A series regular friend and I were talking about a mutual actor friend who has taken on a survival job of selling some health drink. You know the one. The reason I’m sure you know the one is that a huge part of the requirement for being selected as a salesperson for said health drink is the willingness to pimp it out on your blog, at your Facebook page, and in person to everyone you know. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand and respect the need for a Survival Job (or ten. That’s how many I had, simultaneously, while I was attempting a career as an actor). But there are some situations in which you actually screw yourself as an actor because you can’t shut up about your survival job.
Here’s a little-known fact. I held on to my last “actor survival job” (as the web designer and online shopping-cart manager for a small publishing company) until the company was bought out by a major publishing company in early 2007. When I disclosed that this — the termination of my last survival job — was “the end of an era” on my blog, I was bombarded with comments from folks who said, “You think you know a person…” and other such indicators that this was definitely a part of my life I had kept on the DL. For eight years, I coded HTML and formatted book covers for the online gallery, created formulas for calculating bulk discounts and tax and shipping, and basically geeked out in the middle of the night for a nice little paycheck every couple of weeks. And a nice little safety net, y’know, in case all of the casting and the writing went away. (Ah, the mindset of the artist. You never lose that little “What If?” do ya?)
In fact many actors keep a survival job after they start booking regularly. They’ll wait ’til the season-two pickup of their sitcom before handing in their notice. When times are tough (like, say, during a strike or an economic slowdown), they’ll get licensed to sell real estate or they’ll take on some consulting work. It’s not just the actors starting out who feel they need other options for making ends meet. We’ve all been there! But there’s a certain type of job (or maybe it’s a certain type of person) that can derail acting opportunities you didn’t even know you were missing.
Think about it. You need to sell a product. Or service. Or whatever. Your work is sales-based, so the more folks who know about the product or service, the better. Right? Well… “right” if your goal is to be a great salesperson of that product or service. And if your goal is to get cast on a top network episodic, it’s not going to help you if the casting office has you on a “shit list” for hustling your product to everyone in the waiting room during prereads. Think I’m kidding? I talked with a few folks about this column before bringing it all together and it seems — in more than a few casting offices — there are actors who just stop getting invited in because they seem more interested in selling vitamin water or vacation packages than anything else. And it’s not just because of their behavior in the waiting room that these actors might move from a wish list to a shit list. It’s the fear that these actors — if sent to producers or put on a set — might use that place to further hawk their wares. Because we’re working on Risk Assessment, that’s looking risky to us. We don’t want to send you to set and then hear that kind of feedback about you. Nor does your agent.
So that’s why I’m putting it to you, right here. Just like you wouldn’t blather on about your acting career at your survival job, you probably need to keep yourself from blathering on about your survival job around folks who could have an impact on your acting career.
People who have survival jobs at restaurants or bars, at schools or in gyms, in cubicles or at factories rarely look for every opportunity to talk about what they do at those jobs with people outside of those places. Sure, a personal trainer may benefit from getting more clients, but the smart actor-slash-personal trainer is more likely to be living her life, looking good. And then when someone says, “Man, you look great. What’s your secret?” she can reply that she’s a personal trainer. Anyone who wants to know more about that for any reason can ask follow-up questions from there. Someone who’s amazingly organized may impress fellow actors who begin to ask, “How do you do it?” And his answer can be, “I run a personal organizing service,” which could lead to more clients without any formal sales pitch taking place.
I saw an actor in a sketch comedy show a few months ago. I went out with some of the cast members after the show and over cocktails mentioned that I was beginning “the house hunt.” Turns out this actor is also a real estate agent. Sure enough, she gave me her business card and that was that. No hard sell. No follow-up call to see if I might be ready to move forward more aggressively. Nothing. Because she knows that our primary relationship is the actor-casting director relationship. And if she pushes to become known as a real estate agent, I’m more likely to dismiss her submissions on projects I’m casting, because I just won’t see her as an actor in the same way anymore. Right now, I see her as an actor who happens to sell real estate. That’s a good status for her to maintain, assuming her goal is to “make it” as an actor. And it makes her much more likely to win my business in both areas that she’s so good at keeping the worlds appropriately separate.
My husband does computer guru stuff for his survival job. He doesn’t advertise. He doesn’t even have business cards. He has two big clients who are so happy with his work that when someone asks them, “Hey, who’s your IT guy?” they answer enthusiastically with Keith’s name. And that flows enough computer work his way to keep him afloat between residual checks.
Now, most of you already know that I am a big fan of hyphenate living. As a casting director-slash-writer myself, I never take issue with people earning a living doing multiple things! I can think of some of my favorite actors who are also great coaches, amazing photographers, rockstar demo reel editors. Heck, the whole premise of self-producing requires that actors wear lots of hats — and well — to get that done. But it’s not the having of the other jobs that weirds people out. It’s the shilling.
So say you’re pretty sure you’re safe from the whole “shilling” thing. You don’t show up at acting jobs or networking opportunities and try and recruit people to become customers of your other persona. You rarely mention that you have a great way for people to lose weight, send customized greeting cards, or buy makeup. Cool. But what about ways in which you might be undermining your “actor brand” that you aren’t even considering?
Here’s something that’s going on with me now. Long-time readers know I was anti-Facebook for a long time. I just didn’t want any more social networking. And then I joined Facebook and, er, I loved it. I accepted pretty much every friend request I got, and within eight months, I had hit 4800 friends. Eep! Well, Facebook has a 5000-friend limit and I keep meeting people, so I’ll be (this week) moving my vids and other actor-seeking-advice content to my Facebook fan page so non-“friends” can have access. Meanwhile, I started going through and deleting “friends” using criteria such as: You’re a company posing as a person. You’re a theatre company posing as a person. You’re a political cause posing as a person. (Basically, if you should have a Facebook fan page instead of a personal page, you were 86’d from my friends list.) And criteria such as: You spam-tag me in notes, photos, or videos in which I don’t exist, just to get me to check something out. All of your posts are about a cause or religion or political agenda or some quiz or game you’re obsessed with. You mass-Facebook-mail your friends about stuff like your massage business, your web design services, your online money-building opportunities. (That last one touches on the whole “Keep Your Survival Job to Yourself” concept.)
And finally, as I went through and visited the pages of folks I didn’t know in person, I asked myself the following question: “Is this an actor who is probably my friend in order to see my posts about casting gigs and my vids about the business? Someone I should leave ‘friended’ until I’ve moved content of interest to my fan page?” If I could quickly look at the page of someone I don’t know in person and determine, “Yes. That’s an actor who probably wants to see my vids or posts about the biz,” that “friend” could stay for now. But I found myself having to really poke around some actors’ pages in order to determine that they, in fact, were really actors!
See, their pages would have all sorts of info about real estate or fitness or Internet money-making opportunities or travel packages or vitamin water or moisturizer or whatever consultation whatnot was potentially profitable for these folks to mention, but I’d have to dig deep to find a link to an Actors Access profile, a link to an IMDb page, a dang headshot for cryin’ out loud! And I thought, “Wow. They don’t even realize they’re branding themselves as hobbyists.”
Why is being branded a hobbyist a bad thing? Well, I used an example at a recent talk at SAG about a landscaper. (The point I was making was about why you want to be a specialist, rather than a Jack of All Trades, Master of None, among your acting audience, your potential buyers.) A landscaper shows up and says, “While I’m here, I can also cut and style your hair, reupholster your sofa, and change the oil in your car.” Suddenly, not only are you wondering why you’re being sold all of this “other stuff,” you’re also finding your confidence in this person’s landscaping abilities dropping. “Maybe he’s a hobbyist. I want a specialist. I want an expert. I want the best.” So, every time you remind us about you — the nonactor — we are reminded that there are other actors who never remind us that they live a nonactor life. Of course they do, but they don’t show it to us as much. Advantage: Them, when it comes to our hiring decisions.
So, sure. You need a survival job. You happen to have a survival job that requires a little (or a lot of) salesmanship. How do you balance both worlds so that you don’t drive away potential customers in either world? Start by paying attention. If you are getting signals that someone wants to hear about what it is that you’re selling, by all means, offer up some information. But be really sure you’re getting those signals. My actor friend who prepares taxes for her survival job has two links in her outgoing email signature. One is to her Actors Access profile. The other is to her webpage for tax prep services. She chooses which “signature file” is in use, based on the person to whom she’s sending the email. She customizes her message based on the audience. Nowhere on her Actors Access profile does it mention taxes. Nowhere on her tax prep webpage does it mention acting. And on her Facebook page, she’s got headshots, information about her plays and TV appearances, links to her actor profile pages, and — yes — a link to her tax prep services page as well. But because she doesn’t show up to set ready to actively recruit new tax prep clients, and because she doesn’t try to “network” with tax prep clients who may happen to be filmmakers or casting directors, the balance works. She has learned how to compartmentalize in such a way that potential buyers in each world aren’t threatened by the “other job.” And, she does both jobs very well, ensuring that word-of-mouth about her — in both worlds — is outstanding. That’s the best of all possible scenarios! As long as you have to have a survival job to support your actor life, you might as well be so good at it that others do your advertising for you. That leaves you free to never mention it at all, yet get the rewards for being awesome.
(For those who want to read more good stuff about social networking and branding, I recommend the following: my piece on Social Networking and Acting, Chris Brogan’s piece on Platform Thinking in Personal Branding, the USA Today piece called There’s an Art To Writing on Facebook or Twitter — Really, Paul Russell’s Backstage piece about Actor Screw-ups on Social Networking Sites, and another of mine on The Delicate Art of Self-Promotion. There’s more, but that’ll get you started.)
Finally, I want to get a little “woo woo” on you about all of this. Perhaps the most valuable reason for “Keeping Your Survival Job to Yourself” is this: The more you own your identity as an actor, the more we respond to that. The more you own your identity as a nonactor, the more we respond to that. If why you’re here is really, truly to do this showbiz career, start by being sure that’s how you see yourself: As someone doing this showbiz career. The day I lost my last survival job was a happy, and scary, day. It meant I had to really suck it up and make this career of mine work, no matter what. And here I am, two years later, house-hunting. Just like my friend — the actor who has had that amazing tier jump recently — told me, the happiest, and scariest, day was when the folks at her waitressing job helped her burn her apron (a long-standing tradition for the successful actors who leave this particular restaurant because their acting lives have taken off). Since you probably do your survival job because you have to (because you’d otherwise choose to work as an actor, exclusively), consider only talking about it when you have to. Spend the rest of your words reinforcing all of the awesome, positive, exciting, actor-life things you have going on. We’ll hear you.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001050.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.