry relationships as it is to submit on major studio projects, probably more so.

How are you building relationships? Lemme hear from you in the comments below!


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/000125.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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